Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro’s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans.
With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro’s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanzō, but also Hiro’s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor.
Q&A with Susan Spann:
Betrayal At IGA is the 5th book in a series, and can be read as a stand alone. Did you plan for a series when you first started writing?
The idea for the series sprang into my head unexpectedly (although I guess, with ninjas, that makes sense). While getting ready for work one morning in 2012, I had the thought: “most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” I knew immediately that the idea had series potential, but also wanted to ensure that each novel would stand alone, so readers could enter the series at any point without feeling lost or spoiling the previous stories.
It’s taken me five books to get Hiro (and his partner in crime-solving, Father Mateo) to Hiro’s hometown of Iga, but I think the story is well worth the wait!
What drew you to study the history of China and Japan while you attended college?
After watching the SHOGUN miniseries (starring Richard Chamberlain) in 1980, I checked James Clavell’s novels out of the library and devoured them all. The stories sparked a lifelong interest in, and love of, Asian culture. When I enrolled at Tufts University and discovered I could major in Asian studies, I dove in and loved every minute.
How long does it take to write and research the books in these series? Did one take longer than the others? How long was the publishing process?
Each book takes me about nine months to complete, not counting the initial research. Each novel involves a murder in a different part of 16th century Japanese culture (Betrayal at Iga is set in the ninja village of Iga, and the previous novel—The Ninja’s Daughter—involved the death of an actor’s daughter and an investigation into Kyoto’s theater guilds) and I spend at least a couple of months researching the setting before I begin to write. Normally, I travel to Japan, to finish my research by visiting the locations that feature in the novel.
Once I start the writing process, it takes about a week to outline each novel, a month to write the first draft, and 5-6 months to edit that first horrific draft into final form. After that, the manuscript spends about a month with peer editors and my agent, Sandra, before it goes to my editor at Seventh Street Books.
The first book in the series, Claws of the Cat, involved the most research and planning because I was building the series world and the series outline that tells me where the characters will go in each installment. The books since then have all taken about the same amount of time to write.
I deliver the manuscripts to my editor, Dan Mayer, about 8 months before the scheduled publication date, because it takes the publisher time to edit, format, and prepare the book for publication.
Relating to the last question, how do you juggle a career as a lawyer and finding time to write?
I typically spend the morning hours—from 8am to noon—on law. Since I’m a transactional attorney, that mostly means drafting and negotiating contracts. I’m also the current contracts manager for Donaghy Literary Agency, so I often have contracts to review for the agency during the morning hours, too.
After lunch, I switch to writing mode, editing my own work or reading manuscripts for my critique partners. I also tend to blog and write articles in the afternoon. I take a break around 6pm to have dinner with my family (my husband, and my son when he’s home from college) and then write again in the evening, from 7-9pm. After that, I usually read until bedtime.
Betrayal At IGA is set in Japan, do you travel there often and/ or ever lived there? Favorite city if you have been? (My husband loves it there!)
I adore Japan, and try to go at least once a year, if I can. Each time I visit, I try to research the next 2-3 novels (in case I can’t get back the following year) so I travel here quite a bit. (I’m actually answering your questions from a hotel in Tokyo!)
I love every part of Japan I’ve visited, for different reasons. One of my favorite places for peace and quiet is Kōyasan (Mount Koya) a sacred mountain southwest of Osaka in Wakayama Prefecture. It’s actually the setting of my next Hiro Hattori Mystery, Trial on Mount Kōya, which will publish in 2018.
Miyajima Island (in Hiroshima Prefecture), home to Itsukushima Shrine and its iconic Giant Torii, is a close second when it comes to lovely, peaceful places to spend an evening—it’s crowded during the day, but at night the island is quiet and beautiful.
Last autumn, I spent time hiking the old Nakasendo travel road through the Kiso Valley, and walked the preserved stretch of the Tokaidō near Hakone (for two more upcoming novels)—and I’m already looking forward to visiting both of those amazing places again.
Kyoto’s temples are fantastic, and the food there is sublime. And, of course, when it’s time to come back to the modern world, Tokyo’s museums and restaurants are world class.
I guess, when forced to choose, I’d have to say they’re all my favorite cities!
What genres / authors do you like to read?
I love to read, and I adore many different genres. My favorites are Thrillers (James Rollins, Lee Child), Science Fiction (Ernest Cline, Tammy Salyer), Historical (Heather Webb, C.W. Gortner), Narrative Nonfiction/Adventure Fiction (Jon Krakauer, among others!) and Mystery (Agatha Christie, Annamaria Alfieri, Gigi Pandian, Catriona McPherson), and I love crossover novels like Kerry Schafer’s Dead Before Dying, which weaves both humor and paranormal elements into a cracking mystery.
At home, I read mostly hard-copy books, but when traveling in Japan I use my phone as an e-reader. So far this trip, I’ve read and enjoyed Kate Quinn’s new historical novel The Alice Network, Kerry Ann King’s I Wish You Happy (women’s fiction), and re-read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One—and I’ve got two more novels queued up for my next trip on the bullet train.
Thank you so much for the interview – I appreciate you letting me share a little about Betrayal at Iga and the Hiro Hattori novels!