Film Score Composer John Horner Killed in Plane Crash

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James-horner It is very sad to hear that composer John Horner was killed when his light plane crashed yesterday, June 22, 2015. Many remember his scores for Avatar and Titanic, but over the last several weeks, with my headphones on, I had listened to his score for The Hunger Games and A Beautiful Mind as I worked on my latest novel. I was inspired by Horner’s music in writing many of the passages in my story. To wake up this morning to the news, it somehow became more personal than I ever thought.

As I go back to writing this morning, I will be playing his music and remembering his triumph and not the tragedy that took him from us too soon. Although I never met him. and he never met me, but I shall miss him just the same.

A Woman Samurai in the Era of Genji

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800px-Tomita_Nobutaka_and_his_wifeThe Yamabuki series traces the adventures of a young samurai set shortly after the time of The Tale of Genji. It is in large part a homage to Genji’s author, Lady Murasaki, while never forgetting it is a head-on story of a warrior in the tradition of Japanese chambara (crashing swords) and jidaigeki (historical (i.e. costume) drama).

It is an immersion in 12th century Japan and an entertaining look at what life might have been like when the world was still flat and oceans were thought to pour over its edges.

An oft used trope in Japanese tales is to utilize a priest, a missionary, or other non-Japanese person to act as an interpreter for the author in communicating with the reader. Another trope is when a person in the modern age is thrown through a time warp into old-time Japan. The Yamabuki story, however, sidesteps this and seeks to entice the reader with total immersion in a strange world that at the same is both very old historically and very new to someone seeing it for the first time.

And this is not all that different from how Yamabuki feels about it.

Yamabuki comes out of the royal court of her warlord father and journeys into an exotic world. Although she is educated in languages and the science of the day and well-trained in weapons and fighting, yet the world outside the rarefied palace is as strange to her as it is to us.

Writing in a Japanese historic voice was an exciting challenge.

In BBC series I, Claudius, the writers were faced with presenting speakers of Latin to modern viewers and the simple choice for the broadcasters was for the characters simply to speak BBC English. This does not at all work in a jidaigeki. It would be odd indeed if Lord Ichimonji Hidetora in Kurosawa’s Ran starts sounding like Lawrence Olivier doing King Lear.

The action in the Yamabuki series takes place when people in England were more or less speaking Beowulf English. In the case of Yamabuki, this led to a careful choice of vocabulary to hopefully pull off an “vernacular” of sorts on the written page. The Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, became a key tool in this. Commoners in the Yamabuki series use Anglo-Saxon root words. The upper classes, like Yamabuki, use the occasion French or Latin root words, but none use any word that was current after the 1700s, and most have earlier roots. The same can be said of idioms, many of which are Japanese, but accessible to the modern reader.

The reader will find Japanese words sprinkled into the text and this is for clarity and not confusion. You say you don’t speak Japanese? Don’t worry. An example from Yamabuki is using the word “naginata” for a polearm instead of “halberd” or “glaive” which is the translation, but which only adds to confusion for the translations evoke a picture of European heraldry.

Bottom line. Yamabuki is an adventure. It is set in a strange world, with realistic people, and surprises at every turn.

Lastly, many modern readers who are familiar with samurai and the Japanese culture will look with puzzlement at a world where there is a woman samurai. But the lense where women are relegated to the shadows is not the world of Yamabuki, an actual historic person. There were a number of women warriors in the 12th century, most of which appear in the Yamabuki series, along with a woman “shogun” who lived at the time.

I look forward to bringing Yamabuki and her world to life and hope to entertain the reader and, borrowing from another fantasy:

to explore a strange new world and boldly go where the reader has not gone before.

Announcing: Release Date of Cold Trail and new date for Cold Heart

39447g1The third book of the Sword of the Taka Samurai series is Cold Trail and is expected to be released by the end of July, 2015. Originally the six books of the series were all expect to be straightforward reads of 20,000 to 40,000 words, each.

As the draft for the “uhr” Cold Heart rose to 70,000 words and was increasing, and the release date started moving out, my editor and I saw that even if a seventh book was needed to tell the full story, we would do it. The solution, break the existing book in half into two smaller pieces to come out a month or two apart.

