By Shannon Rygg
Today we’re pleased to welcome Misa Sugiura to the WNDB blog to discuss her YA novel Love & Other Natural Disasters, out June 8, 2021! We revealed the cover of Love & Other Natural Disasters last year, along with an excerpt.
When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
How would you pitch Love & Other Natural Disasters to potential readers in two/three sentences?
After a brutal rejection, Nozomi Nagai is determined to use her summer in San Francisco to re-make herself and prove to the world (and to herself) that she’s worthy of the romance of her dreams. When beautiful, sophisticated Willow begs Nozomi to enter a fake dating relationship to make Willow’s ex jealous, Nozomi sees an opportunity: every fake romance she’s ever seen in the movies ends up in true love. But as Nozomi’s plans to construct her romance slide from one disaster to the next, she learns that you can’t always control where love will take you.
In L&OND, Nozomi has a good relationship with her older brother Max, though like any siblings they do argue and butt heads. What was your thought process behind having his character be Nozomi’s advice-giver?
I’m the oldest of three kids, and when I was growing up, I always wished that I had an older brother; someone who would tease me, maybe, but who would also look out for me and be there for me when the chips were down. When I was drafting this book, I needed a voice of reason in Nozomi’s life to temper her wild optimism—someone to hold up a mirror and lovingly but mercilessly insist that she look in it. I figured the imaginary older brother of my childhood would be the perfect loving-but-merciless mirror-holder-upper.
As shown on the gorgeously illustrated cover, L&OND takes the trope of a love triangle even further by having a love square and a fake relationship. Can you describe each of the four girls —Nozomi, Willow, Dela, and Arden—in three words or less to give readers an idea of what rollercoaster they’re in for?
Ooh, this is fun! Okay:
Nozomi: impulsive, romantic, optimistic
Willow: charming, strong-willed, desperate
Dela: grumpy, artistic, clear-eyed
Arden: talented, charismatic, forthright
L&OND introduces readers to three generations of the Nagai family, starting with Nozomi and Max, then their uncle Stephen, and finally Nozomi’s grandmother and Stephen’s mother. Later on, we also meet Nozomi’s father. Why did you choose to include all three generations?
I love flawed main characters, and I love complicated family dynamics—I’m endlessly fascinated by the way our families shape who we are: our strengths, insecurities, and beliefs about life. So it feels natural for me to write about characters in the context of their families, to explore why they are the way they are. But when I start thinking about parents and uncles and aunts, I can’t help thinking about how they became who they are. So then I have to go back another generation. In fact, both of my other two books have a grandparent and even a great-grandparent hovering in the background. I think some of that comes from being a child of immigrants; it’s impossible for me not to think about how my parents’ and my grandparents’ values affect the way I move through the world.
Nozomi and her family are Japanese American, but we also meet Uncle Lance who is Filipino American, and Willow who is Taiwanese American. Why was it important for you to highlight the differences in their Asian heritage?
For one thing, as a person living in the San Francisco Bay Area and writing realistic contemporary fiction, it makes sense to include a range of Asian ethnicities because that’s the reality here. But I also want to remind people that Asian America is much bigger and more diverse than what the media tends to show. There are 48 sovereign nations in Asia, and literally thousands of languages, and we are gay, straight, cis, trans, and everything in between and beyond.
Besides the relationship drama, L&OND contains family drama. And much of that stems from hiding the truth from the ones you love to either mitigate their hurt or your own. Can you further explain this complex family dynamic?
Oh, wow, can I ever! It’s exactly the dynamic in my own family of origin, and in many Asian families. The justification for hiding painful truths from each other is that it avoids conflict and/or shame: what you don’t know won’t hurt you. For example, in Japan, it’s rude to refuse a request or to point out an error, or even to disagree with people outright; there are ways of saying no without saying no, so you don’t hurt anyone’s pride or feelings (though of course, parents give hard no’s all the time). This philosophy can be taken to extremes that predictably spill over into family dynamics, like the way Nozomi’s grandmother avoids acknowledging her son’s (Nozomi’s uncle’s) sexuality, or how Nozomi’s father and uncle can’t bring themselves to talk to their mother about her dementia. I tried to use this as a mirror for Nozomi’s own reluctance to confront the painful truths in her life.
