Travis Belrose was inspired to write The Samurai Poet after repeated visits to Shisendo convinced him that there was far more to Ishikawa Jozan's life than tourist pamphlets and biographical sketches indicated. By using fictionalized biography to stretch the novel form, he has endeavoured to combine the best of history and fiction to tell Ishikawa's story. He currently resides in Canada where he is at work on his next novel.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Thunder Bay, a small city in Northern Ontario. Thunder Bay is carved out of the Canadian Shield and offers stunning views of the Sleeping Giant from a number of vantage points. This closeness to nature helped me learn the value of paying attention to small details in the natural world. The city is relatively isolated from larger population centres, which certainly has an impact on one's psyche growing up. It definitely influenced me to get out and explore the world and expand my horizons before writing.
When did you first start writing?
I still remember short stories I wrote when I was in Grade 2. In my high school yearbook I said one of my ambitions was to write a novel. A friend on the editorial staff changed it to "best seller." I complained to her at the time, but now I think I would like nothing more!
Ishikawa Jozan wanted nothing more than to be a samurai like his father and grandfather. When an act of overzealousness costs him his position, he tries to serve his lord as a Confucian scholar. Once Ishikawa becomes entangled in political intrigues beyond his control, he discovers that the life of a hermitic literati can be just as dangerous as that of a warrior.