Author Q&A: Susan Spann
Author Susan Spann talks raising seahorses (who knew?), 16th century Japan and why she paired up a ninja with a Jesuit Priest for her mystery series.
The Ninja’s Daughter is the latest entry in your 16th century Japanese mystery series, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. What are readers who haven’t experienced your world in for?
A great adventure in medieval Japan!
The story involves the death of an actor’s daughter on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, and the investigation sends Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the world of Kyoto’s famous theater guilds. The book has a touch of humor, lots of action, forbidden romance, and a cat and a beetle thrown in for good measure. It’s my favorite book in the series to date – and although The Ninja’s Daughter is Hiro and Father Mateo’s fourth “case,” the novels can be read in any order, and readers won’t be lost (or run into spoilers for the other books) by starting with this installment.
A ninja and a Portuguese Jesuit Father are such an unlikely pair. How did you come up with them?
While getting ready for work one morning in 2012, I had the thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” It came to me out of the blue, name and all, and I knew at once that this was a book (and a series) I had to write.
Every good detective needs a sidekick, preferably one whose worldview is different from the detective’s own, and you can’t get much more different than an unrepentant former assassin and a Jesuit priest. Since Jesuits really were present, and working, in Japan during the 16th century—the height of the ninja era—it just made sense to pair my assassin with a Jesuit Priest.
As it turned out, Father Mateo quickly became much more of a partner than a sidekick. He and Hiro don’t always see eye to eye, but they make a fantastic team.
What’s your research process like? How do you make 16th century Japan come so alive?
Fortunately, I love research, in person and through books and other sources. Since each new book in the series focuses on a different facet of Japanese culture, I typically read at least a dozen books on the area for background, and then research even more during the drafting process, when I need details.
For The Ninja’s Daughter, I returned to a lot of sources I used when studying traditional Japanese theater as part of my Asian studies major at Tufts University, and also took a research trip to Japan, where I visited the historical sites that appear in the novel. Between books, in-person research, and consultations with Japanese historians, I try to include as many sources as possible to ensure the details are accurate.
Then, the challenge is making sure I include enough to give the reader a real sense of Japanese culture without slowing down the story with unnecessary details.
We heard you raise seahorses. Tell us more!
I’ve loved seahorses all my life, and in 2010 I decided to “take the plunge” and set up a sixty-gallon saltwater tank as a seahorse and live coral reef. In addition to seahorses, I have a few fish and lots of live corals (sea fans and other non-stinging species that won’t hurt the seahorses). I love to share photos of them on Instagram and on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.
What can readers expect next from you?
I’m currently finishing primary edits on the next Hiro Hattori novel, Betrayal At Iga, which is scheduled for publication by Seventh Street Books in summer 2017. The novel takes place right after the end of The Ninja’s Daughter, and takes the detectives—and readers—to mountainous Iga province, home of Hiro’s ninja clan, where they must solve an ambassador’s murder in time to prevent a ninja war.
Susan Spann has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. When not writing, she works as a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law, and raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.
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