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The Holy Dark Release Date

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April 24, 2015. Mark your calendars, my darlings. The Holy Dark is comin’ atcha.

Join the Facebook launch party for a chance to win a free copy and other prizes, or enter to win a paperback copy on Goodreads. Pre-order will be available soon, so stay tuned!

Additionally, Advanced Reader Copies are available by emailing me at theblackparadeseries@gmail.com. Keep in mind: do not ask for a copy unless you fully intend to leave a review. If you do not review it after receiving a copy, you will not receive ARCs from my other books in the future.

See you soon, adventurous readers!

Headcanon Exercise #1

I just happened past a Tumblr post with a list of headcanons that piqued my interest. If you’re not aware, a headcanon is basically an idea you have about certain characters that isn’t directly seen in the canon of a work of fiction. It’s usually used in the context of television shows, anime, movies, and such, but it happens with original fiction as well. I thought this would be a fun way for you guys to get to know more about the characters of The Black Parade, so here we go.

JORDAN

TBP Jordan Boxing gloves

  • can they use chopsticks: Yes.
  • what do they do when they can’t sleep: She reads “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville because it is unbelievably boring and it always makes her nod off before she can finish. However, if she’s up because of a nightmare, then she pours herself some whiskey and it calms her down enough to sleep.
  • what would they impulse buy at the grocery store: Lindt chocolate.
  • what order do they wash things in the shower: Hair first (once a week), shoulders, arms, torso, legs, and feet.
  • what’s their coffee order: two creams, three sugars.
  • what sort of apps would they have on their smartphone: Kindle App, Words with Friends, and Tip Calculator (for any of her customers who can’t multiply).
  • how do they act around children: Jordan loves kids, thanks to spending a lot of time with Lauren’s daughter, Lily. She’s completely at ease around them.
  • what would they watch on tv when they’re bored and nothing they really like is on: Jordan loves terrible scary movies because she likes to riff them and talk about plotholes.

 

MICHAEL

The Black Parade Michael crop

 

  • can they use chopsticks: Yes, but not that well.
  • what do they do when they can’t sleep: He’ll write songs or play his guitar until he starts getting drowsy.
  • what would they impulse buy at the grocery store: Knick knacks like laser pointers, Swiss Army knives, or any little things that might be useful on a mission.
  • what order do they wash things in the shower: Armpits, arms, chest, legs, feet, and hair last since it doesn’t take long to wash. He also shaves in the shower.
  • what’s their coffee order: He can drink it black, but he prefers a little cream.
  • what sort of apps would they have on their smartphone: Banking apps, Adobe Acrobat, Kindle App, iTunes, Excel, Flashlight, Navigator app, and Skype.
  • how do they act around children: He’s fine if there are other people around, but he gets anxious if he has to babysit alone because it’s a big responsibility and his life is pretty dangerous. He worries about putting them in harm’s way.
  • what would they watch on tv when they’re bored and nothing they really like is on: It’s a guilty pleasure, but he’ll leave on MTV or VH1 if it’s early morning when they play 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s jams.

 

GABRIEL

The Black Parade Gabriel crop

  • can they use chopsticks: Yes, since he schmoozes with wealthy people a lot. Better than Jordan and Michael at using them, in fact.
  • what do they do when they can’t sleep: Goes over financial reports from his company.
  • what would they impulse buy at the grocery store: Cologne, nice watches, lint roller, breath mints, and candy.
  • what order do they wash things in the shower: Gabriel is very particular about his hair, so he probably washes it first and conditions it, then moves from head to toe.
  • what’s their coffee order: Lots of cream and sugar. He doesn’t actually like coffee that much. He prefers tea whenever possible.
  • what sort of apps would they have on their smartphone: Pretty much anything your average multi-millionaire businessman would need. When he can’t be around a laptop, he uses his phone.
  • how do they act around children: He adores them. Can’t get enough. He always tries to bring Lily a toy or trinket if he visits.
  • what would they watch on tv when they’re bored and nothing they really like is on: C-Span.

