Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Challenge of Writing The Inugami (With Samples)

(Note: Please be aware the samples provided are still part of the rough draft and may be changed substantially in the final release.)

The challenge of writing The Inugami as well as its predecessor, The Shrine War, is that the story takes place in a world that has a different culture, religious view, ethics, and social customs very different than mine. And though I knew a few Japanese people, I have never had the pleasure of visiting the country.

So before even putting hand to keyboard, I spent weeks reading up on Japanese history, historical mythology, Shintoism and Buddhism, culture, and language. I lurked on Internet discussion forums and asked questions risking the wrath of forum trolls, but I learned quite a bit.
Hours later back in the apartment, Kelly stocked the pantry and small refrigerator with food when there came a knock on the door. She opened it to find an elderly woman bearing a covered plate, bowing and greeting her in flawless English.

“Welcome to our little neighborhood,” she said. “I have brought you some Daifuku.”

Kelly took the plate with both hands and bowed. “Thank you,” she responded. “Please come in?”

She stepped aside, but the woman nervously looked past her into the house. After a moment, she stepped inside and removed her shoes. “Arigato,” she said and bowed again. “Suzuki Haruka.”

Kelly bowed again, a nonstop exercise in a country where respect was highly valued. “My first name is Kelly,” she said, “and my family name is Robbins. I am honored to have you here.”
 Progress on the story is slow because I try to put myself in the shoes of a person who has lived in a different world. Add the mythological worldview and things become complicated quite quickly. 

In the first draft of The Shrine War, I mentioned the incense burning in a Shinto temple. However, according to a famous work on Japan, Shinto temples do not use incense. In a future release of The Shrine War, I have removed the reference and alluded to the prohibition in The Inugami.
Within minutes, her neighbor had returned with a fistful of sticks. “That’s incense, isn’t it?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Haruka said. “Remember when I said that Japanese believed in ghosts? Well, we believe in a host of odd creatures. Do you know what yōkai are?” She continued without waiting for Kelly to respond. “There are literally hundreds of mystical creatures and monsters that fill the Japanese mind. Yōkai are supernatural creatures and they have various powers and they all look different, but regardless, there is one trait they all have in common. They absolutely hate incense.”

“Is that why the temples use it?” Kelly asked.

Haruka shook her head as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket. “You will only find incense in a Buddhist temple or some of the Christian churches. There it serves as part of the worship. You will never find incense in a Shinto shrine. Not only do yōkai despise it, but the kami themselves view its use as an insult.”
Of course, in all of this, I may have made grievous errors. My fantasy tale, In the Father's Image, took place in London and contained massive errors, but before it went to print I had it checked out by people who knew the city and its subtle culture. I attempted to correct all errors and even after it went to print, I made sure that future editions were as error free as possible. In fact, as I go over old blog entries, if I see an error, I correct it immediately. I certainly have a phlegmatic personality, but when it comes to writing, I wish to master the art. I am always revising.

That will be the same with The Shrine War and The Inugami. If anybody can substantiate an error, I will change it, first because of my perfectionist drive to have an error free product, but because I do not wish to incorrectly portray the country where my story takes place.

So having read this far, allow me to reward you by posting one more sample when Kelly sees her house guest for the first time, an Inugami living under the crawlspace of her Tokyo apartment.
Smoke started to come off the incense, the room filling with a musky aroma. Haruka coughed and put her sleeve in front of her face. “Open the trapdoor there,” she said. “Quickly please.”

Obeying, Kelly opened the little door and Haruka carefully dropped it down into the crawlspace. “The floor is dirt and there can be no risk of fire. Now, outside at once!”

Kelly followed Haruka out the backdoor to the small yard, wanting to ask hundreds of questions, when suddenly the outside access door to the crawlspace violently burst open.

What tumbled out moved so quickly, Kelly’s mind could not take it all in, a scream of surprise frozen in her throat.

It was a dog, a big one rolling across the ground, a collar around its neck trailing a chain that disappeared into the crawlspace. Inexplicably, it bore shredded old rags that through the holes, Kelly could see filthy, matted yellow fur. A stench rolled off the creature making Kelly gag.

It was when the creature stood on its hind legs, Kelly felt the scream escaping her paralyzed lungs. Only five feet tall, it bore the shape of an emaciated human being, but with a canine face and teeth bared in fury. It lunged at the two women, but out of the corner of her eye, Kelly saw Haruka throw something at the beast, something powdery and white.

With a yowl of agony, it fell to the ground and writhing in pain, it dragged itself to a corner of the yard, its chain trailing behind it, where it huddled against a corner of the fence clawing at its rags and fur.

Kelly took in a deep breath to release her scream, but Haruka grabbed her arm, hard.

“Do not make a sound,” she hissed. “You will alert the neighbors. Now we have enough problems.”

Kelly fell to her knees, her eyes wide in shock. Her voice had fled.

Wheezing, she forced air out of lungs. “What...what is it,” she gasped.

A smile devoid of mirth came to Haruka’s face as she stared at the thing that whimpered and cowered at the end of its chain. “Something your western mind cannot grasp,” she said, her words hard and cruel. “It is an Inugami. Just as I suspected, the man who lived here actually was an onmyōji, a Taoist sorcerer dedicated to evil. That is his familiar.”

“We need to call the police,” Kelly said.

“No!” Haruka said forcefully. “They cannot help here. This is my work.”

“ can this be your work?” Kelly asked, wide-eyed. “How can you even know what this thing is?”

“I was a miko many years ago, a Shinto shrine maiden,” Haruka explained, “but we can discuss that later.”

Haruka approached the Inugami and dropped to a crouch. “Tell me your name,” she demanded in Japanese. “I have more blessed salt in my hand. Tell me or you will burn again.”

The Inugami had curled itself into a ball, but revealed its face and snarled. “I obey no kit…”

“Silence!” Haruka commanded. She held her fist above her head and the Inugami tried its best to cower even further into the fencing. “What is your name? Tell me.”

The Inugami wailed in its misery. “I am Kirai, the creation of Abe no Tadayuki.” Kelly followed the conversation in shock. The Inugami’s voice was clearly female.
Kelly stood and walked backwards until she felt the wall of house pressing against her back.


  1. It reads just fine to me! I'm looking forward to the finished story.

  2. I appreciate that you're willing to revise if a mistake is pointed out to you.

    As for research, I've been there. I'm working on a story about mountaineers. Problem? I don't climb, so I had to put in a lot of research. As I recall, there was a 3-week gap between when I came up with the basic idea and when I actually started writing it because of all the research I had to do (at first, I didn't even know what questions to ask).

  3. Also, loved the Hemingway quote. Have you ever seen the 1946 adaptation of his story, "The Killers?"

    Even though he doesn't have much screen-time, William Conrad's performance as one of the titular killers was downright creepy and really got under my skin. I'm not sure I'll ever watch "Cannon" (or listen to the narrator from "Rocky and Bullwinkle") the same way again.