Interview with Cynthia Kadohata, 2013 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature

Cynthia Kadohata

The Thing About Luck, Cynthia Kadohata Cynthia Kadohata The Thing About Luck

Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster

Interview by William Alexander

William Alexander: Tell us about riding a harvester!

Cynthia Kadohata: Riding a combine through a wheat field, going over and over up and down the field, was actually a kind of relaxing, meditative experience. You really feel like a natural part of the field, like an extension of it, all of you (including the wheat) working together in some cosmic way to put bread on tables around the world. I wasn't driving; I was riding along. Combines cost around $350,000 and have about a zillion parts that can break, so I don't think they would have let me drive one.

WA: Summer is constantly translating those around her, as though twelve-years-old were another country and a separate language. Her grandmother's affection stands out, for me at least, as something spoken in a language Summer doesn't understand—or is only just beginning to understand. What are some of your own daily acts of translation?

CK: I don't know if this is a daily act of translation, but every day I learn something new about my son, or think I understand him better after a long talk...and then he grows up a little bit and what I've learned becomes moot. Then I have to learn to translate a whole new language.

WA: I gather that a household love of Legos and a similar devotion to dogs are both translated from your own life. True?

CK: If you stepped through the threshold to our house, you would be immediately faced with two crazy dogs and a LOT of Legos. For a while my son seemed to have moved on from Legos, but now he's back into them, which is good since they were damn expensive. The Legos and one of the dogs were definitely verbatim from real life, with no translating. The Doberman in the book was my Doberman, Thunder, in every way. 

WA: Do you have any good luck rituals? I'm especially curious about writerly rituals, something that might please the muse before a session of banging on the keyboard or scribbling in the notebook.

CK: I have three writerly good luck rituals. Two of them I can't stop doing, just in case they help.  But they're probably just OCD...or are they? I confess that I really believe in one of the three.  One of the OCD ones was actually started by my live-in boyfriend of 14 years. So we both do it. I asked him if I could tell you what it is, and he cried out, ‘NO, it'll mess with the karma!’ I'll just say that it makes us look a little silly in public sometimes. It involves parking lots, of all things.

WA: What is the very first bedtime story you can remember?

CK: My father usually wasn't around for bedtime because he worked such long hours, and I don't believe my mother read to us or told us stories. I've told my son, Sammy, every story I can think of when we have our pre-bedtime life talk that I think we both really, really enjoy. 

William Alexander won the National Book Award in 2012 for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. He studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Workshop. He teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.