Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Interview with Kyoko M. author of Of Claws and Inferno

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Kyoko M., whose new release Of Claws and Inferno we feature on April 22. 

When did you start to write and what drove you to become a writer? 

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but back then it was just journal entries and maybe little short stories I made up. In middle and high school, I wrote fanfiction—which is where I got my pen name, actually—and then I went to the University of Georgia. Originally, I was going to become a veterinarian, but after a really bad semester, I realized I didn’t want to complete that major and instead switched to journalism, then to English Literature. During that time, I went to a lecture given by Jackson Pearce: a UGA alumnus who was a published YA author. After her lecture, I got the idea to try out writing a book and started the draft for The Black Parade. I shopped it to agents for two years and got nowhere, so my father suggested self-publishing. I studied up on it for another year and then released The Black Parade in 2013. As far as my drive to write, it’s just something I’ve always done without thinking twice about it. I didn’t realize it was my passion until that lecture. I enjoy telling stories and that’s really why I’ve been driven to write ten books and counting so far.

The fifth novel in your science fiction/contemporary fantasy series Of Cinder and Bone, Of Claws and Inferno, will be out on April 22. What can you tell us about the book? 

It’s one of my favorite books that I’ve written so far! There is a lot going on in terms of character arcs and storyline. We pick up around a year after the last book, Of Fury and Fangs, and Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali now work full-time for the Knight Division capturing wild dragons and relocating them to safe regions. They’re raising their two-year-old daughter, Naila, along with their girlfriend, Faye Worthington, and now live in Phoenix, Arizona near the Knight Division HQ. They’re abruptly told that their superiors have organized a tournament called The Wild Hunt. It requires them to capture five of the deadliest dragons in the country before the opposing team or they lose their jobs at the Knight Division. Meanwhile, Faye is preparing for the sentencing of the two contract killers, Winston and Stella, that she helped the Cambridge Police department catch a year prior. Things quickly go sideways for Faye as well since Stella is intent on killing her regardless of whether she gets the death sentence or life in prison.

On your website you say: “If Liz Lemon and Chandler Bing had a baby and she was black, that’d be me.” Tell us more! 

For one, there is a line from Friends where Chandler says, “Hi, I’m Chandler! I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable!” That’s 100% me. I’m sarcastic and socially awkward to a fault. I’m also as much of a writer and a nerdy introvert as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. I find myself quoting her all the time.

Your website is called SheWhoWritesMonsters.com. Who - or what - are the monsters? 

In general, I find that monsters fascinate me in a way not dissimilar to director Guillermo del Toro, who is famous for writing about misunderstood monsters. Sometimes the monsters are archdemons, like in my urban fantasy series, and sometimes the monsters are dragons, like in my Of Cinder and Bone series, but most often, the monsters I write about are human beings. We are capable of great and terrible things, but lately, it seems like there is more terrible than good. I write about the good, bad, and the grey area no matter what the genre or the premise, because at the end of the day, I find monsters fascinating.

You are a contributor to Marvel Comics' Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda (2021) anthology. How did that come about and what was it like writing a tale set in the Marvel Universe? 

I was referred to the Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology by a fellow writer and colleague, Glenn Parris. He had already contributed a story and the anthology editor, Jesse J. Holland, was taking suggestions to fill out the rest of the roster. He sent me the information and I wrote a story called Ukubamba that focuses on Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje. Jesse loved it and decided to allow me to be included in the anthology. Writing for Marvel Comics is not only a dream come true, but it’s also something I am entirely accustomed to doing since I write Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfiction on the side for fun. It was easy to slip into the world to write about Okoye, who is my favorite Black Panther character, and though the anthology is based on the comics and not the movies, it was still thrilling to tell a story from Okoye’s perspective. I find her an intriguing, well-developed character in the comics and in the MCU.

Of Cinder and Bone is set in a world where dragons have been resurrected. The lead characters Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali travel to Tokyo to hunt dragons and fight yakuza gangsters. What can you tell us about them and the new dangers they face in Of Claws and Inferno? 

Jack and Kamala face the toughest, fastest, scariest dragons that have been resurrected to date when they and their Knight Division teammates are forced into the tournament by their superiors. They’ve been retrieving dragons for a couple of years now, but largely, the dragons have been difficult to safely capture, but not deadly. Three of the five dragons they are sent after in the tournament are lethal and have taken human lives before, so the danger is much higher than it ever has been before. In addition to that, Jack and Kamala have been locked in a deadly chess game with yakuza lieutenant Kazuma Okegawa. He declared war on them in book three, but it’s worse because while his endgame is to kill them, he wants to torture them first by sending all kinds of horrific dangers their way. Jack and Kamala struggle to survive the onslaught of horrid things and try to decide if they have to make the terrible choice to end his life in order to keep their family safe.

Of Cinder and Bone placed in the Top 100 Books in Hugh Howey's 2021 Self Published Science Fiction Contest. What does that mean to you as an author?

First off, I couldn’t even believe I made it through to the preliminaries, which was 300 science fiction books chosen out of God knows how many. Then it somehow moved to the next round and I was even more flabbergasted. I started from nothing. No one knows who I am and I have very few accolades to my name, so being recognized in a competition with other talented authors is such a rewarding experience after spending thousands of hours on my books. I work hard to make them as good as I can and so for Of Cinder and Bone to make it anywhere in this contest has been humbling for me.

