Authors & Illustrators
Sarah L. Thomson
Sarah L. Thomson has written everything from picture books to young adult novels. The Dragon’s Son, a young adult novel, was a JLG selection, earned two starred reviews, and was on VOYA’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror list; Dragon’s Egg was a JLG selection and a Maine Lupine Award winner. She lives in Portland, Maine. Visit sarahlthomson.com.
Deadly Wish: A Ninja’s Journey
A Conversation with Sarah L. Thomson
Q: In Deadly Flowers, Kata is a student at a school run by Madame Chiyome, who trains girls to be ninjas. In Deadly Wish, Kata is working for Ishikawa, a master thief. Where did you come up with these characters?
A: Both Madame Chiyome and Ishikawa Goemon are larger-than-life characters who occupy a place between legend and history in stories of medieval Japan. Madame Chiyome is said to have been the wife of a samurai who served the warlord Takeda Shingen. When her husband died, Chiyome made herself useful to Takeda by taking in orphaned and abandoned girls and training them as spies—in other words, as ninjas. Ishikawa Goemon is the hero of countless exploits as a thief, a former ninja, and a criminal mastermind. He is said to have finally met his end by being boiled in oil. It’s hard to disentangle the mix of fact and fiction when it comes to these two, but they both make excellent material for stories—as well as excellent mentors and enemies for Kata.
Q: There are even more demonic creatures in Deadly Wish than there are in Deadly Flowers. How did you learn about them?
Japanese folklore is full of mysterious creatures—some dangerous, some odd, some who might help you or hurt you, depending on their mood. It was great fun to use more of these bakemono in my second book about Kata. (I’m still sad that I didn’t find a spot to tuck in a nopperabo, a human-looking creature with a face as blank as a sheet of paper.) The most interesting one in this book, for me, is the forest of threatening trees. This forest (based on a real-life place, the Sea of Trees at the base of Mount Fuji) could reach into my characters’ minds and summon up their deepest vulnerabilities. I knew that my readers had already seen Kata punch and kick and pummel aggressive demons quite enough; the dreadful forest gave me an opportunity to explore, instead, what would happen if Kata became her own worst enemy.
Q: In Kata, you’ve created a character who can face almost anything. Was it hard to come up with new challenges for her in a second book, after she’s dealt with samurai, warlords, bandits, her fellow ninjas, and a buffet of supernatural creatures?
A: It was a bit difficult! One of the things I love about Kata is how tough and skilled she is. Very little fazes her. But it does make it a puzzle to come up with convincing challenges for her. In this book, she faces two things that she’s never had to deal with before: leaving the island of Japan and having someone declare that he loves her. Both events take Kata into unknown territory—one literally, one figuratively. Pushing her in these ways gave her room to grow and change.
Q: Why did you decide to bring back Kata’s friends from Madame Chiyome’s school in the second book?
A: I always felt a little sad that the first book moved away from the school so quickly, because it meant that we did not get as much time to spend with the girls there: Masako, Ozu, Aki, Akiko, Yuki, and of course the detestable Fuki. They were such interesting characters, and I knew they’d add a lot to the second book. They’ve grown in the two years since we met them in Deadly Flowers, and we see them now, not as schoolgirls, but as young women making their own way in the world. Even so, the friendships and rivalries from their years at Madame’s Chiyome’s school are still very powerful (as we see in Kata’s memories). That helps readers understand why those ties pull the girls back together for new adventures in Deadly Wish.
Q: Where did the sailors who rescue Kata come from?
A: Toward the end of the book, Kata is saved from drowning by a ship full of people she identifies as demons. They are actually European sailors. The first visit to Japan by Europeans that we know of was in 1543, when three travelers from Portugal ended up on the small Japanese island of Tanegashima. The appearance, dress, and habits of these foreigners (who probably did not bathe frequently and had no idea how to use chopsticks) were so shocking that it was hard for the Japanese, at first, to accept them as civilized human beings. Kata makes a similar mistake when a ship from Portugal, engaged in trade and exploration, is blown off course near the coast of Japan and rescues her.
Q: If you were to write a third book, what would it be about?
A: I find myself thinking a lot about the character of Ozu. She is a young girl with Kata’s toughness, but she is being raised in a very different way, in a stable family, with adoptive parents who care for her and protect her. And yet, there is that core of fierceness inside her. I wonder how a girl who is halfway between Kata and Masako will grow up, and what kind of a life she’ll make for herself.