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What would we find under your bed?
Cookbooks and part of my fabric stash. My husband says I have too many cookbooks and too much fabric in my stash. He is wrong.
What was the scariest moment of your life?
That’s easy. Peru.
I’d spent a week on my own with a guide who took me around to cool places along the Amazon. We fished for piranhas, looked at pink river dolphins and giant lily pads, climbed giant trees, looked for birds, paddled around in dugout canoes. You know, Amazon stuff. Good guide, fun trip.
Last day of our time together before the next leg of my trip, my guide asks if I want see a beautiful place “donde se cayen las estrellas” or the place “where the stars fall down.” My Spanish is medium bad, so I may have it wrong, but falling stars sounded intriguing so I agreed to go.
He tells me to meet him at 10 p.m. and to wear long sleeves, long pants and insect repellant.
First alarm…we hadn’t done anything at night, so kinda weird to go out so late, but okay, we are looking for fallen down stars so night time makes sense. I guess. In any case, I meet him at 10, ready to go.
We set out into the jungle, in a pitch-black night without stars or moon visible through the canopy of trees. I don’t have a flashlight, oops, but he is helpful and shines his on the ground so I don’t trip. I try to remember the twisting turning paths we are following, but within minutes I have no clue where we are or any way to find my way back to camp.
Second alarm…no one on the planet except this guide knows where I am, even the country where I am. I decide this was not clever of me, but there being no way to rectify the situation, I keep following him further into the dark forest.
An Amazonian forest is noisy, a rhythmic thrum of insects, night birds, strange animal calls and growls I cannot identify, a symphony of unfamiliar sounds. To quell my growing uneasiness, I ask my guide about some of the sounds. My Spanish sucks, so I don’t understand the replies. Some kind of bird, some kind of animal, some kind of bug. He offers names for the sounds swelling all around me while I try to figure out how I am going to get back to camp. I am afraid, although my guide has been nothing but professional all week, knowledgeable, competent and courteous. What the hell am I doing, alone, in the middle of this dark and cacophonous jungle with a man I don’t know very well?
He stops to show me a large fist-sized hole in the ground on our path. I understand the word “tarantula.” He offers to coax it out of its nest. I assure him I am fine if he doesn’t, but his poking around at the hole has stirred it up anyway and sure enough a huge hairy tarantula comes bopping out of the hole. Yes, dear reader, I scream. One long, loud shriek, involuntary. The forest falls silent for a few long beats, even the bugs and beasts, and listens. My guide laughs, a friendly and comforting laugh, not a sinister laugh, right, not sinister? I ask if there are others along the way. “Everywhere,” is his calm reply. “This is tarantula city around here.”
Great. Let’s call this our third alarm. Alone, in jungle, no one knows where I am except nice acquaintance guide man and many tarantulas. F*** the stars, I want to go back to camp. Now. But I don’t know how to find my way back, so on we go.
He stops to open his knapsack, offers me water from his canteen and fishes around until he pulls out a long machete. He wouldn’t be giving me water if he’s going to use that on me, right?
He starts hacking away at vines and undergrowth. He gives me the flashlight to hold so he can work, which cheers me up considerably. I have a weapon! I can bean him with this mighty flashlight! He’s got the machete, but if I am fast…then I remember the bits about the tarantulas and not knowing how to get back to camp even with a light.
After some time, he’s hacked a few hundred yards into the undergrowth. He asks for the light back, and, heart pounding, I relinquish my weapon and my hope. “We are very close now. Take my arm and shut your eyes.” He offers me one arm and holds the machete in the other. He turns off the flashlight.
It’s dark, the darkest dark I have ever seen with my eyes wide open. I open them even wider, to see if I can scoop in more light, but I might as well have a blindfold on. “Close your eyes,” he says. “Take my arm.” I flail my arms around until I can find his arm and grip it, tightly. “Let’s go.”
For several dozen yards, he leads me through the blackness, steadying me and warning me of dips in the ground. He must have jaguar eyes that can see in the dark, for I can still see nothing, only black. The animal and insect sounds have resumed their roar. I can feel my heart thudding in my chest, involuntary fear pounding away. I cannot even tell you if I’m afraid of him, or the tarantulas, or just basic primal fear of the unknown, what lurks under beds and in shadows. He reminds me to keep my eyes shut. I shut them, deciding I don’t want to see the machete blow if it is coming. Or the tarantulas. I no longer care that I am doomed and certain to die in a few minutes. I just want to get it over with.
Finally he stops. “A few more paces,” he says as he leads me forward.
I stumble forward. Wonderful, we’ve reached the place where I will be fed to the tarantulas or minced with a machete. I wish I had told Mom where I was going. At least maybe they could retrieve bits of me and get me away from this blackness.
“Open your eyes,” he whispers.
And there it was, the place where the stars fall down from the sky, rolling, undulating ground covered with small glowing stars, whole galaxies of stars strewn upon the earth. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, not least because it meant I was probably not going to be killed or given to the tarantulas. The stars are fallen leaves of a certain tree, leaves that let off a phosphorescent glow as they decay.
Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?
Classical, Celtic, Scandanavian goth, and whatever else Pandora serves up.
What is something you’d like to accomplish in your writing career next year?
Finishing and publishing the second book in the Sakura Steam series, and getting my Mexico story into solid shape, maybe not finished but ready to share with beta readers.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I spent about six months researching and outlining, three months hammering through a first draft, and then another six months editing and working with beta readers to shape it up into finished form.
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.
Enjoy an Excerpt:
“Omae wa dare da? Who are you? Whose ship is that? Why are you here?”
They forced Tōru to his knees.
He bowed down to the sand and spoke in the rough unhewn Japanese of a fisherman.
“Noble sirs, I am Tōru, of the village Iwamatsu, some days’ travel north of here. I was fishing with my father. A terrible storm destroyed our boat and cast us all into the sea. My father gave me a piece of wreckage to cling to as everything sank.”
Tōru struggled a moment, the words and flow of his native language catching on his lips after more than two years without a soul to speak with in Japanese. The memory of the storm and his last memory of his father that night rose up before him.
He steadied himself as the men listened intently, their swords never wavering from his throat, nor their gaze from his face.
He chose his next words carefully.
“That night was the last I saw my father. I was picked up by an American ship and taken to America.”
He bowed down to the sand again, easing between the blades.
“This night I am returning, to look after my mother. She has no other child to care for her, and no husband to feed her. The Americans brought me home, so I might do my duty by my mother and my people. I beg you, forgive me any crimes I may have committed by landing on your lord’s shore, and allow me please to return to my home.”
As he looked up into their eyes, he saw they would permit no such thing.
About the Author:
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.
Recognition for “Toru: Wayfarer Returns”
— Finalist, Fantasy category, 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
— Bronze Medal Award, Multicultural Fiction category, 2016 eLit Book Awards
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