Please welcome Steve Bein to The Qwillery. Year of the Dragon
, the 2nd novel in The Fated Blades series, was published yesterday, October 1, 2013.
The Fated BladesYear of the Demon
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery! Please tell us something about Year of the Demon (Fated Blades 2) that is not in the book description.
Steve: This is really three novels in one. Two of the protagonists will be familiar to readers of Daughter of the Sword: Mariko and Daigoro. So we’ve got the 21st century police story that you can read about on the cover copy, but there’s also the story of the 16th century samurai who finds himself at the head of his clan and totally unprepared to contend with the new enemies he now has to face. Their stories intertwine with that of the third protagonist, Kaida, a one-armed pearl diver who I must say has been stealing hearts left and right. Early readers have been telling me she’s their favorite.
TQ: What do you wish you'd known when your first novel, Daughter of the Sword, came out that you know now?
Steve: Great question. I still consider myself quite new to this game, so the sheer volume of what I don’t know about publishing could fill the Grand Canyon. My most important lessons have been purely pragmatic: better bookkeeping skills, a better system for backing up files—boring stuff, but useful.
TQ: In The Fated Blades series, so far, which character has surprised you the most and why?
Steve: Another great question! I think I’ll go with Kaida. I never planned on writing a Cinderella story, but Kaida’s story shares too many points in common to deny the comparison. She’s got three merciless stepsisters and a father who is so aloof that he’s not even aware she’s suffering. She gets short-changed on the pretty dresses and pumpkin coach, but she gets a ninja master instead of a fairy godmother, so I think Kaida comes out way ahead.
I also never thought I’d have two teenage protagonists in this book. Of course 16th century teenagers aren’t the same as today’s: Daigoro is a commanding officer, Kaida has a full time job, and both of them have to worry about who they’ll be married off to. Even so, Kaida surprised me. Once I discovered this book needed a pearl diver, I was surprised to see how young she was.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing about writing your female main character, Mariko Oshiro?
Steve: Everything about Mariko is hard. Structurally, her story is the toughest to construct, because she has to tie the rest of the book together. Personally, while she and I do share a couple of things in common, in most respects she’s so different from me that it can be a real challenge to get into her head. Philosophically, she is the clearest lens I can offer the reader to peer through as I show them Japan. She’s a critic of her own culture in a way that none of the other characters are, but even so, I can’t tell readers what I think about this or that aspect of Japan; I can only show them Mariko’s thoughts, and I’m not allowed to make that whatever I want it to be. It has to be authentic for her. So for the reader she’s a reliable narrator, but for me she’s not. She’s obstreperous and disobedient.
I think I said this on The Qwillery last year, but I never intended to write a book about Mariko. She just stormed in and took over. To people who don’t write maybe that sounds hokey, but it’s true: I had all the historical pieces finished, and I just wanted someone to stitch them together. Mariko fit the bill, but once I started writing her, the whole book became about her.
TQ: You teach Asian philosophy and history. What is the most unusual bit of information that you've included in The Fated Blades novels?
Steve: Researching the pearl divers was fascinating. I can’t think of another profession in Japan that is defined by demanding physical labor and is also dominated by women. But it was clear in Japanese fishing villages very early on that women were the best divers—and older women at that. Women in their fifties and sixties and even seventies outperform women in their twenties and thirties, ages when you’d think the diver was at her physical prime.
I started doing that research in earnest after Kaida had already been cast for the part, so I was delighted to learn that at thirteen she isn’t supposed to be any good at deep dives. Kaida is an outcast in every other aspect of her life, so the fact that she’s an incredibly strong diver alienates her even further. It’s great when you accidentally find historical data that suit the storyline perfectly.
TQ: Do you base your mythology on existing myths, make things up, or both?
Steve: Both. The swords are fictional, as is their creator, Master Inazuma, but he’s based on master swordsmiths like Masamune and Muramasa, and some of their swords did have names. Central to this book is a mask with magical properties; that’s entirely made up. But apart from that, everything else is authentic. My characters refer to foxfires, hungry ghosts, goblins, Buddhist deities, Shintō deities, all very real to them, all based in existing folklore.
TQ: What would you like readers to take away from reading The Fated Blades series?
