Mark Oshiro talks the evolution of ‘Into the Light,’ writing stories for transracial adoptees, and continuing to challenge themselves

Mark Oshiro joins us for an interview discussing their latest book, Into the Light, including why it took six years and five other books before they were ready to tell this story.

Into the Light by Mark Oshiro hit store shelves on March 28, 2023. It is a young adult thriller that doesn’t shy away from tough topics, like teen homelessness, Christian nationalism, and the pitfalls of the adoption industry. With a raw and powerful voice, Mark illuminates life’s darkest horrors while simultaneously giving us hope for the future. Read my full Into the Light book review.

Sitting down for an interview with Mark was a surreal experience, having watched their career from afar for close to a decade. Their award-winning debut Anger Is a Gift set the groundwork for all of their novels to follow, including Each of Us a Desert, The Insiders, You Only Live Once, David Bravo, and, of course, Into the Light.

Below, Mark speaks about the arduous task of drafting this book, how they finally nailed that big turning point, and who they hope will find themselves within these pages. On Monday, be sure to return for their comments about writing The Sun and the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure with Rick Riordan, and all of the chaos they’re bringing to the book tour. You’ll be able to listen to this portion of the interview on Prophecy Radio episode #77, as well as read the companion article.

Interview with Mark Oshiro

Before we get into our conversation about Into the Light, I have to talk about how busy the last couple of years have been for you. You’ve really taken on some big-name projects and contributed to a couple of anthologies, all while writing your own original fiction. What’s the biggest motivation for you, and how do you get through those days where you just don’t feel like writing at all?

Gosh, I think the biggest motivation is so beautifully selfish in that my goal since I was a kid was to have a book with my name on the cover, and that happened with Anger Is a Gift in 2018, so it’s now just been—I just want more books with my name on the cover, and I want to just keep going because I have so many ideas that are just sitting in my Notes app that just haven’t been written. Yeah, so I think that is a very primal sort of motivation for me. As far as, oh gosh, the days when I don’t want to write or when it’s hard or when there are a million things going on in the world, pulling my attention elsewhere—I think in those moments, I also have to be very selfish in what I’m doing. I’m actually currently drafting book eight right now, and there’s clearly—as you’ve noticed—there’s a lot going on in my life, and I have a lot of promotional stuff coming up. And I think about—and this is what I do with every project—I think, ‘What are the moments in this book I can’t wait to get to, that I can’t wait to write?’ Whether it’s a plot twist, whether it’s a really funny scene or a certain joke or an action sequence. You know, whatever moment I’m looking forward to, I like to plant those in my stories for myself, too, that I also hope a reader enjoys as well. But I’m making those things to throw myself and make myself laugh and make myself scared or upset or whatever it is. You know, for me, drafting is very, very emotional, so I think for me that ends up being the biggest sort of tool that I have on a day-to-day basis while I’m writing.

And I imagine very cathartic, too, especially given Into the Light. It feels like that’s a huge part of the process.

Absolutely. Though, that was a delayed catharsis because I’ve had the idea for this book for a long [time]—since before, oh my gosh, I think even before Anger was published, or maybe a few months after. But the subject matter, I knew, would be so personal and autobiographical that I deliberately waited. I waited until I thought I had a better command of my craft, and then I had a stronger process to be able to outlast the actual writing of the story.

Is there any editing critique or comment that you most dread seeing after a first draft?

