On 12 December, Tokyo-based author Leza Lowitz visited ISSH to talk about her young adult novel, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind. The International was lucky enough to get a chance to interview her about her life as an author.
What is your greatest source of creative inspiration?
Reading. Every writer is first a reader. There’s nothing like a good book to transport you to another world and inspire you. As John Green says, “Reading is a writer’s only apprenticeship.” Also, my son and husband Shogo continually inspire me, as do my fellow writing group peers.
ISSH is a girls’ school and you are clearly an accomplished writer who creates interesting female characters. What would be your advice to young women and young writers?
Be yourself. Don’t listen to the haters. Follow your dreams, work hard and appreciate your life. Support other young women writers, and help them to live their dreams–it will come back to you in droves. Start a writing group–go to a cafe two or three times a week with other writers and write and critique each other’s work. My writing buddy friend Linda Gerber says: “Read. Write. Don’t stop.” And maybe the best advice I can give is “be patient.” Things might not happen the way you think they will or in the time you expect, but do the work anyway and let go of the result. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Jet Black was initially an adult novel. Why did you change it to young adult?
Jet Black is 17, and Hiro, her cousin, is 12. We learned that readers tend to be the same age as a book’s protagonist, so we were encouraged to consider targeting that age group. Holly Thompson, a Tokyo writer and the Regional Advisor for the Japan chapter of SCBWI– a worldwide organization of children’s book writers and illustrators–supported us in that direction. Encouraged by the success of other young adult books at the time (The Harry Potter series, Twlight), we decided to give it a try.
The timing was good, because after we finished Jet Black, more YA books and movies with strong female action heroines came out like the Hunger Games, The Mazerunner, and Brave, setting the stage for more.
Is it possible to give us a hint about the sequel to “Jet Black and the Ninja Wind”?
In Book Two, the Kuroi Clan’s enemies have been subdued and the family treasure is safe. Jet, Hiro and uncle Soji rebuild their ancestral town of Kanabe, but a massive earthquake strikes the region, so the Kuroi Clan mobilizes to help its coastal neighbors. Later, Jet returns to the US to the Navajo Reservation, swearing off ninja missions, but when a secret weapons facility is discovered in the desert, Jet and her team must shut it down before it threatens the world. Takumi re-surfaces to help protect them, but can Jet open her heart to trust him again?
What are some of the challenges of being a freelance writer?
Freelancing is a juggling act. You have to balance making a living with making your art. On the plus side, freelancing means you have some “freedom” to follow your own path. On the downside, it’s harder to finish books without an external deadline–you have to be extremely self-motivated and disciplined. But that’s where an agent comes in. A good agent is a writer’s best friend, and a good agent can hopefully sell your book. Then you will have a deadline to meet.
Are there other Tokyo-based authors that you would recommend to students?
I would recommend fellow SCBWI Japan authors of children’s books, below:
Linda Gerber “Death By…” Mystery series for teens. Also author of Now and Zen part of the YA “SASS Series//”
Holly Thompson: The Language Inside (Multicultural Teen Identity Story), and Orchards (Teen suicide). Both YA novels in verse.
Mariko Nagai: Dust of Eden (Japanese-American WWII Internment experience)
Suzanne Kamata: Gadget Girl (Multicultural heroine who writes manga), Screaming Divas (All-girl teen rock band).
Trevor Kew: Sidelined, etc. (Soccer novels for teens).
What are your current projects?
I wrote a YA novel in verse about a bi-cultural (half-Japanese and American) teenage boy caught up in the March 2011 tsunami, called Up From The Sea, which will be published in 2016 by Crown Children’s/Random House.
Thank you so much, Joanna. It was a pleasure speaking with you and meeting the wonderful students and teachers at ISSH.