After reading her new novel, The Ninja’s Daughter, I was able to catch up with Susan Spann to get some insight on how she writes and researches. If you’ve ever wondered about any of her characters or where her interest in Japanese culture comes from, you will enjoy hearing the story behind her stories. If you haven’t read the new book yet, be sure to check out the review of The Ninja’s Daughter.
I haven’t read the previous Shinobi mystery novels, but this was a hit for me. What made you decide to write about Japanese culture in the 1500s?
First off: thank you for taking a chance on The Ninja’s Daughter – with all the books clamoring for readers’ and reviewers’ attention, I’m always delighted and honored when someone chooses one of mine, and when they like it, it’s lovely icing on the cake.
I’ve loved Japan ever since I first discovered James Clavell’s novel, SHOGUN, in the library when I was twelve years old. In college, I majored in Asian studies (with a focus on Chinese and Japanese history, language, and culture) – and I love sharing Japanese culture with other people.
When it comes to these books, though, Japan chose me. While getting ready for work one morning in 2012 (literally, while putting on eyeliner) I had the thought, “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” The idea captivated me, and I knew at once that I had to tell Hiro’s stories.
Hiro Hattori is a very interesting character. He seems to weigh a lot of responsibility on himself. Is there someone specific that you think of when you write his story?
I like to think of Hiro as an amalgamation of several people (including myself, though I’m the first to admit that he’s much tougher, and better at coming up with clever things to say, than I am). I modeled him on a combination of the “ideal” samurai warrior, as reflected in medieval Japanese writings, and my perception of the way a real historical ninja might have viewed himself and his position in the world. Ninjas (“shinobi” in Japanese) stood slightly outside the social order, which let me give Hiro a strong independent streak to offset his sense of duty—which is, indeed, one of his defining characteristics. Just for fun, I gave him a wicked sense of humor too.
The scenes that you set in this book are really incredible. How did you go about researching for this novel?
Thank you! Nothing makes me happier than hearing I’ve effectively transported a reader to 16th century Japan. Before writing The Ninja’s Daughter, I spent several months reading books on nō (a form of traditional theater), consulted a classically trained nō actor and other experts, and took a research trip to Japan. During my trip, I visited many of the locations in the book, to ensure I had the maps and details right.
I also have a collection of books about “everyday life” in 16th century Japan, and many photographs of houses, kimono, and other artifacts from that era—hundreds of which I took myself, in Japanese museums and at exhibitions in the United States—which makes it easier to infuse the books with realistic details.
I always love a look into the future. Is there more planned to Hiro and Father Mateo at Iga?
Much, much more! I’m currently finishing edits on the fifth Hiro Hattori novel, currently titled Betrayal at Iga, which is under contract with Seventh Street Books for publication and release in summer 2017.
This October, I’m headed back to Japan to research the next four books in the series, and I can tell you…Hiro and Father Mateo have some very exciting adventures ahead!
Thank you for inviting me to chat on your blog today. I appreciate it – and I’m delighted that you enjoyed The Ninja’s Daughter!