Oh no, not anymore, because for my last two YA books, for Each of Us a Desert and Into the Light, the first round of—you know, developmental edits is generally the industry term for that first big round of edits where you’re doing high level stuff [like] reorganizing the story, the ending doesn’t [work], you’re thinking big picture things. For both of my last books, my first, and I’m using air quotes right now, “edit letter”—I do those generally as a meeting, either in person or over Zoom with my editor at Tor Teen, and we talk through any issues or ideas—both of them were, ‘This book is great. Can you rewrite the whole thing?’ So at this point, I’m like, no, I don’t have any dread about [critiques or comments]. Mine is, ‘Oh God, I just… I hope this one I don’t have to rewrite the whole thing.’ And I haven’t for my middle grade. My middle grade, I seem to land right, but I seem to, especially with young adult, I seem to have to write a whole other book first, and then I figure out what it is I’m actually getting towards. And I had to rewrite Into the Light twice. Twice! The first time, the story wasn’t right, and then the second time, then the voice wasn’t right. And it took that third major draft where pretty much all the pieces sort of fell into place. That part kind of felt like magic because it felt like, ‘Oh wait, these are the pieces that I’m missing, and I suddenly realized what they were.’ And that third draft, I rewrote that book in, like, two or three weeks. It just happened, you know? And that was when I really felt like, this is it. I hit that stride and whatnot. So, no, I don’t have dread anymore when it comes to editing.

What’s worse than having to rewrite the whole book?

Yeah. Right. Nothing. Like, you can change things around, but when you have to literally do the whole thing over? Like, no. I’m good.

I was reading through the author’s note and the acknowledgments for Into the Light. I always love reading through those in books because it tells you so much more about how the story came to fruition, and you mentioned in your author’s note that you first got the idea for this as a spooky mystery back in the summer of 2017, and it was supposed to be a supernatural comedy. What did that initial idea look like?

Okay, I’m gonna give you—exclusive!—the title, because it is still one of my favorite titles, and I reserve the right to use it for something someday, but I don’t think it’s going to fit anything else. But the original title of this book was Party like It’s 666. It was still centered around religious dogma and transracial adoption, but it was like a bizarre episode of Supernatural. Extremely weird. That thing where you can toe the line between horror and comedy and whatnot. And that first edit that I got on that… and actually, at that stage, it was still at the outline stage because I like to outline my books very heavily, and so both my middle grade and my young adult editors, we love going through that process where I’ll outline the whole book to give sort of like a bird’s eye view of the story, and we’ll go back and forth before I actually write the manuscript. So, I turned that into my editor, and she said, ‘This book is great. It’s so funny. I love that you’re branching out to humor.’ And she said something that clearly stuck with me so much that it changed into the book it is now. She said, ‘Here’s my issue with it—every time I felt like you, as Mark Oshiro the author, were getting close to telling the truth about something, you then veered off into a joke.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And she’s like, ‘You know, far be it for me to tell you what your brand is, but I feel like Mark Oshiro is the writer, you know with the two books we had edited together thus far, [who is] not afraid to tell the truth. And you tell the truth about the world and yourself and the things that you were feeling.’ And she said, ‘This is the first time I feel like there’s actually distance from you and the truth.’ And so all she said was, ‘I would like you to consider keeping elements of this story. Figure out what you like, but how can you tell the truth instead?’ And actually it took me months to figure out a different way to tell this story. But it stuck with me. But I will say that I then used that motivation, and my first real test at writing something that was funny, and that’s what I channeled into You Only Live Once, David Bravo. I was like, ‘Well, I do actually want to write a comedy book. And I don’t think the book would have happened or been written the way it had if I hadn’t had that experience. But yeah, I mean, that is the thing about having a great relationship with your editor. She wasn’t afraid to tell me something—which, by the way, doesn’t give me an answer! Miriam Weinberg at Tor Teen never gives me, ‘This is what you should do. This is how it could be.’ She just opens the door, and I have to walk through and figure out what’s on the other side. And I love that! I think it makes me a stronger writer, and I think it makes the stories better, too. But yeah, it was very, very different at the beginning.

Were there any parts of those rewrites that you do think might end up in another book down the road?

Oh my gosh. I’m thinking right now they’re—the first two versions of Into the Light had a character who isn’t in this book at all anymore. I’m having to think, like, does this spoil the actual book? There used to be a plot that was much more horror based about this character who doesn’t exist anymore finding someone on the grounds of Reconciliation who is being held against their will. And there were a lot of scenes that were some of my favorite things to write, particularly because it was about two strangers getting to know each other under this extreme duress. And I love that vibe. My editor did too. But as the story came, it just didn’t work anymore, and so I ended up taking it out. And I would love to find a way to bring that back because I love some of those scenes, and I love both the reader and the narrator not knowing who someone is and you both have to figure it out together. It was such a cool dynamic, so I think it’s not so much that the exact story will be the same, but I really, really like that dynamic. I do save all my old drafts, so I will use it to go back to at some point. I would like to come back and figure out a way to use that stuff.

anger is a gift mark oshiro

You also mentioned that it took you five other books before you could write this one. Which of your books were the most influential in terms of helping you tackle the subject matter of this book?

