Orsayor: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Karin: Thank you for having me! I’m a first generation American and a Washington D.C. native. After I graduated from high school, I went to Vassar College, which I absolutely loved. (My third book “The Gilded Years” is set there and is about the school’s first African-American graduate, Anita Hemmings.) A few years after Vassar, I became a journalist—working as a reporter for Politico and other publications—before I got a book deal in 2012 with Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. My first book, “The List,” came out in early 2013 and I’ve been writing fiction ever since.
Orsayor: How was writing this book different from writing your last one? What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Karin: My last book, “The Gilded Years,” was great preparation for this book because it was heavily research intensive, as it too was historical fiction. But the main difference between it and “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” is that Anita Hemmings, the protagonist of “The Gilded Years,” was a real person and all my characters in “The Diplomat’s Daughter” are fictional. Basing a book off a real person is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you know how the story ends, but a curse because you really want to do the person’s life justice.
The hardest thing about writing “The Diplomat’s Daughter” was taking a very popular subject, World War II, and creating a fresh take on it. By focussing on Asia, and little known parts of history, I hope I was able to do this.
Orsayor: Do you work with an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you?
Karin: When I first started writing, I definitely was more of a wild writer (like Hemingway! I would try to tell myself) and I wrote my first draft of “The List” without an outline. Because that book was very much based on my life at the time, it worked out. But since then, I’ve learned that outlines and fleshed out plots are key to a polished first draft. Now my outline really feels like a safety blanket and when I’m having hard days, I use it to kind of paint by numbers. Then I can add all the detail when I’m revising. That said, I wish I could just have a cocktail and see where the keyboard takes me, because it really sounds fun, but I’m just not that writer.
Orsayor: Give readers an insight into one of your main characters from the book.
Karin: I have three main characters in my book—Emi Kato, Christian Lange, Leo Hartmann—and the narration alternates between the three. This is the first time I’ve had male protagonists and I really enjoyed writing them. Christian is an interesting character because he is the most wide-eyed and coddled by his parents when the book begins. Then things take a wild turn for him when he is put in an internment camp because of his German origins and then decides to enlist, motivated more by love than patriotism. I hope that readers will find the evolution of his character, and his turn from naïve boy to worldly man, interesting.
Orsayor: What’s one valuable piece of advice you were given that helped your career?
Karin: When I was a journalist, I learned not to be precious about my writing. As a reporter, my pieces were sometimes killed off and I just couldn’t care about it. I had to shrug and move on to the next one. My editors helped me learn to just go with the flow about writing. That it’s just words and that even if they don’t get published, the act of producing them made me a better writer. I try to apply the same advice to fiction writing.
For my last two books, I have taken fifty percent of my first draft (about 50,000 words) and trashed it as my deadline loomed. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t shed a tear or two, but I got over it quickly because I knew it was the right thing to do. Certain parts just didn’t feel as polished as others, and I knew I had to re-plot sections of the book and write them over.
Orsayor: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Karin: On my website, www.karintanabe.com, I have information about all four of my books, but also a few video interviews I have done, news segments from when I was a reporter, and pieces I wrote for different publications. I also encourage anyone who wants to get in touch to please write to me! My email is also on my website.