(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Stephanie was written by Stephanie R. Sorensen.)
“Really?!” Kelly glared at the rabbit that had gotten onto her counter and knocked over a glass figurine, shattering it on the ground. “Off—now!” When she tried to shoo it away, it attempted to bite her, but she whacked it on the nose. “No. Go now. You’ve caused enough trouble as it is!” Once the plot bunny was taken care of, Kelly sighed and walked around the counter to get the broom.
She began to sweep the mess just as the door chimed and a visitor walked in. Kelly looked over her shoulder then smiled at her. “Hi. Give me one sec. Plot bunnies can be mischievous. I’ll be right with you.” Finishing cleaning up the mess, Kelly tossed the shattered remains of the figurine into the trash and then turned to her visitor. “Hi, I’m Kelly. You must be Stephanie. Fantastic to meet you!” She shook Stephanie’s hand. “I trust today finds you well?”
“Those bunnies!” Stephanie extended her hand and smiled. “Very well, thank you. So excited to be here.” She looked around the shop and admired with approving nods all the curious objects, glinting in the morning light coming in through the doorway. “Is this still a good time for you?”
“Oh yeah, it’s fine. Just the plot bunnies of the shop can be troublesome. Warning, they do bite.” Kelly finished cleaning up the mess then put away the broom and smiled. “Care to sit at the table there near the front windows? After our conversation, you can explore the shop as much as you want.” Kelly and Stephanie made their way to the small table near the front of the store with view of the streets, and they sat down. Kelly smiled at her visitor. “So, Stephanie, tell me about yourself. What is it that you do in real life?”
Stephanie laughed. “I go to all the trouble of setting up a new secret identity so I can escape real life and we talk about real life?! I used to be in finance, and venture capital. Not anymore. Now I do fun things, like write novels and sew very elaborate Victorian and steampunk gowns. You can think up very good plots and characters while sewing miles of ruffles into order.”
Kelly laughed at what she said. “Well, I’m not asking for absolute details of everything you do or your physical address or anything like that. It’s just that I like to ask that questions to show people that writers can be anyone.” Then Kelly leaned forward. “And you sew Victorian and steampunk gowns??? I need to hire you!” She smirked then sat back. “But we’ll discuss that another time. For now though, your writing. When did you begin writing, and when did you start getting serious about it?”
Stephanie settled back in her chair, laying to one side her small but elegant blue steampunk hat. “Serious? That would be March of 2014, when I decided I wanted to write a novel, a steampunk novel, and I wanted to write it during NaNoWriMo that very year. I had tried and failed at NaNoWriMo several times, usually attempting very tedious business tomes. I was feeling frisky and rebellious, and so I set that goal, did some outlining and wrote the first draft during November and December that year. I edited last spring, queried agents all summer, got some nibbles but no bites and then decided to self-publish last fall. But truth is, I’ve always wanted to write, and always did, in spite of a crazy busy business career. I busted loose about fifteen years ago and went to Los Angeles to write screenplays, even optioned one! I was always sneaking off to writers conferences and feeling silly because I had no project. So it was a big step for me to chuck the old life and say I am going to write or die! That sounds a little nuts, I know, but I really felt that way, that it was now or never.”
“So you were always a writer, reading as a kid and such?” Kelly raised her brows as a smile, tugging at her lips.
“Oh yes.” She held a book to her chest. “My parents used to take my books away from me and put me on the front porch to “play,” whatever that is. All the adventures were in the books! I had special privileges at the school library, and could check out as many books as I could carry. And the used book store just let me borrow books, like a library.” She laughed. “They were very kind to a little girl without much spending money for books!”
“Those adventures make for fantastic childhood memories!” Kelly smiled, thinking back fondly of her own childhood. But then she drew herself out of her thoughts to focus on the conversation. “So which story of yours would you like to discuss today? I’m sure you have some very brilliant tales to tell, and I’d love to hear it!”
Stephanie smiled, suddenly shy as they turned to her work. “Toru: Wayfarer Returns,” she said, straightening to attention.
“And tell me about Toru Wayfarer Returns.” Kelly encouraged her with a warm smile as she settled in her chair to listen. “What is it about?”
“It’s about a boy, a Japanese fisherman, who is shipwrecked and taken to America in 1850. My story starts when he comes back to Japan, with crates of books about technology and science (see, there is a little bit of venture capital peeking through there! not to mention my firmly held belief that nearly all answers can be found in books!) because he wants to save Japan from the foreign threat. This is a brave thing to do, you see, because at that time, the Shoguns forbade anyone from returning to Japan once they left…on pain of death. So he comes back anyway, and promptly gets arrested.” Stephanie slices down with an imaginary katana to show Toru surrounded by armed samurai holding swords to his throat. “He is willing to risk execution because he wants to save his country. But he will have to pass through many adventures along the way!”
