Darien High School senior Christine Mari was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, relocating with her family to the U.S. in 2003. Ten years later, 15-year old Mari returned to her birth country to visit her mother’s family, documenting the trip with illustrations and photos. But Mari didn’t stop there: Her experiences formed the basis for her forthcoming graphic young adult book, “Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan.”
Mari will celebrate the release on Saturday, Nov. 15 with a book signing at Barrett Bookstore (314 Heights Rd. in Darien) at 5 p.m.
Your book began during your visit to Japan. What was it like to return to where you were born so many years later? How did those experiences inspire you creatively?
It was interesting returning to a place that simultaneously was familiar and unfamiliar for me, but I think this actually helped me creatively because I was not only relying on new experiences but also old memories I had from when I was last in Japan. I think this made the book a lot more personal for me but also gave an interesting perspective from someone who’s not entirely a foreigner.
Can you tell us a little about your process in putting this book together? Do you always begin with drawings and sketches, or are there times when a plot or story idea comes first?
Every page always started with the drawings, largely because I identify more as an illustrator than a writer, so it was much more natural for me to start recording observations or emotions through my art. Then I’d use my writing to accompany the drawings, after having developed a clear sense of what I wanted to say on that page. Even when the story for a page came to my head first, I would start by drawing it.
What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned about the creative process while working on your book?
The most surprising but important thing I learned while working on this book was that I shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to others for advice and support—for me this meant reaching out to other authors and asking them to take a look at my book. I was surprised at how many took the time to respond to me, and now it’s something I’m not afraid to do anymore.
Some writers have writing rituals and routines—always writing at the same time of day or for a certain number of hours or until they reach a specific number of words. What are your writing rituals? How did you balance being a high school student with the demands of writing a book?
I never really noticed a specific routine or ritual throughout the process of the making of this book; I guess I believe that each page was more so the result of a burst of inspiration, and that was when I would pull out my notebook and start drawing and writing. I can say that balancing being a high school student, especially as a junior, with writing a book was definitely challenging. I often found myself wanting to ignore one duty and focus solely on the other, but I eventually decided to devote most of my weekends to the book and whatever spare time I had during the week as well.
What books and authors have inspired you?
“French Milk” by Lucy Knisley inspired me by showing that a love of cartooning and of travel could be intertwined, and she has been one of my biggest artistic influences since middle school. Besides Knisley, I’ve been inspired by other graphic novelists like Hope Larson, Jeff Smith, and Vera Brosgol. I’m also an avid reader of books about Japan, and Will Ferguson’s “Hitching Rides With Buddha” is my favorite book on the topic.
What’s the best writing advice you have been given?
The best writing advice I’ve ever gotten is to never stop.
Please ask and answer one question you wish I’d asked.
Do you want to write a follow up?
While I’m not specifically thinking of a sequel to “Halfway Home,” I think I would like to make more books in the future. I especially enjoy combining illustrations with travel writing. So maybe I take on Hong Kong next time!
Photo of Mari courtesy of christinemari.com