An Interview with Author Kyoko M

Of Cinder and Bone by Kyoko M

Joining me on the couch today, for the first interview of 2018 — Happy New Year everyone — is sci-fi/fantasy author Kyoko M. Thank you, Kyoko, for taking the time to chat to me. Please sit down, get comfortable and let’s begin.

Kyoko M

About Kyoko M

Kyoko M is a USA Today bestselling author, a fangirl, and an avid book reader. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit from the University of Georgia, which gave her every valid excuse to devour book after book with a concentration in Greek and Christian mythology. When not working feverishly on a manuscript (or two), she can be found buried under her Dashboard on Tumblr, or chatting with fellow nerds on Twitter, or curled up with a good Harry Dresden novel on a warm Georgia night. Like any author, she wants nothing more than to contribute something great to the best profession in the world, no matter how small.

What’s the name of your new book?
Of Cinder and Bone

Tell us a bit about your book
After centuries of being the most dangerous predators on the planet, dragons were hunted to extinction. That is, until Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali cracked the code to bring them back. Through their research at MIT, they resurrected the first dragon anyone has seen alive since the 15th century. There’s just one problem.

Someone stole it.

Caught between two ruthless yakuza clans who want to clone the dragon, Jack and Kamala brave the dangerous streets of Tokyo to steal their dragon back in a race against time before the world is taken over by mutated, bloodthirsty monsters that will raze it to ashes.

Of Cinder and Bone by Kyoko M

If there was a film or TV adaptation of your book, who would you like to see play your characters?
Jordan Amador: Zoe Saldana or Nicole Beharie
Michael: Jared Padalecki or Chris Evans
Archangel Gabriel: Jude Law
Archangel Raphael: Antonio Banderas or Benjamin Bratt
Belial: Alexander Skarsgard
Mulciber: Monica Bellucci
Terrell: Morris Chestnut
Lauren: Claudia Kim

How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
Names are quite important to the Black Parade series. Some of them can even be minor plot points while others simply reveal things about the characters’ personalities or beliefs. Jordan was named after the river Jordan and her last name means “lover of God.” Her aunt’s last name is “Durante”, which means “stubborn.” Michael means “God-like.” I tend to want there to be another layer to characters when I name them just as an added bonus for the readers.

Give us an insight into your main character. What makes them unique?
Jordan Amador is a Seer: someone who can see and hear ghosts, angels, and demons. She’s also very antisocial as a result of a traumatic background and so she’s very defensive and snarky as a way to cope with it all.

If you could choose ten words to describe your book, what would they be?
Complicated, unpredictable, heart-warming, adventurous, character-centric, emotional, fun, sweet, daring, and dangerous.

Where do your ideas come from?
Sometimes from dreams. Sometimes I’m inspired by a TV show, movie, or book concept, but I have a perspective that I want to explore that is different from the original idea. Most often, I have a character in mind whose story I want to explore.

What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I think book trailers can be effective if done correctly. It’s not about selling the product. It’s about making the story look as polished and intriguing as possible. I have a short book trailer that was largely just experimental to see if this kind of thing was something people would enjoy, but it has mostly gone unseen.

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Probably the Black Parade trilogy. It’s extremely difficult to finish one that has an ending worthy enough to the story and one that feels like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do with your books. Mind you, I’m not trying to brag or say that I did everything flawlessly. I certainly didn’t, but I was really happy that I was able to finish all three of my first novels in consecutive years considering I was pretty much working full time when I wrote all of them.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, I’m married to Chris Evans and living in a mansion making movies.

But more realistically, I hope I am writing full time, both novels as well as screenplays.

Have you always liked to write?
Yep. Ever since I was a kid. My parents used to read to me every night and so I was a voracious reader, and it eventually began to spill out of my head. I was writing diaries at first and then small stories, then fanfiction, and eventually I made a few attempts at fiction until I got lucky with The Black Parade towards the end of my college years.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up. It’s too easy. It’s so easy to give up, but if you truly love writing and you’re trying your hardest to make the best work possible, then you cannot give in. Fight tooth and nail for your spot in the publishing world and make your stand. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s worth it if you’re patient and tenacious.

If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
Probably some kind of administrative work? I’m good at organizing things.

Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Of course I read reviews of my books. I’m terribly self-conscious and I would want to know if I’m a complete hack writer. However, it’s foolish to ever respond to them. Writing is subjective. Not everyone will like what I write, and that’s just the way it is. Authors should never respond to reviews because there is no way it will make them look good. Just none at all.

When I get a bad review, I’ll pout for a bit, watch some YouTube videos or a movie to cheer myself up, and then get over it. That’s all you can do, really.

What is your best marketing tip?
Make yourself a schedule and stick to it. The easiest way for your sales to tank as an unknown self-published author is if you slack on your marketing duties. Whether it’s engaging people on social media or the hardcore buying ads and promotions, you have to do it consistently or your sales will go right into the crapper. Mine did in 2016 and I’m still fighting to recover them as we speak. It’s not easy. It’s tedious. But you have to do it, and you have to do it all the time, until you’ve reached one of those fancy plateaus like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.

What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
I hate editing. No matter how many times I get to that stage of the process, I want to pull my hair out. Editing is just a vast canyon of possibilities. There are so many things you can change that you want to change, and then there are things you don’t want to change that you have to change. It’s a headache and you can chase your tail for months doing it. What I’ve had to learn how to do is reach a final stopping point and picture my book as a tiny little message-in-a-bottle that I am pushing out into the ocean. Otherwise, I’ll fiddle with it until the end of days.

Shout out to marketing also. I am awful at engaging readers. I want to, but I don’t know how, so most of the time I leave it to professional promotions instead.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
No offense to the fantasy writers out there, but vampires and werewolves are so overdone that I have absolutely nothing to say about them and I never will. Those two supernatural creatures have been done to death and there is no way I could ever add anything to their mythos that is worth reading.

Do you have a favourite conference / convention that you like to attend? What is it?
I adore Momocon. Momocon is an anime convention held yearly in my home turf of Atlanta, Georgia. It started out with humble beginnings as a free convention on Georgia Tech’s campus but eventually it became what I believe is the second largest con in Georgia. They’ve consistently invited really fantastic nerdy guests and it’s always delightful to attend and meet said guests as well as mingling with some excellent cosplayers. The first time I ever cosplayed was at Momocon and I was so scared, but I had a lot of fun and everyone was so nice to me and they all loved my Lana Kane (from FX’s Archer) cosplay.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others?
I hate fight scenes. Especially war scenes. It’s easy to see the fight in my head, but it is an ordeal for me to get it down on paper. I think to date the hardest one I ever wrote was a demon gang fight in The Holy Dark where I had to diagram how many demons Jordan fought in order to keep track of them all. It was a nightmare.

How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a book?
Between six and eight months, depending on what my day job is. My life is chaos. I’ve switched careers too many times, so it depends on my hours and my workload, but I always do one book minimum per year, and so I’d say it’s right at about six months.

What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up the second novel in my science fiction/contemporary fantasy series. It’s called Of Blood and Ashes. It’s ridiculously complicated and scary and aggravating, but I think it’s a great book.

Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
The world’s deadliest dragon, the infamous Baba Yaga, is loose on the streets of Tokyo.

Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali have been tasked with helping the government take down a dragon the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex after it sends part of the city up in flames. Things worsen when they lose track of dragon in none other than Aokigahara, the Suicide Forest–a section of woods in Japan that is rumored to be one of the most haunted places on earth. They’ve also got the yakuza who cloned the dragon hellbent on getting her back, and they don’t care who they kill in order to re-capture the dragon.

Jack and Kamala are joined by CIA field agent William Fry and dragon-hunting expert Juniper Snow as they infiltrate the forest to hunt the dragon before she can hurt anyone else. Between the ruthless yakuza hot on their trail and the growing mistrust in their small hunting party, it will take a miracle for Jack and Kamala to make it out alive…

Of Blood and Ashes is the second book in the series, following Of Cinder and Bone.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
I often make playlists for certain books and I play them when I need to get in the mood to write. I also tend to write in my bed, which is a terrible idea for psychological reasons, but it’s so comfy that I can’t help myself. I tend to write my fiction during the day, but my fan fiction at night, and I don’t have the slightest idea why. I think now that I’m older, my brain associates daylight with work and productivity, whereas nighttime is playtime.

