Interview With Amber A. Logan, Author of The Secret Garden of Yanagi Inn

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Any interests or early signs as a child that hinted you would later put pen to paper?

I’ve always loved words. When I was in middle school, I used to check out books of quotations from the library and meticulously copy the quotes I liked into notebooks. I wouldn’t even record who said them—I just loved the words themselves. Over time I started writing poetry and weird little short stories and vignettes. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started writing more seriously, publishing flash fiction and short stories, and trying my hand at novels. I had a few novels die in the query trenches before I got an agent, and then the first novel that went out on submission died on submission. The Secret Garden of Yanagi Inn was the second book my agent sent out to editors, and it finally sold after more than a year of being on submission. I guess the moral of the story is to be persistent!

What inspired you to write this story of healing and redemption? The characters that fill it (Mari, Honda, Kishi, Yuna, and Ogura?

Although by nature I’m a rather optimistic and upbeat person, I have a hard time writing happy books. So when I started thinking of stories to retell (I love a good retelling) and started brainstorming about retelling The Secret Garden I had to ask myself: what kind of elements do I want to pull out of the original? Perhaps it is because The Secret Garden is a children’s book, or perhaps because it is a product of its time, but I’ve always felt that the main character, Mary, wasn’t dealing with enough grief. She just lost both her parents and was shipped to a strange place on the opposite side of the world! I wanted to really pull that grief out and delve into it on a much deeper level. But the original story is about healing and new life, and I wanted to include that kind of bittersweet happiness at the end that only comes about from having survived a dark place

Regarding the characters, I had a lot of fun planning how to adapt the original characters into this new contemporary and foreign setting. I find that a lot of older stories tend to have a LOT of characters, but I like to write really tight casts. So some of the characters from the original actually got combined into a single character; Honda, for example, is an amalgamation of both the groundskeeper and Dickon, the animal-loving boy. I think that’s why she is my favorite character—she gets to have more complexity as a result of absorbing multiple roles.

Review HERE!
This story brought the culture of Japan alive for me. How did you come to be so familiar with the food, traditional ryokans, the plants, ikiryo, and the gardens?

That is lovely to hear! My connection to Japan is both personal and academic. My husband and I adopted our daughter from Japan as an infant 11 years ago, and we (as white Americans) are trying to our best to raise a Japanese-American child. We incorporate Japanese culture (foods, books, anime, holidays, traditions) into our lives as much as we can, and we like to travel to Japan as often as we can.

Academically, I have an M.A. in International Relations (where I specialized in Asia), and my PhD in Creative Writing also heavily involved Japanese culture. Working on my thesis and delving into how doubles and doppelgängers have been represented in Japanese culture, I came across the concept of ikiryō, and I knew I had to incorporate that into a book someday. Additionally, I just did a LOT of research on the plants, architecture, etc.

How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

I started writing more seriously after I became a parent, so my schedule has usually revolved around when my kids are in bed. So my best (and most consistent) writing comes in the evening, though I do try to squeeze in writing during the day when I can (I work from home on my own schedule). I am definitely a plotter, so I don’t sit down to write unless I know pretty much exactly what I’ll be writing in that session. This means I don’t really encounter writer’s block, but also that inspiration has very little to do with the actual drafting process.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about the writing process or comes easily to you? What feels most like a chore - a struggle?

I think my favorite part of writing is when I get to polish what I’ve already written. I’ve been told I have a literary kind of writing style for a genre writer, and I think that stems from my love of beautiful language. So I enjoy when I already have a few drafts under my belt and it’s time to go line-by-line, reading each sentence out loud and tweaking it until it reads elegantly. Honestly, I think the first, messy drafts are often the hardest for me. I am an outliner, so by the time I sit down to start putting words on paper I know essentially what I need to write, so for me it's just a matter of putting down words so I have the pleasure of editing them later.

I know you are a teacher and editor as well as a writer? How does your work as teacher and editor affect your personal writing?

I’ve graded SO many papers and edited SO many pages of fiction that I think it has helped me know what doesn’t work in my own writing. When I’m forced to really look at a client’s novel and think “ok, but WHY isn’t this landing?” or I have to explain to a student why their sentences feel clunky, it gives me a fresh perspective when I turn to my own work.

What's next for you as an author? Do you have anything new in the works?

My biggest piece of advice to other authors is to always be working on the next thing! So I am indeed working on another retelling—this one is reworking a slightly more obscure book called The Haunted Woman by David Lindsay. My version is set in Japan, and it has a bit more of a gothic suspense kind of vibe featuring an old house with an uncanny staircase that erases memories.

Connect with the author: website ~ twitter ~ facebook ~ instagram ~ goodreads