So this is a departure from my regular series of Kunoichi Companion Tales. But it should still be fun!
The wonderful YA author Mackenzi Lee runs a regular Twitter feature called #BygoneBaddassBroads. It offers profiles of historical women who were… well… baddass. I came across her when she did a profile on one of my favorite bygone baddass broads, Lady Mochizuki Chiyome. A week or so ago, she profiled Locusta the Poisoner, who ran a school for assassins under the Roman emperor Nero. I joked that someone should write a crossover between the two; she joked back that I should throw in Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum, Queen of the Fences in late 19th century New York, who ran Marm Mandelbaum’s School for Gifted Youngsters, training the Gilded Age’s pickpockets, thieves, and master criminals.
How could I resist?
Here’s the story that sprang into my head!
On writing historical fiction as if it were fantasy
When I first began working on my novel Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale, my daughters were both young, and they were both voracious readers. Which, not surprisingly, I am as well. And so we happily read a lot of books together — both pleasure books and books assigned by their teachers.
Now, most of the books Sasha and Julia brought home from school were wonderful. But I noticed pretty early on that a lot of the “historical fiction” was way heavier on the historical than the story.
Again, some of the books were great. The Witch of Blackbird Pond? Crispin: Cross of Lead? Number the Stars? Terrific.
But a lot of the others were… less so.
I found myself looking at the books that my daughters and I found compelling and realized that, first and foremost, they were great stories — that they had lot more in common with the magic in the fantasy books that we all enjoyed together (Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Tamara Pierce’s Tortall books) than a history text.
And so, as I thought about what style I wanted to take on when I began writing Risuko, I decided that I was going to write my historical novel as if it were a fantasy. Continue reading The Magic of History
In preparation for the final publication of Risuko next month, Stillpoint Digital Press has produced lovely full-color Risuko maps. Here’s one of Lady Chiyome’s estate, the Full Moon: Continue reading Risuko Maps! See the World of the Kunoichi Tales
Here are two chapters that were cut from the original manuscript of Risuko. This out-take — Crossing the River and Meeting the Mountain — was originally placed between what are now chapters 7 (“The Wind“) and 8 (“The Mountain“—you may recognize one bit of dialogue between Risuko and Masugu from that chapter). I cut them because it was taking too long to get to the Full Moon — to the heart of the story. But there’s some fun stuff, including a meeting with a major historical figure I’ll be talking about soon! (There are a few characters that I’ve cut out as well.)
At the beginning, Masugu and his riders have just found Lady Chiyome’s party at the Mt. Fuji Inn. Masugu offered to let Mieko ride wide him, but she refused, and so Risuko is sitting in front of the Takeda warrior on his stallion as the chapter begins.
By the way, if you read through to the end, there’s a question; be the first to answer it and win a free Audible download code!
Chapter 10—Crossing the River
The whole world seemed to roll and rumble as the great beast leapt ahead, charging down the one street of the town toward a distant white triangle that peeked up over the horizon: Mount Fuji. More Imagawa soldiers lay scattered like deadwood along the street, and several of the tiny houses were burning.
Waste. Such waste.
The rest of the squadron had formed up behind us, and so I felt as if a flood of thunder was pushing me forward. The icy wind whipped the horse’s mane and my own hair across my face until cold tears flooded my eyes. I lowered my head and cleared my vision.
Continue reading Out-take — Crossing the River & Meeting the Mountain
7 — Wind
The war comes to Risuko and her new companions — but will the advancing army be captors or liberators?
Mieko stood calmly and bowed to us.
From a small curtain at the end of the hall opposite the kitchen, we heard a whimper. Aimaru sprinted toward it, his battered knife still in his hand. With a yell, he yanked down the curtain, and revealed the old innkeepers, huddled on the floor of their small room.
After a moment of shocked silence, Aimaru bowed to them. “Pardon me for intruding,” he said, as if he had merely turned in at the wrong door.
The old couple seemed barely to recognize that he was there.
We all stumbled out of the dining hall into the corridor. Two more Imagawa soldiers lay dead there, and the elder Little Brother was standing impassive above them. Emi and I started to run toward the front door to see who our rescuers might have been, but Lady Chiyome called out sharply, “Stay here, young idiots! We don’t know who those horsemen are!”
Continue reading Read Risuko: Chapter 7 — Wind (Kunoichi, Takeda)
Ch. 6 — Tea and Cakes.
Risuko discovers that waking up in a war zone can lead to surprises. (Author David Kudler says, “One of my favorite chapters!”)
A rumble woke us all the next morning. It sounded like a peal of distant thunder. But Mieko and Kuniko were already on their feet before I could sit up and wipe the sleep from my eyes.
“What is it?” I asked Emi, who was rubbing her eyes next to me. “It’s awfully cold for thunder and lightening, isn’t it? And it doesn’t feel like an earthquake….”
Emi shook her head and scowled. We both listened carefully as we pulled on our clothes—mine still slightly damp from the night before, smelling faintly of stale soy sauce and burnt rice.
Another low rumble shook the morning silence. From where I had been sleeping near the kitchen, I could see a grey, thin light leaking beneath the outer kitchen door.
We began to fold away our bedding with a sense of uncertain urgency. I was about to ask again what that rumble might have been, when a new sound broke the silence and explained everything. It was a sharp, high crack. Musket fire. And not very far away, from the sound of it.
My legs went cold and I dropped my bedroll.
The battle had come to us. Continue reading Read Risuko — Chapter 6: Tea and Cakes
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5 — The Mt. Fuji Inn
There were three rooms downstairs besides the dining room and kitchen, but the two closest to the front door were both closed off. The doors were edged with black soot. Lady Chiyome had the Little Brothers carry her chest to the rear room.
Mieko and Kuniko led Toumi, Emi and me to the dining room. I was surprised that Mieko left her own bedroll there in the room with us; I had expected her to spend the night with the lady, but she stayed with us and quietly took charge of the servants’ quarters. Continue reading Read The Mt Fuji Inn – the next exciting chapter of Risuko!