Travel Through Time With Jan Suzukawa

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here with us today, Jan. When did you begin writing? Was there any one thing that inspired you to begin writing?

I actually got a late start as a writer. I always knew I was going to write, but my life took me in a number of other directions first. My first career was in law, and then it was music. I stopped playing music one day and began to write. It just felt like it was time.

What was your first novel and how long did it take to get it published?

Kaminishi is my first published novel, but it’s the third novel I’ve written. I also have a self-published mystery novel, Portola Bay, and I’m thinking of dredging up my first novel manuscript and seeing if it can be revived…

I recently had the privilege of reading Kaminishi, a time travel, historical fantasy/romance that propels your character Michael Holden from 21st century California back to the year 1851, to Japan. What prompted you to choose mid-19th century Japan as the story’s setting?

I think the setting basically chose itself. I wanted a time travel experience back to old Japan, but to a time that was fairly close to the modern era. When I thought about the “opening to the west” that began in 1853, it became clear to me that the story should be set just before then.

How much research did you do for the novel?

I did a lot of research. It’s daunting to write a historical setting, even if you have some prior basic familiarity with the history and culture of that setting. You keep thinking you’ve researched enough, and then you hit another section of the story that requires still more research. It was ongoing throughout the writing process.

How long did it take to write?

I wrote an outline of the story in 2006, and worked on the manuscript on and off until fall 2010, when I felt it was ready to begin submitting to publishers. I took a lot of breaks, including an entire year when I didn’t even look at it. I have a history of writing slowly, but that’s changed recently. I have Nanowrimo to thank for that. 😉

The cover of the novel is quite beautiful: how much creative input did you have in its design?

Thank you for mentioning the cover. I also think it’s beautiful and have been in love with it from the moment I first saw it. Dreamspinner Press sends you a sheet to fill out with your input on what your ideas for the cover would be. My ideas included a Japanese castle, rice fields, cherry blossoms, and the two men being featured in some way.

The cover artist, Anne Cain, and Mara, Dreamspinner’s art director, did a fantastic job in capturing the feel of the story. Imagery that reflects the seasons is a very Japanese kind of thing, and I think Kaminishi is an autumn kind of story (though with a sense of spring renewal at the end). The colors in the cover illustration, and the expressions on the men’s faces, reflect this autumn mood. It’s remarkable how evocative it is.

After finishing the book, besides the incredible urge to begin reading it all over again, my first reaction was, please let there be a sequel in the works. So, is there? Please? 🙂

Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed reading the book! To me, Michael and Shinjaro’s story feels finished, but never say never… if there’s enough response and interest in a sequel, who knows? 🙂 What I would definitely consider doing are side stories, i.e., short stories with the two men set in the two different time periods, particularly the modern Tokyo period.

When did you begin writing stories in the Male/Male genre? What about the genre interested you the most?

I was a fan of slash fan fiction early on. In the late 1980s, I did volunteer work for an AIDS organization and was acquainted with many gay men, which inspired me to write my first novel, set in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. When I became an anime fan around six years ago, I discovered yaoi and that brought m/m stories back into my life. M/M stories seem to be a perennial for me; they keep returning to me in some form.

Do you write full time? If not, how many hours per day do you try to dedicate to your writing?

The answer is yes – sometimes. I freelance in two different fields and often they both get busy at the same time, leaving me with no time to write – and then both run dry at the same time, leaving me with days or even weeks free to write as much as I want to. My free time is unpredictable, but often involves large blocks of time when it comes.

Do you typically do revisions/edits as you’re writing, or do you write straight through and revise later?

I write the first draft from beginning to end, without revising, and revise it later.

Do you outline your plots before you begin the writing process, or do you write in a more freestyle fashion?

I outline plots beforehand, but I allow for changes as they come up.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get beyond it?

I experience stops and starts with my writing, but I don’t see it as writer’s block. Writing is an important part of my life, but it’s only part of it. If I am really having a hard time writing, I take that as a signal from my spiritual side that I’m supposed to be doing something else for a while. The writing always comes back.

If you were to offer a word of advice to a new author just starting out, what would it be?

Have the confidence to tell your own unique stories, the ones only you can write.

The e-reader is changing the way people access and enjoy books. What pros and/or cons do you see surrounding the business of e-publishing? Do you believe the day will come when digital books will eliminate print books, entirely?

I’m middle-aged, so I grew up with print books. I don’t have an ereader yet, but I’ll probably give in at some point and get one. I’m still adjusting to the ebook revolution and all of the changes it’s bringing to the publishing industry.

