Susan Spann Finds Her Muse High Atop Mount Koyasan [GUEST POST]

Konpon Daito Pagoda

Structures like the impressive two-storied Konpon Daito Pagoda elicit quiet contemplation and meditation from even the most experienced traveler. (Photo by Susan Spann)

Most of the time, the plot of each new novel drives my research, but in the case of Trial on Mount Koya, a sacred mountain turned that process upside-down. Each Hiro Hattori novel features a crime in a different setting, and a victim from a different social class or niche, allowing me to keep the series fresh and interesting.

Normally, I pick the setting first, do preliminary research to establish an interesting (and historically viable) setting, and then travel to the location to finalize the research and the plot. In 2016, I traveled to Japan to research the fourth and fifth novels in the Hiro Hattori series (are set in Kyoto and in the ninja stronghold of Iga). While there, I decided to pay a visit to Koyasan, a sacred mountain in Wakayama Prefecture, southwest of Kyoto. Koya has been described as “the beating heart of Shingon Buddhism in Japan” and remains an important pilgrimage site to this day. In addition to many temples, Koya is home to Okunoin, Japan’s largest cemetery, which holds over 250,000 graves, including the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi (also known as Kūkai), the Buddhist priest who brought the Shingon sect of Buddhism to Japan from China during the early ninth century.

Koya’s many temples welcome tourists as well as religious pilgrims, making Koyasan an excellent place to experience shukubo (temple lodgings) and eat shojin ryori—Buddhist temple cuisine, which is also my favorite style of Japanese cooking.

Guest room at Ekoin

Rich in history, beauty and delicious food, a guest room at Ekoin provides the perfect retreat for an author at work. (Photo by Susan Spann)

During that initial visit, I stayed at two different temples—Kumagaiji and Ekoin (the latter of which has been a functioning temple on Koyasan for over a thousand years). I fell in love with the mountain’s dramatic beauty, rich history, sacred rituals, and delicious food. I knew at once that I wanted to share this special place with readers, and that the mountain’s sacred history would make an excellent setting for a novel.

Over the next two years, I researched Koyasan and Shingon Buddhism, interviewed priests, and paid more visits to Eko-in, which became the model for Myo-in, the temple I created in Trial on Mount Koya. (Although Eko-in existed during the sixteenth century, when my novels are set, I wanted to respect the history and sanctity of Koyasan by using an entirely fictitious temple in the book.)

The mausoleum at Koyasan

Visiting ancient places like the mausoleum at Koyasan offer inspiration and plot to author Susan Spann during one of her many journeys to Japan. (Photo by Susan Spann)

Although I had never written a novel where the setting inspired the plot, I realized very quickly that the isolated mountain setting would give me the chance to pay homage to one of my favorite traditional mysteries: Agatha Christie’s iconic And Then There Were None. Hiro and Father Mateo are trapped in a mountaintop temple during a blizzard, along with a killer who poses his victims as the Buddhist judges of the afterlife—the Jusanbutsu, sometimes also called the “kings of hell.” Unless they can find, and stop, the murderer in time, the detectives will become a permanent part of his grisly council of the dead.

Trial on Mount Koya is my favorite book in the series to date, and not only because of the story (though I admit, that’s a very large part). I love it also because it reminds me that plot and setting are equally capable of inspiring a story, if the writer is paying attention when the inspiration strikes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Spann

Susan Spann

Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of the Shinobi Mystery novels featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo.

Her debut novel, Claws of the Cat, was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Other books in the series include Blade of the SamuraiFlask of the Drunken Master, and The Ninja’s Daughter

When not writing, Susan is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law. She obtained her degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history and culture.

In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

She invites readers to visit her home on the Web at SusanSpann.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

TRIAL ON MOUNT KOYA
By Susan Spann
250 pgs. Seventh Street Books. $15.95

HFVBT_Logo_Banner TwitterYou may purchase Trial on Mount Koya at one of these fine online retailers: Seventh Street Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and IndieBound.

Trial on Mount Koya is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

 

About Susan Spann
Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of the Shinobi Mystery novels featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT, was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Other books in the series include BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, and THE NINJA'S DAUGHTER. When not writing, Susan is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law. She obtained her degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history and culture. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

3 Responses to Susan Spann Finds Her Muse High Atop Mount Koyasan [GUEST POST]

  1. Grace Allison says:

    I fell in love with Japanese history and culture with Murasaki’s “The Tale of Gengi”. Your historical fiction books look really interesting. I am an author too and would recommend you create audiobooks of your work. Not as expensive as some people think. Have an inspired day hope you sell tons.

  2. Amy Bruno says:

    Thank you so much for hosting Susan’s blog tour & guest post!

    Amy
    HF Virtual Book Tours

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