I first met Misa Sugiura at an author event, and I’ve really enjoyed the conversations we’ve had. Her book, IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET explores what it means to tell the truth, and how doing so can turn out in ways we don’t expect.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

According to your website, your ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. If you could choose one of these people to write about, which one would it be and why?

Oh, wow, I love this question! I would definitely choose the priestess. I know almost nothing about her–she’s just this shadowy, nameless figure from a shrine on the eastern coast of Japan. To be totally honest, she was probably a “miko” or shrine maiden, rather than a priestess. Her son—my great-grandfather—was adopted by my “legitimate” family and became something of a legend in the family for his supposedly psychic powers. I often wonder about her—why she became a shrine maiden, what her life was like there, the circumstances around her pregnancy and her son’s birth, what happened after she gave up her baby.

She sounds like a very interesting woman! IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET explores what happens after we tell the truth. Which parts of Sana’s story were the most interesting to grapple with?

For me, the issues around our most shameful/embarrassing thoughts about race and ethnicity were the toughest to write about. I wanted to be completely honest about how people can see each other despite their best intentions, which meant venturing into some potentially very hurtful territory. It also meant that readers might interpret characters’ opinions and portrayals to be rooted in my own opinions, or they might just be hurt or offended by those same portrayals and opinions. I also had to confront a lot of my own narrow views of people–I thought because I liked certain characters, I was writing positive portrayals and flipping old stereotypes on their heads. Thanks to my sensitivity readers, I realized that even though I had tried to offer more than the stereotypes, those stereotypes still overpowered the characters’ individuality in my early drafts. I hope my revisions added depth and texture.

I loved writing about micro-aggressions, whether it be for race and ethnicity, or sexuality, or gender. All of the characters have to face them and figure out how to react to them, and all of the characters are guilty of perpetrating them. Navigating those micro-aggressions can be tough, because it often feels like a judgment call—how much can I be offended if the person meant no offense? Is it the emotional energy I will have to spend to call them out? If I let it slide, am I just giving permission for it to happen? If I say or do something and accidentally offend someone, does that make me a racist/sexist/homophobe? I loved writing about that tension and exploring how people interact when those questions are in the air.

And they are definitely questions we all grapple with. Is there something you wished you’d known before your book debuted last year? If so, what would it be and why? 

On a purely practical level, I wish I’d known to look for conferences and conventions where I might be able to appear on a panel or for an interview, and put together proposals and pitches both individually and with other authors. I didn’t realize how many opportunities there were, or how early you had to apply. It’s often nine months or more in advance! I wish I had known that I could have asked my publicity department for ideas, or to pitch me to some of the bigger conferences.

Conferences are excellent, for both writers and readers. What are some of your current projects?

I’ve got a second novel with my editor at HarperTeen. It’s undergoing some pretty major revisions, so I can’t say much about it right now. And ideas for a third novel are percolating. 🙂

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound