Hello and welcome to 10 Quick Questions with Dave, I am your host Dave Tallman and today I am chatting with L.T. Suzuki, creator of the Imago series of fantasy novels, nonfiction author and Master of Martial Arts.
First let me say that I am thrilled to be interviewing with you. I have had the privilege to read some of the Imago series and found them thoroughly engaging. That said, let's get to know you. I like to begin interviews with a bit of background. I understand you have a background in law enforcement. Could you share with us something about this?
You can call me Lorna and I'm so pleased you found my stories engaging! But before we proceed, I must clarify that just because I've been a martial arts practitioner for over 25 years, I am no master! I will always be a student of the arts and it's only in my wildest dreams do I attain, as Po of Kung Fu Panda fame would say, this level of awesomeness!
As for your first question: I worked for the federal government's Dept. of Fisheries & Oceans back in the late 1970s when women were starting to enter the field of law enforcement. I was told I was only one of two women active in the field in Canada. I believe I was the youngest they ever hired, and most definitely, I was the smallest! They couldn't even find a uniform to fit me properly. Plus, I was the only one out in the field unarmed.
Can you imagine that? I was apprehending violators without the protection of a weapon. My hands were so small they couldn't even get around the standard issue Smith & Wesson revolver to pull the trigger, but still, I got the job done! I did a stint patrolling a small piece of the BC west coast enforcing sports and commercial fishing regulations, and then I moved on to the General Investigation Unit for several years where I helped with surveillance work as I didn't look like your typical fishery officer.
How did you become interested in writing? And what are some of the nonfiction works that you have done?
In all honesty, I never intended to become a fantasy writer. If anyone told me in January 2002 this is what I'd be doing, I probably would have laughed.
I had a job I loved until everyone in management, myself included, was let go. On Feb. 6, 2002 I was working; on Feb. 7th, I had no job to go to.
I began writing the first novel that very day. I wrote 'Imago Book One: Tales from the West' in one month and just kept going as the readers kept asking for the next tale. From that day forward, I've always started a new novel on the seventh day of the month. As for nonfiction, my earlier works were mostly natural history educational manuals for various zoological organizations, writing press releases and newsletter articles for these facilities. And now, when I'm not writing fantasy, I'll write scripts, mostly biographies, for a Vancouver video production company.
Being a practitioner myself, (Judo, Jujitsu and Hapkido) I just have to ask about the martial arts. What form do you teach? And how many variant forms have you trained in?
Wow! A fellow martial artist! We should be doing this interview in a dojo as we battle for martial arts supremacy!
For me, I started out in Kempo Karate. Initially, I wasn't aware it was a full-contact boy’s club I had entered. I started with 24 other students of which three of them were young ladies. Unfortunately, the other girls lasted for only a week. After three months, of all the new students, only two of us were left.
It was pretty brutal as the guys seemed intent on driving me out. In spite of the spilled blood, severe bruising and broken bones, I held my own. Eventually, we became good friends, pummeling each other, and then going out for a brew after training. I stayed with this club until it closed down, moving on to Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. It is a Japanese style of martial arts that incorporates the warrior traditions of six samurai schools and three school of ninjutsu.
I was awarded my 4th dan black belt in this style and I must emphasize, it is not a sport; it is strictly for self-defense. My fighting style is reflected in my novels through the female protagonist and the fans of my books who are involved in martial arts tell me they like the fact there is a level of realism to the fight segments.
Who is Dr. Maasaki Hatsumi?
Dr. Hatsumi is the 34th grandmaster (soke) of Togakure Ryu, a school of ninjutsu with a history that spans over eight centuries in the Iga province of Japan. He is not a self-proclaimed grandmaster of a style he created, he actually inherited this title from his sensei, Toshitsugu Takamatsu the 33rd grandmaster of Togakure Ryu.
By amalgamating the nine schools into one complete system, Hatsumi Sensei formed Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He is a wonderful, inspiring teacher who believes in training with a happy heart, but nowadays, you must travel to Japan to train with him. Closer to home, my sensei is Shihan Phillip Legare. He spent many years training under Hatsumi Sensei. Not only is Shihan Legare one of only a handful of westerners graded to 15th dan black belt by Hatsumi Sensei, his other achievements includes induction into the North American Martial Arts Black Belt Hall of Fame, so he is highly respected around the world.
Let's talk about Imago. For those not familiar with the series, could you give us a brief overview of what Imago is about?
A film producer described it as 'Lord of the Rings' and '300' meets 'The Last Samurai'. In terms of warfare, romance and the age-old battle between good and evil, I suppose there are similar elements. I loved all three movies, so understandably, I was flattered by her comparison, but my writing style is nothing like Tolkien's.
And be warned, this is no children's fantasy tale. Because of the level of violence and adult content, it is meant for mature readers. Basically, this is not your typical fantasy. There are wizards, but they are far from infallible, so the characters are forced to use their wits and skills to survive rather than to rely on magic to avoid danger. There are elves, but they are not delicate, woodland beings. They are designed for war and sometimes, they are hampered by pretty, volatile human emotions. The series features an ensemble cast of characters, but the central figure is a diminutive female named Nayla Treeborn. She is the product of an ill-fated affair between a mortal woman and a high elf.