If all goes according to plan Cold Heart will be released in June-July and Cold Trail will come out in July-August. Hopefully readers will agree that it is worth waiting for as (because of “popular” demand) there is a thirst for an expanded Yamabuki backstory.

Readers wanted to know how and why would Yamabuki became a warrior? Who influenced her? What factors led to her decision to leave her life of relative ease as a warlord’s daughter? How is it that a woman of this era could get access to scholars to teacher to speak, read, and write Chinese? And yet she writes and translates Chinese poems into Japanese cursive, in the kana, so everyone can read them. She records her journey in “pillow books” called makura, or “diaries.”

To do justice to these stories and to introduce them now instead of in later books, it has taken some editing to put them into a form that readers can easily absorb.

As with earlier Yamabuki stories, the reader is immersed in a strange world with unknown customs and traditions. Sometimes they are as strange to Yamabuki as they are to the reader.

If there are reviewers out there who would be interested in a draft copy of these books prior to release, please let me at the Kate Lore email address so we can arrange for that.

Forced Affection -Rape as the First Act of Romance in Heian Japan (an essay)

Katherine M. Lawrence:

As a fan of Anthony Bryant, I have been influenced by his insights. This essay is rich in detail and texture.

Originally posted on Rekishi Nippon:

While readers of Japanese literature from the Heian and Kamakura periods often find it difficult to determine when a sexual encounter has actually taken place, there are certain textual indicators that writers can use to make it plain that something carnal has, in fact, occurred. Writers may speak of the night as “dreamlike,” or describe the woman as “pliant” or “vulnerable,” and the use of these latter two terms hints at the fact that the encounter may have been more coercive than consensual. Some encounters are written to indicate so much forcefulness that they seem to the Western reader to be nothing less than rape. It is these forced encounters that I propose to examine in this paper.

Sexual relationships in Heian and Kamakura court literature (most notably in Monogatari) may often begin with a contact that can only be compared to rape, but the strictures of the court society…

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Yamabuki’s Sword — historic blade from her era and her swordmaker

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Old swords are rare, even in a country as obsessed with them as Japan. Giving Up the Gun, Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, traces the significance of the sword in Japanese society.

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Many of us picture Japan as a country of swords-only, but that was not always so. Films such as Ran show samurai and other warriors using matchlocks that were introduced through the Portuguese in around 1550.

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Many author attribute the success of Toragawa Ieyasu’s success in winning the civil war in 1603 and becoming the Shogun to his adroit use of firearms.

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Perrin writes,

By 1575. guns had replaced swords in the ranks of all but the most stubborn samurai. But after 1637, the Japanese stopped using guns for over 200 years.

Swords were melted down to make guns and later guns were melted to make swords.

Old swords were modernized and altered or melted down for the metal and then reforged. Still other blades were altered and shortened for other purposes, not mention that blades that were simply lost or were demanded beyond repair.

Few swords survive from the period in and around the Gempei War and Yamabuki’s era. However, while research I came across a blade that was not only of that era, but made by the sword master who crafted Yamabuki’s blade, (below).

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We have the length and curvature and also the details.

We read in Cold Heart, the upcoming novel, when she is just twelve years old she has a coming of age ceremony–unusually young for a girl,

. . . the one special gift from her father. He had commissioned Yukiyasu, purported to be the empire’s greatest sword smith, to craft a tachi-style sword for her . . . if anyone ever before doubted that General Moroto’s eldest child was her parents’ favorite, such doubts were forever dispelled as Yamabuki pulled the magnificent glimmering steel from its cobalt blue lacquered-scabbard that bore the Taka crossed-fathers crest. She immediately named the blade Tiger Claw.

Quantity, not Quality, Time with the Muse

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Katherine M. Lawrence:

There is something to be said for just being there.

Originally posted on Laura Hile:

Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons) An Astronomical Clock // Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons) When my sons were little, the debate over Quality Time versus Quantity Time was in full swing. The idea was this: if a parent spends meaningful time with a child, then that cancels out the need to spend large amounts of time together, right? Umm…

Having worked in daycare, I already knew the answer: Quantity Time wins. It does. Always. And this doesn’t only apply to very young children.

