Emiko Jean is the author of Empress of All Seasons and We'll Never Be Apart. She lives in Washington with her husband and two unruly twins. Her latest novel is Tokyo Ever After and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Tokyo Ever After?
Firstly, thanks so much for having me on your blog today! In Tokyo Ever After, I wanted to write about a girl, specifically Japanese-American like myself, searching for her identity. In addition, when I grew up, there was a distinct lack of books that featured Japanese-American protagonists. Those two things, lack of representation and desire to see myself in fiction, was the initial driving force behind Tokyo Ever After. From there, it seemed right to use the classic I'm-really-a-princess trope and pair it with a search for cultural identity.
Are Izumi, Akio, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
It's funny you ask that. Many members of my family have remarked on how similar Izumi's voice is to mine. She is very much inspired by teenage Emiko's life and friendships.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
I have lost count of how many revisions this novel underwent. For the most part, Izumi's character arc stayed intact. I did end up cutting a side character, a tutor that Izumi had, and morphed him into Mariko's character, Izumi's lady-in-waiting. I think it was the right move to do this, as it made Mariko's character and her relationship with Izumi stronger—more whole and complete.
Are you a fan/follower of the Japanese Imperial family? Did you have to research them to write Tokyo Ever After?
I am absolutely a follower of the Japanese Imperial family. I think there has always been and will always be a public fascination with royalty, and I am no exception! Before writing the novel, I read everything on the Imperial family, from articles to biographies. I am also fortunate to have friends in Japan who consulted on the book.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned about the royal family during your research?
There were so many fun facts! Japan's Imperial Family is the world's oldest heredity monarchy. Some of the tidbits I like to share are: family members don't have surnames or carry cash, and female descendants cannot inherit the throne (although there is much debate over that now).
People dream about what it would be like to be a member of a royal family. But those fantasies rarely acknowledge the realities involved. You provide a healthy dose of those realities in Tokyo Ever After and Izumi's challenges stepping into becoming a member of the Imperial Family. If you found out you were a "secret" royal, would you try to assimilate into the family and surrounding organization, or would you continue your life as it was before you found out?
This is such a great question, and honestly, I don't know! I suppose I would go Izumi's route and explore what that life might look like, but I can imagine how stressful it would be with all the unrelenting pressure.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Aside from board books (I have twin toddlers J)? I just finished reading Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. It is a YA thriller and a really stunning novel.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Honestly? I used to steal my mother's romance novels. I loved them so much, especially the historicals, that feeling of being swept away into a different time and space—yes, please!
What is a book you've faked reading?
So, I am reading All the Light We Cannot See, but I have been "reading" it for a year—a couple of pages here, a couple of pages there. I don't know what's wrong with me, and it is a gorgeous book and so beautifully written. Someday I will finish it!
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
I bought Joan He's Descendant of the Crane based on the cover. It's a wonderful book! But I did pick it off the shelves because of the artwork.
Is there a book that changed your life?
Can I say all the books?! I see reading as a whole life-changing experience for me. It is the catalyst that made me want to write. I am forever thankful for words on paper.
What are you working on now?
I have just finished the second Tokyo Ever After book! I can't say too much, but there will be more kissing, more romance, and more royal romps!