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ARCHIVED STORY SPRING 2015
Connecticut author John Donohue
By Brian Woodman Jr.
YMMA, a company specializing in books and DVDs on martial arts, will soon be releasing the new book by Connecticut author John Donohue. The book, “Enzan: The Far Mountain,” is the fifth is a series of novels about college instructor-turned amateur sleuth and adventurer Connor Burke that include Sensei, Deshi, Tengu and Kage. Donohue, who currently works for the firm Synergis Education as an educational consultant for colleges and universities, is himself immersed in the traditional Japanese martial arts as he discussed with us during a previous interview now in our archives.
During his latest adventure, Burke attempts to find the wayward daughter of an influential Japanese family and runs afoul of North Korean spies. He also uncovers secrets regarding the past of his beloved martial arts instructor Yamashita that include tutelage under the mad instructor Takano. Story elements include a fictionalized branch of the Kunaicho, which is an organization that serves Japan’s Imperial Household.
Q: Where did you find the inspiration for Burke's latest adventure?
A: It was the result of a few things. One was a meditation on aging and losing someone you care about--my wife and I both lost our mothers within the last year. I then tried to connect it to what that must be like for someone like Yamashita and Burke to have age creep up and begin to take its inevitable toll. I also wanted to explore a bit of Yamashita's backstory. He's so mysterious. What would force a master of his reputation and quality to leave Japan and set up an obscure dojo in Brooklyn? And what narrative trick could I use to reveal this past? I ended up using the ghost of Mori, who was killed in Tengu, and a journal he wrote that has now come back to haunt Yamashita
Q: The character Takano adds a new element to the series. Is he based on anyone in particular?
A: I added a bit of fictionalized detail inspired by Morihei Ueshiba's life and his apprenticeship with Takeda Sogaku, the Daito Ryu master. Takano is a combination of them both and anyone familiar with Uesahiba's biography will recognize the parallels between Takano's wartime experience and those of Ueshiba. Takeda appears to have been a bit of a madman--so Takano is in large part a reflection of these negative aspects.
Takano, of course, is a lunatic. Ueshiba was merely eccentric, although also a gifted martial artist
Q: Will there be further books in the series? It seems that there are a lot of potential thriller ideas in the news these days.
A: I believe that there will be further books in the series. I'm toying with some ideas now and as you note, there is no shortage of inspiration available in the news today. The trick is how to connect the "hook" of a thriller plot to issues related to the main characters in the series. But I've invested so much in developing the characters that it would be hard to never write about them again.
Q: Your website mentions other ideas for novels. Will any of these form the basis for another series?
A: I've completed two novels that it seems to me could serve as the basis for a new series, but to date have been unable to interest a publisher.
One, Wave Man, has a main character who is an ex Army Ranger turned leg-breaker for the mob who now wants out of the business and is also studying Daito-ryu. He gets involved in a murder investigation out on the North Fork of Long Island.
The other book, The Qi Eaters, is sort of an occult thriller that investigates Chinese tales of jiangshi--their version of vampires--and speculates that these creatures are actually people who are draining others of their qi. A young Chinese American woman who exhibited unusual qi as a child partners up with a dojo rat who does judo and with the help of a retired Chinese history professor they solve the mystery of the jiangshi.
Q: A recurring gag in the Burke series is the succession of "young guns" who come into Yamashita's dojo to confront him and test their skills. Does this happen often in any of the dojos you have trained in?
A: I've seen it happen very rarely. I once broke my hand because my sensei wanted a visiting student to stop being so aggressive with the junior belts and I was the guy sent to deliver the message. A block, a foot sweep and pop to the head and presto; problem solved. He never returned.
Usually people have enough sense (or enough humility) not to do this sort of thing. It's inspired by the stories of dojo arashi (dojo storming) in Japan where swordsmen would travel from dojo to dojo asking for "lessons" and looking to make a name for themselves. Fortunately things have quieted down a bit since the 1500's
Q: Has anyone expressed interest in adapting the books into films?
A: Sensei was optioned for a film but nothing ever came of it. There are fairly periodic expressions of interest from various film-makers but to date nothing has resulted in anything concrete. I continue to hope since I think the books would make good movies.
Q: Do you have any advice for prospective authors trying to integrate martial arts into fiction?
A: The best advice I can give is that the martial arts angle can be part of, but not the whole, reason for the story. It's interesting to those of us involved in the arts, but you want to pitch your work for a broader readership. So you can't get too technical or too detailed, you have to describe action in a way that non-martial artists can understand and in a way that doesn't get in the way with the story.
YMAA Publication Center, Inc. PO Box 480, Wolfeboro, NH 03894
David Ripianzi, publisher of YMAA Publication Center, presents John Donohue, author of Enzan: The Far Mountain, a Connor Burke Martial Arts Thriller, with a certificate and trophy from Benjamin Franklin Awards.
For Immediate Release:
Enzan: The Far Mountain Receives GOLD recognition from Benjamin Franklin Awards
Local resident, John Donohue, author of Enzan: The Far Mountain, A Connor Burke Martial Arts Thriller, published by YMAA Publication Center, received Gold recognition in the Mystery/Suspense category from IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. There are 55 categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design. The Benjamin Franklin Awards is regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent publishers.
Terry Nathan, COO, of Independent Book Publishers Association and David Ripianzi, publisher, YMAA Publication Center, recently presented Donohue with the award at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) booth space during Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
“I'm honored to have my novel Enzan receive a gold medal from the Benjamin Franklin IBPA award,” said Donohue. “It's fantastic recognition for the fifth book in a series that has been a real labor of love. I'm grateful for the recognition as well as for the great support I've received from the team at YMAA, who continue to see the potential in my work and provide the editorial, marketing and public relations support that frees me up to keep writing.”
The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) administers the awards with help from over 150 book publishing professionals including librarians, bookstore owners, reviewers, designers, and publicity managers.
YMAA Publication Center, celebrated its 30th anniversary year in the publishing business. It is a resource for in-depth content about martial arts, health, self-defense, and martial arts fiction.
The book’s plot is about Chie Miyazaki, a wild and spoiled, pampered “child” of a cadet line of the Imperial House of Japan. When she disappears in the United States accompanied by a slick Korean boyfriend, it sets off alarms among the elite officials in Japan’s security apparatus. Connor Burke initiates a covert search and rescue operation that turns into a confrontation with a North Korean sleeper cell.
About the author: John Donohue is the author of the award-winning Connor Burke martial art thrillers, Sensei, Deshi, Tengu and Kage. He is an anthropologist and a nationally recognized expert on martial arts culture and has been a higher education professional for more than 25 years. John Donohue, a black belt in karate and kendo, resides near New Haven, Conn.
Editor's Note: We thank Barbara Langley at the YMAA Publication Center for sending us the press release about Donohue's award and allowing us to use it on this site. We have published two interviews with John Donohue, including the one below. Our archived story is "Connecticut Author John Donohue on Martial Arts."