I think from a contemporary standpoint, Anger Is a Gift being my debut, I think that made me comfortable writing in the contemporary world, and with the exception of the Star Wars book and Each of Us a Desert, I have actually stayed in the contemporary world. There’s usually some speculative twist or hint, or twist of magic, but I do really like writing contemporary a lot. So, I think that was part of the grounding, and the real push for me was writing Each of Us a Desert, my fantasy book, because I knew Into the Light would have to have a very unorthodox narration style, both in the voice I wanted—I knew Manny had to have a very, very distinct and unique voice because of his experience—and then also just the structure of the book. The structure of Each of Us a Desert is also a nightmare that took multiple revisions to sort of nail down how that book happens. And so, after completing that, and feeling proud of what I accomplished, I knew, ‘Okay, this completely wild, non-linear story is possible. It’s going to take work. You’re not going to get it right the first time.’ But yeah, I think for me… I view my books as building blocks to something else, and I’m always wanting to challenge myself and to try new things, and Into the Light was my first chance to try a fully non-linear narrative. And I knew that was something that I wanted to do with the book for reasons. So, I think in that sense, each of my books was a test to get here, and I think I felt strong enough to actually then begin the attempt to write it.

I was going to ask about the timeline, too, because it’s challenging enough to write a linear book from start to finish, but the timeline in this book is so interesting, and I think you did such a fantastic job of grounding us in each of those timelines. It was never confusing to me where we were, what time period—other than the times where we were supposed to be a little confused. How did you keep track of all of that, and then how did you cut it up and put it together in this way?

I use the writing program Scrivener. So I’ll do my outlines in a different [program], maybe Word or there’s an app on Mac called Ulysses that I’ll often use for my outlines. And then I’ll bring my outline into Scrivener, and so, the thing that helped initially was normally I just number the chapters or number the scenes as I’m writing them, like I did with Each of Us a Desert or Anger Is a Gift. But in this one, each perspective had a name and a time. So in the book, we have “Manny Present,” “Manny Past,” and “Eli.” And I just put “Eli” because I don’t actually want to say when that time is. And so, just visually, that allowed me to [be like], ‘Okay, you’re in this character. This is how this character sounds.’ Because Manny Past doesn’t sound the same as Manny Present. There’s a major thing that happens that brings his voice to a different place. So each of those allowed me to just remember—what is the mindset of this character? Where are they? What are they doing? How do they think? How do they talk or whatnot. And then, gosh, the process of actually assembling it… A lot of that help in the end came with my editor Miriam because I consider her a structure wizard, and I don’t think we nailed the structure until it was in copy edits or just about to go to copy edits. Like, it was pretty much last minute, and she helped by pointing out certain places where it would make more sense if this happened emotionally. And she pointed out things that were these natural parallels that I had written that I hadn’t even been able to see myself. So a lot of this book is very collaborative in that sense, in that I don’t think it would be what it is without my editor Miriam. But it was very difficult. Am I going to do it again? Probably not because oh my God, how do you keep track of that stuff? It is very difficult. And the other part is that, you know, like with this example I gave with Miriam, at the end of the day, it is really hard to see the forest from the trees when you’re the author, and so a lot of my concern came from this place of… I know why I’m doing this. I know what the intent is. How can we make this, like you said, confusing in an intentional way. It needs to be disorienting at times for a story reason that comes to light later. How do I do that but then also not so deeply confuse a reader that they’re like, ‘I’m out. I don’t know what’s going on.’ You can see bits and pieces of this, for example, in Each of Us a Desert. Each of Us a Desert does happen linearly, or in a linear timeline, but there are alternate stories that are told throughout. And so, the production team and design helped me come up with this idea that when you have the print book, different sections are in different fonts. We wanted a visual element, so the the final hard copy version of the book actually has a visual element to help the reader know who is who. Because there are no chapter numbers. Like, it doesn’t say, “Eli,” “Manny Past,” “Present,” or whatever. And that was intentional too, just like there’s no real chapter numbers in Each of Us a Desert for a story reason as well. At the end of the day, I wanted the reader to just be in the experience, and as they read it, stop thinking of it as a book. That’s my favorite type of reading, when you’re reading a book and you forget you’re reading a book. You’re just so lost in the story, so the font choices and the lack of chapter numbers was a way to sort of push us into that realm.

