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27 July 2017

Debbi Michiko Florence's JASMINE TOGUCHI



On Creating Jasmine Toguchi
by Debbi Michiko Florence

      My path to publication was a meandering and bumpy road and for a long while, I felt like I’d never get here. I went to college for a B.S. in zoology with a minor in English and then got my K-8 teaching credentials. I taught 5th grade in L.A. for a semester, and then became the Associate Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoo, a dream job. And yet, all along, I had a secret dream. I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I left my job and moved to Mexico City with my new husband for his job that I seriously considered pursuing a writing career.
      In 2001, when I started writing for teens and kids with an eye toward publication, I dove into research with glee. I read books on craft and the publishing business. I became a member of SCBWI and attended conferences. I joined critique groups. And I wrote, revised, and submitted many novels.
I kept writing, revising, querying, and submitting. I received some encouraging rejections, but they were still rejections. After seven years of that, in 2008, my heart had had enough. I decided to quit. This was after I had two nonfiction children’s books published. I was proud of those books, but that wasn’t the dream. The dream has always been fiction for me. I decided it wasn’t going to happen and it was time to move on. My heart broke as I bawled in my living room. I put on a movie to distract myself and within the first ten minutes, I came up with a story idea. I ran upstairs to get a legal pad and handwrote several pages of a story. My will to quit writing lasted all of a few hours. I realized and accepted that I was never going to stop writing. It was as much a part of me as breathing.
In 2010, I came across a newspaper article about a Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s to make mochi (a Japanese rice treat) in the traditional way, by pounding steamed sweet rice into a sticky mass and then rolling them into balls. Traditionally, men pounded the rice with a big wooden hammer into a mortar, and women hand-rolled the mochi. I wondered what would happen if a little girl wanted to do the boy’s job and how that would affect a family that respected and valued tradition. From that idea, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen was born. I wrote a draft, revised many times, and submitted. And it was rejected, though with a few positive and encouraging responses. I didn’t give up. I continued revising and submitting until finally, in the spring of 2015, Grace Kendall of FSG emailed me to say she wanted to acquire my chapter book manuscript! Not only that, but she asked if I’d be willing to write three more books for a series about Jasmine! Yes, yes, and yes!
I love working with Grace. She is an amazing editor and she really gets Jasmine, and she gets me. Around the same time, I signed with my dream agent, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Add to that the perfect illustrator, Elizabet Vukovic. Serious bliss all around!
      On July 11, 2017, sixteen years after I stepped onto the path toward publication, I will have not one, but two books released in the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series.
      I could not have made it here without the support of an entire community. My husband, Bob, has never once wavered in his belief in me. My daughter, Caitlin, watched me work hard and struggle for her entire childhood. Her joy when I told her about the sale equaled mine. My parents and my sister have always believed I could do this, even when I didn’t think it was possible. And this community of writers has kept me afloat all along. I hope you’ll indulge me since I don’t get an acknowledgements section in my books, as I single out a few key people who have made this journey a bit easier: Jo Knowles, Cindy Faughnan, Jennifer Groff, Cindy Lord, and Daphne Benedis-Grab have been with me for over a decade, reading and critiquing my manuscripts, and cheering me on. This is not a full list of the friends and writers who have kept me going all these years, but to list everyone would far exceed my word count. You know who you are (including Elizabeth) - thank you, each and every one of you!
      This has been a long, and sometimes difficult, journey, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I stayed on this path.

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