 

BELIAL

The Black Parade Belial crop

  • can they use chopsticks: Yes, proficiently.
  • what do they do when they can’t sleep: He’ll go to a bar and find himself a date.
  • what would they impulse buy at the grocery store: Condoms. Because he can never have too many.
  • what order do they wash things in the shower: Like Gabriel, he is very particular about how he takes care of his hair. He also goes from feet to head in washing order.
  • what’s their coffee order: Cappuccino or espresso. He doesn’t like plain coffee much.
  • what sort of apps would they have on their smartphone: Anything that helps him keep up with his scores and scores of floozies, but also financial matters. He also loathes any form of social media and won’t indulge in it no matter what his company says.
  • how do they act around children: Hates them all.
  • what would they watch on tv when they’re bored and nothing they really like is on: He’s a fan of trashy reality shows. He’s also a closet fan of True Blood and Game of Thrones, so he’ll put on the DVDs if he gets bored enough.

Stay tuned! I might do a few more, if it’s not too dorky.

Cover Reveal: The Holy Dark

You’ve been patient and now it’s finally here.

Cover design by Gunjan Kumar and Chris Cold.

Cover design by Gunjan Kumar and Chris Cold.

Sarcastic demon-slayer extraordinaire Jordan Amador has been locked in a year-long struggle to hunt down the thirty silver coins paid to Judas Iscariot. The mere touch of these coins is enough to kill any angel.

Jordan’s demonic opposition grows more desperate with each coin found, so they call on the ultimate reinforcement: Moloch, the Archdemon of War. Moloch puts out a contract on Jordan as well as her estranged husband, the Archangel Michael. Now Jordan and Michael will have to find a way to work together to survive against impossible odds and stop Moloch’s plan, or else he’ll wage a war that will wipe out the human race.

The Holy Dark will hit shelves April 24, 2015. You can get in paperback right now, pre-order it on the Kindle, add it to your Goodreads To Be Read shelf, like my Facebook page, or sign up with the mailing list to find out more about the series. While you wait, there are two excerpts available to read. Please spread the word!

Kyoko

Christmas Sale 2014

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Happy holidays! In the spirit of Christmas, She Who Fights Monsters is free to download via Amazon all day long! Please grab yourself a copy or share it with a friend or loved one. My gift to you, dear readers.

Things The Colbert Report Taught Me About Writing

Pictured: the most adorable man in all of late night TV.

Pictured: the most adorable man in all of late night TV. No offense, Craig Ferguson.

It’s a dark time in America because everyone’s favorite political satirist pundit, Stephen Tiberius Colbert, is ending his show December 18, 2014. The good news is that he’s ending the show in order to take over David Letterman’s late night talk show, but it does mean saying goodbye to the character of Stephen Colbert. In his honor, here are some things that his show has taught me since I began watching back in 2008.

Go big or go home. Everything about Colbert is always big, loud, and over-the-top. Last night took this idea to new heights when he had the President of the United States, Barack Obama himself, appear on the show and not only give a great interview, but actually take over one of Colbert’s most famous segments, The Word (changing of course to The Decree because he’s the goddamn president.) Colbert does nothing in moderation, and it’s one of the reasons why he’s been charging past Jon Stewart in terms of notoriety. He’s had a plethora of amazing guests, absolutely hysterical interviews, several historical impacts on pop culture (he has his portrait in the Smithsonian, he’s had newly discovered species named after him, and even has a treadmill in the space station named after him), and he never lets himself be bested. One of his more famous moments was after he was scheduled to interview Daft Punk and they canceled on him last minute, he then launched into a musical bonanza cover of their smash hit “Get Lucky” with a ton of guests like Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, and Jimmy Fallon just to stick it to Daft Punk and MTV for snubbing him.

Colbert’s example is applicable to writing in that it’s important not to half-ass anything in your work. If you’re afraid of a certain subject, then either charge forward full steam ahead or don’t do it at all. Often I’ve read stories where characters are wishy-washy or you can tell the author wants to bring something up, but they can’t find it in themselves to make a decision. This trait happens most often with romantic couples in fiction, like Ross and Rachel from Friends, where the writers are indecisive about a relationship or think they should drag it out as long as possible to keep the audience’s interest. Being decisive in writing is essential to keep your readers’ attention and to put your highest quality of work on the pages instead of fretting over things you feel like you should avoid. Be bold. Be fearless. If you’re going to go there, don’t just go there—go there, buy a t-shirt, take a selfie, and post it on Facebook.