You also say that this book is your attempt to bring certain issues to light, particularly those related to Christian nationalism and adoption. Who are you hoping this book would speak loudest to, and what were you hoping the biggest takeaway would be?

This past week, Thursday and Friday, I was at… they call it SCASL. It’s the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. It’s this huge librarian conference in South Carolina. I had a wonderful librarian come up to me, and she had picked up You Only Live Once, David Bravo, which was my first book where I wrote a main character who is a transracial adoptee, like myself. That is a term that we in the community use, in the adopted community. It refers to people who are adopted out of their racial or ethnic culture and into another one. And for those listening, just for specificity here, I’m Latinx. What I know about my ancestry is that it comes from Central America. We think Mexican because that’s where we know our biological father went after our birth, but a lot of that is a mystery, and it is actually a very common theme, not just among transracial adoptees but a lot of adoptees in general. Due to the system, we don’t know where we came from, and so I had a white mother and a Japanese Hawaiian dad growing up, and it was a very different experience from what everyone else goes through in terms of parentage and what family life was at home. And so this librarian comes up to me, and she was like, ‘I think this book is for my daughter.’ For You Only Live Once, David Bravo. We start talking, and her daughter is a transracial adoptee, and she was very vulnerable and said, ‘I don’t want to mess this up.’ And so then we start talking about Into the Light, and I was like, you know, You Only Live Once, David Bravo was like my fantasy of what an ideal adoptee relationship would be like. And I was like, unfortunately, if you want to read my negative take on it… unfortunately, Into the Light is a lot closer to my experience.

So I say all this to say that I am primarily writing for me and for kids like me who had to go through the confusing experience of being a transracial adoptee. And one thing that is particularly common among transracial adoptees—and it is very tragic—is that a lot of us, and I won’t say the majority, but a lot of us experience parental rejection. Which, when you are adopted, a thing you hear so much growing up and you hear from other adults and you hear even from other kids too, is this idea that, ‘Oh, you were chosen. You aren’t an accident. You weren’t an unplanned pregnancy or whatnot. You were chosen, so your parents must love you more.’ And so then, that makes the ultimate rejection a million times more painful because how could someone literally go out of their way and have to go through all of this legal process to adopt you and then ultimately reject you? And so I am writing from that place of talking about something that is very, very heavy. That is very, very upsetting. But I primarily am hoping to reach kids who are dealing with the worst nightmare imaginable.

