Laura: Sushi. Definitely. Yum!
SASSE: I’m going to serve up a California roll for myself, with a side of ginger dressing instead of soy sauce. While you’re digging in, tell the readers a little about yourself. If you were not a romance writer, what would be your creative outlet?
Laura: If I didn’t write, I would draw. I enjoy sketching flora and fauna. I’ve also done a number of portraits from photos for pay.
SASSE: I’ve read other historical books by you and you’re a fantastic author, so I am really look forward to reading Lady of the Imperial City. How did your muse convince you to travel to Asia in your mind? What sparked this story to life?
Laura: Thank you for your kind words. I lived in Japan for three years and have been wanting to write Japanese historical fiction for a long time now. I did an extensive study of Heian high society and, as an enthusiastic reader of Regency Romance, was struck by the similarities between Regency England and Heian Japan in terms of society and attitude. Between the research and writing and revisions, this book was three years in the making. I consider it a masterpiece.
SASSE: Tell us about Lady Kirei. Who was your inspiration for crafting this character?
Laura: Lady Kirei is fashioned after an actual lady-in-waiting from this time period. Lady Murasaki wrote a famous novel, The Tale of Genji, which can be purchased in bookstores to this very day. You may also purchase and read The Diary of Lady Murasaki. She fascinated me because despite the fact that she was born into one of the finest bloodlines and the empress considered her a favorite, her country upbringing relegated her to second-class citizen. I explore what this meant to such a woman by placing my heroine, Lady Kirei, in the same circumstance.
SASSE: If you had to pic and actor to play Yūkan, who would it be? Share your hero with us.
Laura: Huh. I had never considered matching Yūkan to an actor. If pressed, I’d have to choose Jin Akanishi. My hero, like my heroine, is born into the best bloodline and soon becomes a favorite of the emperor. His country upbringing and the fact that he worked to build his family’s wealth, make him undesirable in the eyes of the imperial city’s elite. He comes to the city to pave the way for his younger brother’s success, not with a mind to finding love. One look at the fine eyes of Lady Kirei, however, has him pausing in his focus.
SASSE: If a reader hasn’t really been into Asian romance, what movie would you suggest they watch to get them into a similar mood and understand of the culture and Lady of the Imperial City?
Laura: There aren’t many movies that depict life in high society at that time, unfortunately. There are some movies set in that era, but they focus on the discrimination against Korean immigrants into Japan or the beginning rise of the military class that takes rule later in the seventeenth century. There are some Anime that offer a glimpse into the elite society of Heian’s imperial city of Kyō. One is Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, which is basically thirteen episodes of enacted poems written during the Heian period.
SASSE: Can you offer the readers a short sneak peak of the story?
Laura: Absolutely! Here’s an excerpt.
Lamplight created punctuated bright points against the orange glow of dusk along the wall surrounding the Fujiwara estate. At a line in the sky where brush-stroked clouds floated in stark contrast to gray nothingness beyond, a flock of birds silently crossed. Behind the distant peaks of Mount Hiei, cloud cover in coral hues bled finally into crimson against a purple dome.
On the veranda outside the mansion’s main entrance, her uncle assessed Kirei’s hair and attire. “I approve.”
She guessed he might not be so pleased were he to see her next to her resplendent cousin. Adjusting her fan a bit higher, she took in his beige silk decorated with a five-sided blue medallion print. He rarely dressed in such finery. In fact, she tried to recall when she had last seen him in anything but his robes of office.
“You’ll surely win Prince Hansamu’s heart.” He gestured to a servant who ran to the mansion’s wall gate and threw it open. On the busy Fourth Ward street beyond, an ox-pulled carriage appeared in the gateway.
“Ojisan, Prince Hansamu’s heart is fickle. I could only attract his favor for a short time. He has a wife and two consorts, none of whom he beds any longer. Is that what you want for me? A master who’ll ignore me? Leave me to rot while he spends his nights in other women’s beds?” She flicked her fan in agitation.
His eyes shifted to his waiting carriage, and he cleared his throat. “That’s not something you should concern yourself about.”
She glanced at his lighted conveyance, and it dawned on her where he headed. He was on his way to another woman’s bed. “Is this my future? Is this what I have to look forward to?”
He turned his back and accepted a wrapped gift from a servant who joined them on the mansion’s north veranda. Was that present bound for the hands of his lover? “Your only concern, Niece, should be in making the very best political and financial match. Do your family proud and bring us honor in choosing wisely. Once you’re bound, worry about being the very best companion. The very best mother. What your master does is his business.”
The temperature had steadily dropped over the past hour, and into the cold evening, he strode down a set of steps. He offered a wave over his shoulder without turning then passed out of the north gate.
She didn’t miss how he hadn’t given her a chance to reply. Frustration burned at the bottom of her stomach. She couldn’t hate him, however. He simply expressed what everyone seemed to believe. Everyone but her.
She didn’t move as he climbed in, causing the carriage to sway upon its large wheels. He cast her a final stern look out his window then gave the driver a curt wave. In seconds, he had disappeared amidst the flow of other carriages.
Before she turned to go collect Amai from her room, Kirei felt a draw. Tiny prickles dotted her nape, and hairs on her arms tried to stand on end under the weight of her eight layers of fabric. Lowering her fan, she searched the street for its source. Would she spy a ghost, or worse?
A carriage more elegant than her uncle’s approached in the sea of conveyances. It stood out because it was drawn by a horse and its driver sat on a seat near the roof rather than walking ahead. It slowed. Its black lacquered finish gleamed in the glow of torches lining the thoroughfare. Yellow light spilled from the carriage’s lush interior.
She held her breath. Who rode inside? The horse blatantly proclaimed him a foreigner. The good people of town would never have anything but proper oxen pull their carriages. Why did she care? And why couldn’t she take her eyes from it?
A man leaned forward and captured her gaze. The carriage’s window framed his square, masculine face. In her year in Kyō, she had never seen him, yet he was obviously a man of great riches. Was he a visitor from China? From Korea?
He wore his hair long, the black length smoothed into a high ponytail and reflecting lantern light rather than in a topknot hidden under a hat. His lips held no rouge yet had nice color and a fine, bow shape. He wore no cream or powder to lighten his skin tone, yet his brown hue didn’t offend her. On the contrary, it lent added strength to the power he exuded.
His spell held her enthralled until his carriage continued along the avenue and his black stare broke. She blinked. Too late, she realized she’d lowered her fan. He’d seen her face.
SASSE: I would like to thank you for the time to sit and chat. Keep up the excellent writing work!
Laura: Thank you so much for this chance to share my story, Lady of the Imperial City. If you enjoy this book, please look for my next Japanese historical fiction, Lady of the Bridge. Lady of the Bridge is the tale of a samurai and a warrior princess in seventeenth century Japan and is due to release in September 2015.
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