An Open Letter To Wiscon: Because of Wisconsin's LGBTQ+ discRiminatory policies, we will not be attending

Hello Wiscon,

In light of Wisconsin’s recent attack on LGBTQ health coverage, Toot Sweet Inc will not be attending ANY events whatever in Wisconsin and that, alas, that includes Wiscon.  We will not lend any financial support to such a State. Same with North Carolina. Same with Indiana, and any other state that discriminates against LGBTQ+.

I did a reading at last year conference and though the sessions were great. I was hoping to read from my upcoming woman samurai book, “Cold Heart.”

If Wiscon relocated to an LGBTQ friendly state, or if Wisconsin reverses its discriminatory policies, we will of course immediately reconsider our decision.

Alas, the Wisconsin situation. A beautiful state with some very fine people who I know are not to blame.

Hastily yours,

Katherine M. Lawrence

author — Yamabuki series

"Sword of the Taka Samurai" series  (3 of 6 books published)

"Swords of the Immortals" series (upcoming summer 2017)

Music to Write By. Samurai Stories

Music to Write By. Samurai Stories

The soundtrack for Shogun Assassin is where my writing music started. Here Lone Wolf defeats three ninja women who are disguised as dancer acrobats in the circus de soleil of their day.

The soundtrack for Shogun Assassin is where my writing music started. Here Lone Wolf defeats three ninja women who are disguised as dancer acrobats in the circus de soleil of their day.

Some writers like to immerse themselves in the place and setting of the action. We put on our music and takes us to another world. Music helps the author visualize place, mood and setting. And it is not just in samurai novels.

Some of my readers have asked me to name a few of the soundtracks I use, so here goes:

"Joan Wilder" the author in film Romancing the Stone listens to music from How the West Was Won as she writes about Angelina.

"Joan Wilder" the author in film Romancing the Stone listens to music from How the West Was Won as she writes about Angelina.

Shogun Assassin has a great sound track. You can almost hear the horses galloping, though unlike the Yamabuki series, Lone Wolf does not interact with horses very much. We get a bit of the flavor of Shogun Assassin from the movie trailer, although the narrator is wrong as there are no "mad wizards," nor "sword and sorcery," nor is Lone Wolf fighting because his honor is "stained." Irrespective of the narrator, the shots and music are great and takes into another world.

 

For me it could not be all battles. There are times the mood has to change. How would Yamabuki's emotions be expressed when she was at the Taka compound?  For that I turned to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, no blood relation, I assure you. Ryuichi Sakamoto composition "Germination" to my mind reveals a different side of a warrior who is also a scholar and a woman and who has a wide range of feelings about the world.

I close this brief post with Sword of Doom, based on a set of stories Dai-bosatsu Tōge. The original say some is one of the longest novels ever written and I found it strangely captivating.

Of course there are other tracks. "Reaping" from Hunger Games as well as from the Star Trek Next Generation episode "The Emissary. " Talk about a "Yamabuki," K'Ehleyr certainly shares many of the same traits so why not some of the musical themes. Surely their tastes in warrior men might run parallel.

Hope this is a fun post about some of what keeps writers going apart from lots of strong coffee. 

Dancing in Samurai Film

Painting the life of the common people in a world where the major daily chore was finding enough food, can lead readers to think they are indeed being presented with a bleak world. And yet, the Japanese culture has always been one of songs and dance and laughter. Some genre readers are excited by the swordplay, but wonder why the farmers (they are never called "peasants" in Yamabuki books) are included.

Yet it is Innkeeper Inu in Cold Blood who comments about Yamabuki as she dons a silk kimono and dances with the staff of the Inn of young Bamboo.

Inu slapped the floor. "Ha! See how a 'samurai' moves--in the battlefield or in dancing, she's a master of movement!"

And though there were probably more warriors in Japan of old, per capita, than in any contemporaneous culture, the common people were the vast majority of the population and it was from these people that Yamabuki learned the best dances.

The Yamabuki series seeks to honor all the peoples of the land and suggest the people of the time found a way to express joy.

