Our ongoing series on Native Hawaiian and local Hawaiʻi writers continues this week with my friend, author Brandi-Ann Uyemura. Writing coach, blogger, coach and author, Brandi does it all. Her articles and essays inspire hope, courage and compassion. An Asian American who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Brandi brings a much needed authentic voice, not just for Asian kids in Hawaiʻi but for all kids, everywhere.
Hi, Brandi. Thank you for allowing me to feature you. For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! I’m Brandi, a writer and mom of two young boys. I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and went to Aiea High School.
Go Na Aliʻi! Who is your biggest supporter?
My husband. He’s been with me from the very beginning when I was getting my master’s in counseling psychology and veered off course to be a freelance writer. The latter and marrying him were the best decisions I made (besides having kids)!
Why did you become a writer? What inspired you to write for children?
I think I’ve always been a writer. I just didn’t know you could do it for a living. It’s funny I coach creative women and I often say that the thing you say you would never do, is often the thing you want to do most. When I got my BA in English from the University of Oregon, I could have gone the children’s writer route, but I never thought I would write for kids. I even interned at Skipping Stones, a multicultural children’s magazine.
One of my earliest memories in school was having to create a picture book. I think it was about rats or something lol. It was a pivotal memory because I remember thinking: wow you mean I can write a book?
What do you enjoy most about writing for kids? What are some of your greatest challenges in writing for children?
I have fond memories of reading books in my youth. It was that one moment when I felt that visceral experience of being in the story. I think every reader remembers reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and wanting to eat chocolate or getting chicken skin from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’ve almost never been able to recapture that feeling as an adult. When I write for kids, I get that magical experience of feeling like anything is possible.
Oh, yes, I know what you mean. What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your writing career and what you would like to see published in the future?
I hope to get more of my picture books on submission and my middle grade mystery in submission shape. I have other fiction novels that I’ve started, another middle grade, and two women’s fiction novels. Once my kids are in school again, I hope to really get deep into those.
I think I will always be a writer. Fiction is new to me and yet, it feels like coming home There’s something fresh and delicious about writing fiction that I haven’t experience writing nonfiction.
There are not a lot of stories for local kids by local writers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do to change that?
I don’t know exactly why that is. And you and I have had conversations about that. It’s so important to have these unique cultural experiences on the bookshelves. I think we need to support other local and indigenous writers with stories to tell. I think what you’re doing: writing about your own culture, working to get them published and featuring local writers and authors on your website are pivotal ways to change the landscape.
I agree! Do you have a website? Are you on social media? Do social media play a role for you as an author? Do your readers contact you? What do they say?
I have two websites: The Inspiring Bee and Brandi-AnnUyemura.com. The Inspiring Bee was created decades ago and is all about inspiring people to follow their purpose. The other website is a place for writers. Both have helped me get jobs and connect with writers in the decade or so that I’ve had them so I am grateful for both.
I’m on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all with @TheInspiringBee. I met my first freelance writer friends over a decade ago through my blog and Twitter. I’ve also met IRL mom friends and coaching clients solely through Instagram. Right now, I’m prepublished, so I’m using social media as more of a way to connect and find inspiration from other creative’s platforms.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
If I were to speak to an aspiring writer, I would tell them their words matter. There is always room in the collective for their voice and that anything they don’t know, they can learn. The main thing is to keep going. The only way to become the writer you dream of, is to write. Write despite fear. Write despite insecurity. Write despite what anyone else says. And don’t show your work to anyone in the early process. Give yourself the freedom to express and put everything down on paper. You can always go back to revise.
Can you share a bit of your current work?
I wrote a picture book about the local Japanese Bon Dance here in Hawaii. Originally, it was written in third person and was basically a documentary on a real scene at a Bon Dance lol. I had no idea what I was doing. It has had multiple iterations since then and is now written in first person.
What beliefs are your stories challenging?
I think culture, courage and being and accepting yourself. It’s a story about connecting with your ancestors.
What is your inspiration for your stories?
My own life as a mom raising two boys for sure. And my family’s life growing up in a sugar plantation in Kauai. It’s a mix of everything I’ve read, researched and lived.
Which characters do you relate with easily? Why?
I can relate to my main character being afraid to dance in front of everyone. I really grappled with this story for years until I had an amazing mentor, Andrea Wang from PBChat. She helped me to get to the heart of my story.
That’s cool. Are you working on a new writing project? Can you share a bit about your next book?
I am revising a middle grade mystery. It’s about six years in the making. What motivated me was receiving a SCBWI mentorship and Highlights scholarship. These came right when I was about to throw in the towel. It’s a story that blends my own past experiences working at a chocolate store, as a private investigator and middle school therapist. It’s a chocolate mystery about an Asian American girl growing up in an almost all white community where she befriends her former nemesis and bully, and learns that we’re all a mix of bitter and sweet. None of us immune to the evils of the world.
That sounds intriguing Brandi. Mahalo for sharing your manaʻo and best wishes always! To contact Brandi-Ann Uyemura, visit her on social media or The Inspiring Bee and Brandi-AnnUyemura.com.