Born in Japan: Steve Bein talks about the inspiration behind DAUGHTER OF THE SWORD
Instead of telling you what Daughter of the Sword is about, I think I’ll say a little something about where it came from. After all, there are plenty of people who can tell you what it’s about: Publishers Weekly has done that for you already, and of course Penguin has too. But those folks don’t know how the book came about in the first place, so I thought I’d share something new here, something that no one else can tell.
Daughter of the Sword was born in Japanin the midst of a typhoon, in fact. I was living in a tiny apartment on the top floor of a teensy little house in Nagoya, with flimsy wooden walls that rattled like maracas and a corrugated tin roof that shuddered like it might rip free at any moment. (The place wasn’t exactly built to withstand earthquakes, let alone hurricaneforce winds.) In hindsight I’m not even sure how I managed to fall asleep in those conditions, but I did, and I had a dream about a katana that left a haunting, keening note on the air whenever it cut. It was the wind singing that note, of course, and eventually it got violent enough to wake me up. I groggily scribbled something about the dream, and what began as halflucid notes written at 2:00 in the morning eventually became a novella about the katana known as Beautiful Singer, and about the vengeful spirit that resides in her.
Under those conditions it was hardly an accident that I was dreaming about chilling notes on the air, and as for dreaming about swords, that could have happened on any given night. I’ve been enamored with samurai and ninja stories since childhood, and one of my favorite things about living in Japan was the many opportunities I had to visit medieval castles, with their everpresent displays of weapons and armor. There’s a castle in Osaka that will rent you samurai armor, and one in Iga where they have someone demonstrate how to run through walls. No special effects: just the most cleverly constructed paneling you’ve ever seen, and a woman in a pink ninja suit running right through it.
Truth to tell, I didn’t ever set out to write urban fantasy. Much of Daughter of the Sword is really historical fantasy, as is the companion novella, Only a Shadow. I started with the samurai and ninja stories I’ve always loved, but as these were taking shape, I saw they were scattered over too broad a span of Japanese history. They needed someone to unify them.
Enter Mariko Oshiro, the only woman to earn a detective’s badge and sergeant’s stripes in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. She’s also my only protagonist in the 21st centurythe only one with a perspective long enough to tie all the historical storylines together. I didn’t expect her to take over the book, but that’s exactly what she did. She quickly picked up the trail of Beautiful Singer, the ultimate murder weapon, so in a sense that Nagoya typhoon gave birth to Mariko too. It inspired the sword, and then created the need for a sleuth clever enough to discover just how bloody the sword’s path has been over the last nine hundred years.
Like I said, I didn’t expect Mariko to commandeer my book, but now that she’s here, I’ve come to like her. A lot. She’s tough, she’s smart, she’s resourceful, she’s bullheadedand that’s before she gets a sword in her hands. Now that I think of it, she’s exactly the kind of woman you’d expect to have a hurricane for a mother.