The 2003 Beat Takeshi film, Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, has a very modern take on Japanese dancing, but one which I hope bridges the gap with people who lived, loved, danced, and sang in a by-gone era.




Yamabuki's World -- 12th Century Japan

An Inspired Map of 12th century Akitsushima -- Japan

 

Akitsumisha-map-clean-color-01

Yamabuki travels from the Taka compound to the capital of Heian-kyo

Readers of today have asked for a map of Yamabuki's world. However, a 21st century map based on satellite positioning would show a universe totally at odds with what Yamabuki would likely have known.

People in Yamabuki's era lived on a flat Earth suspended in space. The sun rose and set over the land. The oceans flowed over the edge of the horizon. Comets streaked through the skies. Some stars, wanderers--what today we call planets--moved around.

Many of the land masses we see from orbit would have been completely unknown to her and the shape of a world that's a sphere would have been fantastical. Why don't the people on the bottom of the fanciful globe simply fall off?

Yamabuki's world of 1172 was largely uncharted and people would hold their breath for hundreds of years until what today we know as cartography came into existence.

Maps of the time were more like treasure maps than Google Maps. The Americas were not yet discovered, though there were rumors of it in Asia for the Chinese claimed to have visited a massive continent across the far Pacific (what Yamabuki called the Windward Sea) in the seventh century. Some even say the Chinese sailed to what today is called California.

Yamabuki's world, and the action taking place in the first four of the seven part Sword of the Taka Samurai is on the south western isle, The Isle of Unknown Fires which today is called Kyushu and across the Barrier Strait on the Main Isle, also known as Honshu.

Akitsumisha-map-clean-color-02

The Barrier Strait today is called either the Kanmon Strait or the Strait of Shimonoseki. Nagato Prefecture, across the Strait from from the Isle of Unknown Fires, today is known as Yamaguchi prefecture. The modern names would have held no specific meaning for the young warrior as she goes on her journey.

The prefecture names are in large blue italics. Clan names in red. Population centers are in black. Bodies of water, channels, and rivers are also in italics.

In part one, Cold Blood,Yamabuki on her journey from O-Utsumi to Kita in Chikuzen prefecture would have followed the road through the lands of the Ito, Sagara, and Kikuchi, traveling through Dazaifu, Mizuki, and finally to Kita. She crosses the Barrier Strait and passes through Akamagaseki in Nagato.

In part two, Cold Rain, she arrives in Minezaki, where the North Road is intersected by the East-West Road, which is also known as The Smugglers' Highway.

To intercept Yamabuki, Saburo would have come from the headwaters of The River of Forty Thousand Sands on the Isle of Two Kingdoms, crossing the Bungo Strait at the narrowest point, and hugged the coastline, traveling through the lands of the Ouchi before arriving in Kita.

The map is inspired. It is not what we would see from a satellite. It is not to scale, but it attempts to reflect a worldview of a people who are growing, expanding, and developing in an age that is very different from our own or even the one of the Warring States period, 300 to 400 years later.

More maps will be added as Yamabuki makes her way to the capital of Heian-kyo and beyond.

Archery and War

Hazard Sensei used to say that archery was the prefered method of fighting in old Japan. Swords were too personal. Too in close. Too involved with the opponent. Archery was "better." In fact, the old Japanese root word for "war" is said to come from something approximate to "archery exchange."

As I draw to a close in my work on Cold Heart, I draw inspiration from a very nice video that resonates. Japan still honors its past and traditions.

Will a Long Sword Best a Shorter Sword? The "Nodachi" double-length sword.

Will a Long Sword Best a Shorter Sword? The "Nodachi" double-length sword.

