Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nogiku Series Blog Tour + Giveaway

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removed Removed 
(Nogiku #1)
SJ Pajonas
Genre: NA, Sci-f, Post-apocalyptic
Published: September 11, 2013
 Duty knows no family. Love has no price. Secrets can cost you everything. Twenty-year-old Sanaa Griffin, a sweet and smart half-Japanese girl, is about to get more than she bargained for when she wishes for love and excitement on New Year’s Eve 3103. Mark Sakai, who knows more about her than any stranger should, thinks Sanaa is the perfect person to spy on the heads of the three biggest Japanese clan leaders in Nishikyō. He wants her to gather enough evidence to keep them from going to war when they land on Earth’s colonization planet, Yūsei. Nishikyō, built by the Japanese 300 years ago to house the rest of mankind, is failing and everyone is preparing to leave. Sakai has known Sanaa’s family all her life but she knows nothing of him! And despite all the time they spend together, he keeps his distance from her. Then one day, he brings her to Jiro, his nephew, to learn sword fighting, and it changes her life irrevocably. Between falling in love with Jiro and the information she is gathering on the clans, Sanaa realizes Sakai is holding back secrets about her family and her deceased parents, secrets as to why she was chosen for this job, and learning the truth puts her and all of Nishikyō in danger.

released Released
(Nogiku #2)
SJ Pajonas
Genre: NA, Sci-f, Post-apocalyptic
December 17, 2013
**Contains spoilers for those who have not read REMOVED (Book 1) Left in the desert to recuperate from her injuries, Sanaa Itami paces the floors and contemplates her mistakes. She trusted too easily, and now people she loved are dead, killed at the hands of men coming to assassinate her. Sanaa feels beaten, but life awaits her at home. While Nishikyō recovers from the earthquake, negotiations for Sanaa’s eventual rule on Yūsei continue. New allies must be made, new friendships brokered, new skills acquired — at all costs. Life at the top of the chain is complicated and lonely, though. With relations in Sakai clan rocky and uncertain, Sanaa must learn to trust others again more than she’s willing. Who amongst the clans is left holding a grudge? And will the new family Sanaa has found with Jiro support or betray her? From Nishikyō to Yūsei, RELEASED, Book TWO of the Nogiku Series, is the second book in a captivating New Adult post-apocalyptic romance series that harnesses the cultures and traditions of Japan and sweeps them into the future between Earth and a faraway land.

Researching Japan for the Nogiku Series

Take a look at this photo. This is me in Japan in the Fall of 2005, and from what you can see here, I definitely don’t look Japanese. In fact, I am not. Not even the slightest. I have a deep and abiding respect and admiration for the Japanese culture. I have studied Japan (and the Japanese language too, on and off) for the past fifteen years, and I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable on their culture. But I am not Japanese. I never will be.

So what makes a white woman like me think that I can write Japanese characters? Research, and lots of it.

Now, let’s think for a moment on writing anything. Very few authors can sit down and write any story without doing some sort of research. We can rarely rely solely on personal life experience. So, even though I’m writing outside of my race and culture, I would expect to have to do research about anything that I write. It just so happens that I’m writing a very intricate story using a lot of Japanese culture. I sometimes wonder, “What was I thinking when I decided to write this story?” And then I laugh. Because I did have one particular goal in mind when I started writing the Nogiku Series, and it was to educate people on Japanese culture. If you read my books and learn something about Japan, be it a few phrase words or different foods or clothing, that’s good enough for me. It means I succeeded in my goal and taught you something along the way.

Setting Goals

Each time I sit down to write a new book in the series, I make a clear set of goals for that book. There are my plot arc goals, individual character goals, and then the Japanese culture goals. Let’s put aside plot and character goals since most authors deal with those in every manuscript.

When I write a new book in the Nogiku Series, I try to do one or more of the following: introduce new Japanese vocabulary, highlight a period of Japanese history, tell a Japanese folktale, educate on a Japanese tradition, or celebrate a Japanese holiday. In most books, I hit all of these goals. For example, in REMOVED, I managed to: introduce a lot of Japanese vocabulary (some reviews are mixed on whether I included too much or too little), highlight Japanese New Year’s traditions, talk about geisha and their occupations, and show off a taiko drumming concert. REMOVED contains even more than this, of course, but these are the higher touchpoints of the manuscript.

Researching Each Goal

Once I have my Japanese goals set for each book, I research each one thoroughly before beginning my first draft. I use a multitude of mediums for research. First, there are all of the books on Japan I own (a sampling of which are featured above). Each one of them contains references on what I may be looking for, but at best, I may only get a brief sentence or two on the topic.

Once I have an idea of what I’m looking for, my next step is the internet. I find a lot of what I need on Wikipedia and the beauty of Wikipedia is the cross-article linking. Sometimes I know what I want to talk about, like the holiday Tanabata which I feature in RELEASED, but going to the Tanabata article on Wikipedia also brought me to the articles on the two stars, Altair and Vega, that the Tanabata folktale is based on. That led me to new thoughts about where I would take the story!

After Wikipedia, my next stop is usually YouTube. YouTube was where I watched people fight with Japanese weapons so I could get a better idea of the choreography used in fight scenes. YouTube helped me experience the sounds and space of a Japanese temple, and it also helped me understand the basic differences in language between different parts of Japan, the dialects.

