Hi lovelies! It gives me great pleasure today to host Stephanie R. Sorensen and her new book, “Toru: Wayfarer Returns”! For other stops on her Goddess Fish Promotions Book Tour, please click on the banner above or any of the images in this post.
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Toru: Wayfarer Returns
by Stephanie R. Sorensen
GENRE: Historical Steampunk Fiction
A nation encircled by enemies
A noblewoman with everything to lose
A fisherman with everything to prove and a nation to save.
In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures.
Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come.
“Rather than argue with them, you should invite them to make the first flight with you,” said Takamori. “At first they will agree, since it is their place as the leaders. Everyone is very excited about the dirigibles. Set the time and place for the first flight. Jiro should explain that is not a good time because of the wind or something technical that needs testing first. You argue with Jiro and perhaps even scold him for impertinence in front of the daimyōs.”
“Yes, I am often scolded for impertinence,” said Jiro. “I have a talent for it, you know.”
“Indeed you do,” said Tōru. He saw where Takamori was going. “Then they notice the risks and uncertainties…and they ask me if it is safe. I tell them honestly that we have no idea if it is safe or if it will work, and that we might all crash to a fiery death and therefore perhaps I should test it first myself before we endanger them.”
“And I will be impertinent again and tell you in front of them that you don’t have a clue how to fly one of these dirijibi!” Jiro finished the plan for them. “Which is also true, by the way. I know how to fly one of these, and you don’t.”
“You’ve never flown one either,” protested Tōru.
“I have built one. Almost. Soon. How many have you built?” asked Jiro, with his broad grin.
Tōru opened his mouth and closed it again.
“See? Problem solved,” said Takamori, as he pounded Tōru on the back. “We have a fine dirijibi pilot, the finest dirijibi pilot in all of Japan, our good man Jiro here.”
Researching “Tōru: Wayfarer Returns”
How Research Led to the Loss of Beer
“Tōru: Wayfarer Returns” is, in theory anyway, a steampunk technofantasy, so I should be able to make it all up, right? Well, no.
My story evolved from the fantasy adventure (“Samurai! With dirigibles!”) I had originally envisioned to something based in historical fact and cultural reality. The deeper I got into my story, the more I wanted it to be as authentic as possible in its portrayal of the times, the culture and the personalities of my Japanese characters. Though I was writing alternate history and fiction, I wanted my fiction as grounded in reality as possible, which means research.
Within “research,” I include “other life experience” as well. I was drawn to write the story of Tōru and his battle to save Japan because I knew and loved Japan and its culture and history. I spent a year as an exchange student in Japan in high school and returned to Japan to work for several years after graduating with degrees in economics and Asian Studies. I studied Japanese history and language and culture both formally in academia and informally living and working there. Add to that a lifelong curiosity about Japan and enjoyment of Japanese culture in various forms, from manga and video games to the more traditional arts.
Folks have been arguing a lot lately in the writing world about “cultural appropriation,” or the use of elements of one culture by a member of another culture. I’m a round-eyed woman of Viking-American descent, without a drop of Asian blood in me. Some folks insist I have no right to write about another culture not my own.
Instead I believe it is the writer’s duty, gift, calling and right to delve as deeply as possible into every culture and character and flavor of humanity and convey those characters and cultures as authentically as skill allows. To write in clichés or stereotypes is to write badly, whether one is writing about one’s own culture or an alien culture, and is to be scorned. To share an experience of a different culture and character with readers is one of the great joys of writing. To write in a way that is respectful, authentic and real while avoiding clichés and stereotypes to the best of my ability means, for me, lots of research in addition to the life experiences and wonderful friendships I enjoyed in Japan.
My superpower is that I can read a lot, fast, and remember most of it more or less coherently for short periods of time. Once I chose this period in Japanese history, I ordered every history book on Japan I could find on Amazon and plowed through them. Some were children’s picture books. Some were mighty tomes by academics on various theories of Japan’s transformation after opening to the West. I looked at drawings and photographs from the period by Japanese and Western observers. I was haphazard in my note-taking, not fastidious, but after a few months, I had picked up some fun details about historical characters and events to throw into the mix for atmosphere and had a pretty solid grasp of what was happening.
So, thus fortified with double helpings of history and culture, I set out to write. That’s when I discovered a whole new layer of research I needed to do.
First I made sure that every steam technology I used existed in the world in 1852. So sewing machines and dirigibles, yes; telephones, no.
Then there is food. My characters needed to eat and drink while resting from their revolutionary labors. I know modern Japanese food, but what was available then, in 1852? I carefully included all my favorite Japanese foods in the first draft, when I was flying along trying to nail down the story and characters and not fussing about details. I had to throw out half those foods because they were foreign introductions from much later. So sad! Drawing on my experience in Japan, where my (male) Japanese colleagues spent much evening time after work enjoying excellent Japanese-made beer and sake in friendly camaraderie, I also wanted Tōru and Jiro and Takamori to relax in like manner. Alas, I discovered that beer was a later introduction and unavailable to my heroes in 1852, so they had to stick to sake. Jiro in particular was pretty outraged about this, as he had greatly enjoyed his many beers in the first draft.
Then came language. I wanted to include key Japanese words in the English text, as I don’t think readers should escape a whole book about Japanese samurai without learning a few words, like “sword” and “lord.” I had carefully put those words in, using my very best knowledge from my time in Japan. I sent it off to Japanese beta readers, who basically howled with laughter. Apparently my high school slang was shining through. So they polished me up a bit with a few more upscale word choices. That battle raged on for a bit, though, because I did NOT want to sound like a Japanese samurai movie with lots of archaic phrases, as I dislike historical fiction where authors use excessive period-accurate but highly distracting archaic words. My handful of Japanese beta readers and I argued through the controversial words, eventually settling on mostly contemporary language with a few well-chosen period words.
I’ve done my best to create a Japanese world, with truly Japanese characters, sailing around in flying dirigibles to save their nation from the evil foreigners while drinking authentic sake and local cuisine and achieving a thirty-year industrialization process in about eighteen months. It’s fiction, and wild adventurous fantasy, and absurd and real all at once, with a love story and a battle for the future of a nation. I hope you’ll try it and maybe learn a little about a real people I greatly admire through fictional characters I’ve grown to care about very much.
Historical Novel Society Review:
Recognition for "Toru: Wayfarer Returns"
-- Finalist, Fantasy category,
2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
-- Bronze Medal Award,
Multicultural Fiction category,
2016 eLit Book Awards
Stephanie is a writer based in the Victorian mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she lives at 10,251 feet with her husband, five chickens, two bantam English game hens and one Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After a former life in big cities-New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Boston, Mexico City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Fe-she now enjoys the birdsong and quiet writing time she finds in Leadville. Her first novel draws on her experience living and working in Japan; her next historical novel is set in Mexico where she also lived for several years. As a Leadville local, she likes her Victorian attire spiced with a little neo-Victorian futurism and the biggest bustle possible.
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