Author interview Steve Bein

Author interview Steve Bein

Author bio:
Steve Bein (pronounced "Bine") is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, was met with critical acclaim.


Hi Steve, welcome over to The Book Plank and thanks for taking your time to answer these few questions.

BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Steve Bein is, what are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?
I’m a writer first and foremost, but I wear two hats: I write fiction and I also write as a philosopher.  I’m on the Philosophy faculty at Texas State University, and in my downtime (what little there is, after papers are graded and I’ve made some progress on the most recent research project) I’m usually either writing or practicing jiujitsu. 

As for likes and dislikes… hm.  Dogs, chocolate, and a good wheat beer are among the top likes.  These days my top dislike is eyestrain headaches.  Between my work and my writing, I spend too much time in front of computers, I guess.

BP: Do you still know the moment when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?
SB: That depends by what you mean by “author.”  I’ve always been a writer, in the sense that I’ve been writing stories for about as long as I’ve been able to write.  If “author” means a writer who’s been professionally published, then yes, I know when and where: my ghetto apartment in Moiliili, on Oahu, when I was 29.  That was where I printed off and mailed out my first fiction submission.

BP: Daughter of the Sword kicked off the The Fated Blades series; how did you come up with the idea of the series?
SB: Actually, it was never intended to be a series.  Daughter was written as a one-off, and then I spent years trying to find a publisher.  When Penguin made an offer, they asked if I could write another one.  I said yes, because that’s the only answer any struggling writer has any right to say.  You say yes and then you figure out how to make it happen.

As luck would have it, I had written the perfect book to build into a series.  The main protagonist is a cop, and the world will never run out of cop stories.  The story unfolds over 700 years of Japanese history, with samurai and WWII officers stepping in as secondary protagonists; that left me 700 years to explore and develop as the series moves forward.  So completely by accident, I ended up with a stand-alone book with the potential to become as many novels as I can think of.

BP: Daughter of the Sword received some rave reviews.  Had you ever thought that it would be such a success?
SB: Sort of.  When I signed on with my agent, she told me this was the kind of book that wasn’t likely to break sales records but it was going to draw lots of good attention from critics.  I can live with that.  Everyone wants to write a book that’s really good and really popular, but given the choice, I’d rather write a good book than a popular book.  If it sells a million copies, hey, I’ll be as thrilled as anyone, but that’s a byproduct, not the goal.

BP: Did that success put any added pressure when you were writing the sequel, Year of the Demon?
Absolutely.  And now the pressure is doubled on Disciple of the Wind, because of the reviews Year of the Demon has been collecting. Every time you write a book people like, you set the bar higher for yourself.  My goal is for Disciple of the Wind to be the best installment of the series.

BP: Did you gain valuable experience when you were writing Daughter of the Sword that you were able to use in Year of the Demon?
SB: The most obvious benefit was all the time I’d already logged doing research on Japan.  But there’s a more important sense in which my approach to writing the two books could not have been more different.  I had seven or eight years to put Daughter of the Sword together, but once I had a contract with Penguin, I wrote Year of the Demon in fifteen months.  You’d think that the slow approach to Daughter wouldn’t have prepared me for Demon at all, but it turned out to be a surprisingly smooth transition.  I’d invested years in getting to know Mariko and Daigoro, the two protagonists that carry over to Year of the Demon.  I know how they think.  I know what they’re afraid of and what they aspire to.  That made it easy to build secondary characters that could shine a spotlight on their strengths and weaknesses and quirks.

BP: Your latest book, Disciple of the Wind is the third book in the series.  If you would have to sell it with a single sentence, how would it go?
SB: Tokyo’s only female detective takes on a terrorist cult, a ninja clan, and her own police department after Japan’s 9/11 strikes the heart of Tokyo; meanwhile, a lone samurai boy launches a one-man war against the most powerful general in the empire.

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems so far in writing the Fated Blades series?
SB: Oh, yes.  These are intricate books, because multiple storylines intertwine across hundreds of years.  I write each one as an independent story, so if you wanted to, you could read all the Mariko sections as if it’s only her book, then all the Daigoro sections as if it’s only his book.  Each story has to stand on its own.  But once they’re done, I’ve got to braid them together, and that means I have to be very careful about what gets revealed when.  Their stories are linked thematically, and they interact with the same historical artifacts, so I have to negotiate that interplay without letting any spoilers slip through.  That’s not easy when everything that happens to Daigoro is already more than 400 years gone by the time Mariko comes along.

