Tomorrow will see a new piece added to the vampire canon with the release of Jon Merz’s The Kensei. Ahead of the release and our review tomorrow, we had a chance to catch Jon on email for five questions about his ninjitsu background, the work that went into The Kensei and the possible futures of the vampire genre.
Jamaica Plain native Merz is a USAF veteran, ninja and expert in close quarters hand-to-hand combat; as well as author of the Lawson Vampire Series and Rogue Angel adventures.
Q: Some of the B3 team grew up watching Sho Kasugi ninja movies, not the most accurate picture of the ninja. So, let’s clear this topic up – define ninjitsu and what does ninjitsu mean to you?
A: Ninjutsu is a comprehensive system of self-protection encompassing pretty much every aspect of combat and strategy that developed over the course of a thousand years of history across several nations and cultures. As such, it a relatively unique martial arts system in its approach to real world problems. Ninjutsu, to me, is the path I have chosen to walk to make my life and the lives of my loved ones better, more prosperous and peaceful. That sounds really New Agey, though, so the simple answer is I happen to love the challenging training and the fact that it makes my life a very cool place to be.
Q: What kind of research went into The Kensei?
A: About twenty years of Ninjutsu training! When I wrote The Kensei, it was before, during, and after my trip to Japan in February 2003 when I took the 5th degree black belt test administered only (at the time, now others administer it) by the Grandmaster himself. My experiences with this art, and the many challenges it offers the practitioner, are all contained within the pages of The Kensei. That’s what makes this book so special to me, as the author – there’s a ton of my world in it.
Q: Reading your action scenes, particularly close quarters, have unusual authenticity. Talk about how you create these scenes and how your background aids in writing them.
A: As a result of my background in the military, and in private sector security, and of course, real life, I’ve been in a lot of hostile situations. I know what it’s like to suddenly confront a knife-wielding attacker who doesn’t show you the blade a la Hollywood, but keeps it by his side until he makes his move. I’ve felt the rush of adrenaline and the dump afterwards when you make it through a terrible encounter. I’ve had to battle back tunnel vision during a fight. All of those things go into the creation of a fight scene. In some ways, the physical techniques are almost secondary. Almost. There’s a lot of stuff that happens during a violent encounter. Having a background where I’ve (fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be) been involved in stuff like that, I can draw on my experiences to help flesh out the scenes in the book – to make them vividly realistic for the reader without slowing the pace down. And since I’ve been studying fighting for more than half of my life, I can describe the physical side of things pretty well at this point. And if I need to, I can go into the dojo I study at and ask my training partners to work through some stuff with me. They’re great about helping out!
Q: Outside of your work, what is your take on the current vampire genre? Is the genre in good shape and where do you see it going in the coming years?
A: At the risk of offending the Twilight fans, I’m tired of the same old woe-is-me-I’m-immortal BS. I hope the vampire genre goes two ways: 1 – more hardboiled, like my stuff and 2 – scary as hell. Enough with the angst. Enough with the sparkles. Vampires terrified me as a child. My first nightmare I can ever recall having was of the Count from Sesame Street. That’s how ingrained vampires were in my consciousness. But there are plenty of ways to explore the genre without copying what’s already been done. I hope more authors do that.
Q: Describe the writing community in metro-Boston and how (if at all) it influences your work?
A: You know, I honestly don’t know a whole lot of them. I’ve had the good fortune to meet Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane and Chris Mooney and think the world of them. I used to interact with more writers at the annual Christmas party at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, but tragically that store is no more. There are tons of aspiring writers coming up and like everything else New England – there’s a helluva lot of talent around here. But I don’t necessarily think I’m influenced by the community around here at all. And I don’t network all that much, preferring to reach new readers instead.