Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with Laura Joh Rowland, author of The Shogun's Daughter

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Laura Joh Rowland to our little corner of the net to discuss her latest release, The Shogun's Daughter. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Laura. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Shogun's Daughter.
The Shogun’s Daughter begins in Edo (Tokyo) in 1704.  The shogun’s daughter Tsuruhime dies of smallpox.  Faced with his own mortality, the shogun names as his heir Yoshisato, the son he recently learned was his.  In the ensuing political turmoil, Sano Ichiro falls out of favor at court.  He thinks Yoshisato is a fraud masterminded by Yanagisawa, his foe. Suspecting that Tsuruhime's death was murder, Sano embarks on a dangerous investigation.  He and his family become targets of enemies seeking to rule Japan.

What inspired you to write this story? 
I wanted to write about a fascinating period in Japanese history—the time after a major earthquake and during a transition to a new regime within the ruling Tokugawa regime.  There’s always plenty of upheaval and excitement during events like these.  They provide the background for my story.  The real-life shogun’s real-life daughter did die during this period.  She wasn’t murdered (as she is in my book), but her death did force the shogun to face his own mortality (as he did in real life), and to designate a successor after putting it off for many years.  The battle for the succession weaves into Sano’s murder investigation.  I love the interplay between fact and fiction.

What research went into The Shogun's Daughter and what challenges did you face writing a story set in feudal Japan? 
Much of the historical background in the story comes from a wonderful non-fiction book by Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, The Dog Shogun.  It’s probably the definitive work (in English) about that period.  One of my challenges is that I don’t speak or read Japanese, so I’m unable to use Japanese primary resource material. Another challenge is that my books are fiction, so the research needs to ground and enrich the story but never overshadow it.

What scene was the most difficult for you as an author?
Every scene that contains more than two characters.  When you have lots of people talking and doing things, it’s like juggling—you have to keep all the balls in the air.  Throw in conflicting agendas and intense emotions, and it gets really hard.  My late mentor, the science fiction author George Alec Effinger, said that beginning writers tend to write scenes that have only one or two characters, and advanced writers can handle more. The climax sequence at the end of The Shogun’s Daughter, where I alternate between scenes in Sano’s, Reiko’s, Masahiro’s, and Taeko’s viewpoints was one of the most challenging I’ve ever written.

What is your favorite scene in the novel?
The climax sequence.  It was difficult to write, and harrowing, but also exhilarating—I felt as though I were with the characters every moment of a very wild ride.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character you wish you could have spent more time with? 
I wish I could bring back interesting characters from earlier books in the series.  Example:  the beautiful female ninja that Sano fell in love with before he married Reiko.  But there’s never any space for that.  Each book has to focus on its own characters, conflicts, and plot.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters and is there one of your cast you wish you were more like?
All the characters are me, in a sense.  I think all fictional characters embody aspects of their authors’ personalities.  Some aspects are admirable, some not.  I wish I were as athletic as Sano and Reiko.  It would be so great to be an expert swordfighter!  (Gym was my worst subject in school.)  I also wish I were as brave.  They face down violent killers in every episode.  Not me!  I might have gotten further ahead in the world if I were as ruthless as Yanagisawa.  But I’m glad I’m not.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why? 
Yanagisawa, definitely.  In some ways the villains are the most interesting characters in mystery fiction.  Plus, he’s handsome and sexy.  I’d like to ask him if I portrayed him accurately.  My characters have become like real people to me, and when I write about them it’s as though I’m interpreting them as a reporter would instead of making them up.  I would have to be careful around Yanagisawa, however.  If he didn’t like how he’s portrayed in my books, he might slip poison in my drink.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work? 
I hope they feel as if they’ve read a great story and formed personal connections with the characters.  Not as if they’ve read a history textbook about feudal Japan.

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
I’m writing #18 in the Sano series.  It’s tentatively titled “The Iris Fan.”  The murder investigation continues the court intrigue that starts in “The Shogun’s Daughter.”  Readers, be prepared for some big surprises!

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About the Author: Laura Joh Rowland is the author of a mystery series set in medieval Japan, featuring samurai detective Sano Ichiro. The Shogun’s Daughter is the seventeenth book in the series. Her work has been published in 13 foreign countries, nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, and won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery. Laura lives in New York City. For more information please visit Laura’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook.

About the Book: Japan, 1704. In an elegant mansion a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse. Smallpox pustules cover her face. Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?” The death of the Shogun’s daughter has immediate consequences on his regime. There will be no grandchild to leave the kingdom. Faced with his own mortality and beset by troubles caused by the recent earthquake, he names as his heir Yoshisato, the seventeen-year-old son he only recently discovered was his. Until five months ago, Yoshisato was raised as the illegitimate son of Yanagisawa, the shogun’s favorite advisor. Yanagisawa is also the longtime enemy of Sano Ichiro. Sano doubts that Yoshisato is really the Shogun’s son, believing it’s more likely a power-play by Yanagisawa. When Sano learns that Tsuruhime’s death may have been a murder, he sets off on a dangerous investigation that leads to more death and destruction as he struggles to keep his pregnant wife, Reiko, and his son safe. Instead, he and his family become the accused. And this time, they may not survive the day. Laura Joh Rowland’s thrilling series set in Feudal Japan is as gripping and entertaining as ever.

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Check out all the stops on Laura Joh Rowland's The Shogun's Daughter Virtual Book Tour

Monday, September 16
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, September 17
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 18
Review at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, September 19
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 20
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, September 23
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 24
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, September 25
Review at Impressions in Ink
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, September 26
Review at Unabridged Chick
Friday, September 27
Review at Jenny Loves to Read
Review & Interview with A Bookish Libraria
Monday, September 30
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, October 1
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, October 2
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, October 3
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, October 4
Review at Book Dilettante

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