And that’s another reason why I waited so long. I certainly don’t shy away from writing about very difficult, challenging subjects, but this one in particular, I knew there was no way to talk about it, and there’s no way to write about it, without being very vulnerable. Now, looking back, it makes sense that I tried to write a comedy first. Like, what a great way to try to talk about something difficult than to put so much distance between me and the topic that it’s actually funny. I have a transracial adoptee character in Anger Is a Gift, and over the years have met numerous parents who are like, ‘I hadn’t thought about my parenting in the way that I did until I read your book.’ So I know that was certainly something that I was conscious of. I wasn’t writing towards it or trying to write to effect [change] or teach or anything like that. At least to adults, I mean. But I do think I am an emotionally selfish writer in a lot of ways, and I don’t think that is a bad thing for me at all. I am writing for kids who are dealing with one of the worst possible things you can go through. And I mentioned it in the author’s note too, that unfortunately, I am seeing it a lot more, especially because I’m doing more and more school visits over the last couple years—how many kids come up to me and come out to me. Which is… God, what an experience, when you are a total stranger. You were this person who wrote a book, and some of these kids have never even heard of me before I step into a classroom, and then they often wait until everyone leaves, and then they come out to you. Like, they like come-out bomb you. They tell you, then they leave, and you have to sit there with that reality that not only is that flattering, like yes, you made them feel safe, you made them feel like they could tell the truth, but then you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m a perfect stranger, and I’m the only person they feel safe with.’ And so I’m writing for those kids. I’m writing for kids who feel isolated, kids who feel lonely. And despite how dark this book is, I actually think it’s like one of my most hopeful ones. So I’m hoping I can give them that light. That is why the book is titled so deliberately… I’m hoping the people who read it think, ‘Well, it has to be named Into the Light for a reason,’ and hopefully that hope can pull people through some really, truly awful darkness.

into the light mark oshiro

Speaking to that, this is less of a question and more of a statement, but Monica and Ricardo were such a soothing balm to me while reading this book. And like Manny, you’re so scared that they’re gonna end up betraying him that it takes a while to trust them, but once you do, they are a literal lifeline for him and for me, as a reader. And it was really a great reminder that even though there’s a lot of terrible things going on in the world, there are some people who truly want to help, and even though they’ve made their own mistakes, they’re working so hard to correct them.

Thank you so much for saying that, too, because one of the things that was… At least, my authorial intent was that I really wanted the reader to believe Manny’s [fear]. Manny is dealing with complex PTSD, and he is so traumatized by what happened with him, that his narration… You know, he speaks in short, clipped sentences. He’s very, very internal, and he does not trust anyone. And so I wanted to write it so that even though at the beginning you’re like, ‘Oh, these two adults are really nice.’ What my hope was was that the reader was still so into Manny’s head that you are also like, ‘But I got my eye on you. Like, I am looking at you, and I don’t trust you either,’ because that is sort of what a lot of us kids who go through deeply traumatic things in our childhood [do] as a way to protect ourselves. That’s what we do, and part of this story is showing how Manny is able to start to peel away the walls that he’s set up around his life. And God, that was a hard balance because I had moments where I was like, are they too saccharine? Are they too nice? Which is how I came up with some of the conflict stuff that happens later on as things get messier and messier. But yeah, absolutely, that was all my intent with those two characters, and I will say, they were a balm for me writing them. I also realized I hadn’t written a couple, like an adult couple, who are just gross and in love with each other like that. Like, I have loving parents in The Insiders and You Only Live Once, David Bravo, but I was like, ‘Well, I really want to crank it up. Like, I want them to be so gross, Carlos is making comments about [them].’ I really liked leaning into that and just being, like… sometimes it’s nice to have people openly loving each other just there on the page. And just writing that was like, ‘Oh, this feels really good.’

You’ve also mentioned that your books have been banned more times than you can count, and with this book in particular, it’s very easy to see how it would rub a certain demographic the wrong way. Did you ever face any uncertainty or fear about backlash, or have you just kind of gotten to the point now where you’ve decided to just write the stories that speak most to you, regardless of what anyone thinks?

