Question #1: If you could go back into any one of your books, what one thing would you change?
This is a particularly pertinent question for me. My first five books were released in an 18 month time frame. It was a quick, steep learning curve.
I would change the names of the Samurai Kids. All of them, except Yoshi.
When I first decided to write their story, I received a lot of confused feedback about the names. Too many. Too exotic. No kid will ever remember them all. So I compromised. I chose names that sounded familiar and were easily pronounced. However with the exception of Yoshi, whose name I found in a Nintendo game, none of the names are (to my knowledge) traditional Japanese names.
Sensei Ki-yaga was originally called Ki-Yoda - nothing Japanese about either of those. But the latter was deemed a little close to another wise master who was rather deft with a sword and unusual terms of phrase. (And yes, I am a huge Star Wars fan!)
When I began to do school visits and festivals - I found out that my readers had no trouble with the character names. Adults might not be able to remember six Japanese names but kids could have remembered fifty six. I have learned my lesson. Since then all my character names have been culturally correct. In Polar Boy many of the names have meanings that gave clues about the role or traits of the particular character.
In Samurai Kids only the horse, Uma, has a name with meaning. It means - horse! I couldn't think of any other name. With the Kids I didn't want to tie their names to their spirit guides. But even then I made a mistake. A young reader from NZ who had lived in Japan wrote to tell me I had spelled Nezume's name wrong - Nezumi the Rat. Eeek! (no pun intended). I must have somehow retained the sound of the name in my head - and liked it. I then obliviously attached it to the boy whose spirit guide was The Long-Tailed Rat.
I still try to find names which are easy to say aloud. My next book, Jaguar Warrior (March 2010) is set at the end of the Aztec Empire. It was a time when names were wonderfully complex combinations of z, x p and t. But my characters are simply called Atl (water) and Citlali (moon), known as Lali. More recently I have been researching Korean words and names...