BP: What has been the hardest part in writing Disciple of the Wind?
SB: Two things: structure and expectations.  We touched on expectations before: I want this book to be the best of the series, but with each successive book the bar is set higher and higher.  But the plot structure has been the most vexing.  Mariko and Daigoro face their toughest, most powerful opponents yet, and I’ve stripped away all of their best assets for fighting those opponents.  Daigoro loses his clan and Mariko loses her badge.  These are the worst kind of self-inflicted wounds for an author to face: I put victory totally out of reach, and then I have to find some way for my heroes to win.  It makes for some really cool stories, but solving all the plot puzzles can be a royal pain in the keister.

BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter/scene did you enjoy writing about the most?
SB: Daigoro’s final showdown is awesome.  I love a good samurai swordfight, and I’ve included my fair share in the last two books, but this one is the best one yet.

BP: Your series features influences from Asia; did you have to carry out any additional research for writing the series?
SB: Yes.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan and I’ve spent my entire adult life reading about Japan, so in that sense I’ve got a pretty robust understanding of the culture.  But there are countless little things I have to look up.  It’s been years since I lived in Tokyo, and that’s a city that never stands still.  Samurai history won’t change much anymore, but by now my readers know quite a bit about it, so I have to take the culture deeper and deeper, to give them the most immersive experience possible.  

BP: There are so many different cultures on Earth. What draws or drew you the most to choosing the Japanese culture?
SB: I’ve been fascinated with Japan ever since the fourth grade.  My teacher married a Japanese man and moved to Hokkaido, and in her final week she showed us all of these amazing things about Japan.  “They eat seaweed!”  “They can roll their beds up and tuck them away in a closet!”  Even the little details were totally fascinating to me.  Then, of course, came the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the American fascination with ninja.  Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Michael Dudikoff, Sho Kosugi, they all hit the scene.  James Clavell became a favorite author of mine and You Only Live Twice became my favorite Bond movie.  Then I discovered Akira Kurosawa, anime, and cult classic samurai splatterfests.  In college I got involved in martial arts and Japanese philosophy, and from there I was hooked for life.

BP: If you would be given the chance to retract Disciple of the Wind and make one final adjustment, would you do so? If yes, which parts and why?
SB: I can’t say I’d make changes, because I’m only willing to turn in the best book I know how to write.  But if there’s one regret I have with this book, it’s that I couldn’t include Kaida.  She’s a fan favorite and one of my favorite characters to write.  She had a storyline in Disciple of the Wind up until the very last draft, when ultimately my editor and I decided that the book was just too long.  Including Kaida, this one would have been ten percent longer than Year of the Demon, which was already thirty percent longer than Daughter of the Sword.

The good news is that now Kaida will get her own story, Streaming Dawn, which will come out in time for Christmas.  We get to see Shichio’s origin, we learn who sets him on his collision course with House Okuma, and we also get to meet Daigoro’s illustrious father for the first time.  Kaida plays a pivotal role in how all of that unfolds.

BP: With Disciple of the Wind being published soon, have you thought about how many more volumes The Fated Blades will run?
SB: Yes, but nothing is set in stone just yet.  It’s too soon to say exactly where the series will go from here.

BP: Next to The Fated Blades, do you have next to these other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future?
SB: Yes.  I have plans for space-faring science fiction and Tolkienesque epic fantasy, and a YA series that has been percolating for some time. But writing is just like ordering at the deli: the ideas have to line up and take a number.

BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?
SB: It’s the capacity for philosophical reflection that draws me to it.  You can take the purely theoretical and turn it into something you can wrestle with.  You can invest anything with meaning, even the most commonplace item—say, a ring that embodies greed and the lust for power, or a spice that allows you a glimpse into the future.  Frank Herbert built an entire interstellar economy on that spice, and that’s before we get to any of the political or religious themes.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
SB: Ouch! That’s a hard question. But if I’m forced to answer, I’ll go with Lord of the Rings, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Watchmen, Dune, and the Analects of Confucius.

BP: And just lastly, can you give us a sneak peak as to what will be in store for the readers of Disciple of the Wind and possibly the direction of the fourth book?
SB: Disciple of the Wind pits Mariko and Daigoro against their greatest enemies, in circumstances far worse than either of them has faced before.  Terrorists strike Tokyo and scar it forever.  Mariko loses her badge, then her moral compass.  Daigoro’s closest allies become enemies, while his enemies gather allies of their own.  And all of that happens in the first few chapters.  After that things get really dire.

As for the fourth book, I can’t say much without revealing spoilers.  Suffice it to say that there were a couple of ends left untied in Daughter of the Sword.  Daigoro’s father was never avenged; his killer was never identified.  And Mariko’s cocaine smuggling case had its roots in California, and the American dealers are still at large.  Someone will have to tie up the loose ends.

BP: Thank you for your time, Steve, and good luck with your future writing!
SB: Thanks so much.  Let’s do this again after Disciple of the Wind comes out in April!


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