Oh, God. This one in particular was unhinged in that regard. And you know, I was conscious and writing in that space, with Anger Is a Gift, actually, which I started writing in 2012. So, 11 years ago? This September will be 11 years since I started that manuscript. And so, I knew Anger Is a Gift would probably rile people, so the thing I did very deliberately, for example, [was] there is one well-placed and what I think is well-deserved F-bomb in the book, but that’s it. Because I was thinking the easiest way, at least at that time back in 2012 to 2015, when I was writing that book… the easiest way for a book to get banned was language. And it would often use that as a cover because back then you really couldn’t get away with saying, like, ‘Oh, it is anti-white. This is a book that is anti-police.’ It’s all of these things that really wasn’t as easy of a way to get a book banned, and where we are at now, you can just fully make up things about a book and get it banned. So, I absolutely wrote this book in the spirit of, ‘Oh, I will give you something to ban.’ I know it’s going to happen. I don’t know to what degree. And so, at least how I am approaching any of the books that I’m writing, is I’m going to write the story that I want. I’m going to tell the story that I want in the way that I want. And nothing is gonna [stop me]. So, I had no hesitation. There’s stuff in this book I’ve never written before. This is the first book that has a sizable amount of profanity. I was like, ‘You’re gonna get it all! I don’t care.’ Because also this is how teenagers talk, right? And I say that having spent so much time with them, especially these last two years as school visits have sort of ballooned for me, both virtual and in person, and I wrote this in that space of, ‘What is realistic? What are the things that kids are talking about? How do they relate to one another?’ As well as putting things in here… I know I’m also going to get feedback about how certain things are unbelievable. ‘There’s no way that that has happened.’ And I also know that those are some of the things in this book, [the ones] that are the most unbelievable, are things that happened to me. That are very direct references, very autobiographical elements in my life. So yeah, I definitely wrote this as, ‘Go ahead and ban it. I don’t care.’ And I honestly think that allowed me the creative freedom to do things like the three timelines, two points of view, the voice, the nonlinear. I felt I had so much freedom when writing this book. One of my friends read this book a couple weeks ago and said, ‘This is the most feral thing you’ve ever written,’ and that’s, like, the best compliment I could have ever gotten, and I really appreciated that because I wanted it to feel as if this book had no boundaries. I was just doing what I wanted to. And I hope that comes across to readers as well, that this is the story I wanted to tell. Deal with it.

We’ve spoken a lot about how heavy this book is and how difficult the subject matter is and how difficult it was for you to write, but were there any aspects that just came very easily for you?

Not at first. Thinking about it, I wrote it as a comedy. It was a highly supernatural comedy. So, I wrote it in the wrong genre. I wrote it with the wrong tone. Then I got the story right with the voice wrong, and then I finally nailed the voice in that last developmental draft. So I actually think none of it really came easy to me until the idea popped in my head… It was in draft two, we’re just gonna call it The Thing.

I think I know what The Thing is.

Yeah. The Thing. It’s a funny story because I was writing this first draft, talking to my editor very frequently about, you know, I think I nailed it or whatever. Actually, if we want to get really granular here, the first draft is technically unfinished. I got, like, 60-70,000 words into the book, and that twist just fell in my head. Like, I was in the middle of a scene, and it just—boop—went right in my head, and I was like… There’s this thing that’s actually very common, especially the more difficult, the more ambitious of a book you’re writing, we often, as writers, get a shiny new idea, and it pops in our head, like this is the solution to all our problems! We can fix the whole book! We should do this! But I was six books into my career, so I was like, wait. I know that sometimes this happens just because I don’t want to write this thing that I know is going to be hard. And so my brain is trying to chase the shiny new idea that isn’t actually good. So, one of my very best friends in the whole world, Sarah Gailey, is my brainstorming partner. We just pitch each other evil ideas. So I immediately texted them and was like, ‘Hey…’ And I’ve been going through every version of this book with Sarah, and was like, ‘Hey, I just got this idea. Can I pitch it to you? I think it actually might be a better way to tell the story.’ I told Sarah. Sarah immediately said, ‘If you don’t do this, we’re not friends anymore.’

Now you have to do it.

Yeah, so then I messaged my agent, and I was like, ‘Hey, I know I’m still late in this draft, and it’s due in like three weeks. Should I do this?’ And so I pitched The Thing, and they were also like, ‘Yeah, you have to do this. Call Miriam right now.’ Then I told Miriam, and I have a screenshot of the email. Like, the email Miriam sent back was just like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ Like it was the thing that linked the whole theme of the story, so it’s not that things necessarily came easy to me the first time, but when it worked, it worked. And that allowed me to… So, the second draft, I wrote the story, and then Miriam was like, ‘Okay, the thing you’re missing is Manny’s voice. We have Eli’s voice to some extent.’ Actually, I think Eli was named something different in that draft, but, ‘We have this other voice pretty good, but you haven’t quite figured out Manny.’ And then once it came to me, it came to me. So, I think I had to work hard for [everything] until I didn’t have to work hard for it. So, no, I think because this book is so personal, that’s why none of it was easy. Because everything I thought of was that honesty thing that I was avoiding. Yeah, I think— Oh, I almost spoiled… Okay, let me stop. Let me not spoil my own book.

