Today, that book – which began as a birthday present for her sister – is known as Ink and Ashes. It follows Claire Takata, a high school teenager who finds out that her father and step-father knew each other before her father passed away. Looking for answers, Claire discovers that her father was a part of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. But Claire’s innocent curiosity unfolds into something more dangerous, as her father’s life begins to finally catch up with the children he left behind.
“[Ink and Ashes] was written entirely by the seat of my pants,” admitted Maetani. “I had a vague idea of the characters and setting, and I knew I wanted to write a mystery. But what Claire was looking for and the dangers she encountered were a surprise to me as well.”
And while the book is told through Claire’s point of view, the dangers she encounters not only affect her, but her entire family: her mom, her step-dad, and her two brothers Avery and Parker. Each of the family members still find time to disagree and argue with one another like any other family would in the midst of the dangers unfolding around them, “a family made of people who are flawed as individuals but stronger as a unit.”
Maetani herself is one of five children, so it’s no surprise that characters in Ink and Ashes are based off of her siblings – even if they are “toned down quite a bit.”
“The brother who is like Parker always wore extravagant Halloween costumes – including the bowling ball costume – and had his share of car accidents.” And since Maetani has thousands of other memories to choose from, she hopes that those other experiences will make their way into future books.
Parker’s silly tendencies are small reliefs from the threat of the yakuza. But luckily for the Takata kids, they don’t have to face the risk alone. Their friends Forrest, Nicholas and Fed stand together with them.
Claire considers the boys family because they all grew up together.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up with a few families who each had boys the same ages as my brothers. These friends were part of my family, and since my sister wasn’t in high school at the same time as the rest of us, I wanted her to get a glimpse of what my experience was like.”
A part of the novel focuses on Claire’s attempt to become closer with female classmates since her close friends are guys. “Claire has the misconception that in order to be an equal and fit in with the boys, she has to abandon certain aspects of her character which she perceives as making her seem weak.”
“Our society tends to accentuate sex-distinction from birth, including the toys kids should play with to the roles they should fill. When a person doesn’t fit this mold, it isn’t easy for either gender to goes against what women and men are ‘supposed’ to do,” said Maetani. “Claire doesn’t navigate this fight perfectly, but I wanted to show my sister that it’s possible to find a voice and in this case, with the help of the girls on Claire’s soccer team, a balance.”
In the end, though Maetani originally wrote this story for her sister, she ended up writing a novel that allows young adults to see “see themselves in books in a way [she]wasn’t able to.”
“I never found myself in stories. There were no dolls or lead actors in movies who looked like me. At the heart of it, we are all at the mercy of human experiences, and our differences should be embraced and appreciated rather than dismissed.”