She Who Writes Monsters: Interview with Kyoko M.
I stumbled across Kyoko M.’s work late last summer, and spent the remainder of it reading The Black Parade Series. She writes stories with complex, quirky characters in often mysterious, brooding settings. I was pleased to get a chance to speak with her about her latest work, her plans for the future, and what drives her to create novels that both chill and inspire.
For the uninitiated, tell our readers about yourself.
I’m a nerd, plain and simple. I grew up with a massive love for literature, TV shows, anime/manga, comic books/graphic novels, and speculative fiction genre movies. I’ve steadily gotten nerdier as I got older and embraced my quirky habits and have managed to cobble together a tiny handful of fans as well as some truly wonderful friends. I’m from Atlanta, GA and so you might hear me drop a y’all sometimes.
Do you remember when and how you came up with the main character for The Black Parade, Jordan Amador? And Michael?
Yes, actually. I think Jordan’s creation came about while I was doing research before actually starting to write The Black Parade. I remember getting really frustrated that so many of the female leads in the urban fantasy and paranormal/occult genres were identical to each other. Not that they weren’t good, but the trend is unmistakable and I got tired of reading the same kind of woman in nearly every story. It was also compounded by the inspiration for The Black Parade, which was the 2005 film ‘Constantine.’ (I know, I know, stop rolling your eyes.) Flaws and unfaithfulness to the Hellblazer series aside, I adored that movie, but I felt that some of its shortcomings could be solved simply by adding a new perspective onto the popular angels and demons mythology. Enter Jordan. Jordan is the girl that I think is out there that not enough authors write about: she’s cranky, she’s sarcastic, she’s wounded, she’s difficult, she’s vulnerable, she’s bad with men, but she has so much kindness, heart, and resilience that she naturally draws people to her.
While it’s cool to have female characters that we idolize, sometimes what we could use every once in a while is a woman who is just like us: human. As for Michael, his creation was sort of two things melded into one.
First, and I admit this shamelessly, Michael is basically a compilation of every guy I’ve ever seriously liked. He’s the Ace character. He’s handsome and funny and smart and powerful, but he’s got some issues to him as well, being the Commander of Heaven’s Army and (eventually) married to an incredibly stubborn woman. Michael started out as your typical dreamboat love interest, but I knew that he would need to evolve and change or he’d become boring by accident. He’s a hardass when he wants to be, but he’s always well-meaning. Second, during my research on other urban fantasy stories, I noticed a big trend in the ‘angels are a-holes’ trope and I wanted to write my own rebuttal. I think angels deserve more credit than to just be a bunch of selfish snobs. Sure, some of them may be, but they were put here to protect us, so I don’t see why this many authors like to write them as borderline racist. I wanted Michael to be both extraordinary and a bit relatable, hence why he’s so charming but he can switch to a cold, hard warrior in the blink of an eye.
There’s some references to Milton’s version of hell in the series. Why did you decide to explore this in your stories?
Hell has been covered by so many amazing authors that make me pale in comparison, but it mostly came about when I realized that poor Gabriel (spoiler alert) was going to die in The Holy Dark. The funny thing is that I didn’t realize it until I was writing the first confrontation between the bad guys and the good guys and I sort of had a Jim Butcher-esque “OH MY GOD WAIT A MINUTE HE’S ABOUT TO DIE?!” However, I’m actually one of those people who is typically against the cliche of killing off all the major characters in the end of a trilogy. I think it’s used too often as a cheap manipulation trick. So I said to myself, “Well, what if he still dies, but we can bring him back by putting Michael and Jordan through literal Hell to win his soul?” I actually argued with my writing sensei for hours about resurrecting Gabriel, and in the end, I still think it was the right way to go. Hell is fascinating to me and I really wanted to just throw in all kinds of weird thoughts I’ve had about the different ways it’s been depicted throughout time. It’s the ultimate test of the heroes’ might and endurance, after all. You literally can’t get any worse than Hell, and in order to win our sweet, loving angel back, we needed to force Michael and Jordan to go through the worst trials imaginable, and they come out of it realizing things about themselves that they couldn’t without such a journey.
