Wednesday, February 26, 2020

In the Spotlight: Charles Kowalski ~ Author of "Simon Grey and the Yamamba"

Over the coming weeks, the IWSG Anthology blog will be featuring posts
from each of the authors in Voyager: The Third Ghost.
Our author today is Charles Kowalski.

Charles Kowalski on his short story "Simon Grey and the Yamamba"

Hansel and Gretel in feudal Japan ...

Simon Grey came into being because of my son, and my quest to create a literary character that could bridge the Japanese and Western sides of his heritage. At the time Simon was conceived, the “Yo-kai Watch” anime and game franchise was all the rage among Japanese children my son’s age, and had started to make inroads into the American market as well. A character began to take shape in my mind: an English boy, who signs up as a cabin boy on a long sea voyage in the hope of some relief from his “gift” (or curse) of seeing ghosts everywhere on land. When a shipwreck leaves him stranded alone in Japan, only with the help of the yokai can he find his way home.

Simon Grey
Edo Period, Japan

Yokai are mythical creatures, like goblins or fairies, that play a central role in Japanese folklore. In medieval times, they were seen mainly as fearsome ghosts or ogres. But by Simon Grey’s time, the Edo period (17th-19th centuries), when yokai stories featured prominently in the illustrated books mass-produced by woodblock printing, they had become a mixture of scary and silly, weird and whimsical, creepy and cute.

Charles with a Kappa, a Japanese Water Sprite

SIMON GREY AND THE YAMAMBA, an adventure that befalls Simon and his mysterious friend Oyuki on their journey to Hirado, features two famous yokai: the Yamamba or Yamauba ( and the fox ( Simon and Oyuki need the help of the one to escape from the other. If this episode stirs your interest in Simon and Oyuki’s adventures among the yokai, you can read the full story in SIMON GREY AND THE MARCH OF A HUNDRED GHOSTS.

Night Parade of a Hundred Demons 
Artist: Unknown. Date: Late Edo Period (1750/1837)
Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts


"Simon Grey and the Yamamba" by Charles Kowalski

As we neared the summit, I heard an ominous rumble of thunder, soon followed by the patter of raindrops on the leaves overhead. Before long, the rain came down in torrents. Within minutes, my robes were completely soaked, and the rocks underfoot grew so slippery that even Oyuki slowed her pace to a crawl. Lightning flashed in the distance, followed a few seconds later by another thunderclap.
Oyuki stopped and turned to me, probably to confer about what we should do, and I wondered the same thing myself. We were so close to the top that it would take us almost as long to go down this side as the far side. Whether we chose to turn back, go on, or stay put and seek shelter, we were equally easy targets for lightning. But her first question was, “Do you smell that?” I could smell nothing but wet earth, wet wood, and wet cloth. But soon after she asked, a different, unexpected scent reached my nostrils. “Wood smoke?” I said. She nodded. “Where there’s fire, there’s bound to be life. Come on!” We forged ahead, climbing our careful way over the slippery ground, until we reached what I dared to hope was the summit. To our right, a sheer cliff dropped to the river far below, and to our left, the possible source of the smoke: a small house made of wooden beams that time had pushed into odd angles. The windows were shuttered against the storm, but under the broad eaves hung a red paper lantern, swaying wildly in the wind but still lit with a flickering light. It was the most welcome sight I could imagine. As we stared in wonder, the door slid open. Behind it was an extremely old woman, her long, white hair unbound and unkempt, hastily adjusting her disheveled kimono. When she saw us, her eyes widened with understandable surprise. “What in the world are you doing up here?” she said in a voice that sounded cracked and rusty from long disuse. “Come in before you get struck by lightning!” We hurried through the door and stood on the packed-earth floor of the entryway, trying to wring as much water out of our clothes as possible. When we had gone from dripping to merely soaked, we stepped out of our sandals and up onto the tatami straw-mat floor of the living room. In the center, a fire burned in the open hearth, with an iron pot hanging over it. The smell of stewed vegetables filled the room, making my stomach growl. “Now, who might you be?” the old woman said. “And what are two children doing out here on their own?” “My name is Oyuki, and this is Simon,” Oyuki replied, deftly avoiding the second part of the question. “And you are?” “Around these parts, they call me Hotchopa.” “Do you get many guests up here?” Oyuki said. “I wouldn’t have imagined it was a very well-traveled road.” “Oh, you’d be surprised,” she said. “I’ve had many weary travelers come in for supper. Of course, I wasn’t expecting anyone on a night like this, but you came at the perfect time. I was just getting ready to give my old bones a soak in the bath, and then have some dinner. I hope you like nanban-ni.” “I don’t think I’ve ever tried it,” I said. “What is it?” “Ni means ‘stew’,” Oyuki explained, “and nanban means…well, no offense, but ‘southern barbarian.’ It’s vegetables stewed in their idea of European style, with fried onions and red peppers.” I had no energy to object. If Hotchopa wanted to serve us a hot meal, I was willing to forgive the name of the dish, for both the cultural snub and the shaky sense of direction. “Here’s the bath,” Hotchopa said, sliding aside a door to a smaller room. In the center stood a wooden tub, resting on a metal pan atop a stone firebox with embers glowing inside.

