June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.
When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.
The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.
Hello Susan! Welcome to Layered Pages and thank you for chatting with me today.
After reading your book description, I don’t think I have read a story quite like this one. What sets your story apart from others in this genre?
Susan: First: thank you for inviting me here today. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you!
I think the key difference is my detective, Hiro. He’s a shinobi (aka “ninja” – shinobi is the actual Japanese pronunciation of the word), which is something I hadn’t seen in detective fiction before. As a trained assassin, Hiro has a better understanding of forensics than most people who lived in medieval Japan, which gives him a special ability to look at a crime scene and deduce what might have happened there. I love “translating” forensics back through the centuries, and seeing the facts through Hiro’s eyes.
Stephanie: Your story looks really involved and you have quite a cast of characters….was there any challenges writing your story or keeping up with what each character was doing?
Susan: It’s definitely a challenge to keep up with a pack of liars—and generally speaking, every character in a mystery novel is a liar (to one degree or another). I usually write two outlines for each novel, one that shows the “onstage” action the reader sees on the page, and the other to keep track of the “offstage” action—so I know when a character is lying and when he’s telling the truth!
Stephanie: Did you use an outline for your story?
Susan: I do! In fact, I use two. Once I start writing, however, the characters take on a life of their own, so the finished novel usually has some fairly significant departures from the version that appeared in the outlines. So far, I’ve never changed the murderer’s identity—but several of the subplots ended up very different from my original plans.
Stephanie: Which character are you partial to?
Susan: I love Hiro and Father Mateo—no surprise there—but looking only at Blade of the Samurai, my favorite character from that novel is probably Ichiro, a young samurai who’s the son of the murder victim. Ichiro wasn’t in my original outline—he “rode onstage” in the first draft and I loved him too much to cut him out again. He captured my heart for many reasons, and I hope readers will like him too.
Stephanie: Please tell me about your research and conflicting opinions/interpretations from historians? If so, how did you deal with it?
Susan: When historical facts conflict, I try to find a reasonable version of the “truth” and go with it. Ultimately, historical fiction is still fiction, and though I try very hard to avoid significant errors, in the end we all have to write the best novels we can and accept that even in modern non-fiction, differing viewpoints and errors happen.
When I divert from historical fact, I try to add notes to that effect on my website, to help readers separate “fact from fiction” – but I try very hard not to change anything that’s historically significant.
Stephanie: What era does your story take place in and why did you chose this period and culture?
Susan: The Shinobi Mysteries are set in the mid-16th century (Blade takes place in 1565), which the Japanese refer to as the “Muromachi Era.” In the West, we consider it the medieval age. Japan was ruled by an emperor, though the shogun was in charge of the military, and had become the actual head of the government too.
I chose this era for a couple of reasons. First, the real, historical ninjas were at the peak of their strength in the 16th century. During that time, the shinobi clans were powerful forces within Japan, as spies and assassins for hire. The mid 16th century was also the time when foreigners (particularly Portuguese traders and Jesuits) were first making inroads in Japan, and that clash of cultures makes an interesting backdrop for fiction. This was also a tumultuous period in Japanese history, when many warlords vied to become the shogun. Taking all of those things together, it seemed like a great time to set a mystery series!
Stephanie: Did you face any challenges writing a murder scene?
Susan: I consider the murder scene a pivotal part of the novels—it’s the fountain from which the rest of the story flows—so I always take a lot of time in planning and writing it. The murders in my novels happen offstage, but before I write the novel itself, I actually write the scene in which the murder happens, to set the details in my mind and to help establish which clues the killer left behind. Those scenes I keep to myself, of course, but they’re just as important—if not more so—than the pages which do become part of the novels.
Stephanie: Who long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?
Susan: I write the first draft of a novel in 30 days, but that’s only the start of the process. That initial draft gets two full rounds of revisions before I insert the chapter breaks, and then two more (five drafts total) before it goes to my college-age son, who is my alpha reader. After I integrate his comments (and run another draft on my own) Draft 6 or 7 goes to my critique partners, and then draft 8 (or sometimes 9) gets sent to my agent for comment. By the time that first draft gets to my editor at Minotaur, it’s been through 9-10 rounds of revision, at least. The entire process takes about nine months.
Stephanie: Do you need complete silence and alone time to write or can you write surrounded by noise and a few people in the room?
Susan: It depends on the draft. I typically write first drafts in silence, and alone (though I can work in a coffee shop, if the need arises). Noise bothers me less now than it used to, though my favorite environment for writing and editing is definitely my home office, with the burble of my reef aquarium as the soundtrack.
Stephanie: What are you currently working on?
Susan: I’ve finished the third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, which is scheduled for publication in July 2015, and I’m currently revising the fourth book, Blood of the Outcast. It’s a wonderful thing to spend more time with Hiro and Father Mateo!
Stephanie: Thank you, Susan!
Susan: Thank you for having me here today!
Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).
A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.
Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.
For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Blade of the Samurai Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, July 7 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, July 8 Review at Closed the Cover
Wednesday, July 9 Review at Staircase Wit Guest Post & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Thursday, July 10 Review at Boolover Book Reviews
Monday, July 14 Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, July 16 Review at Buried Under Books
Thursday, July 17 Spotlight at Reviews by Molly
Friday, July 18 Review at History Undressed
Monday, July 21 Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, July 22 Review at Judith Starkston Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, July 23 Review at The True Book Addict
Thursday, July 24 Interview at Layered Pages
Monday, July 28 Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, July 29 Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, July 30 Review at Princess of Eboli
Thursday, July 31 Review at A Fantastical Librarian
Friday, August 1 Review at Reading the Ages