Then and Now. Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat

Claws of the Cat Cover (50)

I started my ‘Then and Now’ blog feature at the start of 2013 as a way to celebrate writer success stories and learn a little of their ‘how I got there’ story. I’m not sure what I expected, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the tales of sheer tenacity, unrelenting self belief, endless resources of hope and downright refusal of aspiring writers to crumble under the harsh reality of rejections and manuscripts which were destined for a life under the bed. Inspiring stuff, to say the least.

The path to publication can, at times, feel like a completely impossible place to be, but, as I now know (still grinning from ear to ear!), and as my guest author today, Susan Spann expresses so brilliantly below, it really is so worthwhile when it all comes together and you find yourself on ‘the other side of yes’ (as Susan so wonderfully puts it).

Susan’s debut novel CLAWS OF THE CAT, a Shinobi mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori (yes, ninja detective – how awesome does that sound!), was released in July and I am so delighted to welcome her to Whims & Tonic to share her thoughts on the road to publication. Aspiring authors be warned: you will be filled with renewed determination after reading Susan’s words of encouragement and may have to go and write 50,000 words immediately.

Over to Susan ….

Can you give an overview of where you were with your writing this time last year.

In July 2012, I had just completed line edits on CLAWS OF THE CAT and was eagerly anticipating the cover art. I didn’t actually see the cover until autumn, but I did see an early concept sketch and fell in love with it instantly. I was also editing the second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, which will release in July 2014.

What was causing you the greatest challenge/frustration with your writing?

At that time? Learning to write a series. I wrote four (unpublished) manuscripts before CLAWS OF THE CAT, but each of them was a standalone historical. I hadn’t anticipated the challenges involved in writing a series, which turned out to be much harder than the transition from writing historical fiction to mystery.

The hardest part was learning to reference the events of an earlier book without losing the reader or giving away details that would spoil the earlier story. I also found it challenging to re-introduce the characters without confusing new readers or boring the ones who would have already read CLAWS OF THE CAT.

What important decisions did you make in the last 12 months?

Not to quit my day job. That’s mostly a joke — I’m a publishing attorney with many clients, several of whom were concerned that publication might lead to the demise of my legal practice. Fortunately, I see writing and law as parallel, and compatible, callings. I never intended to quit my day job after I became a published author.

I also made a commitment to continue writing every day, even when traveling. I haven’t managed to keep it 100% but I’m pretty close, and it’s made a big difference in my productivity, especially now that I’m traveling on book tours.

What was the pivotal moment for you in the last 12 months?

I think, for me, the pivotal moment was seeing my cover art. In addition to being the first time something about the process made me cry, seeing the art made me realize the dream was really coming true.

The cover art also marked the point where the various marketing and publicity efforts surrounding the book began to take off. I started doing interviews, making sure I didn’t miss blogging days (as I sometimes had in the past!) and focusing on getting the next book done in time to enjoy the release of this one. The moment was pivotal because it marked the true change from more casual blogging and scheduling to “published author mode.”

What were the high points of the last twelve months?

There have been many. In addition to seeing my cover art, I’ve had the privilege of learning to work with a copy editor — thank goodness I worked on the law review in law school and already knew how to read the marks! — proofreading first pass pages, and seeing my novel on the shelf in a real, live bookstore.

Signing books has been a delight, and seeing my face on posters in the window of Barnes & Noble was a lifelong dream come true.

The best moment of all, however, was one of the least conspicuous. After my Santa Monica signing, a timid young woman approached me and shook my hand. She admitted she hadn’t read my book (to which I responded, “that’s ok, it just got published so nobody else has either”) and asked if she could ask me some questions about my writing process. When I asked if she was a writer too, she grinned and nodded, startled that I had asked. Our conversation lasted only about five minutes, but in that time I tried to give her the best advice and encouragement I could, as other authors did for me during my multi-year journey to publication. She left with a smile and, I hope, the courage to follow her dream all the way to success. I left with the profound honor and joy of knowing I finally had the chance to “pay it forward.”

What is the most important thing you have learnt about your writing during the last twelve months?

I learned that I love writing more than anything, even when it isn’t going well. I’ve always written, and loved every part of the process, but since I started writing under contract for publication I’ve encountered new challenges: deadlines, series writing (as opposed to stand-alone stories), and working with a publishing house, to name a few. To date, there’s really nothing about the process I haven’t enjoyed. In fact, I’m loving every step of the journey.

What are your hopes for the next twelve months – and/or what do you definitely have coming up?

My hope is that the debut Shinobi Mystery, CLAWS OF THE CAT, does well and that readers fall in love with ninja detective Hiro and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo, as much as I did while writing the book.

On the “definite” side of the equation, I’m looking forward to seeing the cover for the second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, and completing the third installment, currently titled FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER. I’m fortunate to have a three-book contract, which means I get to spend at least another year—and hopefully longer—with Hiro and Father Mateo.

Any other good news, inspirational or positive experiences to take away from the last twelve months?

I cannot state strongly enough how much I hope that every aspiring author continues working and struggling and dreaming and writing, for as long as it takes for his or her work to obtain publication. It took me many years and many manuscripts to find my voice and my niche. I’ve had my share of rejection letters, fears and doubtful moments. But now that I’m on “the other side of yes,” I can tell you, without hesitation, that every word and every day of the journey was worth it in the end. Nothing can replace the joy of walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on a shelf. Nothing dries the tears of old rejections like receiving an email from someone who stayed up all night to finish first “one more chapter” and then the book. Hold fast to the dream. Stay the course. Trust the process. In time, your time will come if you don’t give up.


About the book

May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.

The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.

About the Author

Susan Headshot (2013)

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. Claws of the Cat, her debut shinobi mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori, is published by Minotaur Books (for more information visit

Susan has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding, and she keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals.

You can find Susan online at, or on Twitter @SusanSpann

Thank you to Susan to take time out of her hectic book touring schedule to provide such thoughtful responses.