With us today is Laura Popp, author of Treasure Traitor.
Written World Communications: What first interested you in writing?
Laura Popp: Starting from the age of five, I used to make up games to play with my friends based on a group I called “The Super Sisters.” Each sister came from a different planet, had a special power, and enjoyed unique adventures. By the time I was ten, I had invented an entire universe populated with dozens of alien races. Shows like Star Trek and books like The Chronicles of Narnia inspired me to write down my stories. I finished my first novel at twelve years old (about a traveling space band), followed by many others. Treasure Traitor has been the first to be published.
WWC: That’s so fun! What do you use as your muse now?
LP: I don’t really have a single muse. Often a particular setting or concept will grab my imagination, but I feel my best stories come when characters “talk” to me. That character will become so appealing that I have to listen and record his or her history. As a Christian, I feel that God sometimes leads me to an idea or lays a particular conflict on my heart that He wants me to write about.
WWC: Obviously God is a huge factor in how you write. Who else serves as encouragement for you?
LP: I have been blessed with very supportive parents, particularly my mother, who reads everything I write (often in several versions). In addition to that, since sixteen I’ve been highly involved with local writing clubs and critique groups. I think a person can overdo such things (you could be out every single evening at a writers’ meeting instead of actually writing!), but overall, I’ve found them very helpful. Sometimes it’s just good to know that there are other people who are just as insane as I am! Most helpful is my dedicated group of “beta readers,” who swap stories and give me feedback. They are invaluable.
WWC: What a great team! So, when you’re not busy with writers’ meetings, what are you working on?
LP: Besides the sequel to Treasure Traitor, I’m working on the “origin story,” the story that tells how my whole universe began, how the Kingdom and the Hierarchy came about, how their rulers became evil, and how the war between those two planetary systems started. I’m learning quite a bit myself!
WWC: Crazy question: Have you ever had a case of mistaken identity?
LP: For this last question, I actually have a little story to share.
Cultural misunderstandings are usually, I’ve discovered, mutual. Take the common Western observation that Japanese people look younger than they really are. When I first moved to Japan to begin my job as an English teacher, I was certain this phenomenon had something to do with their narrow faces, slim builds, short statures, and flawless skin. I wondered if it might be because the women often dress in lacy skirts, tights, and heels well into their sixties and apply makeup to their face as if it were a work of art. Older men, likewise, continue to wear full suits, cologne, live with their parents, and watch cartoons well past Grad School. But it wasn’t until my first day at work that I realized they, too, found boring white folk like me ageless enigmas.
Thursday morning, 7:30, Yamamoto-sensei greeted me at my apartment.
“Leady?” she asked.
If I were “leady” it would be awful hard to move my leaden legs, I thought. Keeping my snarky comments to myself, I grabbed my backpack and bounded out the door. I really was excited about my first day as a teacher, clad in my black skirt suit and armed with my bento (lunch box).
Yamamoto-sensei giggled (a perfectly acceptable thing for a professional thirty-five- year-old Japanese woman to do, apparently). “You look like a student.”
I’m sure she meant that I looked cute, which is the ultimate Japanese compliment for a girl. But as an insecure twenty-three-year-old who just spent the last twenty of those years in school and was now proud to finally be starting a “career” (which is, they’ve told me, so much better than a bourgeois “job”), I felt devastated.
Will the kids respect me? Will the other teachers even like me?
I tried not to sound defensive. “Um…thanks.”
Yamamoto-sensei beamed (as only Japanese people truly can), and led me down the sidewalk. We passed quaint little shops and smiling, toothless grannies in 50’s-style aprons, sweeping the sidewalk with short, branchy brooms that seemed right out of a fairytale.
“How cute!” they greeted me in Japanese as I passed. “Are you an international student?”
“Sensei,” (teacher) Yamamoto-sensei defended me.
It’s all right, I told myself. Little old ladies in America would say the same thing.
Half an hour later we reached Takogaoka High School, which as the second half of its name suggests, is located on top of a hill. (But tako means octopus, so don’t ask me what that’s about.) Before meeting the other teachers, Yamamoto-sensei rushed me into the principal’s office where we had tea.
“Ah, look like student!” the principal exclaimed.
“Eh…arigato.” (Um…thanks.) He’s just trying to be nice.
Next, Yamamoto-sensei introduced me to the other English teachers in the sensei room, of which about five out of the eight actually spoke English. (The rest taught grammar).
“My goodness, you look like a student,” one of the older male teachers noted.
“Um…thanks.” They’ll get used to me.
Finally, Yamamoto-sensei guided me around the three squat buildings where I was to spend my days teaching first year (10th grade) high school. Eventually, we ran into some of the kids I would soon be instructing.
“Yata!” one of the girls exclaimed when she saw me. (Which is roughly translated “excited squeal universal to all teenage females.”) “A new international student!”
I wanted to burst into tears. Instead, I crawled back to the sensei room and sat at my desk, pretending to organize it when actually all I could think was, What if they won’t listen to me? What if they always treat me like a child? What if—
“Excuse me,” I heard a small voice with a thick Japanese accent beside my desk. “Could you help me?”
I glanced up at a short young man with glasses.
He awkwardly stuck out his hand. “My name is Kenji. I want learn English. You teach me after school?”
“Sure, Kenji,” I said, giving his hand a firm shake. Finally, some respect! “What grade are you going into?”
Kenji cocked his head to one side. “Pardon?”
“What year will you be in school?”
Kenji’s face flushed red. “I math teacher!”
Cultural misunderstandings: usually mutual.
WWC: Oh, goodness! Thanks for sharing with us!
When not writing, Laura is an ESL teacher. Treasure Traitor is on sale for $0.99 on Amazon for a limited time.