Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I don't often use imagery in my own writing, but I believe that when done well, it can be a powerful technique. In my most recent release from Lyrical Press, Devil's Honor, the main character Shiro faces a difficult challenge: assassinate someone close to him, or be forced to take his own life in shame.

A recurring image I use to represent Shiro's struggle is the yin-yang, a Chinese symbol that concerns dualities, opposing natures, and balance. This is (I hope) a powerful image, because it relates to Shiro in many ways - the deadly decision he faces through orders from his employer, the nature of his own personality split between fighter and scholar, and the unresolved issues with his childhood friend Kirei, who's made a sudden and unexpected reappearance in his life.

Here is a rare-for-me descriptive scene from Devil's Honor that illustrates this concept.

In the daylight, the still and silent grounds surrounding the Harada mansion were alien to Shiro, like a forgotten dream. He had lived so long in the night world that the tranquil majesty of the place he called home escaped him.

Here in the gardens, the only sounds were the trill of water over rocks rushing into the nearby pond of brightly colored koi and the occasional sweet notes of sparrows and starlings from the surrounding foliage. The air was heavy with the perfume of summer greenery in full bloom; kissed with the salt tang of the surrounding ocean. To his left, shafts of sunlight filtered through the trees, casting lacy filigrees of shadow on the patterned sand of Aiko Harada’s Zen rock garden. A wrought-iron bench rested alongside its border, offering shade and solace to those who sought it.

Yet solace eluded Shiro. Even here, amid absolute serenity.

He was due to be at the west dojo soon, to meet Serizawa and Piper for his first day of “training” in security. He was not looking forward to the reminder of all that had been taken away from him. Distracted, he wandered the winding stone path and failed to notice the figure in black watching him.

He approached the pond and stopped, absently tracking the foot-long shining bodies of gold and orange, white and black, as they darted gracefully just beneath the surface of the water. The koi seemed to sense his presence there. They swam as one to the edge of the pond, wriggling over and under one another in a frenetic cluster of flashing scales. Hoping for food pellets, no doubt.

Shiro envied them their uncomplicated existence. If he was ordered to commit seppuku, he wished to be reincarnated as an ornamental fish.

The thought evoked a rueful smile. He dropped to his haunches and stretched a hand out toward the churning surface of the pond, mesmerized by the mass of motion the fish created.

“Careful. They bite when they are hungry.”

Shiro rose and turned in one motion toward the voice that sounded behind him, ready to rail at whomever had intruded on his solitude—and attack if it should prove to be an enemy. But across the path was a woman in black silk, standing at ease with a mischievous smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Kirei.” The tension left him, and he let his arms fall to his sides. “What are you doing here?”

“Such a pleasant greeting for the girl who saved your life.” She moved toward him, and she seemed to float rather than walk, as nothing stirred on the ground beneath her feet. Putting a hand on his arm, she said, “My blood travels through your veins now, akuma. Remember that.”

“Do not call me that,” he said, harsher than he meant. The look of dismay she sent made him hasten to add, “Please. I cannot...please. Today, I am Shiro.”

The impish smile returned. “And tomorrow?”

His features darkened in exasperation. “Oh, Kirei,” he sighed. “I thought you had grown up.”

“Me? Never.” She looked past him and down at the koi, who were still pulsating madly in unison at the water’s edge. “That one is my favorite...see? The white and black one. There is a shape just above his left fin, the symbol of yin and yang. He is lucky.”

Shiro snorted and refused to turn around.

“Still so serious.” Kirei shook her head in mock pity. “Have you not learned to lighten up, even in America?”

“There is nothing light about this country, Kirei.”

She didn’t respond. Instead, she sighed and tugged at his arm. “Come on,” she said, starting down the path that led back to the mansion.

Shiro followed without thinking.


Marta Stephens said...

This is a lovely passage. I especially like, "The air was heavy with the perfume of summer greenery in full bloom; kissed with the salt tang of the surrounding ocean."

In crime fiction I have to watch how much imagery I use too, but when I do, I love writing it.

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Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Oh, I LOVED this book! I remember reading a very early version of it at a cabin on Keuka Lake - while the waves lapped the shore nearby. It was mesmerizing. I love Shiro, too, and your imagery is breathtaking! When will this be out, S.W.?