The character is not the same as the author, and vice versa. One of the most consistently stupid things associated with the Colbert Report is that some people don’t realize he is a parody character. There have been so many times where I’ll see a post of someone ranting about Colbert’s ignorance and offensive opinions like he is a real person and not political satire. It’s probably the same idiots who fall for the fake news headlines that The Onion makes every day, but I digress.

Stephen Colbert and Stephen Colbert are not the same guy. When the camera’s on, we get a hilariously rigid conservative who trusts only his gut and anything that his idol “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly has to say. Off-camera, though, Stephen is actually a nice, fiercely intelligent husband and father. When he’s not on the Report, he often gives speeches (like the famous 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner) and is a social and political activist. He truly does believe in the people and he wants the best for us, so it’s important that people realize that he is playing a character and there is a separation between the two men that he is.

A lot of authors, especially female authors, get flack for something their character does that the readers disagree with, so it’s important to acknowledge that writers are artists. We craft stories. That doesn’t mean we condone everything that happens in them unless it’s expressed in our blog or social media. It can be hard to make that distinction when you’ve spent a whole novel getting to know their characters, but good authors make it clear in their work that it’s the character’s decisions that drive the narrative, not their own agendas. It’s always easy to tell when the author wants something to happen instead of it happening naturally in the context of their own world because it feels forced, like an invisible hand turning the page for you rather than letting you get there on your own. It may take a while to learn how to let the story flow, but it’s worth it.

Challenge authority. One of the reasons I like Colbert better than Jon Stewart is that he’s more balanced. He’s a parody of conservatives, but he also makes fun of everyone in every political party instead of just heaping contempt on one side of the fence. Hell, some of his best lines have been over-the-top shots at President Obama (I once recall him accusing him of being a “time-traveling Muslim terrorist.”) Everyone is open season when it comes to Colbert, even his own network and sponsors, and that’s how it should be. He isn’t afraid to criticize the powers that be and bring up excellent commentary on unfair policies, hypocritical pundits, lousy news reporting, and questionable or unethical behavior by those who run this country.

This is also absolutely important in the world of writing, both in fiction and non-fiction. One of the reasons why The Hunger Games is so popular is because it boldly criticizes some of the things that are happening in our society today, from revolutions and war to the way the media is so willing to cover up horrible crimes by distracting its audience with a forced love story. The films are also unnervingly prophetic, as advertisers have been trying to force every sort of product you can imagine out of the franchise. Subway had a tagline for Catching Fire, “Where victors eat” that made me want to tear my hair out because it was ludicrous considering the story is about starving children forced to murder each other so their families won’t die. Sure, that lends itself perfectly to a five dollar footlong. Or how ABC Family just started running the first movie on their channel; you know, the channel most parents used to be able to leave on for their kids because the material was family friendly. Yes, please show children violently killing each other thanks to a totalitarian government to my six year old. Brilliant marketing.

Anyway, The Hunger Games challenges the government’s tendency to manipulate everything we see for their own purposes, and that is definitely the truth not only in America, but in every country. Authors should never be afraid to speak up about injustice, even if it’s not as overt as The Hunger Games trilogy.

It also doesn’t have to stick to politics. A lot of self-published authors have been rising in the bestsellers ranks and making a point to the Big Six publishers that they aren’t the only way to go in the publishing world. Too many companies still look down on indie authors, and while neither method of publishing is better than the other, it should be seen as a fair trade. Both ways have benefits and consequences, but right now, traditional publishing is still seen as being more ‘legitimate’ while many indie authors are stuck underneath a glass ceiling. The tension between the two will probably dissipate years from now, but until then, authors need to ask questions and search for facts and be unafraid to get answers.

Fact checking is your friend. How many jokes per segment of any given Colbert Report episode is devoted to showing a politician who has zero facts and yet feels qualified to give their opinion on a current event? Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait. It’s impossible to tell because thanks to the 24-hour news circuits, pundits, interviewers, celebrities, and politicians are constantly letting the most ignorant statements and opinions fly out of their mouths with no regard for research, mathematics, or facts. At some point, journalism was about finding the truth and sharing it, but too many news channels are concerned about ratings and sensational news, so they let simple facts fall to the wayside. The good news is, though, The Colbert Report is there to make fun of them to the ends of the earth.

