Susan Spann’s first novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT, just came out, and she was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the new book, and much more!
Also, courtesy of St. Martins Press, we have a copy of the book to give away, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post! Please welcome Susan to the blog!
A sixteenth-century ninja that solves murders with the help of a Jesuit priest? I’m there! Will you tell us a bit more about your first novel, Claws of the Cat, and your hero, Hiro Hattori?
Absolutely – and thanks for asking! When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro Hattori doesn’t want to get involved, but when the dead man’s son threatens to kill Father Mateo, the Jesuit Hiro has pledged his own life to protect, the ninja is forced to become a detective—against his better judgment.
Essentially, it’s a sixteenth-century version of “a ninja, a priest, and a geisha walk into a murder scene” … with a female samurai, a medieval weapons-dealer, and a kitten thrown in for good measure.
You have a background in law and also have a degree in Asian Studies! What inspired you to begin writing Claws of the Cat? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I’ve known how to read, which means since preschool, but I didn’t get serious about it until 2004. Before writing Claws of the Cat, I wrote four other manuscripts, all historical fiction. I needed to write them to hone my craft, but I could tell I hadn’t found my niche.
Then one morning in 2011, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready for work and I had an unexpected thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.”
I knew immediately that I had found the book, and the series, I had to write.
When you started the series, did you already have an idea of how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where the narrative took you?
When I started, I mostly just hoped I’d be able to write a functional mystery. By the time I finished draft 1, however, I realized the world I’d created would take far more than a single book to explore. The underlying story of Hiro and Father Mateo—how their friendship came to be and where it goes from here—will take at least a dozen books to tell the way I hope to tell it. Each novel is definitely standalone, and I’m working to make them readable in just about any order, but there’s definitely a larger arc that binds the series as a whole. Hopefully readers will like it enough to give me the chance to tell the entire story.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a plantser.
I write two outlines before I start – one follows the onstage action and the other tracks what happens offstage at any given moment. The second one is important because most of my characters are liars, and they’re seldom where they actually claimed to be.
Once I start writing, the story takes on a life of its own. The finished novel bears a structural resemblance to the outline, but usually diverges substantially from my original plan. New characters show up, clues fall in unexpected places, and I’ve even had additional murders happen along the way. It’s fun though. I like it when the manuscripts surprise me!
What do you find most fascinating about Asian culture?
“Everything” sounds cliche, but it’s more or less true. I’m a huge fan of unusual, eccentric, and interesting facts. Asian culture is filled with fascinating and unexpected details—from the details of samurai hairstyles to the bladed fighting fans some geishas concealed in their clothing for self-defense. It would take a lifetime to explore and describe them all.
The Shinobi Mysteries give me an opportunity to investigate Japanese culture and translate its many facets into fiction—I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time.
What kind of research did you do for the novel?
Lots of reading, of course, but the most fun part was meeting and writing back and forth to a Japanese tour guide in Kyoto. Tomoko gives tours of area landmarks, including Tofuku-ji, a temple which plays a significant role in Claws of the Cat. She helped me obtain a translated map of the temple grounds and assisted me with confirming I had certain details right. The temple existed in 1565, and still has a similar form and layout, so it was important to me that a reader could go to Kyoto and trace Hiro’s steps through the temple compound. Claws of the Cat is a work of fiction, but it uses some real locations that still exist, so I wanted to make sure I described them correctly.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Orson Scott Card and Michael Crichton, both of whom tell fabulous stories (in very different ways).
I also owe a lot to James Clavell. His SHOGUN and GAI-JIN were my first introduction to Asian culture, and they inspired my lifelong love of China and Japan.
What do you like to see in a good book?
Fast pacing, strong characters, a well-built world, and a sense of humor. Usually, but not always, in that order.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Either ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card or Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK, though I’d pick them for different reasons.
I resisted reading ENDER’S GAME, even though I love science fiction, because I tend to pass over books that get a lot of popular hype. When I finally read it, ENDER’S GAME exceeded my expectations on every level. I’m impressed by the depth of character Card achieves without sacrificing pacing or the intricacies of his plots. I’ve read the novel many times, but I’d love to recapture the awe of that first “clean” read.
My first read of JURASSIC PARK was simply the most fun I’ve ever had with a novel. (I love the movie too, but the book is a thousand times better.) It’s a big bag of M&Ms beside the filet mignon of ENDER’S GAME, but I’m as big a fan of dessert as I am of steak.
In your bio, it says you enjoy Thai food. What’s one of your favorite dishes?
If I only get one, it’s Massaman curry (that’s peanut curry), cooked “Thai Hot” (read: nuclear) with chicken, or sometimes with tofu—which is funny because until two years ago I’d have told you tofu wasn’t an edible substance. My opinion has changed, though I won’t be surrendering my carnivorous preferences any time soon.
What’s next for you?
I recently delivered the second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, to my editor at Minotaur, and I’m currently editing the third, under the working title “FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER.”
Beyond that, I’m hoping readers like Hiro and Father Mateo enough to give me the privilege of writing more books in the series.
I have a few other ideas in mind, but for the moment I’m happy spending time with my ninja detective.
About CLAWS OF THE CAT:
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.
Debut author Susan Spann delivers a riveting mystery filled with rich period detail and a fine sense of Japanese culture. Claws of the Cat boasts a detective like no other and a world never seen before in crime fiction.
2.) Giveaway is for 1 copy of CLAWS OF THE CAT by Susan Spann to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open to US residents
4.) You must enter on or before 7/31/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of St. Martins Press
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.