The Three Truths

January 2, 2019 Short Stories, Writing

Paradox Magazine 2005

The Three Truths was not a story I wanted to write. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the idea of a historical samurai detective story was great, but as I knew absolutely bugger all about Japan in general and even less about the samurai class in particular, the amount of research required to do what would be a short stand-alone story was too daunting for me to consider seriously. I let the concept roll around in my mind for a few months, examined it from a few different angles, then told myself, “Fun idea. Completely implausible,” and left it at that.

Maybe a year after conceiving the idea, I was engaged in a favorite hobby of mine: digging through the bargain bookracks outside my local bookstore. There always seemed to be a gem or two to be found sandwiched between the thumbed through self-help books and the visual guides to T.V. shows that got canceled after one season. And today was no exception. The Book of the Five Rings was written in 1643 by a samurai called Miyamoto Musashi. He was an undefeated duelist, a master of the sword, and a renowned teacher of martial arts and military science. And here on the bargain rack was his master work outlining his views on combat, life, and the way of the warrior. All that for a mere seven dollars. How could I resist? I didn’t, of course. And a funny thing happened while I was reading it. The voice of Master Shichiro sprang into my head. And he spoke the first line of The Three Truths…

“It is not the way.”

“Crap,” I said aloud.

Having an idea for a story and not writing it is one thing. But once the voice of a story is in your head, you’re screwed. You have to write it. You can’t not write it. Cursing my lack of knowledge, I began searching for more books on samurai.

After a month or two of reading and the priceless help of many knowledgeable people—including amazing author and kenpo master, Walter Jon Williams, and equally amazing friend and near-samurai himself, Sean Mellum (any mistakes in the text are entirely my own, of course)—I felt ready to begin.

I hit my first snag after only a few paragraphs. My conceit was that the samurai was writing down this story before committing, ritual suicide. But from what I now knew about samurai, there was no way one would write down the story I had envisioned. He would have no concern for his own life or name, only for his master’s. I was in a quandary; If I made my main character believable, made him a true samurai—which was central to the plot—then the story would never be told. Fascinating stuff, but not real useful to me as a writer.

I wasn’t ready to give up, however. I had a few tricks up my sleeve, and I pressed on, attempting to write myself out of the hole I had dug myself. After just a page or two, I realized it was hopeless and was ready to kiss off two months of research and a few days of fruitless typing.

But, as I have seen him do many times since, Ken’ichi arrived just in the nick of time.

On the first page of my first pass at The Three Truths, Master Shichiro, as he does in the final story, awakens to find a dead woman in his bed. I was just letting myself write, trying to work out on the page the viewpoint problem that was, I thought, going to kill my story. So, I thought, what does a samurai do when he awakens with a dead woman in his bed? I decided he would call for his servant.

Enter Ken’ichi. He was a throw-away character, someone to pass the time with while my main guy got dressed and out the door, ready to meet his fate. But the interplay between the two men stopped me cold. This was supposed to be a dark piece. A moody, depressing tale of a lone man who died alone, protecting those who didn’t care for him.

But Ken’ichi was…well, he was…funny! And definitely no samurai. And it hit me, this was the solution to my problem. He wasn’t a samurai. He would have no moral qualms about writing down what had happened. I threw out everything I had written so far, and started anew. But from Ken’ichi’s viewpoint.

And maybe, I thought, since Ken’ichi wasn’t bound by the same code that Master Shichiro’s enemies used against him, just maybe I could save his life.

Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for a sad ending.

Reviews:

An amusing and cynical story”

—Locus

“Stemple proves himself a natural storyteller by his use of compelling characters, rising tension, and pleasantly complex villains. A strong effort.”

—Internet Review of Science Fiction

 

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