Creatures figure prominently in your stories: hellhounds, demons,Dragons. Is there a particular reason why?
Oh, of course! That’s why my website is called She Who Writes Monsters. I love monsters. I’ve always loved monsters. I love the obvious ones like Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy, but I also love the idea that even these strange, scary beings are nothing compared to what a plain old human being can become if given the worst kind of encouragement. Real life shows us that sadly there isn’t a lot of obvious magic in the world, but in fiction, we can get excited about the things we don’t understand and we can use those monsters to learn things about ourselves.
Speaking of dragons, tell us about the first book in your new series.
Of Cinder and Bone is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. I actually first conceived it a few years ago after re-watching that awful movie 2002 Reign of Fire, and I thought about how I enjoyed it for being so stupid and over the top, but I thought the idea was totally original, and it made me appreciate it more. There are very few stories about dragons that are set in modern day, and I mean actual dragons, not dragon-shapeshifters, as that has an entire genre to it. Dragons as real animals, reptilian or otherwise, intrigued me, and I like how Reign of Fire even added a little real science to the dragons, having their fire-breathing come from two chemical glands in their mouths rather than the magical way dragons breathe fire in high fantasy stories.
For those who don’t know, Of Cinder and Bone has the basic premise that Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali are both MIT scientists who live in a world where hundreds of species of dragons used to exist, but they were hunted to extinction in the 15th century. Jack and Kamala figure out a way to successfully clone a dragon, with the intention of studying it and creating more dragons in an effort to understand them and to eventually repopulate other extinct species.
The only problem is someone steals the dragon literally days after it’s born and Jack and Kamala are deadset on stealing it back. I wanted to explore dragons from the perspective of hard science fiction, and the funny thing is that while that’s where the story began, it completely blindsided me with the crazy chase through Tokyo to steal the dragon back from the yakuza. Originally, it was about Jack and Kamala creating a dragon, someone takes it and clones hundreds more, then the dragons conquer the earth and everyone lives in a post apocalypse. I also had planned to kill Kamala off and turn Jack from a geeky little nerd into a hardened badass dragon hunter, but as I started the book, I knew that wasn’t the right way to go. Kamala deserved better, and so did Jack, and everyone’s heard of the badass widower dragonhunter before anyway.
Of Cinder and Bone is all about discovery and finding out what you’re made of when you’re faced with a decision. The choice to chase after the dragon is really the central issue, because they could have let it go and just try to clone another one, but that’s the real beauty of the human spirit. If we truly love someone or something, then we don’t care if it’s illogical–we’re damn well going to save them or die trying.
One of the things I enjoy about your novels is that you give your secondary characters solid backstories and reasoning for everything they do and feel. No one is just a stock character moving the story along. Do you have a favorite out of the secondary casts of your books?
Yes, if my previous answer isn’t already an indicator. I love Gabriel. I did not expect to love Gabriel as much as I do. At first, he was just the gentle giant character, but as I wrote She Who Fights Monsters, I started to really love him, and that came to a head in The Holy Dark. I’ve always longed for that kind of person in my life, and Gabriel gave me a lot of closure in terms of being that quiet, sweet support system who always knows just what to say. Trust me, I was just as devastated as the readers considering what happens in The Holy Dark. He truly has grown on me and I’m glad I was able to give him a worthy character arc over the years.
Are there any themes you haven’t had a chance to write about, but would like to tackle soon?
Yes. Of Cinder and Bone is the vehicle for me to discuss some subject matter that the Black Parade series doesn’t really have the ability to explore. One of the inspirations for the novel is of course Jurassic Park. I love the film adaptation simply because it’s this amazing action-horror-adventure, and yet it brings up some brilliant discourse about Man vs. Nature vs. God. I adore the idea of knowing what we should and should not do with available technology. Where do we draw the line? When is it okay to play God, or is it never okay?
