March 24, 2013

From Martial Artist to Full-Time Writer - An Interview With Lorna Suzuki

I first "met" Lorna Suzuki on twitter, because we both shared two passions:  Bujinkan, and writing.  So I figured I'd introduce the rest of you guys to this very interesting person who's been very generous with her time to answer my 10-question interview.

A Little Bit About Lorna...

A fan of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Lorna Suzuki quickly noticed that it was always the men who got to go off on great adventures and enjoy the camaraderie of a brotherhood, while the women were portrayed as the damsels-in-distress.
In writing the Imago fantasy series and shaping her female protagonist Nayla Treeborn, a warrior woman who is reluctantly accepted into this brotherhood, Lorna drew on her own experience as a woman in the once male-dominated fields of law enforcement and martial arts.
With 30 years' experience in martial arts, Lorna is a 5th degree black belt practitioner/instructor of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, a system incorporating 6 traditional samurai schools and 3 schools of ninjutsu (for anyone interested, it's really, really awesome and I highly recommend you check it out!).
When she is not writing fantasy or teaching martial arts, Lorna is a freelance scriptwriter out of Canada whose works include The Biography Channel and the TV series West Coast Adventures that is currently in syndication for an international audience.

A Warrior's Tale (Imago Chronicles: Book One)
Alessa (A): What inspired you to write this story, and how does Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu fit in?
Lorna (L):  I was inspired to write this fantasy series after teaching a martial arts seminar. After the session, the female students told me they never thought women could really fight until they saw me take on some very large male students. When I asked why they believed that, they said it was in their upbringing, culture, and in the books they read (where the women were always waiting to be rescued).
A quick trip to the bookstore revealed that many fantasy stories out there had female protagonists, but I had a real issue with most of them. There was an over-abundance of women who were only able to physically hold their own if they were imbued with supernatural or superhuman powers. Either that, or they were waiting to be rescued by the hero. I wanted my daughter to read about a woman that was able to do the rescuing, and do so without special powers; relying on her wits and years of training to overcome her foes, no matter how big.
I suppose this is where my 30 years of martial arts experience comes into play. My fellow martial artists, including my sensei, told me that my fight scenes are nicely grounded in reality. Some even recognize the techniques employed by the heroine, Nayla Treeborn.

A:  The Imago Chronicles is a 10-book long series, what kind of planning did you put into it?
L:  Initially, I had planned to write only one novel, three tops. As the fan base grew, so did the requests for the next adventure.  Even my attempts to end the series after writing the prequels
(Imago Prophecy and Legacy) and killing off a number of the main characters in book seven (The Broken Covenant) failed at drawing the series to a close--I still had many of my loyal readers asking for one more adventure.

So I’m currently working on what will most likely be the last book in the Imago series! I hope to have it finished before the first movie heads into full production later this year.
As for planning the series out, I can’t say I really planned anything. Each character has his/her own life, history, etc. In some ways, when I write, it is almost like recording their history and the defining moments in their lives that shaped them into the people they are.

A:  What is your favorite part or detail about your world, Imago?
L:  I think the best part is the ensemble cast of characters that make up the series. They are a loyal, tight-knit group, but their friendship doesn’t come without a great deal of struggle, for many are Alpha personalities. I think it’s the dynamics of their relationships, often troubled, strained and tested to the limits, that make Imago so interesting, even for me.

A:  What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your heroine, Nayla Treeborn?
L:  My favorite aspect of Nayla is that, as much as she is physically and emotionally strong, she is also vulnerable and not above getting physically and emotionally broken. 
The least favorite aspect, I think, is that Nayla is flawed, which is a quality that makes her more interesting, but at the same time, it can be quite troubling. Her greatest flaw is that being half mortal and half Elf, she is denied by one race and shunned by the other, and this weighs heavily on her, especially in how she views her own self-worth. This treatment throughout her life has led her to believe that she is not worthy of being loved.  This also leads her to take incredible risks to prove her worth, and taking on suicide missions no other warriors would consider because she doesn’t place that much value on her own life.

A:  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered when it comes to writing?
L:  I’ve yet to experience writer’s block, so I think the biggest challenge for me is not having enough hours in the day to write. Even though I’m one of the few authors I know who writes full-time, I always seem to be trying to squeeze in more time to write in between what life throws at me.

