Susan Spann–Historical Mystery Author or Ninja Conspirator?

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

It’s happened again. It starts with a twitch, and then, before you know it, Holmes and I are kidnapping another author and whisking them away to our secret blog prison.

Today, our victim guest is Debut Historical Author Susan Spann. Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies at Tufts University in Boston. She somehow got bamboozled into pursuing a law career—friends don’t let friends go to law school—and received her J.D. from UCLA. After years of teaching and a stint as Associate Academic Dean at Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, she now practices intellectual property law and writes historical mysteries set in 1500s Japan. Her debut, CLAWS OF THE CAT, is due out tomorrow (Minotaur Books).

Claws of the Cat Cover

We snatched Susan gave Susan a ride from her office in Sacramento. It wasn’t too hard to get her to come with us. We lured her into our black helicopter by telling her that her favorite author, James Rollins, had once been held against his will  spent a lovely afternoon in it with us.

Welcome to our blog today, Susan. Please make yourself comfortable. We had these tatami mats flown in especially for your visit . . . No, not from Japan. From Kansas. They’re woven from genuine American GMO wheat stalks. We believe in buying American. Hope you don’t have any allergies.

You’re welcome to remove your blindfold now. If you notice, it’s a Hello Kitty sleep mask to match the Hello Kitty handcuffs. Very Japanese.

Would you like some tea? I studied that scene in Shogun several times to get it right.

Let’s begin our interrogation conversation. Keep in mind that Intelligence Operative Holmes is just behind this one-way glass *waves*, and the NSA will have a permanent and complete record of your answers.

Susan Spann Historical Author and Ninja Conspirator

Susan Spann
Historical Author and Ninja Conspirator

Now, Ms. Spann—just what is your connection to the Orient?

I’d say “I’m a ninja” but if I was really a ninja this blindfold and handcuffs would be on someone else.

So, instead, I’ll say I’ve always loved Japanese history and culture, especially medieval Japan. In college, my studies focused on early Imperial China and medieval Japan, including the Muromachi period (1337-1573) when samurai ruled and ninjas really existed.

It was a dangerous time, but also beautiful and intriguing – and the Shinobi series gives me a fabulous chance to explore the era in more detail and translate it into fiction.

So your special interest is ninjas, is it? Exactly why would you be studying these assassins and their ways?

Technically, they attacked me first. I’m just returning the favor.

Hmm. The old “he started it first” line.  Doesn’t work for my kids, either. Please go on.

The moment I had the idea to write a mystery novel featuring a ninja detective, I realized a shinobi (which is the Japanese pronunciation — “ninja” is based on a Chinese word) would make the perfect sleuth. Shinobi were masters of disguise who trained in undercover operations as well as assassination – much like modern spies.

Speaking of spies … Hi Holmes! Can he see me waving?

Ahem. Holmes prefers the term “spook.” Spying is a bit seamy—its what the NSA and the Russians do.

Anyway, a shinobi seemed like the perfect sleuth, provided I could find a believable reason for Hiro to use his skills to solve murders instead of committing them. Fortunately, the mystery in CLAWS OF THE CAT offers just the right “incentive.”

I love your style in CLAWS OF THE CAT in that you weave in the setting and history of 1500s Japan in just the right amount as you unfold the story. You’ve heard me describe it as the ultimate cozy whodunit with a healthy dose of “Cool, I didn’t know that” on the side. Is there some dark force that draws you to creating intricate patterns of deception in the form of mystery novels?

I learned it from my kitten, Oobie. Who better to teach deception than a cat?

And thank you. One of my goals for the novel was to immerse the narrative in an unusual cultural setting, showing the reader the beauty and danger of samurai Japan within the scope of a fast-paced mystery romp. Each book in the series incorporates a different facet of Japanese culture, which means new and unusual settings in every one.

Also, I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed the book. I loved your novel, FIRELANDS, and it means a lot to me when authors whose works I enjoy like my book too.

I have someone here who is familiar with your novel, and who has some tough questions for you to answer. *crosses to intercom* Bring in Inspector Parker.

Inspector Parker

Inspector Parker

*enters and sniffs at Susan’s ankle* You don’t smell too suspicious, but I don’t like that large, black bag you’re carrying. I deduce that you are hiding ninja weapons in it. Your hero, Hiro, uses a number of them. Please empty your purse and explain these items.

