I am privileged today to have a very special guest on my blog. Her name is Sessha Batto, and she's the author of the amazing book Shinobi.
Shinobi takes place in modern day Japan, where clans of ninjas are at war with each other. Yoshi, the main character, is a shadow wolf, and a very special ninja. He is also used as a sex slave/whipping boy to fund the drug/other habits of the malevoent Rin.Yoshi is an amazing character, used to years of abuse, a powerful and hard enough ninja to withstand countless torments, a tormented character himself who doesn't realize his own worth.I'm not going to give the plot away, but suffice it to say that Yoshi, even though he's been sorely used under Rin's rule, performs selfless acts and shows that loyalty, sacrifice and love can indeed save a group of people, and eventually, himself as well.Let's hear from Sessha now...
JLD: I know that you like swords, weapons, and all things Japanese. Was that how you got the idea for Shinobi?
SB: Well, most of my writing is set in Japan – it's a culture and set of traditions I never tire of writing about – but Shinobi started more as an exploration of how someone could or would learn to cope and to survive long term sexual abuse. The ninja culture provides a fantastic framework for that exploration – fiercely loyal to no one but their clans, they are a perfect conundrum – loyal and dedicated assassins and spies. It allowed me to explore not only the characters themselves, but how I define good and bad.
JLD: Yoshi is a wonderful character, filled with a selflessness that most people don't possess. Is he modeled after anyone you know?
SB: Yoshi has bits and pieces of several people I know, as well as some of myself. He's the man I'd fall head over heels for . . . if he was real and not gay, of course.
JLD: How did you come up with his character?
SB: I started with the premise that he was strong enough to not only survive the abuse he'd been through, but also smart and private enough to want to keep it hidden from everyone he interacts with. So he became a construct, a face he'd show to the world with bubbling emotions locked away deep inside. I also needed to make him intriguingly different enough to explain the attraction so many people have to him, pretty wasn't enough, he needed to be exotic. Finally, he needed to be oblivious to a certain degree, not understanding or, at least, refusing to see why other men are so attracted to him.
JLD: One of the themes of the book really seems to be undying loyalty and altruism, even in the face of abuse and torment. Do you think that those characteristics even exist today?
SB: I think the possibility exists within all of us – we can be loyal to people, religious beliefs, values, and there are always those who refuse to buckle despite torture, even to the death. You can survive anything if you take it minute by minute. If that is too much second by second or even breath by breath – narrow your focus and the future becomes inconsequential, there is only this moment and anyone can live through a moment.
JLD: What is your fascination with ninjas and the ninja culture? Where did that come from?
SB: When swords ruled Japan, samurai were the noble warriors . . . and ninja were the bad boys. The shinobi didn't play by the rules, hiding in ambush, using subterfuge, masters of spying and assassination. But I don't see good and bad, right and wrong as being quite so cut and dried. Bad they may have been by the samurai standards, but they were fiercely loyal to their clans. Mercenaries, but not totally without honor. A wonderful contradiction, which makes for rich storytelling possibilities. Besides, everyone knows bad boys are the hottest.
JLD: Makoto is a wonderfully rugged character with strong protective instincts even while performing duties that are the antithesis of protection. Is he based on anyone you know? Why did you craft him that way, so internally conflicted?
SB: I don't see Makoto as conflicted – like Yoshi he's intensely loyal. He's protecting his clan the best way he can, by eliminating any and all threats in hopes of sparing others the treatment he dishes out. That strong protective instinct is why Yoshi can open up to him in a way he couldn't with anyone else. They both have a large dose of self-hatred, Yoshi for Willingness to look past that on both their parts is what pulls them ever closer.
JLD: Let's talk about you. When did you start writing? How long did it take you to finish Shinobi? It is your first published work? What else do you have out and forthcoming?SB: I started writing when I was four – I still have my first book 'Obediah the Panda Goes to the City'. I didn't start to share my writing until 2008 when I first heard about NaNoWriMo. Since then I haven't looked back!The first draft of Shinobi came out in one huge burst of half a million words over the course of three months. It took another year of rewriting and shaping to turn that into the first to and a half books of the series.My first published book was 'Strength of Will' which came out in the fall of 2009. The rights have since reverted to me and it's undergoing a thorough rewrite for re-release later this year. Other than that I have a few pieces in anthologies – Wintersong in Dancing in the Dark, Amadan na Briona in eightcuts Once Upon a Time in a Gallery exhibit and The Poetry Game in the soon to be released New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan.As far as what's coming up, the second volume of Shinobi – Struggle for Balance will be out in November and a prequel novella Geisha will hopefully also be out by the end of the year. The next major piece I'm working on is Onna Bugeisha, a twisted love triangle set in 13th century Japan.
JLD: What do you want your readers to take away from Shinobi? To me, it's a beautiful tale of self-sacrifice and finding peace amid horror. It's about acceptance and love, despite past deeds and agonies. Is that pretty accurate?SB: It's about trust, who and how we trust and why. The message is that love is a risk worth taking.
JLD: Thanks so much for being here today, Sessha. It's been a pleasure, and I hope others take the time to read your book. It's phenomenal and so worth reading.