Author Interview: Rose Kent


So my name is Rose Kent and I am an author
from upstate New York. I write children’s novels. I write about all kinds of different kids,
different characters. I’ve done a lot of different things in addition
to writing. Prior to that, I was an officer in the navy
and then I worked for a food company for many years before I started writing for kids. Well, Kimchi and Calamari is the story of
a middle school age boy named Joseph. Joseph is Korean. He is in an adopted family which is Italian
American and he’s kind of a wise cracker, joker. He likes to say he’s Korean on the outside,
Italian on the inside and sometimes the other way around. He’s also your typical middle school kid. He’s a drummer in the band, he loves Spiderman,
he loves comic books, he’s got a crush in school, but things kinda come to trouble for
Joseph when he finds out he has to write an essay on his ancestors, which would certainly
be hard for an adopted child and that kind of leads to a search for his Korean roots
and it’s something that’s dear to me, because I have adopted children so I understand a
little bit about some of the struggles they face in terms of their identity. I think it is a struggle, you know, I think
it’s a challenge, I think it’s a challenge for everybody in the process–for adoptive
parents, for adoptees certainly, you know, because in America, we’re all American and yet
we’re really not a melting pot. You know, we all have our own ethnic identities
and I think it’s even more challenging for adopted kids because they can’t look to their
parents to get that knowledge that they might get if their parents are immigrants for example–their
adopted parents is what I’m talking about–so I think it’s a situation where kids really
have to learn about their culture and it’s really the responsibility of adopted parents
to help them find that way, find out about their culture and in Joseph’s case, in my
book, he’s Korean, so it involves more knowledge about the Korean community, about what that
means to be Korean and sometimes people want to boil adoption down to the search for birthparent
and that’s very important to kids, who their birthparents are, but I think it’s even broader
than that for a lot of kids, so I think you see some of those struggle issues in the book
and I think adoptees, and I’ve spoken to so many of them, I think this is something that
they kinda struggle with for life and it certainly doesn’t mean that it dooms them or their sad
all the time about this, but I think it’s fair to say that loss issues surrounding adoption
and even as an adoptive parent, you can’t just dismiss and say I love my kids their
gonna be fine, you have to acknowledge and allow them to, you know, express them. And that really came right from doing a lot
of talking with adoptees. When I first started writing this book, my
adopted children were very young, so I spoke to even older children who could maybe express
themselves a little bit more, middle school age and high school and they talked about
this feeling, particularly I spoke with Korean adoptees, I spoke with some Chinese adoptees,
you know, transracial adoptees, and they talked about this feeling that, they did feel they
were part of their family–their adopted family. They felt that family was real. They knew there was love there, but when they
would see somebody from their birth culture in a setting, eating their traditional cultural
food or at some event. They didn’t feel real, they felt like they
didn’t have this authentic stamp on them, so there’s sort of like that struggle. Joseph calls it sandwich, he feels like a
sandwich and I think it’s something that people can work on helping with if they get the opportunity
to learn more about their culture and when you’re talking about kids, that really goes
back to the parents really helping them get that knowledge. I have a big family, a blended family, I have
step children, I have adopted children, I have biological children, so I kind of have
it all. I call it a big life stew that I have and
my family informs my writing, my writing informs family–it’s all mixed together, but it was
something that really inspired me to start writing this book, when my adopted kids were
really very, very young, because I was one of those moms who always went to the library
and schlepped around with a big bag of books. I was always looking for books that my kids
could connect to with adopted characters and I didn’t find enough of them. I found some, but I wanted more and ideally
I would have loved books written by adoptees and that’s when I finally decided, I want
to touch on some of these topics and I know from having spoken to so many parents that sometimes
a book, particularly a piece of fiction is really a safe way to do that with kids, you
know, rather than sit there and give them the lecture and tell them this and that and
I read a story about a character that they can relate to it helps them see some of the
things that you really want to talk about with them too. I like to throw out the word serendipity when
I think about my writing process, ’cause it’s not a very clear cut process where I decide I’m
going to write about this and then I outline it and I go and do it and it all works out,
so many happy accidents follow along the way. I mean, I usually start with character and
when I was thinking about the story I knew I wanted to write about a Korean adopted boy,
I just knew that right away, so I took some time to get to know the character and then
often what happens is the character leads me to the story, I have a general sense of
where I want to go with it, but I make so many mistakes along the way and I feel like
sometimes if I’m in a car driving, I drive off the road and get lost and you know sometimes
I’ll write for thirty, forty, fifty pages and realize, nope, I went the wrong way there
and I come back, but I don’t see it as a waste because there’s learning that you get along
the way about your character that comes back and puts you back on the right road and as
I said, serendipity, happy accidents along the way. I’ll make a discovery along the way that will
really inform the story. I wanted to bring superstition into the story
because there’s a whole piece where Joseph’s adopted family is Italian and they have roots
to the Italian culture and I wanted to talk a little bit about that and I knew I wanted
to start the story that Joseph would get something that would set off this struggle with his
identity so I wanted it to be somehow related to his being Italian and superstition and
again, a happy accident, I just so happen to have an 88-year-old grandmother who lives
on our street, we call her Nona which is Italian for grandmother and she started telling me
about the malocchio which is this Italian superstition, old school, about a curse and
if someone looked at you the wrong way, you could get the evil eye, the malocchio and
some people would actually wear a little pennant around their neck with this horn on it, looks
like a goat’s horn, that would ward off the malocchio, happy accident, hadn’t really planned
that and I though, Gee, that’s brilliant, you know, Joseph could get that for his birthday
from his Italian dad who would think what a great present and meanwhile this fourteen-year-old-boy
would be like, are you kidding me? I’m Korean, hello and that would really start
the conflict right there, so my process is really driven by happy accidents along
the way. I was a really shy kid and I was one of these
kids that read everything, you know, everything I could. Nancy Drew, I devoured. In the last few years I guess I should say,
in the last ten years I’ve really thought so much of Cynthia Rylant, she’s a writer
that really inspires me and I think one of the first books I read that I really said
to me, I want to write for kids is when I read Missing May which is a very thin, small
little middle grade book about a girl and really grief and coming to terms with grief,
but when I read that and saw how she developed character, you know, how she showed, you know,
the saying show don’t tell was just really turned me around. I said this is what I want to do. I think the world of Patricia Reilly Giff, Newberry winner,
so many talented books. I find good writing in so many areas and often
times when I’ll talk to kids, I love fiction. I also love nonfiction. I also want to read comic books and cook books
and think that there’s so many good forms of writing out there for us today more than
ever.

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