Research is tedious. There is nothing that can change that, not even Wikipedia. But it’s not just necessary if you’re an author—it’s mandatory. No matter what kind of story you write and no matter what the genre, you will need to do research. If you write epic or high fantasy, sure, the proportion of research might be smaller, but it is 100% mandatory to do research before you publish any work. If you don’t have a notepad, Word document, or slab of concrete full of notes that have been fact-checked by an academic source, then don’t you dare hit that Publish button. Nothing is worse than reading a book and being able to open a tab in your Internet browser and immediately prove that what happened was false or wildly inaccurate. Some readers don’t mind if the truth is bent or slanted, or if your work is based on theory, but if you expect them to pay for your work, you need to have actually done it. Otherwise, the critics will come after you with torches and pitchforks and you’re done for.

Trust your gut. One of Colbert’s biggest achievements was the creation of the word “truthiness” (which was officially added to the Webster’s Dictionary, to my endless amusement): “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.” Colbert insists that he doesn’t need facts because he asks his gut whether something feels true or not. While amusing, he does have a point.

An author’s instincts are key in determining where they are going to go with a particular story, and where they are going to go in their career. There are so many possibilities involved with this career that they can get overwhelming, and some find themselves panicking over choices to make. Take it from Colbert. Trust your gut. Trust the strongest, loudest voice in your head as long as it lines up with what you feel in your gut. This may mean taking a huge risk with a character or a story arc. This may mean deleting one of your favorite scenes or erasing a character out of the narrative. It can mess up what you thought you wanted, but if it makes your work better, then you are bound by authorly honor to do it. If it feels true to the story, then do it. Accept no substitutes.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Colbert after so many years of laughter, but all good things must come to an end. Here’s to you, Colbert. It’s been real.

-Kyoko

The Holy Dark Excerpt

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Are you excited for the final installment to the Black Parade series? You should be! If not, here’s another sneak peek of what’s to come.

Read The Holy Dark Chapter 1.

CHAPTER TWO

JORDAN

Hospitals gave me the creeps. All of them, no exceptions. Part of the reason was an inherent childhood fear thanks to the psychiatric hospital that had abducted my mother when I was five years old. The other part was thanks to two archdemons who kidnapped me and tried to kill me two years ago inside a hospital. Still, I ignored the tiny voice inside me that screamed for me to get the hell out and continued my way through the hallway of the Outpatient medical center. Every time a doctor passed by, I flinched and tried not to look at their bright white lab coats. It was ridiculous. I had killed bloodthirsty monsters from another plane of existence and saved the world twice yet a stupid piece of clothing made me want to run and hide.

I reached the room in less than a minute; mostly because I had been walking so fast to the average person it looked like running. My hand froze on the doorknob. I stood there, breathing heavily, remembering the last thing Lauren said to me a year ago. She’d hung up on me, her voice icy as she told me goodbye. Was she still angry? How badly was she hurt? What could I even do about it? What was I doing here, truly?

I took a deep breath. You’re just checking on her, Amador. Man up and do it.

I opened the door. The room was freezing cold. I had to resist the urge to button up my duster to shut out the chill. There were a couple of other patients dozing in their beds. I walked past them, searching for her. She was in the last bed to my right.  My chest constricted as I saw her for the first time in almost a year.

Lauren was a couple inches taller than me with straight black hair that used to make me envious. Mine had to be treated to get that perfect glossy look that fell around the shoulders, but hers was natural. She was Korean, buxom, obnoxious, and hilarious. Her nails were painted blue this time instead of pink or purple. She’d been in the hospital for several hours so they’d cleaned her up a bit, meaning she had no makeup on. She looked years younger than her age of twenty-seven.

Her right arm was in a cast and a sling, resting against her stomach. There was a bruise on her cheek as well. They said she got mugged. I hoped they caught the bastard. Hell, I hoped I caught the bastard so I could teach him some manners.

Lauren opened her eyes, sending a sharp jolt of fear and surprise through my gut. I’d hoped she wouldn’t wake up just yet. Her gaze wandered around for a few seconds, probably a result of the painkillers, before settling on me.

I offered her a weak smile. “Hey, Lauren.”

Her voice came out hoarse. “Jordan?”

“Yeah. I, uh, hopped on the first thing smoking to get here. It was shitty, by the way. The carry on alone put me back eighty bucks. Don’t ever fly with—”

“Get out.”