Kelly listened to this but then had to cock her head to a sigh and smile. “I interviewed a samurai a little while back. You should write a crossover with that author. That would be interesting.” But then she shook her head. “So I’m assuming this character’s name is Toru? Who are the other characters in the story?”
“There is Lord Aya, whose men arrest Toru, who has of course a beautiful and spirited daughter, Masuyo. And Lord and Lady Tomatsu, their richer and more powerful neighbors. Everyone’s favorite character is Jiro, Toru’s childhood friend, a blacksmith. He is profane and coarse and cheerful, and can make anything. Then you have the Shogun and his minister and a couple of other rebel lords. A few I don’t want to mention because I don’t want to spoil their role in the story. And all my readers want me to drop Lady Tomatsu off the dirigible. Very mean of them, although I admit I see their point. She’s difficult.”
Kelly laughed at this. “Okay, is she the antagonist or something?”
Stephanie laughed. “Not quite..she is married to a very strong ally, but she is slippery and a bit mean. The Shogun and the American Commodore Perry play the parts of the antagonist, but Lady Tomatsu gives everyone grief along the way.”
“I see.” Kelly nodded but had to smile. “But c’mon, those characters are fun to write!” She smirked at Stephanie. “So, what inspired you to write this story?”
“She was absolutely delicious to write, indeed.” Stephanie grinned. “I did torture her a bit when I made her climb the ladder up to the dirigible and her kimono and hair got all messed up! But I am no murderer. I wanted to do steampunk. All the steampunk novels were set in the Wild West, or Victorian England. So I wanted to do something fresh…And I had lived in Japan, so I decided to set my story in Japan, which went through a very fast industrial revolution around that period, which is a steampunk theme. I did some research and found the story of Manjiro, true story, of a ship’s cook who was taken to America, came back and became a samurai. Manjiro was kind of…dim…so I imagined a smarter returnee, and Toru was born.”
“Fantastic! I just love hearing how stories are born!” Kelly smiled widely, and then she leaned forward, resting her forearms on the table as she locked eyes with Stephanie. “Now, this might be a bit unfair to ask, but…what’s your favorite thing about the story? Could be a character, a scene, a line of dialogue, anything.”
Stephanie leaned forward serious, but excited, intense. “No, that is a great question. And I know exactly the moment. I love Jiro, and I love the samurai flying around in their dirigibles and all these cool little moments I tried to create to share my beloved Japan with the reader. But the moment for me is when Toru is dangling from a rope ladder dangling from a dirigible captained by his good friend, and all the friends and allies are sailing off to the great battle in their dirigible fleet (yeah, spoiler alert but whatever, it’s on the cover people!) and he’s having a moment to look back on his adventures and all he’s learned and done and risked and been threatened with…and suddenly he’s not Wayfarer anymore, but he is home and knows it. I always cry there, lol. Plus the scene is great–the big wide sky, the enemy ships below, the fleet above…”
“I can see it on the big screen”
“That would be so cool! It sounds amazing. I can already see it in my head!” Kelly’s eyes lit as she said this. However though, her eyes caught a glimpse of the clock on the back wall, and she frowned then looked back at Stephanie. “Our time’s almost up, but not quite. We still have time for another question or so.” She smiled then thought for a moment. “So what’s the one thing, if anything, you’d like your readers to take from your story? That they can always find home? That adventure awaits? Or what exactly?” She tilted her head, curious.
Stephanie closed her eyes, thinking hard. “I think…it’s about, well…I meant to write the story about Toru, his return and finding home and all that. And I did. But a funny thing happened on the way to my plan. Jiro showed up on the page, although he was not in the outline, or the character sketches or anywhere! and Jiro and Jiro’s goals and needs kind of took over. Jiro’s not the main character, but in a sense, much of what Toru fights to achieve becomes about making the world a better place for the Jiros of the world. I didn’t really intend that, but it showed up strong and clear, and so something in me wanted to share that thought or idea with readers, along with Toru’s own journey. I love how what I intended got pushed behind whatever it was my subconscious wanted to talk about.” Stephanie shrugged, trying to make it make sense even if it didn’t.
Kelly smiled. “And I’m sure you did a fantastic job bringing it all to life. And congrats with publishing it, by the way. Not an easy feat, and I hope you the best with your endeavors!” Then she sighed and rose to her feet. “Unfortunately, our time has come to an end, but thank you so much for coming and chatting with me about your story and yourself. I loved hearing about it! You’re welcome to look around the shop if you’d like. I’ve got to feed the plot bunnies before they bite someone.”
Stephanie bowed, back in Japan in her thoughts again. “Thank you so much for your kind invitation and this conversation. We—me and all my characters—really appreciate your kind interest. Good luck with the bunnies!!!” She set her hat back upon her head, pinning it just so, and swept out into the street, trailing an enormous and elaborate bustled dress behind her.
Stephanie R. Sorensen’s book, ‘Toru: Wayfarer Returns’ is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Kobo and iBooks. Be sure to check it out!