As to whether ebooks will eliminate print books entirely, I wouldn’t think so. There will always be art and photography books, gift books, and similar content that would only work in print. I should add to that that I wouldn’t want to see print books disappear altogether, even the ones that only have text and no illustrations. A printed, bound book is a form of art in and of itself.

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?

I’m a complete anime fanatic. Seriously, I can’t stop watching anime. Anime is my passion. 🙂

Will you tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

My anime and manga blog is at http://jansuzukawa.blogspot.com, and my new romance writing blog is at http://atypicalromance.blogspot.com.

My website is at www.jansuzukawa.com.

Thanks so much for being here with us. We’d love it if you’d share a favorite excerpt or two for our readers.

Thank you for having me! 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from Kaminishi:

“So… he was a samurai warlord?”

There was more than simple disbelief in Ellen’s voice—there was a touch of actual scorn.

Michael flinched.

“I know how it sounds—”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Michael, have you been getting enough sleep? I know it’s finals now, but—”

“Ellen.”

He sighed.

What did you expect? It was an unbelievable story. He wouldn’t have believed her if she’d been telling it. You’re not even sure it happened. But something had happened.

He looked down at his drawing of the samurai warlord. Late last night, he had taken it down from the wall and fallen asleep with it in his hands; the last thing he remembered was staring at it.

It was Shinjaro Kaminishi. There was no doubt in his mind.

He had drawn a portrait of a samurai warlord from a dream, only to meet him in another dream.

Was it a dream? He had lived in the warlord’s castle—waking up each morning, going through his day as a prisoner, going to sleep at night; only to wake up again in the cell or in his new room the following morning. He had never heard of any dream feeling like it had gone on for weeks.

He had checked his arm and back for scars of the whipping. Nothing. His skin was unmarked, and he had felt oddly… disappointed.

Did he want it to have been real?

He had been captured, imprisoned, abused, and initiated into sex with a man, something he wasn’t sure he would have chosen had he stayed in this lifetime, living out his days as Michael Holden, a poor little rich boy, nice enough but with no particular aim in life.

He had lived a different life, one that felt more real than this one.

If he could choose which one to live, which would he choose?

“Michael? Michael?” Ellen sounded panicked. “Are you there?”

“Yes, yes, I’m still here.”

“I’m coming over. You sound weird. Have you eaten breakfast?”

“Yes,” Michael lied. “And I’m fine. You don’t have to come over.”

“You sound like you’re losing it.”

“I’m not.”

“What are you doing the rest of today?”

“Studying, what else?”

“What about tonight? I can bring dinner. What do you want?”

Michael sighed. “Are you going to give me another chance to explain this so you’ll believe me?”

There was a silence on the other end, and then a huge sigh.

“All right. Fine, then.”

HE SHOWERED and put on jeans and a shirt, leaving it unbuttoned and his chest bare. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he picked up the remote and clicked the TV on.

A movement reflected in the sliding glass door caught his eye; he turned and looked.

No one there.

On edge, he set his beer down and walked to the sliding glass door, pulling it open. He glanced around. No one on the balcony.

Sliding the glass door shut, he turned around.

A shimmering figure was standing in the middle of his living room.

It was Shinjaro.

He was dressed the same, with the same long hair and gathered topknot at the back. But every cell seemed translucent and shimmering, as if he were incorporeal, or a ghost.

The look on his face was slightly stunned. He glanced up at the electric light; then he stared at the television for a long moment. Then his eyes lit upon Michael at last.

“Maikeru?”

“Yes.” Michael stepped forward, not too quickly. He didn’t want to spook the warlord any more than he probably already was. “Shinjaro-sama. It’s me, Michael.”

“Where am I?”

“You’re in my home,” Michael replied.

Shinjaro looked around again, wonder on his face. “So it’s true,” he said. “What year is this?”

“It’s 2010. This is Berkeley, in California. Across the bay is San Francisco.”

He stepped closer to the warlord as Shinjaro merely watched him approach. Then he placed a hand on… and through… the warlord’s shoulder.

Shinjaro watched, then raised his hand to rest, shimmering, on Michael’s face. Michael felt the shock of a kind of pure energy on his cheek; the energy thrummed on his skin.

“Looks like sex is out of the question,” he quipped.

Shinjaro raised his eyebrows, then snorted in a kind of disbelieving laugh.

Michael laughed openly. This was so unexpected, this… visit or whatever it was, that he found himself completely in the moment, just enjoying it.

The daimyo turned his attention to the view outside, and Michael walked to the balcony, beckoning Shinjaro to join him.

Shinjaro stepped out onto the balcony, looking up at the night sky and then down at the cars passing in the street below. “Those are cars—automobiles,” Michael said. “I told you about them.” He pointed across the bay. “And there’s the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a little hard to make out with the fog, but it’s there. See it?”