I managed to cap my nervous verbal diarrhea, staring at her. “What did you say?”

She raised her voice, glaring a hole through my head. “Get. Out.”

I stepped forward, imploring her. “Lauren, I know you’re mad, but please, just let me explain—”

“I’m not going to tell you again. Get out!” she shouted, scaring the guy in the bed across from us awake. I had never heard her sound like that, not to me, only to her scumbag ex-husband. Guilt gnawed through my insides. I had been right. She was still angry, and understandably so.

“Okay. I’ll go. I just…wanted to check on you,” I mumbled, turning away from the fury in those brown eyes. I shuffled out of the room and collapsed in a chair in the hallway. I squeezed my eyes shut and buried the pain inside me as deep as I could. I felt ashamed of myself. I wanted to go back home and crawl under the covers and hide. But that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t matter if she had disowned me. I still had to make it up to her, somehow. Too bad if it ripped a new scar in my hide. I had plenty as it was.

Time dripped off the clock. I stayed where I was, mentally constructing a speech that would hopefully get me back into her good graces. Sometime during this process, a nurse tapped me on the shoulder.

I glanced up to see a pretty black woman, mid-thirties. “She’s asking for you.”

“Huh?”

“Ms. Yi. She wants to see you.”

I checked my watch. Holy hell. I’d been here four hours and didn’t realize it. I nodded too many times and stood up, wobbling on account of my legs falling asleep. I opened the door and made my way back to her bed, expecting the worst.

“Um, you called for me?”

Lauren stared me down for at least a minute. I tried my hardest not to fidget. At last, she spoke and her tone was still disapproving.

“Why are you here?”

“I had to make sure you were alright.”

“Oh, so now you care?”

I shut my eyes for a second. “Yes. I do.”

“What do you want me to say? Are you expecting me to forgive you?”

“No, not really. You’re pretty stubborn. Besides, if I were in your ridiculously high Prada heels, I’d be mad too.”

The ghost of a smirk touched her lips. I almost felt better. I wasn’t much of a friend, but I could make jokes until the end of the world. Which, come to think of it, might one day be my fault.

“Well, I didn’t call you in here to forgive you,” she said, sitting up a bit against her pillows. “I called you in here to ask you a question.”

“What?”

“Why did a man claiming to be a demon follow me home and break my arm?”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Want to be the first to see the rest of Chapter 2? Sign up for the mailing list and get the next chapter right in your Inbox. You can also add it to your Goodreads To Be Read shelf.

Stay tuned for more announcements coming soon! In case you missed it, the official plot reveal is here.

 

Why Bother? The Two Deadliest Words to a Self-Published Author

You said it, Daria.

You said it, Daria.

Y’know what sucks? Being unemployed and your books not selling at the same time.

It’s not just the lack of money, either. I’ve been unemployed before back when my second retail job went under thanks to rent issues in 2012. The funny thing is, the first month is kind of a like a honeymoon period. You wake up when you want to, do what you want to, don’t do what you don’t want to, and feel this general sense of relaxation since you don’t have a set schedule as you don’t have to go to work anymore. You sleep pretty well and you have the free time to do practically anything.

Then it wears off.

Then the stress starts.

Okay, so it’s not like you thought getting hired for your dream job was going to be easy. It’s going to take time. You throw yourself into your writing while you’re praying to God (and sacrificing a goat just in case Satan’s listening) someone hires you. After all, your sales have been pretty consistent for the past few months and you’re slowly building readers, right?

Kevin Spacey WRONG

Out of the blue, September hits you with the biggest sales flat-line since you started self-publishing. I’m talking you don’t even make it into double digit sales per week. You close out your September sales with less money than you made in literally four hours at your previous day job. And October is looking to be the exact same way.

No big deal. Deep breath. You can totally handle it. It’s not like you became an author to get rich. It’s probably easier and more lucrative to sell crack than be a self-published author, after all. You’re in this because you love writing and you love stories and you want to share the reading/writing experience with your fellow man. That’s easy enough. It’s what the Internet is for—connecting people together across vast distances.

Except you kind of suck at it.

Twitter? Not that many followers. You get maybe a handful of replies per week. Maybe you should redirect your energy.

