Author Q&A with Mystic writer Debbi Michiko Florence

Author Q&A with Mystic writer Debbi Michiko Florence

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Mystic author Debbi Michiko Florence will celebrate the release of her new book,  “Jasmine Toguchi: Drummer Girl,” Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Savoy Bookshop & Café on Canal Street. Readers of all ages — especially young readers who enjoy chapter books — are invited to attend and hear a concert with taiko drummers.

Where do you live?

Mystic, with my husband, Bob, a rescue dog named Kiku, a bunny named Aki, and two ducks named Darcy and Lizzy.

I see that you’ve lived all over!

Yes, I'm a native Californian, I was born in San Francisco and raised in Los Angeles. I’ve called many places home — Michigan, Mexico, Massachusetts, New York, and China.

You started writing before you could read? How does that happen?

I drew (bad) pictures of stories.

What were your favorite books/authors growing up?

”I loved ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ by Madeleine L’engle, ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ by E.B. White, ‘Lad: A Dog,’ by Albert Payson Terhune, and all the witch and magic books by Ruth Chew. I was also a huge fan of Judy Blume.”

Do you have any primary influences?

”I was fortunate to be mentored by author Cynthia Leitich Smith when I first started out many  years ago. She guided and encouraged me, and provided me with feedback on my manuscripts. I was inspired early on by other Asian-American authors who wrote contemporary stories with Asian-American characters, particularly Lisa Yee, Linda Sue Park, and Grace Lin. And I continue to be inspired by the many wonderful authors in the children’s literature community.”

What inspired you to become a writer?

”Great books! I read voraciously from childhood on. And I loved to make up stories. I have my parents to thank for reading to me when I was young, taking me and my sister to the library, and never saying no when I wanted a book. I'm grateful also to my teachers who encouraged me to write stories, particularly my third-grade teacher, Miss Morris, and my fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Shinohara.”

How did Jasmine come to be?

”I read a newspaper article about a multi-generational Japanese-American family that got together every New Year to make mochi in the traditional way by steaming sweet rice, pounding the rice into a gooey mass, and then rolling it into mochi balls. I love mochi, a Japanese chewy treat! Knowing that traditionally, it is the men who pound mochi and the women who roll the mochi, I wondered what would happen if a little girl wanted to do the man's job of pounding the mochi? Would her family allow her to? I couldn't stop thinking about what that little girl would be like, and Jasmine Toguchi was born, so to speak. When my editor offered to publish Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen, she asked me to write three more books for a series. I am having a blast writing Jasmine's adventures!”

Who would you like to see at your talk on Sunday?

”Anyone who likes reading chapter books or is interested in hearing a taiko drum performance. Jasmine Toguchi Drummer Girl is Book 3 in the chapter-book series about a spunky Japanese-American girl growing up in Los Angeles. In this book, Jasmine is excited about the upcoming school talent show, but worries she doesn't have a talent to perform. Her mother introduces her to the Japanese taiko drum and Jasmine hopes she can learn it in time for the big show. I took a lesson to learn the exact routine that Jasmine learns in the book, and the taiko group Odaiko New England will be at my launch party to perform. They are amazing!”

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