Aicha Zoubair

Jessica Bell

Monday, July 15, 2013

Author Interview – KP Kollenborn

What genre are you most comfortable writing? I love to write fiction with a historical twist.  I can’t solely place my stories in the historical fiction category because, by definition of historical fiction, the backdrop of novels have to be set back by at least 50 years.  There are times I like to delve into the past as recently as twenty years. I like believe that after a two decade introspection we have learned more wisely than something that happened yesterday.  And that’s why I love history: To learn. To question.  To redeem our humanity. 

My philosophy is this: “Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.”

What inspires you to write and why? I love stories that deal with struggle for freedom, searching for identity and purpose, and have some sort of message that forces you to contemplate.  John Steinbeck best made the claim: “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation.

I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”  And within the same context, he also wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

What inspired you to write your first book? When I was fourteen I came across a book, called Kim/ Kimi, about a young girl searching for her real father, who was Japanese-American, only to discover he had been imprisoned in an American internment camp during WWII.  I had never heard of these camps up to that point in my life.  In Europe, yes; even China, but not here.  Not in America.  I had to know and therefore went to the library to begin my journey.  Three years later I put together a 30 minute mini-documentary for a class project and then wrote a short story. 

Nine years later I expanded that story into a novel.  Why?  I don’t have any Japanese ancestry in my family tree.  I live in the Midwest and grew-up in a medium size town where cultural diversity is a bit underdeveloped.  My reason is simple:  I don’t want to continue to live in a conical world.  Consciousness does not develop and mature by existing in a frozen pond.  Therefore after I had graduated college in 2000, my husband and I drove to Bainbridge Island, just on the tail skirt of Seattle, Washington, to pursue my journey.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years? John Steinbeck.  He mixes literary prose and realism with such grit and fortitude that I’m charmed by his depressing and enriching style.   The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still inside my head, and in fact I have made soft suggestions to both books in Eyes Behind Belligerence

I’ve also been inspired by Empire of the Sun, Lord of the Flies, and To Kill a Mockingbird when dealing with war, prejudices, and  violent interactions between people under stressful circumstances. But more recently, I’ve enjoyed how integrating the art of storytelling with historical research have succeeded beyond a marginalized audience such as Middlesex, Water for Elephants, and The Help.

What is your greatest strength as a writer? Crafting the characters.  I maintain a strong, realistic quality for each character which makes the characters believable and identifiable. The consistent compliment I receive is the development of dialogue that builds the credibility of each character by having their own voice.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? Eyes Behind Belligerence is about two Japanese-American families who endure racism and the harsh elements of desert life while imprisoned in American concentration camps during WWII.   Told in five parts, this novel unravels the challenges between two unlikely Nisei friends, Jim and Russell, into adulthood. As restrictions are imposed, (even in the safe, rural community of Bainbridge Island,) as harassments escalate, (including the F.B.I. invading their homes and deporting their fathers to Montana for espionage trials,) the fated day arrives: evacuation of all Japanese civilians. Rounded up like cattle, tagged, they are hauled to the fringes of Death Valley: Manzanar.

Together they must survive racism, gang violence, and the harsh elements of the environment. Together they must prove their loyalty, especially after a tragic riot on the eve of Pearl Harbor’s anniversary. While Russell enlists in a segregated army, becoming part of one the most decorated units in U.S. history, Jim is sent to a different camp for the “No-No” boys: those who are marked disloyal. Removed from their families, they are forced to reevaluate their identities and discover, most importantly, what it means to forgive.

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” Culminating a bitter-sweet epic and traditional coming-of-age story, ‘Eyes Behind Belligerence’ sets precedence to fear and hatred, to families torn apart, and to the calloused response of internment camps. While two Japanese-American families endure the wake of Pearl Harbor’s wrath, each member must face the most painful question of their life: Where does their loyalty stand?

Told in five parts, this novel unravels the challenges between two unlikely Nisei friends, Jim and Russell, into adulthood during the Second World War. As restrictions are imposed, (even in the safe, rural community of Bainbridge Island,) as harassments escalate, (including the F.B.I. invading their homes and deporting their fathers to Montana for espionage trials,) the fated day arrives: evacuation of all Japanese civilians. Rounded up like cattle, tagged, they are hauled to the fringes of Death Valley: Manzanar. Together they must survive racism, gang violence, and the harsh elements of the environment. Together they must prove their loyalty, especially after a tragic riot on the eve of Pearl Harbor’s anniversary. While Russell enlists in a segregated army, becoming part of one the most decorated units in U.S. history, Jim is sent to a different camp for the “No-No” boys: those who are marked disloyal. Removed from their families, they are forced to reevaluate their identities and discover, most importantly, what it means to forgive.

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Genre – Historical Fiction

Rating – R (strong language)

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Blog http://kpkollenborn.blogspot.com/