Tumblr? Oh, don’t talk about your book. No one cares unless it’s a natural recommendation from a book nerd. Just write occasional fanfics and reblog handsome celebrities and social justice speeches. Anything else and you get unfollowed en masse.

Facebook? Only a tenth of the people who liked your page see your posts, and even less than that like your posts? Right. Uh, keep trying. Maybe it’ll get better.

Then you’re lying in bed for a while, watching television because it’s a fantastic distraction from the horrible current state of your life, your manuscript untouched for days, and then a quiet little voice whispers in your ear the scariest words to any self-published author:

“Why bother?”

“What?” you sputter back indignantly.

“Why bother?” the voice continues. “What’s the point of putting yourself through this misery? You’ve been writing your whole life with nothing to show for it but a couple fans and a pocketful of change. You can’t make friends. You can’t get through to readers. You can’t even make enough money to get your own place by yourself. Just give up. You gave it your best shot. You’d make twice the money if you just settled for a job like your old day job. You’re never going to be the female Richard Castle. You’re never going to be a bestselling author of any sort. Better to figure that out now than before you use up all your savings and die in a gutter somewhere.”

“That’s pretty melodramatic,” you scoff.

“But it’s not far from the truth. Aren’t you tired of this? Aren’t you tired of being a nobody? Of putting yourself out there and almost never getting anything out of it?”

“I have gotten stuff out of it!” you argue. “I’ve met people! Not a lot of them, but enough. And I’ve met some really cool people who think my work is great.”

“Yes, and I’m sure you can pay your student loan bills with reviews,” the voice muses.

You hesitate. This a-hole has a point. Maybe you’re just being stubborn, chasing this dream of yours. Maybe it’s time you grew up and did what thousands of people do every day—shelve the dream in order to make a living. After all, you can’t get what you want. Who reads your work is beyond your control. You can’t hold a gun to your readers’ heads and order them to buy your books. You can’t threaten Bookbub into accepting your book. You can’t convince bloggers to review and spread word of your book on your own. Maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe your work isn’t that good. Maybe it never will be. You have too many bills to pay. Time to get real.

But then you think about Stephen King’s On Writing. You think about how that man spent the better part of thirty years trying to get his feet beneath him, facing hundreds of rejections day in and day out. Sure, you’re nowhere near as good, but he’s fantastic and even he had to wade through the long stretch of no one knowing who he was or caring about the work he poured his sweat, blood, and liquor into.

“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask,” Bane said in The Dark Knight Rises. The fictional villain had a point. Nobody cares who you are. They won’t care until you’ve made it to the Big Time. Right now, it feels like you’ll never make it, but you’ll definitely never make if you give up. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll never be anything more than an underground author with a tiny fanbase of less than 100 people.

But guess what?

There is one goal you’re still meeting. You’re sharing your story with others, even if it’s not as many of them as you’d like. People are reading your work. People have made the choice to sit down one afternoon with your characters when they could be reading Stephen King or James Patterson or Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling. They said yes to you when they said no to so many others. For better or worse, they stuck with you, even if they end up disliking the book, even if they don’t want to move on through your series.

And that is why you still bother.

“Screw you!” you say cheerfully to the voice. “Maybe I’ll always struggle and not be where I want to be, but at least I met my original goal and not even you can take that away from me.”

The voice grumbles and shuffles off to that dark place in the back of your head, kicking over trash cans along the way. You turn off the television—well, after that Castle marathon on TNT ends—and crack your knuckles and open your Word document and get back to work.

You are a poor self-published vagrant and you’ve got work to do.

So keep doing it, against all odds, even those your own doubts and fears present.

Things The Dresden Files Taught Me About Writing

No love potions, please.

No love potions, please.

If you are not reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, slap yourself in the face right now.

Then go buy the whole series and neglect your real life for the next 72 hours while you read them.

I’ve read a ton of books in my lifetime, but honestly, this series is by far the best thing I’ve read so far. And I’m not trying to blow smoke up Jim Butcher’s ass now that I’ve met him. I’m dead serious. For years, I only read a couple books here and there, and then my brother let me read Storm Front. I haven’t loved a book series that much since the Redwall series by the late great Brian Jacques. The Dresden Files have everything I love about fiction all rolled into one, but it’s also an excellent series to use as a teaching tool to newbie authors like me, and not just those who write urban fantasy. Allow me to explain how Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has made me a better writer (I think).

