I’ve featured Misa Sugiura’s YA titles It’s Not Like It’s A Secret and Love & Other Disasters. I’m so excited by the premise of her first middle grade fantasy, MOMO ARASHIMA STEALS THE SWORD OF THE WIND, that I can’t wait until it comes out on February 28, 2023.
All Momo wants for her twelfth birthday is a normal life–a life like everyone else’s. At home, she has to take care of her absentminded widowed mother. At school, kids ridicule her for mixing up reality with the magical stories her mother used to tell her.
But then Momo’s mother falls gravely ill, and a death hag straight out of those childhood stories attacks Momo at the mall, where she’s rescued by a talking fox . . . and “normal” goes out the window. It turns out that Momo’s mother is a banished Shinto goddess who used to protect a long-forgotten passageway to Yomi–a.k.a. the land of the dead. That passageway is now under attack, and countless evil spirits threaten to escape and wreak havoc across the earth.
Joined by Niko the fox and Danny–her former best friend turned popular jerk, whom she never planned to speak to again, much less save the world with–Momo must embrace her (definitely not normal) identity as half human, half goddess to unlock her divine powers, save her mother’s life, and force the demons back to Yomi.
In our last interview, you said, “If I’m working on more than one project, I always worry that I’m spending too much time on one instead of the other, or that I’ll get so into one project that I won’t be able to get back into the other one.” Has this proven to be true, and if so, how have you dealt with it?
Still true! I had an opportunity to do some casual short-story writing last fall and I said I’d do it—and then never got started because I couldn’t tear myself away from the project I was already working on.
Ha! I understand the feeling! I love the premise of MOMO ARASHIMA STEALS THE SWORD OF THE WIND. How did Momo and her story first come to you, and what ways, if any, did it surprise you?
Almost 20 years ago, I saw a Japanese history drama about a general whose greatest victory resulted in the loss of a legendary sword—the Sword of the Wind. The story of that battle and that sword captivated me and never let go, so I knew that when I decided to write a middle grade fantasy, it would center on finding that sword. It took me a few tries to settle on exactly who Momo was and how she was connected to the sword. Even then it took me a few tries to get the first fifty pages right. But once I did, the rest came quickly and easily—and that was the surprise, because for my other books, drafting was a long and painful process all the way through.
Sometimes when you spend a bit more time getting plot threads to align in the beginning, it can pay off later! You’ve written both YA and middle grade books. What do you love about writing for each age group?
I love the complicated relationships in YA, and I enjoy the challenge of getting the energy just right. I’ve also enjoyed getting to dig into some of the larger social issues we face, through the stories of these teens. For this middle grade novel, I had fun with the more black-and-white worldview that tweens tend to have. And popularity is more important to this age group than to older teens, I got to take a hard look at how it works in middle grades—something that always evaded me when I was a middle grade student myself.
It evaded me too! What are some of your current author goals? Is there any kind of book you’d like to write that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
I have a couple more ideas for middle grade fantasy, as well as a couple of picture book ideas. Picture books are hard! But maybe one day…