In the days leading up the 2013 Historical Novel Society conference, HNS is interviewing featured guest and speakers. I am honored to host two interviews this month for one of my favorite organizations, through which I know today’s author, Susan Spann. Susan will speak on the panel, “Writing the HF Mystery.” Here, she talks about her inspiration and soon-to-be-launched novel, Claws of the Cat. – Kim
How do you find the people and topics of your books?
I was attacked by ninjas, and they forced me to write about them.
In May of 2011, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work (I’m a publishing lawyer) when I had the random thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.”
That idea gave birth to the Shinobi Mysteries, which feature a ninja detective solving murders in 16th century (samurai era) Kyoto.
From there, it was mostly a matter of dreaming up new and interesting ways to kill off my imaginary friends.
For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
Facts are what I deal with when I can’t make up something better.
I’m kidding. Well, at least partly.
My novels take place in 16th century Kyoto, and I chose that period because I love its history and details. When writing that backdrop, I stay as close to the facts as possible, and I’d rather alter my plot to fit accurate scenery than alter the details for the sake of a story. For example, Japanese houses didn’t really have hallways until the 17th century. Rooms opened directly onto one another, which impacts the way my characters deal with movement through buildings (and, sometimes, listening at doors). Keeping those details accurate is important to me.
However, my protagonists, ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo, are entirely fictitious – which frees me from the need to write within the historically-accurate framework of a person’s life and experiences. They do interact with real historical figures, which both limits and expands the story, but I wanted to work with fictitious protagonist characters to give myself more freedom with my storylines.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
My debut novel, Claws of the Cat, will be published by Minotaur Books on July 16. It’s the first in the Shinobi Mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo.
When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has just three days to find the killer before the dead man’s vengeful son kills both the beautiful geisha accused of the crime and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest that Hiro has pledged his own life to protect. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they quickly learn that everyone from an elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery.
Basically, you take a ninja, a geisha, a female samurai, a Portuguese weapons dealer, a corpse, and a teahouse owner with something to hide, shake well, and toss in a kitten for good measure – because every ninja detective needs a kitten.
For more about Susan, visit her website www.susanspann.com.