Do you do anything special to help you write, like a specific playlist that you listen to to get into the right headspace?
I’m usually one of those people who likes to write in silence. But for L&OND, I experimented with making a playlist get me in the mood (light, romantic, aspirational). It consists almost entirely of obnoxiously upbeat old pop songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by every artist who has ever covered it. Other than that, I almost always make myself a cup of tea before I sit down to write. It’s a nice little ritual, and tea feels very writerly to me. *smiley face*
Do you have any YA recommendations from recent new reads or any soon to be published?
Yes, so many!
Sarah Kuhn’s From Little Tokyo With Love (May 11) is about Rika, who lives with her aunts and cousins and who’s never known her mother. When she experiences a lightning bolt moment with Grace Kimura, America’s reigning rom-com queen and pride of Little Tokyo, she sets off (with hot Asian teen actor Hank Chen) on a city-wide search for clues that will confirm that Grace is her long-lost mother. This is one of those books where the city is a character, but it’s also about embracing who you are, about Asian pride, and who gets to call themselves Asian.
In Ciara Smyth’s Not My Problem (May 25) Aideen starts a favor-trading scheme where she executes um . . . creative solutions to other people’s problems as a way of avoiding her own problems. As you can imagine, her scheme goes wildly off the rails. There’s a sweet lesbian love story woven in as well!
Claire Kann’s The Marvelous (June 8), which is about six teens who win a weekend at the mansion of a reclusive heiress—and get locked inside the estate as competitors for a huge cash prize. The characters are a diverse bunch of kids in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and body type, and a triple POV narrative offers a variety of angles on the puzzles, clues, betrayals, and romance. Seriously, what’s not to love?
I also love When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert, The Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee, and I’m looking forward to XOXO by Axie Oh (July 13).
When WNDB talked to you around this time last year discussing your previous book This Time Will Be Different, you said a dream project you wanted to work on was a “Rick-Riordan-meets-Japanese-gods-and-legends MG fantasy” but that it was somewhat out of your comfort zone. Are you feeling that way still? Or do you have another dream project in mind, or even in the works?
I do have a dream project in the works, but unfortunately, I can’t talk about it publicly yet. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some good news before too long!
What is the most important message you want readers to glean from L&OND?
I hope that readers see that even though we can’t always be loved in the way we need or want, and we aren’t always capable of loving others the way they need and want, those imperfect love relationships can still be worthwhile. And it’s also worthwhile to hope and dream and work toward that perfect love.
Bonus question: Can you fold a paper crane and if so, how quickly? Do you beat Dela’s time (3 minutes)?
I can fold a paper crane, but I’m only a little bit better than Nozomi was when she started. I just timed myself, and it took me four-and-a-half minutes!
Misa Sugiura’s ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. Her first novel It’s Not Like It’s A Secret, won the Asian Pacific Islander American Librarians’ Association’s Award for Young Adult Literature; her highly acclaimed second novel, This Time Will Be Different, made the Best of 2019 lists of YALSA, Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. Her short story, “Where I’m From” appears in Come On In, a young adult anthology stories about immigration. Her newest book is Love & Other Natural Disasters. Misa was born in Chicago, earned a B.A. in English at Princeton University, and taught English as a second language in Japan before moving back to the States to earn her M.Ed at Stanford University. She taught English at a local public high for several years before “retiring” to be a stay-at-home parent. Currently, she lives and writes under a giant oak tree with her husband, two sons, and two cats. Learn more at MisaSugiura.com.
Shannon Rygg is constantly writing everything but what she should be writing. A creative writing graduate from the University of Redlands and a young professional in the publishing industry, in her free time she enjoys reading fantasy and romance, rereading said fantasies and romances, and then getting emotional over aforementioned rereads and tweeting and/or writing fanfiction about it. Expect her novel to drop by 2034. Maybe. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @shannonrygg.