Steve: First and foremost, a compelling story with captivating characters. Second, as many “oh, wow” moments as I can deliver. Third, if I can get you thinking about something in a way you haven’t been thinking about it before, that’s the ultimate achievement. My web site is called Philosofiction, and I really do see fiction writing as an extension of my philosophical work. Daughter of the Sword was a book about duty. Mariko is duty-bound by her profession, Daigoro by his birthright, Fuchida by his syndicate and his family name, Yamada by his haunted past. Year of the Demon is about traveling through weakness to find strength. Mariko, Daigoro, and Kaida all have injuries or physical disabilities that threaten how they define themselves. I’m interested in what “weakness” and “strength” really mean if each of them can be a conduit to the other. Now maybe no readers pick up on that, and maybe they pick up on some other philosophical ideas at play—maybe ideas that I never saw myself. That’s perfect. That’s what philosofiction is supposed to do.
TQ: What's next?
Steve: Book three! Kaida, Daigoro, and Mariko all return. All of their lives get much more difficult. Not all of them live to tell the tale.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Steve: Thank you so much for having me again. I’ve really enjoyed my time with you and your readers.
The Fated Blades 2
Roc Trade, October 1, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
A MASK OF DESTRUCTION
Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has been promoted to Japan’s elite Narcotics unit—and with this promotion comes a new partner, a new case, and new danger. The underboss of a powerful yakuza crime syndicate has put a price on her head, and he’ll lift the bounty only if she retrieves an ancient iron demon mask that was stolen from him in a daring raid. However, Mariko has no idea of the tumultuous past carried within the mask—or of its deadly link with the famed Inazuma blade she wields.
The secret of this mask originated hundreds of years before Mariko was born, and over time the mask’s power has evolved to bend its owner toward destruction, stopping at nothing to obtain Inazuma steel. Mariko’s fallen sensei knew much of the mask’s hypnotic power and of its mysterious link to a murderous cult. Now Mariko must use his notes to find the mask before the cult can bring Tokyo to its knees—and before the underboss decides her time is up....
Daughter of the Sword
The Fated Blades 1
Roc, October 2. 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
Mass Market Paperback (September 3, 2013), 464 pages
As the only female detective in Tokyo’s most elite police unit, Mariko Oshiro has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. But when he gives her the least promising case possible—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—it proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it.
Mariko’s investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
Only a Shadow
The Fated Blades eNovella
Roc, September 4, 2012
eBook, 59 pages
The author of Daughter of the Sword takes readers to feudal Japan, where men and empires rise and fall by the sword…About Stevefrom the author's website
The Tiger on the Mountain is a legendary blade, crafted by the master sword smith Inazuma, and reputed to possess magical powers. In 1442 Japan, the sword dwells inside the impregnable fortress of Hirata Nobushige, the enemy of the Iga clan.
Venerable shinobi Jujiro has recruited the brave young ninja Tada to steal the sword and restore power to the Iga clan. If Tada is successful, he’ll go from being the clan’s orphaned ward to a legend for the ages—and he’ll be able to ask for Old Jujiro’s granddaughter’s hand in marriage. If he fails, the clan will be annihilated.
Getting inside the castle is next to impossible—getting out is inconceivable. But as Tada prepares himself for one of the boldest thefts in history, the greatest obstacle he faces may just prove to be himself…
Don’t miss Daughter of the Sword, the first Novel of the Fated Blades!
Steve Bein (pronounced "Bine") is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s
, Writers of the Future
, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword
, his first novel, was met with critical acclaim.
Steve was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a near west suburb of Chicago. His first career as a perpetual student took him to universities in Illinois, Germany, Japan, and Hawai‘i. That all culminated in a PhD in philosophy from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Today Steve is a visiting professor of Asian philosophy at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he also teaches ethics and philosophical themes in science fiction.
His other academic interests include bioethics, which led him to a short stint as a visiting researcher at the Mayo Medical School, and environmental philosophy, which led him to see polar bears in Canada and penguins and whales in Antarctica. His more recent travels have taken him to historical sites and art museums around the Mediterranean and to wildlife preserves across southern Africa.Website
You may read The Qwillery's previous interview with Steve here
and a guest blog here