On a more minor note, this series will also tap into the question of if every person has just one perfect person for them, or is it possible to love more than one person equally? I’ve already set up a bit of a love…square? Is it still a triangle? Who knows? And I fully intend to explore polyamory, because I think not enough people understand that maybe you can split your heart into pieces and still be a sane, rational, loving person.
Tell us about your upcoming release in August!
Back to Black is the fifth installment in the Black Parade series, taking place just after She Who Fights Monsters but before The Holy Dark. A lot of new readers asked me about how Jordan met Myra Bennett in The Holy Dark, so I decided to fill in the gap of their first encounter. We pick up the story right when Jordan is captured by Bridgett Lamont, the daughter of the Detroit loan shark that Jordan and Gabriel sent to jail after he tried to con Jordan’s estranged father Lewis. Jordan’s about to be killed, but Myra intervenes and reveals herself to be a Seer as well, and she asks Jordan to help her get rid of the demon’s nest in her hometown. Myra had been threatened by the demon in charge and wants them all dead.
The kicker is that she wants Jordan to infiltrate the nest and find out where they’re most vulnerable, and anyone who has read my books knows that’s a tall order for Jordan. She’s already pretty broken from separating with Michael, and it doesn’t help that she’s now plagued with nightmares of Belial coming to ask for her soul. Honestly, it’s probably the darkest story in the series so far, mostly because Jordan is on her own and has to get by with her wits and knowledge of how demons work rather than getting help from the angels.
When you’re ready to work on your stories, is there anything you need (as in music, snacks, a favorite spot to sit in, etc.)?
I like to be sitting in bed all bundled up with my comforter and my tiny floof of a cat Selina. I usually write in the daytime, since I relate nighttime with recreational activities, and I write in silence since music always makes me want to sing and singing distracts me from writing. I’ll only play music right beforehand to get into a writing mood. I even make playlists for certain characters and books.
If the mentions in your books are any clue, you love movies, games and pop culture. Did any of these become inspiration in your work?
Absolutely. Of Cinder and Bone is still new to the digital bookshelves, so no one’s noticed just yet, but I sheepishly admit that Harry Dresden was a big influence for Jack. I tried to make sure not to put too many Dresden-isms in there, but I can’t help that he does have a striking resemblance to him personality-wise. I swear it wasn’t intentional, rather subconscious instead since I have the most mad crush on Mr. Dresden.
When you get a chance to read, what kind of books do you pick up? Is there anything you enjoyed reading in the last year or so which stuck with you?
I am an enormous fan of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, as mentioned above, and of the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. Those two series are my bread and butter. I also poke through some free urban fantasy titles to see if any stick with me every once in a while. Honestly, kids, don’t be like me. I struggle to read 10 books a year, and that’s pathetic. I need to get better.
I’ve devoured all of your books so far, and I’m curious. Is the plan to focus on series, or do you think there may be some stand-alone novels in the future?
I have an actual Word document that is nothing but story ideas. Trust me, I’ve got at least three ideas that are going to be published sometime in the next 2-5 years. It just depends on how things work out with my writing schedule. For example, I think the OCAB series will have a minimum of three books, but I hope to turn it into a series if it’s got the fuel. I have a high fantasy YA novel that I had to shelve due to developmental problems, but that is definitely going to get published someday, although it’s probably just a standalone title. I also have some short story and novella ideas that I want to write, but for now, we’re going to focus on getting the OCAB trilogy going.
Is there anything you’d like your readers to know about you that they probably don’t?
I suffer from depression and anxiety, which you’d only know if you follow me via Twitter/Tumblr. I only mention it because I want people to know that you’re not alone. Sometimes your brain tells you that no one else goes through these awful feelings, but your brain is wrong. Lots of people do and I hope that anyone who suffers from these types of ailments is encouraged to seek help and find a way to cope with them. My writing is very therapeutic. I use it as a way to calm my anxiety or to subdue the crippling doubts I have about myself, and so I just want those people to know that it’s possible to live with it and to find a healthy outlet for your problems. Stay mentally healthy, my friends.
Keep up with with Kyoko M. on Amazon:
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©2017 Lori Titus