Been a rough week Chez RomanceMama, my dear ones. Not gonna go into details, but I have learned once again that you never really know someone, and heartache can — and usually does — get let in the door by someone you trust.
But enough of that. There are a couple of extremely bright points in my life today. I’m heading to The Big Peach, Atlanta Georgia, tomorrow for the RWA National Conference, which is a high point of my writing year. But even more importantly, today is the Debut Release Day for a good friend and a great writer, someone you are going to hear a lot about in the coming weeks, months and years.
So to celebrate that release, I’ve got an extra extremely special post for y’all! If you read my facebook and twitter feeds, you are familiar with my crit group, the incredible ladies of the SFWG. (Don’t ever ask what it stands for. If we tell you, we have to kill you.) It has been a rare and wonderful thing, being in a group like this. Everyone is encouraging and supportive, while respecting you as an author and the craft of writing enough to tell you what you need to improve. All done with lots of humor, prayers, and virtual sangria along the way!
The first one of the SFWG that I actually met in real life embodies all those virtues, and she’s even more fabulous in person. Susan Spann is, like me, a lawyer in the day job, and she has a college-age kid, so we had a lot in common from the beginning. But I am simply in awe of Susan as a writer, and starting today, the rest of the world will find out why!
Susan’ debut novel, THE CLAWS OF THE CAT, is now in a bookstore near you! I’ve read it, and it is wonderful — a beautifully-written, intelligent story about (get this!) a medieval ninja detective. Yes, you read that correctly — Medieval. Ninja. Detective. What is there not to like about this concept?
And trust me, she carries it off — you will absolutely love Hiro, the hero. (And I love saying that, btw. Hiro the hero. Hiro the hero.) So, today, my darling readers, I am bringing you the straight scoop about medieval ninja detective stories from the author herself, Ms. Susan Spann!
Q. Tell us about yourself – you know, the who, what, where and why.
A. Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Arabella! As you mentioned, I’m a publishing lawyer by day, ninja author by night. I live outside Sacramento, California, with my husband, college-age son, three cats (one of which is so fat we can count her as two), a cockatiel named “Miracle” (because my son, then eight, said only a miracle would have made us let him have her), and a 60-gallon saltwater seahorse reef.
Q. And of course, we want to hear about your book.
A. CLAWS OF THE CAT is the first book in the Shinobi Mystery Series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. It also has angry samurai, beautiful geishas, a Portuguese weapons dealer and a kitten thrown in for good measure. And the kitten isn’t even the reason I titled it Claws of the Cat!
Here’s the slightly longer version:
“May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.
The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.”
Q. Everyone always wants to know where authors get their ideas, and I have to say that just saying “Medieval ninja detective” makes me want to read it! What was the initial inspiration for your story?
A. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work, when a voice in my head said, “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” I knew instantly this was a book I HAD to write. Also – like you, I love that the hero’s name is Hiro—I still smile every time I think about it.
Q. What drew you to that genre?
A. I’ve always loved mysteries and thrillers. I read my first Nancy Drew mystery in the second grade, and I was hooked. By fourth grade I’d moved on to the “hard stuff” – meaning Agatha Christie and P.D. James – and I’ve been reading in the genre ever since.
When first I started writing, I didn’t think I had the chops to write in the mystery genre, but eight years and four historical manuscripts later the ninjas attacked—and I realized that mystery fit my talents as well as my heart.
Q. What else do you have in the works?
A. Right now, more Hiro! I’m under contract for two more Shinobi Mysteries. Book 2, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, is already with the publisher, and I’m editing Book 3, under the working title FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER. The series could extend for many more novels, but that’s for the readers and the publisher to decide. If so, I’ll gladly spend more time with Hiro and Father Mateo. If not, I’ll find new ways to kill off my imaginary friends.
Q. Plotter, pantser, or a combination? How do you do the work of writing your story?
I outline the stories before I write, with a two-column outline that tracks the characters onstage as well as offstage. I need to follow the offstage action because my supporting characters lie—they seldom are where they claim to be at any given moment.
Once I start writing, however, the outline becomes a guideline and the characters usually depart from it fairly quickly. In the end, the books are a hybrid of my plans and those of the characters. I admit we do not always see eye to eye!
Q. What is your best writing advice for all the hopeful authors out there?
A. Don’t give up.
At my very first writers’ conference (in Maui, back in 2003) I heard agent Kimberly Cameron say that “writing is a game of last man standing, and only you get to decide when you sit down.” Those words stayed with me for almost a decade, as I wrote and struggled and faced rejection over and over again. It took me nine years and five full manuscripts (500,000 words) to reach publication. Every day, every word, and every rejection was worth it in the end.
If you want to be published, you can be. All you need is the fortitude and the will to keep on writing and keep improving until you reach the “yes.” For some, the road is shorter and seems much easier than for others, but success is attainable for anyone with the will and the courage to persevere.
Oh, and here’s a shot of Susan’s incredible Coral Reef Aquarium — writing, law practice, family, and raising exotic sea creatures! She’s an absolute Renaissance Woman!