It is a good plot twist.

I am very proud of it.

Okay, so this might be too big of a question for an interview of this size…

Oh, I love that! I’m more excited.

But one of the themes of this book is how often adults fail the children that are supposed to be in their care. What do you think can be reasonably done to change that?

Okay! I think there’s two answers. I think there’s the answer in the book itself, which when you go back, or if you’re gonna read it for the first time, you’ll see it too, which is how often adults just do not listen—genuinely listen—to children. And that is personal experience for me, but also something that I just see over and over again is how often kids are honest and the adult just is not actually hearing that. And so, if you go back… What I mean by that is in Monica and Ricardo, you can actually see them listening and taking information in and not trying to make it about themselves and just trying to meet someone where they are, even if where they are is deeply uncomfortable. And that part’s hard. I admit that as an adult too, it’s sometimes very hard to meet someone where they are. You want to maybe come up with an easy solution or maybe you’re like, ‘Oh, I know how to help this person because I’ve been through the exact same thing,’ and I think even that’s a thing I’m always trying to correct in myself. Like, you need to take a moment and be patient and put on your best empathy hat to attempt to understand what someone else is going through. In a larger sense, I think while Into the Light does not… I talked about this on Twitter not terribly long ago, within the last month or two, about [how] in some ways I think this book is very didactic. It is very much me sort of saying, ‘This is what this experience is like.’ And in that sense, I don’t mind if people are like, ‘This is an educational book, in some sense.’ That doesn’t bother me. That being said, I don’t think I provide almost any answers with how to fix or repair the deeply broken adoption industry at all. So, I think that is a separate, specific thing I bring up. But I don’t consider myself an expert. I have very deeply emotional opinions about the adoption industry. But my answer to that is that in the back of the book, there is an author’s note, and there are actually some wonderful resources. Some of those books that I included do actually have answers about how adults can navigate specifically adoption in a way that isn’t as exploitative as it currently is, particularly the ways in which some of these dogmatic religions have sort of a, you know, blank check to do what they want in the adoption industry. So, yeah. In a sense, it is a question that is too big for one interview, but I do think that, personally, in the book, I try to put in this idea of how an adult can help someone who is younger, who is going through something like this, but then to also, you know, that is part of the reason why it’s called Into the Light. It’s that notion of what can Manny as a character bring into the light, and then what can I as an author bring into the light? God, I could spend another 10 minutes just talking about [this]. You know, there’s a point in the author’s note where I talk about how it’s hard not to see this cyclical nightmare for what it is, where I’m talking about the way that queer and trans youth are being attacked and demonized once again. So there’s that whole aspect as well. So yeah, there is a lot of this book that does talk about that.

star wars hunters battle for the arena mark oshiro

Before we go, I want to ask you about some of your other projects and your future plans. You also just had another book come out. Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena. This isn’t your first time writing in the Star Wars universe, but it is your first novel set there. What was that experience like for you? How crazy is it that you’ve written a Star Wars book?

