Last February, I was so thankful to have finished the final galleys of my second verse novel, Beyond Me, based on our west Tokyo experience of the aftershocks from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. After 3 years of remembering, researching and writing it, we were advised to self-isolate for COVID before being quarantined in March.
After these 4+ months of uncertainty, confinement, and sadness I can still hold strong to the things I wrote about and what got me through Tokyo’s month of aftershocks; family, friends and pets, and tending Earth (for me gardening).
Here as in the Acknowledgements, I would like to thank my children for skyping me away from the manuscript, to Papa and friends Mari Boyle, Kathy Schmitz, Kristin Ormiston and Cam Sato for pulling me away to do fun things; to SCBWI Japan’s advisors Holly Thompson, Naomi Kojima, Mariko Nagai, Avery Fischer Udagawa for always organizing an active calendar of events for us; to Mariko Nagai, Mari Boyle, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Emina Udagawa, and Cam Sato for reading and commenting on the story, to Mr. and Mrs. Toida for feeding our neighborhood and allowing me to photograph their work, fields and vegetables over the years, to the Chikamatsu family for guiding me through ups and downs, to our dogs for grounding me and to our rescued cats for teaching me cat culture. Letters and conversations about Somewhere Among from readers, family and friends, especially Nancy Rinehart, The Austin Kirwans, and my mother kept me going back to the table to finish Beyond Me.
I am grateful to editor Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum Simon & Schuster, the S&S design team, and to agent Holly McGhee for making it all possible.
I had been afraid the subject might be too heavy for COVID19 times. Then in May 2020, Booklist said it was “an essential read” for tweens. These are different times.
My hope is that there will be future middle grade novels and translations centered on the hardest hit areas of the disasters of March 2011. There’s so much to learn.
Beyond Me is my second published love letter to Japan, to my American-Japanese children and their father, and to my Japanese in-laws. I can envision writing only one more book set in Japan, a memoir for adult readers. But that might take a while. I am pulled to write children’s stories set in a faraway land, the United States prior to 1984.
description of Beyond Me
Set in west Tokyo during The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. Maya, 11, is finishing fifth grade, preparing for choir performances and going to cram school when the earthquake knocks Japan off its feet. She and her family are unharmed. Earth keeps moving, but life comes to a halt.
Everything is up in the air. Maya grounds herself by watching and helping her Great-grandfather farm. She finds other ways to calm herself and to help. Based on our experience of the aftershocks in west Tokyo.
Simon & Schuster, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Atheneum, June 2020.