Travis Heermann’s Spirit of the Ronin, is now available in all major e-book formats with a print edition coming in July. The conclusion of his Ronin Trilogy, it is the stunning conclusion of the story of Ken’ishi. With support from Kickstarter, today’s release date marks the culmination of years of hard work on the part of Heermann, who sat down to discuss the new release.
For the unfamiliar, what is the Ronin Trilogy?
The Ronin Trilogy is a historical fantasy series set in thirteenth century Japan. It blends real history with folklore and fantastical creatures. Samurai, demons, ninja, shape-shifting critters, vengeful ghosts, spies, invading hordes… you know, mind-blowingly awesome stuff.
It was part frenzy, part anguish, part angst, part exultation.
Frenzy because I had a relatively short time frame to finish the book. I wrote the first 50,000 words for Nanowrimo last year, and finished the first draft over the winter and early spring. The reason for the short time-frame is that my wife and I planned to move to New Zealand this summer for a year, and I knew all of this had to be finished—from drafting to publication—before I got on the airplane. Signing books for Kickstarter backers is not something that can be done at a distance.
Anguish because writing that last 40k words was like wrestling a drunken wolverine. The climax of the story is where the most meticulous research had to be woven into the hero’s and heroine’s character arcs, and vice versa. We have a fairly detailed timeline of historical events from that time, and the trick was making it all fit together. It was slow going, having to check the historical records with whether I could write a scene a certain way.
Angst because of the constant worry: is this good enough? Many of those last scenes have been in my head since I first conceived this story in about 1999, the converging climaxes of several characters’ story arcs, trying to hit that sweet spot where they all resonate with each other. That’s a lot of pressure to do them justice.
Exultation because there were a few moments in that process where I felt like I nailed it, where I felt a scene did exactly what I wanted it to, where I got choked up or laughed.
And then more angst because self-doubt ALWAYS creeps back in. Fortunately I have a great editor, John Helfers, who reassured me on a couple of occasions that I had indeed nailed it.
The character faced increasing challenges from book one to two. Right as Ken’ishi, the protagonist of the trilogy, felt familiar, he was thrust into unfamiliar territory. Was the character progression into book three a natural fit or was it difficult to challenge him in a new way for the third book?
Ken’ishi is a guy who goes from young, penniless vagabond in Heart of the Ronin to powerful warrior and leader of men in Spirit of the Ronin. He is constantly thrust into unfamiliar situations, always a little amazed at his own success, but every one of those successes comes with a serious price.
Increasing the stakes and tension for him were not difficult because I had an arc in mind for him from the beginning. He always had a destiny, and for him, destiny was double-edged.
Why was it so vital to place this story in the thirteenth century Japan?
When I first conceived the idea for this story, the overarching plot, I knew it had to be epic scope. As I was researching Japanese history early on, way back at the beginning, I read about the Mongol invasions, the kamikaze, the political intrigue among the shogun, the emperor, and mainland Asia, and I realized I had struck an incredibly rich motherlode of material. There are few eras of Japanese history as epic as the late thirteenth century.
Where does your love of Japanese culture stem from?
I first discovered samurai cinema when I was in high school. I stumbled across The Samurai Trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune, recounting the life of the legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. And this historical figure astounded and fascinated me. He fought and won over sixty(!) duels, many of them wielding only a wooden sword. Here was a real-life guy whose life was so unbelievably epic, and at the same time so humble, that I just dove into samurai film. That was the beginning.
You got a lot of the publishing support from Kickstarter contributors, which you’ve done your last few major projects. Have you seen a lot of fans return from previous Kickstarter campaigns, mostly new fans, or a combination of the two?
The second Kickstarter was a combination of old fans and new supporters. I haven’t run the percentages about what the ratios are, however. When my previous supporters heard that Book 3 was coming, many of them came out of the woodwork to support it. Knowing that I have that kind of fans out there is incredibly gratifying. I hope to always do right by those folks and keep them coming back for more.
Any chance we get to see Ken’ishi again or does this decidedly end his story?
His story is definitely over. However, I have a few ideas where his younger life might be fleshed out in short stories, or where he might appear in someone else’s story. So yeah, chances are good he’ll pop up again.
What’s next on the docket for you?
I’ll be writing a tie-in novel for the Battletech universe next, plus some short stories attached to various projects about which it’s probably too early to spill the beans.
Where can people connect with you?
My next author appearance will be at the OSFEST 8.0, Omaha’s science fiction convention, July 31-August 2, where I’ll be hosting a book launch party for Spirit of the Ronin.