I wrote a Star War! Oh my God, yeah. Everyone knows I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan. I have a huge Star Wars sleeve tattooed on my right arm. Like, I grew up with Star Wars. It’s my everything. I’m currently… I have a little bit of free time in the evenings. I’m drafting during the day. We’ll get to that, what I’m drafting right now, but in the evening, I’m trying to catch up on all of the Star Wars TV shows that I missed. So I’m working… I have one episode left of the Book of Boba Fett, and then I’m gonna move on to Andor and then jump around. And I was like, I kind of want to re-watch Clone Wars. So, I’m in this space even right now where I just keep coming back to Star Wars. So, as you mentioned, this wasn’t the first Star War I wrote. I wrote a short story for the Certain Point of View series where I got to write as the Wampa that attacks Luke in Empire Strikes Back. It was because of that short story that Jen Heddle at Lucasfilm Press reached out to my agent, was like, ‘I have a middle grade project I think Mark is perfect for.’ And I want you to know… I didn’t get a pitch. I just said yes. I was like, I don’t care what it is. And I also feel very lucky for what it ended up being. And so, it is an IP project—intellectual property, meaning that I’m writing in someone else’s world or in their sandbox—but it’s actually a dual one because it’s not just Star Wars, but BossAlien’s game Star Wars Hunters, so it’s two different things that I’m writing for. The process was amazing. If you ever talk to a Star Wars author, they’ll talk to you about getting to work with Lucasfilm’s story group, which is the group of people who basically control and help make decisions about what ends up being canon in a Star Wars property. And those meetings, as a Star Wars nerd… Like, I had to be so professional while my brain is screaming constantly. It made writing the book so much fun too, because when I got stuck on some of the smaller details, I had a group of people, as well as sort of like an online database, that I could access to answer anything. So, a great example I give is like when you want to create [a metaphor]. One thing that Star Wars does frequently is create in-universe metaphors. Like, if you want to say something is as hard as a rock, that’s a metaphor. But I was like, ‘Well, wait, I want to come up with a Star Wars thing,’ and so I would message them and be like, ‘Okay, I’m trying to come up with something solid. What’s a thing in this universe that this character might relate to?’ And they would find some obscure plant or rock or person or scale on a creature’s skin. I kept being like, they should not have given you this power, Mark. You’re absolutely gonna overuse it. So, it was an incredible experience. I also knew—and did not tell anyone until it came out—I knew that the book was also going to have illustrations in it, and I remember getting Andie Tong’s illustrations fairly early on and having that moment of… you not only wrote a Star War, but someone read the Star War you wrote and illustrated it and that just was like… whoo, that did everything for me. So it was an amazing experience. Lucasfilm, if you’re listening, I’ll do it again a million times. I loved it. I had so much fun. It was genuinely a dream come true.

Good! I’m so glad. Okay, final question. Can you tease us about any upcoming projects you have. Any secrets that you can give away or hint at? What do you got going on?

Okay, so I had mentioned this earlier in the interview. I am drafting right now. I am working on book number eight, which will be my third original middle grade. It is a supernatural drama-slash-comedy about grief and ghosts. And it’s going pretty well. I like it. I think I found the main character’s voice. It should be out sometime next year, which will also hopefully give me somewhat of a break from this year. This year is going to be a lot. And then after that’s done, I have to immediately start work on my fourth young adult book, and I know what it’s going to be. And the only hints I’m giving right now are that I want to challenge myself again because I never learn my lesson about not writing hard books. I want to try a book in verse really badly. There’s some poetry in Each of Us at Desert, but I love poetry, and I really want to attempt a whole book of it. And I want to write my first love story because I haven’t really [done that]. I’ve had romantic plot lines, but there’s so much other horrible stuff going on that I’ve never written a love story. And how I see my career is that I just want to keep challenging myself and trying to write things I’ve never done before. But it’s a Mark Oshiro book, so I’m gonna warn you. So right now those are the only two projects. So the book contract I have for Into the Light is a three-book deal, so I have this book, this—hopefully—book in verse, and then I haven’t yet figured out what that third book is gonna be, but that’s like years down the line. And I don’t know what my other middle grade book number four is going to be. But I have things coming. And I’m working on them. And so this year, I hope to get two books written over the course of the year, and I’m very excited about both of them. Both of them are a little bit different than what I’ve done before, but still me, so it’s gonna, you know… I’m gonna punch you in the heart while you’re laughing. That’s my goal. If you go to my website,, you’ll see I am very busy these next three months. I mean, the tour for Into the Light and The Sun and the Star, and I have some stuff that’s gonna happen during the summer. I’m already booking stuff in the fall. And I’m just really excited to get out in the world and meet people again.

‘Into the Light’ published on March 28, 2023

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