A:  Why did you decide to go the self-published route instead of traditional, and if you could go back, would you do anything differently?
L:  I’ve been offered book deals with traditional publishing companies, including an offer from Jessie Finkelstein who was an editor with Raincoast Books, publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada. I know some authors dying for a traditional book deal thought I was crazy to turn down that offer, but when Ms. Finkelstein asked if I’d be willing to rewrite Imago for a YA audience, I just couldn’t do it. I already have some very loyal and devoted readers and they wouldn’t take well to me rewriting for the sake of a traditional book deal.
I’ve also had couple of literary agents in the past, but my experience with them left me feeling disheartened by the whole process. I even released my last agent, using an excellent entertainment lawyer, Kim Roberts (he also happens to be a producer with Sepia Films) to negotiate the film deal.

A:  A major movie production company has optioned the first three books of the Imago Chronicles.  Can you talk about the process involved in going from the printed page to the screen?
L:  Sure! I think getting a book made into a movie requires getting the attention of the film producers in the first place. In my case, I just happened to be doing an interview and martial arts demo on MTV. My book was used as a weapon and it stuck in the executive producer’s mind when she saw that interview.  She ended up buying my books and reading them. She loved the characters and the stories so much, she spent about 3 years trying to hunt me down to secure the movie rights, moving quickly when two other producers were circling around, voicing their own interest in this series.
I have some writers asking me why didn’t I write the screenplay myself and how can I possibly consider handing my ‘baby’ over to someone else. Well, I am a novelist and it takes a different kind of skill set to write compelling/entertaining screenplays, skills I am lacking in, unless it’s for a
TV series.

Also, I was not about to make my screenwriting debut by tackling a big-budget, major motion picture trilogy, not when investors were sinking millions of dollars into this project!  Instead, I was given the names of 5 A-list Oscar-winning and -nominated Hollywood screenwriters to choose from. Rather
than pick one of these writers, I recommended an award-winning Canadian writer, one whose works I was already familiar with his. I also knew he had read my series before and loved the characters and the story as much as the executive producer did. In the end, he was hired to write the first draft of the screenplay and he did an AWESOME job of it.

A:  Not only are you a mother, but you worked full time while writing your series, as well.  What’s your secret to being so productive?
L:  Thanks to the option fee I received from the movie deal, I was able to quit my day job in 2011. Strangely enough, between writing full time, reviewing the screenplay for the movie, consulting with the producer, conceptual artist and screenwriter, my days are very full.
It made me wonder how I managed to work full time, raise a young daughter, and still found the energy to write after she was asleep (which entailed working into the wee hours of the morning only to wake up a few hours later to head off to my day job).
When it comes right down to it, I try very hard to manage my time. I try to keep a writing schedule of Monday to Friday, with the hours between 7:30 am and 2:30 pm devoted to writing. The rest of my hours and the weekends are reserved for friends and family.

A:  What’s the one tip you would give beginning writers?
L:  I’m always reluctant to give any kind of writing tip. I can only share my own personal experiences and what has worked for me…
My advice would be, if you cannot hire a professional editor, try and find a critique group, and have your work read by others who will be unbiased and honest, giving constructive criticism where needed. While the story might make sense to you in your head, others might not follow along or have trouble understanding what you mean. Have your critique group look for grammatical errors, holes in the plot, spelling mistakes, etc.
I also recommend that, with the final draft, you should separate yourself from the manuscript for a month or longer. When you are ready to proofread, do not read off your computer screen. Print out each page and read each word aloud. Not only will you catch mistakes your eyes will gloss over, you will get a better sense of flow when you read it this way.

The Magic Crystal
 (The Dream Merchant Saga: Book One)

A:  Finally, what’s currently on your table for the near future?
L:  The race is on to finish the final installment of the Imago series. I’d like to have it done before we head into full movie production later this year, as I’ve been hired as a creative consultant and I’m sure that will eat up a lot of my time. When I do have time to write again, I’d like to start on the fourth novel in The Dream Merchant Saga, a YA fantasy series I co-write with my daughter, Nia. She has become quite the writing powerhouse in her own right, and I’m constantly in awe of her natural writing talent, so this is something we are both looking forward to!

Needless to say, I can't wait to see that movie in theaters!  I'll keep you posted on its release date.


  1. Wow what a great interview! I love the fact that the story features a a strong woman, who isn't a super hero, but could lead her own story. Definitely makes me want to read the series!

    I am so impressed by the Lorna Suzuki's time management skills. It is difficult enough to manage being a full time worker and a mother, but to also have such a successful writing career is amazing! I also love that Lorna stayed true to her fans and wasn't willing to compromise her writing for anything.

    Can't wait to check out the series and the movies once they are released!

  2. Dear Anonymous, I completely agree with you. To have a successful writing career while at the same time dealing with all the other aspects of life a person usually has requires a lot of discipline... and making many sacrifices.
    I'll try to update everyone when the movie comes out :)