I also don’t outline my novels. I write them about halfway and then write a timeline to keep track of the pacing and the plot threads.

How has your environment or upbringing impacted your writing?
Definitely. One thing that is very important to me is representation. I always push for diversity in fiction, and even more so in urban fantasy and science fiction. Both of these genres are heavily under-represented and I make it a point to have diverse leads because I think that every kid deserves to pick up a book and see a variety of different perspectives instead of just one or two. People of color have voices and those voices should be heard in every genre. I try to do my part each time I write.

Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.
I have an office! I just…never use it…but said office has a desk with plenty of room for my cat Selina and an inevitably abandoned thermos of earl grey tea as well as my laptop and cell phone. The chair should be comfy, but not too comfy so I won’t fall asleep, and it needs to be well lit. There should also be nerdy posters all over the place, and consequently, there are in my current office. Any time I need a distraction, I can make eyes at Chris Evans and then everything is right with the world.

Why should a potential reader buy your book(s)?
If you’re tired of the same old-same old, please grab my books. The genres that I write in can get very repetitive and I wrote my novels to share something with the world that I feel isn’t seen enough. The Black Parade series is about diversity, dealing with depression and anxiety, and understanding who you are and who you are meant to be. The Of Cinder and Bone series is about becoming more than who you ever thought you could be and fighting for what is right in spite of opposition. It’s very easy to write a character you idolize, but I think it sticks with you more when you write about a character that you could have been under the right circumstances.

What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your book?
There is no single answer to that question. I have done this so many times that I don’t even know where to start. Most recently, I had to research the wingspan of a dragon the size of a T-Rex, so I ended up Googling pterodactyl’s wingspan proportions and then literally do the math on how that would work for a titanic-sized dragon. My Google history has definitely landed me on some kind of NSA watch list by now. I actually called the FBI research division a few years ago while writing She Who Fights Monsters because my Googling was so highly specific that I couldn’t find answers without talking to an actual FBI agent.

What’s something you’re really good at that few people know about?
Sarcasm. Trust me. I have a Ph. D in being snarky.

What’s an interesting fact about your book?
Actor Orlando Jones (American Gods, The Replacements, Evolution, Sleepy Hollow, Drumline) was on Twitter a few years back asking for book recommendations. I jokingly sent him a link and he sent me back a picture that he downloaded it on his Kindle. I basically had a heart attack. Now, granted, I never found out if he read it, but Trollando Jones (as the fandom calls him) has a copy of The Black Parade and I get to take that little awesome nugget of knowledge to my grave. If you check out my blog, I think the picture is still up if you search for Orlando Jones. It was truly an awesome moment for me.

I also gave a paperback copy to actress Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow, Shame) when I met her at DragonCon in 2015, because I am shameless and I think she’d be perfect to play Jordan Amador one day.

Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve always loved Greek mythology as well as Christian mythology, so it felt natural to try my hand at urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I decided to poke my head into science fiction next after I got inspired, weirdly enough, by a terrible movie called ‘Reign of Fire’ that had an amazing idea at its core: that dragons weren’t just for fantasy movies, but they could work in a modern day setting without all the magic and sorcery. Balancing them isn’t too difficult for me since they are both in major cities–one in Albany, New York and the other in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then later in Tokyo, Japan–but I do tend to get more bogged down in research for my sci-fi series. It took some getting used to, but I eventually learned how to make time for research.

Where did your love of books come from?
My parents. As I mentioned above, they read to me every night as a kid, so I grew up loving books. I was also a very awkward, unpopular kid and books consoled me. They gave me purpose and motivation and ideas.

How long have you been writing?
Since I’ve been old enough to hold a pencil. However, I didn’t start writing professionally until around 2009 when I began with a romantic-comedy novella and then shortly afterward I started the first draft of The Black Parade.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Ahem. No, I’d definitely tell her to write faster, publish faster, and market faster. At the time I had been starting my first book, self-publishing hadn’t become as big as it is now and if I had known what I was doing, I might have been able to get a bigger fan base. Right now, there’s like…two of them.

What would the main character in your book have to say about you?
I think Jordan and I would bond pretty quickly over being socially anxious shut-ins. I think Michael would find me perplexing, but he and I would get along in spite of our differences.

