The inspiration for the Shinobi Mysteries hit me unexpectedly, in late spring
2012 2011.** I had just finished my fourth historical manuscript (not realizing that it and its three companions would soon become my “trunk manuscript collection”) and had no idea what I should be writing next.
One morning, as I stood at the bathroom mirror putting on makeup in preparation for work, a voice in my head said “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.”
Before that, I wrote historical fiction. I considered mystery very complicated, and though I adore both mysteries and thrillers the thought of writing one seemed as far beyond my skills as climbing Everest or starting a new career in neurosurgery.
In the weeks that followed, however, Hiro – and the idea of mysteries set Samurai-era Japan (Muromachi, for the Japanese scholars among you) – just wouldn’t let go. My love of Japanese history and my undergraduate degree in Asian Studies (not exactly the norm for a publishing lawyer) finally seemed to have a purpose after all.
When I finally accepted that this Hiro had chosen me (pun intended) the rest fell into place.
Real-life ninja(s) had the strongest influence between 1500 and 1650, so I wanted to set my novel in that period. My shinobi (the period-appropriate word for “ninja”) needed to live where plenty of murders happened so I made him an undercover agent assigned to Kyoto (at that time, the Capital of Japan).
But dropping an undercover agent into a hostile Capital run by a powerful Shogun who hated spies gave Hiro no reason to solve a crime. In fact, it increased his incentive to stay undercover.
Hiro needed to hide in plain sight, and since I’m never one to pass on conflict, I assigned poor Hiro to guard the life of a Portuguese Jesuit – for reasons that even Hiro didn’t know (though I do, and eventually the series’ readers will too). But, by order of his clan, Hiro’s life depends on Father Mateo’s continuing survival.
So … I had a master ninja sworn to protect a Portuguese priest in a city and time where war seemed imminent and the smallest transgression could lead to execution. I tossed in a Portuguese weapons dealer, a couple of geisha, a murdered samurai and a paper-eating kitten (did I mention the priest is allergic to cats?), stirred well … and CLAWS OF THE CAT was born.
And – as I mentioned before – the title has nothing to do with Hiro’s kitten. Or real cats of any kind. It’s actually a ninja reference, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what – and how I chose it.
In the end, though, I owe it all to being attacked by ninjas.
Has inspiration ever struck you at an odd or unexpected moment? I’d love to hear where you were when inspiration hit – and what odd (or not-so-odd) things it made you do!
** My law partner, friend & peer editor (all in one!) just pointed out that my agent must be REALLY good if she sold my novel before I even wrote it. Whoops. I’m not allowed out of the cage without proofreading any more.