Cover of Seven Samurai DVD
Cover of Seven Samurai DVD

In Kurosawa's film Seven Samurai, Toshiro Mifune plays the character Kikuchiyo, the seventh (and odd-ball member) of the seven samurai. For those not familiar with the film, the concept is that seven unemployed samurai (sometimes called ronin, literally "man of the wave") are hired by a group of hapless farmers to protect the farmers' village against a relentless band of marauders. Mifune's character is shown hefting a sword so long that it has to be carried over the shoulder like a lance. See graphic, to the right. In more recent times, Japanese swords have classifications according to length, and the longest of samurai swords are called "nodachi." Many would rightly say that the sword pictured qualifies as a nodachi.

There is a reasonable belief that a long sword is hard, if not impossible, to defeat owing to its reach. But sword lengths are relative. In the film Twilight Samurai and also in Seppuku (also known as "Hara-kiri"), much is made of a sword being too long to be used inside a dwelling--hence the personal sword, a shorter blade often called a wakizashi works better. In close confines a regular tachi or katana type sword risks colliding with a ceiling or walls. A shorter sword is the better bet in a fight. I qualify my words about the names of sword lengths because these conventions are more recent. When the real-life Yamabuki lived--in the 12th century right after the era of the Tale of Genji and during the Genpei Wars--the names for Japanese sword types based on sword lengths, was much less standardized. In Cold Blood Yamabuki faces a sword master (a teacher of samurai) named Sa-me Shima, who boasts his name means "Shark Island" and who carries a sword at least as long as that carried by the Toshiro Mifune character in "Seven Samurai."

In the case of Yamabuki, the grizzled sword master, Shima, counts on his physical size, strength, and his sword's length to defeat Yamabuki.

Shima is a massive man. He has to be to wield a nodachi.

"Duel at Ganryu Isalnd" where Miyamoto Musashi fights Kojiro Sasaki, who wields a longer blade.
"Duel at Ganryu Isalnd" where Miyamoto Musashi fights Kojiro Sasaki, who wields a longer blade.

Contemporary literature says that nodachi were "field swords" and were so heavy that it took two men, grabbing the hilt together, to effectively swing a double-length blade. It was used against mounted samurai--the idea being the long sword with its generous reach could bring down a horse and rider. What has excited the imagination is there are legends of those who were strong enough and talented enough to master one-man-nodachi-style. We see a hint of this in Samurai Trilogy where Miyamoto Musashi, again played by Toshiro Mifune, squares off against Kojiro Sasaki.

Does the man with the longer blade always win?
Does the man with the longer blade always win?

Sasaki carries an extra long blade he has nicknamed, "clothes hanger." He has also perfected the "swallow turn" maneuver which is almost impossible to defend against when combined with the long blade. Again, sword length plays into the mythos.

And yet in a parallel from Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is able to defeat the Death Star, the ultimate power in the universe say the generals. The Imperial forces, however, are not ready for her own version of a close-in attack, which Yamabuki has learned from her fencing master, Lord Nakagawa. But this requires a great deal of courage and timing.

But it is not the final blow she delivers that brings the first installment of the Sword of the Taka Samurai series to its denouement, but in what I hope is a faithful ending, what must it have been like for her to kill. How she reacts after the duel is over.

Agility and tenacity count just as much as blade length along with a lot of luck, especially when you know you only have one chance to make your move, or die.

Seventh Book, COLD RAIN, 冷雨, Added to the Yamabuki Series

9781934194032
9781934194032

I am bringing out a new Yamabuki book in the next few weeks called Cold Rain, or Reiu冷雨in Japanese, but you don't have read or understand Japanese to enjoy this book. This book was created when the original Book 2 Cold Heart became too large to comfortably fit into the series, so the 6 book series is now 7. Cold Heart will still appear and pretty much on the heels of Cold Rain.

Cold Rain brings other major characters of Yamabuki's life onto the stage as she heads toward Heain-kyo. These actors include Yamabuki's parents, daimyo Taka and Lady Taka, herself an accomplished swordswoman; Yamabuki's beloved handmaids Tomo-ko and Hana-ye; Yamabuki's teacher of languages, science of the day, and martial arts, Lord Nakagawa; and Yamabuki's "Javert," the fallen priest turned assassin, Saburo, who has sworn to kill Yamabuki now that he learns that she has killed his mentor and master.