Your debut series The Black Parade is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance about Jordan Amador, whose clairvoyant powers bring her into conflict with demons - and angels. Who is Jordan and how does she find herself plunged into the world of the paranormal? 

Jordan Amador is a Seer and a waitress from Albany, New York. Unfortunately, hers is a tragic story—she accidentally shot and killed a Seer aka someone who can see, hear, and interact with angels, demons, and ghosts. She is sentenced by God to help 100 souls crossover into the afterlife in two years or she’ll go to Hell. Just as she reaches the end of her deadline, she runs into her strangest case yet: a poltergeist named Michael. Michael’s ability to touch things and interact with his environment tip her off that something unusual is going on and so she investigates his untimely death and stumbles into the path of Belial: a vain, bloodthirsty archdemon with designs on her. Michael is the key to a larger conspiracy by Belial to seize power and tip the balance of the world in the favor of the fallen ones. 

With Claws and Inferno about to appear, are you working on your next book? 

I haven’t yet decided if this will be the last book in this series. However, as for next projects, I have signed with Falstaff books to write a science fiction space travel/post-apocalyptic trilogy. The first book is tentatively scheduled for release February 2023.

You mention that you “watch an inordinate amount of movies, TV, and anime”. Which series or films do you love and what are you watching at the moment? 

I’d say my go-to series are Feud: Bette and Joan, Justified, Castle, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Netflix’s Daredevil, Batman: the animated series, Justice League & Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, 30 Rock, Scrubs, Ouran High School Host Club, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Kaichou Wa Maid-Sama, Castlevania, Cowboy Bebop (the original anime, not that godawful live action remake), Rurouni Kenshin (the original anime as well, not the remake), G Gundam, and Yu Yu Hakusho. There are too many movies for me to ever start naming names, but largely I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a huge dork for those movies, to the extent that I’ve had photo ops with Chris Evans and Tom Hiddleston. I don’t really have any ongoing things that I watch aside from the MCU mini-series and The Mandalorian, though. I’m very picky about my TV shows and limited series since a lot of them have ended badly in the last decade (I’m looking at you, Castle and Justified). The closest I’d say that I’m looking forward to would be Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Ironheart, and Echo from the MCU mini-series lineup.

Your short story Comfort appears in the recently published Cyberfunk anthology edited by Milton Davis. The blurb calls Cyberfunk “a vision of the future with an Afrocentric flavor”. What does the word mean to you and what can you tell us about your story? 

The Cyberfunk anthology is a really neat anthology that has cyberpunk stories told from a black/African American perspective, which is heavily overlooked in the overall genre, especially in the more visible American cinema. It’s a common misconception that black people don’t write science fiction. This anthology is a reminder that not only do we write science fiction, we love all the different breakdowns therein. Comfort is about an android named Andrew Emerson, who is rescued by a mechanic named Akachi after being severely injured and his memory wiped. Akachi is a kind woman who believes that all artificially intelligent beings have rights and they should be treated with the same respect as human beings. Unfortunately, though, after Akachi puts him back together, someone from Andrew’s past resurfaces and puts both him and Akachi in danger, so they have to band together to figure out how to neutralize the threat.

You contributed a story to the forthcoming anthology Terminus II: Black Fantastic Tales from the ATL, due for release on June 19 (also edited by Milton Davis). Tell us about the anthology and your contribution. 

Terminus II is a follow up to Terminus, obviously, and Terminus is an anthology featuring fantasy and science fiction stories told by black and African American authors set in the city of Atlanta and its surrounding areas. This anthology and its sequel are a lot of fun for me to participate in given that I was born in Atlanta and raised around the city itself, so I know it well. My story in the first Terminus is My Dinner with Vlad, which tells the tale of a werewolf named Cassandra Moody, the Wolfman’s daughter, taking Dracula (known to her as Vlad, of course) out into the Atlanta nightlife. They have a unique relationship with Vlad being friends with her parents, but Cassandra and Vlad also have their own friendship with a hint of attraction. The short story explores the dynamic between the two of them that has been changing and growing over the years. The second short story picks up about five years after the first one with Cassandra taking a stroll through the woods of east Atlanta and discovering she’s being stalked.

You have appeared as a guest and panellist at multiple conventions including Geek Girl Con, DragonCon, Blacktasticon, Momocon, and Multiverse Con. Have you got any appearances booked this year (covid permitting) and what do you think of the new stream of virtual conventions that have blossomed since the pandemic? 

So far, I will only be participating in two conventions: JordanCon (in April) and Multiverse Con (in October). I decided to attend these cons given that they are reduced capacity, require vaccinations, require masks, and require distancing. They’ve been very strict about their health and public safety standards, so I feel comfortable enough to attend them both. I am grateful that so many cons have switched to virtual since it’s easier for people with busy schedules to participate and it’s mindful of the safety of everyone who still wants to spend time with others.

About Kyoko M:

Kyoko M. is a USA Today bestselling author and a fangirl. She is the author of The Black Parade urban fantasy series and the Of Cinder and Bone science-fiction series. The Black Parade has been reviewed by Publishers Weekly and New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews. Of Cinder and Bone placed in the Top 100 Books in Hugh Howey's 2021 Self Published Science Fiction Contest. Kyoko M. has appeared as a guest and panelist at such conventions as Geek Girl Con, DragonCon, Blacktasticon, Momocon, and Multiverse Con. She is also a contributor to Marvel Comics' Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda (2021) anthology.

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