As for my other series, I think Jack would be my best friend inside of a week because we’re both geeks at heart. Kamala would think I was shy and cynical, but not bad company. Faye probably would find me a bit boring.

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
Yes. Right now, I’m an event coordinator at Emory University, but it’s a temp job. I help schedule applicants’ interviews into the university’s internal medicine medical program. It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet a ton of pleasant future doctors.

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Favorite is a strong word. You can’t pick favorites of your children. But I do have a soft spot for a few of them.

The archangel Gabriel won me over in She Who Fights Monsters by basically just being the sweetest, most supportive older brother character I’ve written to date. He and Jordan don’t have a drop of blood between them, but he sort of instantly took her under his wing (cue rimshot) and started protecting her and caring for her like she was family.

The archdemon Belial is my ridiculous, evil darling. He’s such an awful creature, and yet he’s given me some of my favorite lines of dialogue throughout my writing career. He’s also one of the most complex characters I’ve ever written.

Dr. Rhett Jackson is my last darling. I’ve started to really love him over the course of writing him in these first two books in the series. He’s so awkward and dorky and he tries really hard all the time to do right by the world. I just want nice things for him, honestly.

Are your characters based on real people, are they imaginary or a combination of both?
Combination. I never borrow directly from anyone, in real life or in fiction. I take small traits or physical appearances from either people I know or fictional characters and then put my own spin on them. For instance, the original concept for the archdemon Belial came from a manga called Kuroshitsuji (“Black Butler” in English). I stole some dorky awkwardness and sarcasm from Harry Dresden for Dr. Rhett Jackson. In real life examples, the archangel Gabriel’s relationship with Jordan is loosely based on my relationship with my cousin, Mikey. I named Jordan’s ex-boyfriend Terrell after my first crush in fifth grade, and I based his personality off of a guy I had a crush on in high school. I never directly copy anyone simply because that’s how you end up with an inauthentic character. You borrow ideas and then embellish until your characters are genuine. That’s how you make them feel real, in my opinion.

When you’re writing, do you listen to music or do you need silence?
I need silence, but I do prep myself for writing scenes and finishing chapters with a playlist specifically for writing. I can occasionally listen to an instrumental while I write serious scenes. I’ve found that the soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is great background music that helps me concentrate.

Who are your favourite authors, and why?
Jim Butcher and Ilona Andrews are my top two. Jim Butcher just hit all my buttons with The Dresden Files. I am madly, madly in love with Harry Dresden, and I love his supporting cast of characters, and I love his cruel, complicated, magical world. Ilona Andrews is like a female Harry Dresden, but not in a copycat way, just a really similar type of character who is witty and fun who has a good heart and tries her best to protect the innocent.

What’s the best thing about being an indie author?
Jim Butcher and Ilona Andrews are my top two. Jim Butcher just hit all my buttons with The Dresden Files. I am madly, madly in love with Harry Dresden, and I love his supporting cast of characters, and I love his cruel, complicated, magical world. Ilona Andrews is like a female Harry Dresden, but not in a copycat way, just a really similar type of character who is witty and fun who has a good heart and tries her best to protect the innocent.

What do you find most challenging about writing?
For me, it’s coming up with something that satisfies the reason why we read to begin with. I often stumble into Writer’s Block simply because I suffer from pretty severe social anxiety and depression, so I doubt myself constantly and I am afraid that I’ll publish a book everyone hates and be forever shamed off the face of the publishing world. It’s hard to write a good book, and harder still to let someone read it. It’s scary to put yourself out there. It’s like opening up your chest and handing someone a piece of your heart. They could like it, or they could throw it on the ground and stomp it into paste. But that’s the risk of being an author.

Why do you have so many nerdy references in your books?
Nerds rule. We need way more nerdy main leads in books, and we need about a thousand times more nerds of color in fiction. I love being a nerd. Aside from being a writer, it’s probably my favorite thing about myself. I love it when I’m reading something or watching something and they reference something I adore because it makes me feel a connection. So I do that in my own work because it’s such a fun feeling to know someone shares your interests.

Where can readers go to discover more about you and your books?
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon Author Page | Smashwords | Goodreads

Of Cinder and Bone is out now!
Available formats: ebook and paperback
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