Welcome to The FFBC’s blog tour for Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill! As one of the co-owners of The FFBC, I had the privilege of organizing this tour and interviewing Stephanie!
Interview With Stephanie Morrill
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
1. You’re a self-proclaimed list maker. I’m assuming some of these lists are to-do lists, but what other kinds of lists do you write?
All kinds! I keep lists of places I want to go, skills I want my kids to have before they move out, books I read each year (starting and ending with my birthday), quotes I want to think about, and lots of other things. Every year I “celebrate” my birthday by making a list of what I learned in the last year, and the number corresponds with whatever age I’m turning. Sometimes my items are huge things that changed my life. Other times they’re products I fell in love with. I have a dorky amount of fun putting my birthday list together!
2. You’ve written both contemporary and historical YA. Do you prefer one over the other? How are they different for you?
I really love both contemporary and historical YA, though right now I’m in a groove with historical and I imagine I’ll stay here for a while. With historical, I really like being able to explore themes that resonate with our modern time without it feeling like a pointed attack, if that makes sense. I also like being free of questions like, “Should I mention social media platforms by name or is that totally going to date my book in a year or two?” Those are the kinds of struggles I have when I writing contemporaries!
3. Tell us about the site you created, GoTeenWriters.com. Why did you create it, and how has it helped you as a writer?
Go Teen Writers is my favorite corner of the internet. I created it back in January 2010 because so many of the emails I received from enthusiastic readers came from teens who were also writers. I was once a teen writer, and I didn’t know a single other person who wrote stories and wanted to be an author, so I loved the chance to pass along what I knew to these teens, and I also wanted to connect them to each other. A side benefit for me is that having the blog has helped me crystalize my own writing process, because I’m trying to understand and teach it. It also opens my eyes to different ways of doing things because the teens love to share their own processes as well!
4. Your bio says you love to travel, and have a list of places you’d love to visit. Which places are at the top of your list?
I do love to travel! One place that used to be at the very top of my list is Manzanar National Historic Site, but I was fortunate enough to cross that one off in 2018. I’m dying to get to Italy, particularly Venice because I’m just so intrigued by it. My husband and I have been planning a trip for a while, but we keep having babies, which isn’t great for international travel! Our youngest (and final) kiddos is three, so hopefully in the next few years.
5. What are you working on now?
I’m not totally sure yet! I’m really intrigued by the idea of writing a story with a dual timeline so that I can merge my love of contemporary and historical YA fiction, but I’m still figuring out what that looks like.
ABOUT THE BOOK
1. The slogan for Within These Lines is “Be Brave Enough to Care, and Bold Enough to Act”. I love that. Can you tell us what this slogan means to you and how it represents the book?
Thank you! The slogan was born out of a conversation that the main character, Evalina, has with her friend Grace. Evalina’s really nervous about something and Grace tells her that it’s normal to be nervous when you care. That idea really popped out to me as I worked on the rest of the book and I began to notice in my own life how loving others made me vulnerable.
But it’s so easy to care and still not be moved to do anything. Even if we can get over our apathy, actually doing something still takes energy and often means inconveniencing ourselves. I love that in the story both Evalina and Taichi grow to be good at living out this mantra.
2. What inspired you to tell this particular story?
I’m obsessed with podcasts, especially Stuff You Missed in History Class. They did a two-part episode on Executive Order 9066, which is the order Franklin D. Roosevelt signed that gave the US government permission to evacuate Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps.
I found these episodes fascinating, and because I’ve always written for teenagers the idea popped into my head, “What would’ve happened if there was a Caucasian teenage girl who was in love with a Japanese American teenage boy, and his family was taken away?” As I researched a little bit, I realized the story could be even more interesting if my Caucasian teenage girl was actually an Italian American teenage girl, since Italy was aligned with Germany and Japan, yet Japanese Americans were the only people group targeted as a whole with the incarceration.
3. Tell us about the kind of research you did for Within These Lines.
The research for this book was so intense. For The Lost Girl of Astor Street, my plot was fiction, so my historical era was really an elaborate set piece. For Within These Lines, since I was portraying real historical events and sometimes real people and their role in these events, I devoted about 40 hours total to the research process. (Yes, I kept track. Yes, I’m a nerd.) On top of reading tons of books and actually going to Manzanar, I emailed regularly with a park ranger who specializes in Manzanar history. I also spent lots and lots of time on Densho encyclopedia, which is a fantastic site that’s collected oral history and original source documents from the evacuation and internment periods. I’m sure I still managed to make mistakes in the book, but I did my best to be as accurate as possible.
4. If you wrote yourself into this book, what role would you have played?
That’s a hard question. I would want to be a friend of Evalina’s, protesting and speaking out alongside her. But I’m probably more like Evalina’s mother than any of the other characters. I found myself really relating to Zola’s struggle to support Evalina’s appropriate needs for freedom and also her own desire to have a close relationship with her daughter. Those emotions feel relatable to me as my daughter approaches her teen years!
5. What message do you hope readers take away from your book?
My greatest hope for every story I write is just that readers will enjoy it. That’s always in the front of my mind when I’m writing. But if in addition to enjoying Within These Lines, the book causes readers to awaken to social injustices around them, that would be fantastic too.
Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.
Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.
With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.
About Stephanie Morrill
Stephanie Morrill writes books about girls who are on an adventure to discover their unique place in the world. She is the author of several contemporary young adult series, as well as the 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, and the WWII era romance, Within These Lines. Since 2010, Stephanie has been encouraging the next generation of writers at her website, GoTeenWriters.com. She lives in the Kansas City area, where she loves plotting big and small adventures to enjoy with her husband and three children. You can connect with Stephanie and learn more about her books at StephanieMorrill.com, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.