Not only is Nayla shunned by one race and denied by the other; to make matters worse, she enters the male dominated world of warriorship. Each story is very different from the next, but with each tale, I try to draw the readers deeper into this fantasy world. They follow her trials and tribulations as she rises above child abuse, racism, sexism and other obstacles to become an accomplished warrior, a great captain and a legend amongst the people of Imago. And she does so with a degree of trepidation, pig-headed stubbornness and a self-deprecating sense of humor as she is no superwoman. In fact, she definitely has her share of flaws.
She seems very complex, how did you go about creating her?
After teaching at a martial arts seminar, I had women tell me they never knew girls could really fight until they saw me. When I asked them why, they said it was in their upbringing, their culture and even the books they read. This led to a trip to the local bookstore.
Sure enough, many of the women able to physically hold their own against a man were endowed with supernatural powers like 'Xena Warrior Princess' or 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. I didn't want my daughter to grow up reading about women needing to be rescued or needing special powers to take care of herself. I wanted her to read about women capable of doing the rescuing, but in a realistic way!
My daughter helped to inspire the Nayla character. Like Nayla, she is bi-racial and will likely face some of the same challenges as she grows up. Some people automatically assume Nayla is my alter ego, but she isn't. My friends will tell you Nayla is much nicer than I am!
I can only aspire to be like her. We have some things in common, like our fascination for pointy weapons. We do have some shared experiences in terms of growing up without a mother and dealing with matters of racism, abuse and chauvinism, plus our fighting style is similar, but that's about the extent of it.
Imago is a multi-novel series. How many novels are there now in the series? And where can we purchase them?
Right now, there are nine books to complete the series; the eighth will be released on October 24th, 2009 as I attempt to keep my fans happy. I say 'right now' because originally, I said I was only going to write three novels. This turned into nine. The first seven novels are available on-line through the usual booksellers like Barns & Noble, Amazon, Trafford Publishing and up here in Canada; Chapters/Indigo, Black Bond, Coles, etc.
You have done both prequels and sequels to your original story, was it difficult to maintain the continuity of the characters as the time line changed?
That's a very good question.
Yes, I wrote a two-book prequel, 'Imago Prophecy' and 'Imago Legacy', after I wrote the first five novels. The fans of the original books were asking for the story revolving around the nation of elves. They wanted to know what really caused their race to divide and what happened to Nayla's father to send him into this emotional spiral that caused him to vent his frustrations and anger on her. The prequels cover 1000 years of history pertaining to these people, their culture and clashes, concluding with the birth of Nayla at the end of 'Imago Legacy'.
The fans also wanted the whole story about Nayla's life as a young girl and the events that shaped her into a warrior. This gave rise to "Imago Book Three: A Warrior's Tale'. And being completely biased, it's probably one of my favorite stories in the series. As far as difficulty in continuity, my husband will tell you I'm easily confused when it comes to time anomalies and things like that. I had to create a graph charting the people and events over a 1000+ year time line to simplify matters.
When you were creating Imago, did you have difficulties finding a publisher willing to commit to a series? And did you know then that it would become such an epic tale?
When I wrote the first novel, I already knew Nayla's life was an epic adventure. Her life and the lives of the principles characters: who they are; where they came from; what motivates them to act as they do; their entire history; their own personal story was always there in the back of my mind. I just never realized the readers would become so fascinated in these character's lives and that I would commit it all to paper.
As for publishing? I wrote Imago as a gift for my daughter to read when she's older (and can deal with the adult content) in the hope she discovers some of the life lessons hidden between the lines, so finding a mainstream publishing company never occurred to me. That's why I went with POD. The president of Libros Libertad Publishing Company did contact me after I went this route. After following my career in the newspapers, Emmanuel Aligizakis wanted to meet. He's such a nice man whose company is making great strides in the world of publishing in Canada. And he was genuinely interested in picking up my series, but at that time, I was mired in negotiations for film rights.
The popularity of the Imago series spread by word of mouth. It was finding its way into some of the libraries and an interview I did some time ago on MTV caught the attention of a film producer. She bought the books and fell in love with the characters, so much so, she flew me out to Toronto last year to see if I was interested in selling film rights for the first three novels in the series.
The matter of securing an agent was all quite by accident, too. I had met Jessie Finkelstein of Raincoast Books (the publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada) at a conference and the Nayla character intrigued her. She asked if I was willing to rewrite my novels for a younger audience. At the risk of upsetting my loyal fans and being accused of selling out, I declined. Jessie Finkelstein was the one who insisted I find an agent, for she felt this series had real potential.
That same day, I met Jenoyne Adams. Already a bestselling author, she is the owner of Bliss Literary Agency International based in Los Angeles, California. As a fellow martial artist, she related to the Nayla character, so we hit it off right away. Jenoyne offered to represent me after reading 'Imago Book Three: A Warrior's Tale'.
I like to end interviews with one common question: What's next for you? Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years, and beyond? And I’d love to keep tabs on Imago and how it develops, would you come back for another interview?
Right now, I'm working with Taylor Martindale and Megan Lamb from Bliss Literary Agency's Acquisition Dept. They are helping me polish up the manuscripts for the first three Imago novels before presentation to a publishing house. In five years? I hope the Imago series has a growing, worldwide readership and maybe the young adult fantasy series, 'The Dream Merchant Saga', I started in collaboration with my daughter will also have an audience.
Maybe by that time, the film deal will finally become a reality!
And because you ask such relevant, thought-provoking questions, I'd love to do a follow-up interview, Dave.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to give the fans of your websites a glimpse into the world of Imago!