Charles Kowalski invites you to read the full story of Simon, Oyuki, and their adventures through haunted
Japan in Simon Grey and the March of
a Hundred Ghosts.
(Tokyo: Excalibur Books, 2019),
and keep an eye out for sequels.

Charles with a Chōchin-obake
or paper lantern ghost.

In addition to middle-grade fantasy, Charles' thrillers for adults, Mind Virus and The Devil’s Son,
have won prizes and nominations including the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Award, the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award, and the Adventure Writers Grandmaster Award. 

Charles lives with his wife and sons in Japan, which has been his home for over 20 years. He invites you to his website
Coming on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 . . .

Next up is Bish Denham who shares her backstory for "The Blind Ship." In this harrowing tale 12-year-old Jacques experiences the impact of a highly contagious eye disease on a slave ship's cargo and crew.

* * * * * * * * * *

Upcoming Blog Interviews and Virtual Tours:

1. May 4 - June McCrary Jacobs

2. May 6 - C. Lee McKenzie, Author

3. May 6 - Literary Rambles – Natalie Aguirre

4. May 11 - Juneta Key

* * * * * * * * * *

The release date for VOYAGERS: The Third Ghost 
is May 5, 2020,
but purchase links are available,
and you can preorder a copy now.

Print 9781939844729 $13.95
EBook 9781939844736 $4.99
Juvenile Fiction - Historical / Action & Adventure / Fantasy & Magic
Dancing Lemur Press/Freedom Fox Press

Amazon - Print

Barnes & Noble -

ITunes -

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Sherry Ellis said...

I love stories that incorporate mythology from other cultures! It seems like you did your homework on this one. Congratulations for being accepted into the anthology!

Fundy Blue said...

Congratulations, Charles! I'm looking forward to reading your story, "Simon Grey and the Yamamba." I'm sure I'll not be the only one thinking don't get into that wooden tub! ~ LOL. I've just finished reading Charles' book "Simon Grey and the March of a Hundred Ghosts." It was a wonderful read, full of adventure, Japanese mythology and culture, and written in a delightful style that will engage readers of all ages. Simon and Oyuki are young protagonists you won't forget. I can't wait to see how they extricate themselves from their current predicament in Charles' anthology story.!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I lived in Japan when I was a kid and definitely remember the Yokai.

Fundy Blue said...

You did, Alex? Cool!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The Japanese were very inventive when it came to creatures.

Fundy Blue said...

No kidding, Diane! I've been looking up info on the Yokai, and I've been impressed with Charles' research for his story. I'm learning so much from all the authors' posts! Have a good one!

Pat Hatt said...

So many great creatures they come up with indeed. Great reason to start the story too.

Bish Denham said...

I know so little about Japan and it's wonderful culture, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one!

Roland Clarke said...

This was a fascinating post, Charles. Japanese history and mythology has enticed me for decades. You mention the game, “Yo-kai Watch” which I confess not knowing about as a gamer. Weirdly I did play a kitsune in another game - where I met my wife. I've added your book to my TBR list and look forward to reading your short story and meeting your kitsune.

Katharina Gerlach said...

My nephew just spent a whole year in Japan and told me a lot about their beliefs and stories. I'm looking forward to reading this.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for visiting, Sherry! I agree; I think Charles did his homework too.

Fundy Blue said...

I thought so too, Pat! Surely those twin nephews of yours are inspiring a tale or two for you!

Fundy Blue said...

Ditto, Bish! Before I read some of Charles' writing, I had no idea about Japanese mythology. It's fascinating.

Fundy Blue said...

You met your wife playing in a game, Roland? That's wild, but such fun! I really enjoyed Charles' book, and I'm reading looking forward to learning the end of his short story.

Fundy Blue said...

Hi, Katharina! It's going to be fun to read all the stories. I'm certainly looking forward to yours!

Roland Clarke said...

We even got married in-game first - a chinese-style ceremony.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

I’m late to the party, but it looks like a great story, and I’m looking forward to reading it, along with all the others in this anthology!