Featured Author: Alexia Montibon-Larsson

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Forged In Fire started out as an oral history project — an attempt to record all of the many stories that my mother, Rita, would recount about her childhood experiences of World War II in Japan.  I had always known Mom to be a hard-working person.  She was endlessly busy and often enlisted our help around the house so it was always a treat when she would take a moment to relax and reminisce with us about her memories.  We found her tales fascinating, amusing, endearing and sometimes heartbreaking.  Mom’s stories were never told in any sort of order and were sometimes brought up in passing.

As Mom grew older, she started urging us to write down her stories for her so they would not be forgotten.  I volunteered to take on the task.  At the time, she was living in New Mexico so I would bring my husband’s digital recorder with me whenever I visited her and record our conversations.


Each time the air raid sirens would start, Sadakazu would run outside with a shovel to dig a hole in the street in front of our home.  We would hide our valuables in the hole and cover them with dirt until we heard the “all clear” signal….After a while, Sadakazu grew tired of burying our valuables day after day.  If we were going to die anyway, what did it matter?

In February 2014, I began transcribing the recordings.  Initially, I didn’t know where to start and soon realized that I was going to have to do some additional fact-checking and research in order to understand when certain events had occurred.  Once everything had been typed, I printed the entire document and cut it apart.  The pieces were spread out on the floor and moved around until they began to correspond with a basic historical timeline that I had also put together.  Once everything was in order, I taped the pieces onto new sheets of paper and used them as a reference while I continued editing on the computer.  Helping Mom write Forged In Fire made me realize that although I had grown up with her stories, I had lacked a larger historical context in which to place them.  The timeline was like a magnet that pulled everything together and gave the story its beginning and end.  It was like completing a puzzle and seeing how all of the pieces fit together to form a fully realized picture — one that was exciting to see.

After a draft was prepared, I mailed a printed copy to Mom.  That was the start of a long series of phone calls back and forth between us.  She would sometimes call while I was at work and leave excited messages letting me know that she had remembered something else that needed to be added.  Long-buried memories began to surface — some good, some bad.  She called once to ask if I could delete some of the more distressing parts from her story then later called back to tell me that she had changed her mind.  Ultimately, everything remained in the final version and I think Forged In Fire is stronger for it.

Before Mom passed away in August of 2014, she had specifically requested that I illustrate a particular scene from her story:  a house on fire with the redness of its flames reflected on the faces of the people watching it burn.  I fulfilled her wish and went on to include additional drawings.  The black and white photographs that appear in Forged In Fire were approved by Mom while the story was still a rough draft.

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Forged In Fire was posted in full (unillustrated) on Wattpad in April of 2015.  I was curious to see if there might be an audience for it.  Initially, there was no response despite my active participation on the site and I contemplated deleting the story.  Fortunately, fellow Wattpadder, Oliver Redfern, was the first person to discover Forged In Fire and he began posting comments and questions on each chapter.  Ollie’s engagement with the story drew attention and over time, more people read it.  He went on to publish a wonderful, full-length review of Forged In Fire for which I am eternally grateful.

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The timing of the digital release of Forged In Fire this May is especially meaningful because it coincides with an upcoming historical and highly anticipated first visit by a sitting U. S.  President to Hiroshima.  It amazes me to contemplate the simple fact that had Mom not urged her family to leave Kyushu (which is near Hiroshima and where Nagasaki is located) and return to Tokyo when she did, the possibility of my own existence would never have occurred.  I hope that readers of Forged In Fire will not only enjoy it but will find something within it to take to heart.

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EXCERPT

On the upper floor of the College, there was a dining area where I also worked as a waitress.  Only officers, their wives, and the international judges were allowed to eat there.

Once, as I was coming down the wide staircase, I saw an American soldier approaching below.  He was in uniform, wearing a helmet, his pants tucked into his combat boots.  He noticed me heading down so he paused and waited.  Before I reached the floor, I stopped and moved aside to let him go by.  Although a few steps below me, he was still taller than me.  

He reached out and gently placed his hand on the back of my neck, gazing at me with a look of deep sadness and compassion.  As I stood there for a moment, feeling the warmth of his hand, neither of us spoke a word.  I sensed that he felt pity seeing someone so young working in such a situation.  I wanted to tell him that it was not so bad working there. As we looked into each other’s eyes, it felt as though our souls were speaking to each other.  He finally let go and moved past me upstairs.  I sensed that he was someone who might have had a younger sibling or child back home.


Thank you so much, Liz, for inviting me to be featured on your blog!  I am excited that Forged in Fire: Stories of Wartime Japan is now available for Kindle and epub readers thanks to you!  When you reached out to me and offered to format my story for e-book distribution, I was both thrilled and grateful.  For readers out there, I would like to mention that Liz is not only a great writer who works hard at her craft but she is also extremely knowledgeable about digital publishing.  She pointed me in the right direction at every turn and her guidance has been invaluable.

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