The weapons on the cover of CLAWS are neko-te, which translates “claws of the cat” – a specialized weapon favored by female ninjas (called kunoichi). The claws were worn on the ends of the fingers, transforming a kunoichi’s hands into lethal weapons. In many cases, the claws were poisoned too.

This thing that looks like a stick is a ninja smoke bomb, made from a length of bamboo filled with a special powdered mixture that produces smoke when ignited. Ninjas used a variety of bombs and other explosive devices, mostly to create distractions but sometimes for destructive purposes too. Hiro doesn’t use any bombs in CLAWS OF THE CAT, but he will in some of the later books. 

That last thing is a pen. For signing books …

Surely you are aware that all the world has heard of war dogs, but no one has ever heard of war cats. It’s a proven fact that writing about war dogs increases an author’s book sales. Why would you instead choose to glorify cats in your writing?

I humbly beg forgiveness for that oversight, Inspector Parker! It’s true that dogs make any book better, but in the interests of interspecies fairness, I decided to give a kitten equal time.

When I started writing CLAWS OF THE CAT, I knew I needed to soften Hiro’s ninja edge and make him someone readers could relate to—unrepentant assassins aren’t a classic hero archetype. The fastest way to demonstrate Hiro’s gentler side was letting him rescue, and keep, an orphaned kitten.

But I didn’t want to make Hiro too soft, and I like books with plenty of tension, so I also made Father Mateo, Hiro’s Jesuit sidekick, allergic to cats.

While you’ve written an excellent book, even the name CLAWS OF THE CAT might unjustly put off your dog readership. Do you have any plans to remedy that unfortunate choice by adding dogs to your novels in the future?

Absolutely! A dog appears in the series’ second installment, Blade of the Samurai, which is scheduled for publication in July 2014. I’m afraid he’s not as nice a dog as you are, Inspector Parker, but he’s a brave Akita who does his best to protect his people.

If the series continues beyond three books, you’ll also get to see a ninja dog—but I can’t reveal any more or I’ll blow his cover!

I will look forward to reading about such noble members of my species . . . Excuse me, but may I sniff your bag again, please? . . . Is that salami? Did you bring that for me? *sticks head in Susan’s handbag*

Now, now, Inspector Parker, it’s not appropriate to beg from our subjects. If you’ll just go to Holmes, he’ll share some salami with you. Thank you for your input in this case. *Inspector Parker departs*

Ms. Spann, what is your current Work In Progress?

I’ve delivered Blade of the Samurai to my editor at Minotaur, and I’m currently working on Flask of the Drunken Master, the third installment in the Shinobi Mystery series. I love spending time with Hiro and Father Mateo.

And where do you go from here? Do you have any upcoming book tours or other promotions?

CLAWS releases tomorrow, and I’m really excited about sharing it with readers! I currently have signings scheduled in California and Colorado:

Thursday, July 18, 2013: 6:30pm Launch Event: Face in a Book Bookstore, 4359 Town Center Blvd., #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

Thursday, July 25, 2013: 7:00 PM Reading & Signing: Barnes & Noble (3rd Street Promenade), 1201 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Tuesday, July 30, 2013: 11:00 AM Reading & Signing: Towne Center Books, 555 Main Street Pleasanton, CA 94566

Wednesday, August 28, 2013: 7:00PM Reading & Signing: Barnes & Noble, 6111 Sunrise Boulevard, Citrus Heights, CA 95610

Monday, September 16, 2013: 7:30 PM Reading & Signing: Tattered Cover Bookstore
2526 East Colfax Avenue Denver, CO 80206

You can also get up to date information on these and other signings at my author events page: Find Susan–Live Events and Conferences

Thank you for your time today, Susan. I’m going to have to ask you to put this parachute on over your kimono before we leave. Don’t worry—we’ll remove your handcuffs and blindfold before we push you out of the helicopter deliver you safely to your home. You may keep the Hello Kitty paraphernalia as a souvenir of our chat, if you like, but we’ll be sending someone by to collect the parachute. Tight budget, and all.

I can certainly confirm that CLAWS OF THE CAT is a great read. Find it now in hardback and paperback at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Also find this awesome book at IndieBound, Powell’s, and at the iTunes Apple Store.