Fast forward to Mom’s Weekend at Oregon State. I would show up Friday night with my sleeping bag, ready for their sofa. Since each son also worked, he would put in his shift and return to their apartment. We watched movies (ha, of my choosing!) and talked and took walks by the river. I treated them to dinner at a local Chinese dive. And bought pizza and snacks and sodas and coffee.

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The World of Taira no Kiyomori

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As a big fan of Japanese television, I have watched more than a historic drama or two. It is a rather Japanese style to introduce historic dramas by showing the films of historic places as they look today along with artifacts and scrolls. Think Ken Burns and The Civil War, if you are American.

The other day I presented a map of the Isle of Unknown Fire, which today is called Kyushu and it the southern-most of Japan’s four main isles.

The Yamabuki series, which will take the main character into the Gempei War (1180-1185), takes her into encounters with Kiyomori. I came across this 3 minute video about him along with some scenes of Japan. In a style I have grown fond of, the narrator explains the setting and why this is such an important event.

Many of the places are the same as Yamabuki would have visit. For those interested in the actual places, film and narrative might be of interest.

Usagi Yojimbo — Rabbit Bodyguard

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My kendo teacher told me about a wonderful comic book series by Stan Sasaki called Usagi Yojimbo, literally “rabbit bodyguard.” Set in the 1600, about 400 years after Yamabuki, it is a wonderful world invented by Sasaki, filled with animals who inhabit a Tokugawa Japan.

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Usagi is a samurai and a fighter, but he is not a grim killer–in essence a one note character. Although he is a rabbit, he is so human. Contrast this with the Lone Wolf and Cub manga, which is very good, but it’s all serious. I like Lone Wolf and Cub and will blog about that series at on a later post.

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Usagi is less “serious,” but his range of emotions within a story span anger, bewilderment, sadness, humility, love, longing, joy . . . and what a great smile he has!

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Usagi is fun and serious, all at the same time. The stories are good and poignant and every bit serious. I recommend these to fans of Japan, samurai, and any readers who like Yamabuki–there’s a bit of Usagi in her.

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Samurai Armor–Yamabuki era

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Some people find ancient Japanese armor fascinating.

In Cold Heart, Yamabuki finds an armor maker to repair a gash to her chest protector. Japanese armor was solid, but unlike the kind of armor seen in The Game of Thrones, it was not plate. Part of it were made of steel pieces called kozane and other parts were lacquered leather. Much of it was tied together by silk cords of vivid colors thanks to the perfection of silk dying in Japan. The armor was light, which allowed the warrior to move, and heavy enough to withstand arrows.

Not every part of the armor was metal.

The upper part of this kind of armor is pictured below.

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Mythical Great Bay Province — Yamabuki’s Home

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In historic fiction, places and time spans might not be strictly correct, but most people who write in that genre attempt to have some sense of geography. The home of the Taka clan is a mythical province called Great Bay. As a novel of fiction, but based on a historic person and historic setting, this device allows enough artistic license for the Sword of the Taka Samurai to hopefully not become too didactic. I had thought the location would not play a big role in the first book of the series, Cold Blood, but I was wrong. I was almost immediately asked to provide a map. Here goes:

Great Bay Prefecture takes the western part of Kagoshima in the south of present day Kyushu and is combined with the south western part–about half–of present day Miyazaki.

Long Sword would be from present day Oita.

Kita, where she stays at the Wakatake Inn is in Fukuoka Prefecture. The Kanmon Strait is there.

The second part of Cold Blood and most of Cold Heart takes place in Nagato located within present day Yamaguchi on Honshu, the Main Isle.

The straight line distance from the Taka compound near Cape Toi to the Kanmon Strait is about 150 miles, which takes her about 10 days.

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(above) Kyushu today. In Yamabuki’s time it was called the Isle of Unknown Fire.

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(above) As seen today, the area in and around the mythical Taka compound.

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