After reviewing her newest book, Toru: Wayfarer Returns, Stephanie R. Sorensen wonderfully agreed to answering a few questions for me.
The review for her novel can be found HERE.
Introducing the Author
I live in the Victorian mining town of Leadville, Colorado, at 10,251 feet, after a former life in big cities–New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Boston, Mexico City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Fe. I raise chickens (Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mondahai, Lady Gaga, Adele and Khaleesi) and love opera. This is me with Stravinsky [picture to the left].
1. When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but never knew any writers and didn’t believe regular people got to be writers until recently.
2. Where did you get the inspiration for your book, ‘Toru: Wayfarer Returns’?
This is so random, but it is true! I live in a Victorian mining town, where everyone dresses up in Victorian outfits for multiple local festivals. Needed a gown for the big ball. Googled “Victorian dress” and fell down the steampunk rabbit hole. Read a couple dozen steampunk novels (and sewed a Victorian/ steampunk gown) and decided I wanted to write a steampunk novel. Victorian England and Wild Weird West U.S. were so done. Stale. I needed a fresh angle.
So…Japan! The heart of steampunk isn’t the goggles (although you DO need them for piloting dirigibles) but the response of a culture to technology. Japan had gone through a massively compressed industrial revolution and huge culture shock when it was forced to open by the Western imperialist powers. The opening of Japan was actually a perfect setting and period for a lightly steampunkish novel. I had studied and lived there long ago, and spoke and read Japanese. I researched a bit and found the true story of a shipwrecked Japanese ship’s cook who returned to Japan right before Perry’s visit and served as a guide to the Shogun about Western ways. I gave him a few more IQ points and a fancier background with a rebellious lord as his father and a (possibly) shapeshifter mother and off we went!
3. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
How the characters show up, take over and do whatever they feel like doing. For example, Jiro was not in the outline. I tried to get rid of him a couple of times. But he took over and became really central to the story’s heart and themes and a reader favorite to boot. I love the Jiro character now. He is the wise peasant who rises above his social betters by his own wits or innate goodness, like Shakespeare’s Falstaff and other fools, or Figaro in opera, or Forrest Gump in film. He wants to headline his own book. So we’ll see.
4. What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?
Beer. Japan (today) is famous for making really good beer. If you have ever lived and worked in Japan, you know that Japanese men spend a good deal of time enjoying their beer. So I expected Jiro and Toru and Takamori to take a break from sake with beer, especially on days when they had to get a lot done and heavy sake would dull their revolutionary zeal too much. I went looking for famous period beer brand names to drop and discovered there was no beer in 1852 in Japan. Sad! Beer is a foreign introduction that entered the Japanese market 15-20 years after the events of this story. So Toru and his friends had to stick to sake. It’s part of the madness of historical fantasy writing—I’ll be a stickler for historically accurate food and drink, but violate laws of physics with my dirigibles and economic reality with a reeeeeeeally fast industrial revolution with gleeful impunity.
5. Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.
I write, looking out through my Victorian bay window onto the aspen trees with the Rocky Mountains in the background, with writing gear off screen and sewing machine to my right. (Maker revolution, yeah, baby!) Yes, as at least one reviewer has noticed, I am obsessed with sewing machines.
6. What do you think makes a good story?
I love a good old-fashioned hero story with a character I care about facing a big challenge and fighting against all odds for a great cause.
7. What are your three favourite books and why?
I love epic fantasy, so of course J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series (noble heroes! Amazing world-building! Elves!) and G.R.R.Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice Game of Thrones series. (I really admire how he tortures his heroes so! And so boldly kills them off! I aspire to his gritty, earthy, morally complex characters.) I also love space opera, big sprawling tales across galaxies, where anything can happen and usually does. My recent favorites in this realm include James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series (Leviathon Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate) and The Three-Body Problem by China’s most beloved science fiction author, Cixin Liu, and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Series (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Mercy, Ancillary Sword). What all three of these very different story universes have in common is amazing unique characters, gorgeous intricate world-building and heroes striving against mighty odds to achieve great goals.
8. If you could be any character from a book or a film, who would you be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I, as portrayed in a dozen books and films. She was a total badass and ruled wisely and well.
9. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I quote, in its entirety, my essay in first grade. “When I grow up, I want to be me.”
10. What’s something you are really good at that few people know about?
I did mention my mad sewing skills, right? And I have a black belt in Japanese fencing, or kendo. It actually came in useful once when I fought off a would-be mugger with my umbrella in Mexico City while screaming at him in very unladylike Japanese.