From the Secret Blog Prison — James Rollins and Bloodline!

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Last fall, Holmes and I devolved into serial interviewers, targeting best selling authors. Our first victim guest at our secret blog prison hideout was New York Times Best Selling Author and Heckuva Guy James Rollins*. Dr. Rollins was a stellar interviewee, not once complaining about the handcuffs or the fact that his parachute got tangled when we pushed him out of the plane over his house. (James Rollins and New Characters for Sigma Force)

During that interview, my dog, Daisy, showed her astute doggie intuition and hit on just the right questions to pull some exclusive info from this author/veterinarian. She asked about war dogs. Here is an excerpt.

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Hi Dr. Rollins. *lick, lick, wag, wag* It’s so nice to meet you. I love meeting writers who get it. Writers who understand that dog readership is a driving force in today’s market. Would you please explain the benefits of having animals in books?

As a veterinarian, I simply enjoy folding them into the story.  I knew from third-grade that I wanted to be a vet, and though I only do volunteer work with my vet degree, that passion still runs strong.  So animals keep creeping in on silent paws into my books.  Also, I think an animal is a great way to personalize and characterize the men and women in a story.  Are they a cat person or a dog person?  Can they ride a horse?  What type of dog or cat do they have?  These details can really make a significant difference in how a reader views a character.

I know they certainly matter to me and to my pet human.

There’s been lots of news about Cairo, the war dog who took down Bin Laden. (Sincere thanks to Cairo’s pilots and assistants.) War dogs are really hot, the way they sky dive and save their pet humans from bombs. Have you ever considered adding a war dog to the Sigma Force team?

In fact, that’s coming up in my very next book:  Tucker Wayne and his canine partner, Kane.  They are an incredible team.

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On June 26, we finally got to see Kane and his pet human, Tucker Wayne in Bloodline, the eighth novel in the Sigma Force series. To celebrate this event, we tracked Dr. Rollins on his Bloodline Tour and approached him on the street outside of a bookstore to interrogate chat with him about this exciting new release.

When he first saw us coming toward him, he dodged into a nearby pet store. We found him crouched behind a large open glass container full of Belgian Malinois puppies, and, once we proved we didn’t have any blindfolds on us or black helicopters hovering outside, he agreed to answer a few questions.

Dr. Rollins, will Tucker and Kane be a natural addition to the Sigma Force team in Bloodline, or will they have issues to settle to blend in?

From a professional standpoint, Tucker’s training as an army ranger and his partnership with his military working dog, Kane, create a formidable search-and-rescue team—the perfect recruit for Sigma.  But Tucker is disillusioned and bitter and not a team player.  With Kane at his side, he’s a bit of a lone wolf.  His trust needs to be won—but can Sigma earn it?  That’s answered with in the pages of Bloodline

When you spoke with Daisy, you told her Sigma Force will go up against The Guild in Bloodline, and only one group will be left standing. Does this mean Bloodline is the close of the Sigma Force series?

Nope.  This book exposes the true puppet masters of the Guild and dramatizes the final, fiery confrontation between this shadowy organization and Sigma. But as this story ends, a new thread begins that will carry the story of Sigma into the future. 

Would you please tell our readers a bit about Bloodline?

The president’s pregnant daughter is kidnapped by Somali pirates, and it’s up to Sigma and its newest recruits–Tucker and Kane–to rescue her from the mountainous jungles.  But her kidnapping masks a greater threat–one tied to her unborn child, a baby who may hold the key to the secret of immortality.

About this time, a Vietnamese woman who seemed well-acquainted with Dr. Rollins showed up. As she passed the puppies and pushed her way between us and our target friend, I noticed the outline of a Sig Sauer in her belt holster under her shirt. In light of this new development, we wished Dr. Rollins all the best and left him to resume his Bloodline Tour.

Our sincere thanks to James Rollins. We were honored to have another opportunity to speak with him. You can find Bloodline at his web site, James Rollins Bloodline, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Do you like the idea of a war dog and his pet human in a thriller?

*James Rollins is the author of eight Sigma Force novels, the Jake Ransom YA series, and the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. He is known for high adventure drawn from his extensive and accurate knowledge of science, technology, and history. He is also a veterinarian who regularly contributes his time to his local clinic to spay and neuter animals.