But the best research I did on Japan happened seven years before I even wrote the books. My husband and I traveled to Japan in 2005, and it was the single best vacation of my life. I did not want to leave and come home. I felt very welcome and happy there. I took a million photos, we went on day trips, and I soaked in as much of Japan as I could. My husband has since been to Japan in the intervening years and brought back all that he could remember too. I keep all of those experiences locked away and bring them out when I need them for the books. 

Writing outside your culture

Let’s talk a little about stereotypes. Lots of people denounce stereotypes, right? Because a stereotype can be degrading, racist, and often wrong. But there’s a reason why stereotypes exist! A lot of people fit stereotypes on a superficial level, and they can be a good jumping off point for writing because the best part about stereotypes is bunking them. Throwing them out the window. Shredding them to pieces.

There are a few Japanese stereotypes that many are familiar with: Japanese people are polite to a fault, Japanese people don’t like other people invading their personal space, Japanese people are perfectionists, Japanese people eat sushi all day everyday, Japanese people are into anime and manga. Guess what? Most of these are false especially when describing ALL Japanese people. It does happen to describe many Japanese people. I’m sure there’s a few who eat sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or maybe there are super polite Japanese people who are never mean to anyone. But Japanese people are just as varied as Americans or any other people on the planet.

What I enjoyed doing in the Nogiku Series was introducing a few characters as stereotypical of Japanese behavior and then showing how they most certainly are not. Take Mark Sakai for example. Mark is introduced as being this hard-as-nails, unemotional, mentor figure, but by the end of the book, we see his loving and caring side, the side that cares for Sanaa, his family, and his duties. And he’s far from perfect too. He’s made a lot of mistakes and has a lot of regrets. He is a whole person, not a stereotype. Knowing the Japanese stereotypes first, researching them and understanding where they came from, helped me write better Japanese characters that both fit and debunked those same stereotypes.

I can’t stress how important research is on any project but when writing outside of your culture, it’s paramount. I hear from a lot of authors about how they’re afraid to write outside of their culture, that they’ll “get it wrong.” I always tell them that if you do your research about the culture first, you won’t get it wrong! It’s easy to get simple things wrong like kimonos must be closed left over right side or not knowing the holidays because you didn’t research first. Everything after that is just your characters inhabiting the space you’ve provided for them. You build a whole person and then peel off the layers one by one until we, the reader, see their core.

If you’re interested in Japan, too, I highly recommend spending some time on Tofugu is a wealth of fun and interesting information about Japan and I have enjoyed reading dozens of their articles. Perhaps they will inspire you as well!

sj pajonasS. J. Pajonas loves all things Asian and has been in love with Japan for as long as she can remember. Writing about Asia and Japan came naturally after studying the culture and language for over fifteen years. She studied film and screenwriting first and eventually segued into fiction once she was no longer working a full-time job.

Released is S. J. Pajonas’s second work, book two of four in the Nogiku Series. The first book in the series, Removed, is described as “a wonderful story” with “engaging characters, seamless world building, and an action packed plot.” It’s an “up-til-3am-because-I-read-it-in-one-sitting book.” She also writes contemporary romance and her upcoming first book in the Love in the Digital Age series will be published in 2014.

S. J. lives with her husband and two children just outside of New York City. She loves reading, writing, film, J- and K-dramas, knitting, and astrology. Her favorite author is Haruki Murakami and favorite book is The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

20 January

Chanel Cleeton


AimeeKay’s Reviews & Other Randomness
Review Removed and Released, excerpt and guest post: Inspiration for the Nogiku series

Heidi Ruby Miller

21 January

A Little Bit of R&R
Guest post: Constructing Your Own Kaiseki Meal

Pippa Jay – Adventures in Scifi

Biblio Belles
Review Released and excerpt

22 January

Alessa Hinlo

Guest post: Visiting a Japanese temple

Word to Dreams
Excerpt Removed and interview

Diana Peterfreund

Tracing The Stars
Review Released and excerpt

23 January

Word to Dreams
Excerpt Released

Kimberly Sabatini’s Blog
Review Released

24 January

YA Story Teller
Excerpt and guest post: Dream Cast for Nogiku series

T.K. Toppin
Guest post: History of Gambling Games

25 January

Rainy of the Dark
Excerpt and guest post: Tea House Names and Ceremonies

Juliana Haygert
Interview and excerpt

26 January


Through the Looking glass
Review Removed and Released and excerpt

27 January

Sporadic Reads
Review Removed

So, You’re a Writer
Guest post: The Hero’s Journey and The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship

28 January

Tara Swiger

29 January

Observation Desk
Guest post: Japanese wedding traditions

Upon The Wings of Greater Things

Excerpt and Tens list: Favorite Japanese Things

30 January

Off the page
Excerpt and tens list: Top ten Japanese movies

Down Under Wonderings

31 January

Nerd Alert Book Love
Review Removed and Released, excerpt and tens list: top ten Japanese Romantic Manga

Review Removed

Books With Bree


1 February

Lola’s Reviews
Review Removed and Released and tens list: 10 things to put in a bento

Author Megan Erickson

Excerpt and guest post: Izakaya food

2 February

Just Write . . .
Guest post: What is Sake?

Delirious Musings
Review Removed and Released

Addicted Readers
Guest Post: How much researcher and work goes into writing a Japanese Cultured book?y top

Event Organized By:
lola's Reviews


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me on the tour today! I really enjoyed talking about my research methods for this series. It's a lot of work but a lot of fun as well.


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