“Yes. It’s beautiful.”

“Much of modern-day Japan looks like this. The modern buildings, paved streets, cars. The people there live very well, like here.”

Shinjaro said nothing.

Michael stared at the warlord’s fine features in profile, at his beautiful pale skin. The soft shimmer of his—ghost?—self just accentuated his splendor.

The warlord turned to him then, his gaze softening. “I’ve missed you, Maikeru,” he said. “It’s been a month since you disappeared before my very eyes. I will never doubt you again.”

Michael moved to embrace him and found himself holding only air.

“I wish this were real,” he whispered.

The last thing he saw was the full moon over the warlord’s shoulder…

…and the next thing he saw was the full moon in the night sky above, and Shinjaro was solid and real in his arms.

They were standing in the garden of the castle, just outside Shinjaro’s receiving room.

And they were back in late-Edo Japan.

Startled, the two men pulled back to stare into each other’s faces.

And then they started laughing, their laughter echoing in the dark of the summer night.

Kaminishi by Jan Suzukawa

Title: Kaminishi
Author: Jan Suzukawa
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 270
Characters: Michael Holden, Shinjaro Kaminishi
POV: 3rd person
Setting: 21st Century California/19th Century Japan
Genre: Fantasy/ Historical/ Romance
Cover Rating: 5

Kisses: 5+

Blurb:

College student Michael Holden wakes up in an impossible reality: mid-nineteenth century Japan, face to face with Shinjaro Kaminishi, a living, breathing samurai warlord Michael has seen in a dream. Imprisoned by the warlord and interrogated about the future, Michael has no idea if what he’s experiencing is real… and then he finds himself back in present-day America.

Shinjaro’s commanding presence and smoldering sexuality draw Michael again and again to the past, where dangerous information is revealed and Shinjaro’s life is threatened. Through the mists of time and in the reality of modern Japan, Michael searches for the truth—and for the man who now owns his heart—Shinjaro Kaminishi.

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Review:

Michael Holden is a man who has little direction in his life; he has no sense of purpose, nor a sense of duty. A wealthy, self-involved mother and an absentee father have done little to provide any sort of stability for their son, whose attempts at romantic relationships have each been unfulfilling. His indifference has lead to his most recent break up with his girlfriend, who is now his closest friend. Michael is a student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Asian studies; he’s overstressed and underwhelmed by life, in general, and is entirely unmotivated by any thoughts or prospects that exist beyond graduation. Bouts of vertigo and vivid dreams of a beautiful samurai warlord have begun to plague Michael and dominate his thoughts.

For Shinjaro Kaminishi, direction, purpose, and duty are the very things which have molded his life and his character; serving his domain, its people, his Shogun, and his country is what Shinjaro was born to do. To the samurai warlord, moral obligation is fundamental; honor is a code by which he lives and serves—and is a code by which, if broken, the samurai warriors would forfeit their lives to repair. Honor was more than personal integrity; it represented an unfaltering allegiance to country, to moral principal, and to responsibility. Honor was so central to the samurai nature that to violate the code warranted an act of seppuku, ritualistic suicide conducted as atonement for the transgression.

Two very different men from two vastly different worlds collide in this fantasy adventure when Michael inexplicably travels back in time to 1851 Japan, to a time before the gaijin, the outsiders, had begun to explore the country. He is an object of suspicion and mistrust, who is at first prisoner, then lover to the enigmatic warrior. Michael and Shinjaro meet under the most impossible of circumstances and form a bond that will span the centuries, a bond that even death cannot destroy.

Kaminishi is an epic tale of territorial dispute, family legacy, and a Judas’ betrayal. It is a conflict of accountability as Michael struggles with the burden of his knowledge of events that have already come to pass in his time. Will sharing with Shinjaro his knowledge of the future serve to alter history, or is history immutable? Will the world-changing events of the future occur, regardless of Michael’s interference? For the two men in this story, those questions are answered in a profoundly life-altering way.

Jan Suzukawa has crafted an incredible tale of a love that transcends time and defies explanation. The strange and sudden leaps between centuries are as much of a jolt to the reader as they are to Michael and Shinjaro, lending a perfect sense of affinity for the characters and their story. The separations and shifts in time lend a dramatic edge to the narrative, which kept me eagerly turning pages to see what would happen next.

Kaminishi isn’t a traditional happily-ever-after romance. What it is, however, is a love story between two men who contrast in every way, yet whose physical and emotional bond with each other is all encompassing. It is a story of a love so compelling it refuses to be erased from existence by time or distance. The ending was the beginning, a full circle story that has left me hoping for a sequel to this wonderful book.

Reviewed By: Lisa

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