Write honestly. So if you know nothing about Harry Dresden, then let me tell you that there’s a reason he’s a bestselling character. You know all those smooth-talking, handsome, sexy, absurdly powerful P.I. characters you read about or see in films? Yeah, that’s not Harry. He’s awkward. Like, seriously awkward. He’s absolutely terrible with women—as in talking to them about anything vaguely romantic or sexual, or noticing when they find him attractive. He’s completely dense about the fairer sex and it takes him ages to get over his instinctive ‘gentlemanly’ schtick as he starts to realize the bad guys are exploiting his nice guy nature. He is also underpaid, underfed, and an unrepentant dork of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars variety. Harry Dresden is not the ideal man you’d think of when you think ‘bestselling urban fantasy main character.’

And that’s why he works.

Harry Dresden is the kind of guy you’d meet, aside from being a wizard. This is where the ‘write honestly’ part comes in. Harry, to me, is someone you could run into at some point in your life—someone who is modest and genuinely nice but also is a complete smartass to make up for his lack of self-confidence. He’s self-sacrificing to a fault, and he has real internal struggles that make him so very easy to understand and root for. He spends much of the series simply trying to survive in this world of nasty supernatural beasties, and the reason why he’s so popular is because he’s an atypical protagonist. Urban fantasy tends to have confident, sexy, alpha male characters, and while Harry has a small streak of alpha male in him, that’s not who he is. He is perfectly happy blending into the background and supporting his friends and family whenever possible. He doesn’t run around looking for trouble.

Authenticity can be one of the most powerful weapons for a writer. Sure, it’s nice to read about a badass character who is the kind of person we all wish we were, but I think the reason the Dresden Files series is so successful is because Jim Butcher chose another direction entirely. Harry feels genuine. He feels like an honest character, someone you could bump into at a bookstore or at a Burger King (which is far more likely). I think they will stand the test of time much longer than the sensationalized ones that hit mega-fame for just being attractive or brazen.

Support your main character with the best and brightest. If for some insane reason you don’t immediately fall in love with Harry like I did, there’s good news. Harry’s friends (and later family) are some of the best written characters out there. You can’t spit without hitting an awesome supporting character in the Dresden Files (who will consequently kick your ass for spitting on them). You’ve got Karrin Murphy, Harry’s best friend (and girlfriend-in-denial), a Chicago detective; Thomas Raith, a White Court vampire and Harry’s casual acquaintance who later becomes more (don’t wanna spoil it, it’s worth the reveal); Waldo Butters, a coroner and part-time unofficial physician when Harry’s dumb lanky ass gets hurt; Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross armed with an archangel’s sword; Molly Carpenter, Harry’s apprentice who is a Perky Goth with a bit of a crush on her mentor; and Bob the Skull, an air spirit of infinite knowledge who is British and also a total pervert. Those are just the main supporting protagonists. I’m not even naming other recurring characters and the long, long list of Harry’s enemies.

The thing that’s so great about these characters is that their lives don’t revolve around Harry, which is something that a lot of other authors make mistakes with on occasion. Harry usually tries to keep to himself, but he’s such a great and lovable guy that he attracts other people to him naturally. He’d rather stab himself in the groin than endanger his loved ones, but the good thing is, his friends all know he’s like that and ignore him and help him out anyway. They have their own set of personality traits and flaws and agendas, and they all work towards keeping Harry alive and kicking, but they also aren’t afraid to keep him in check. As the series progresses, Harry comes into his own and gathers quite a bit of power and abilities, and his friends are very aware that power corrupts. He’s a good man and always has been, but he’s also quite oblivious to things around him that change him unconsciously.

Writing great supporting characters is tough. One can tend to get laser-focused on the main lead and forget that other people have their own lives too, and the Dresden Files is one of those rare series that remembers that we are only seeing pieces of the tapestry. You have to step back to appreciate the whole thing, and each character is like a new color on that tapestry. If you just have white and black, you might not get that big of a crowd, but if you’ve chosen your colors well, then your chances of making it into a galleria are far better.

The main character is not Jesus. What I mean by ‘Jesus’ is that he or she is not going to be perfect, and if they are, you’d better knock them off that pedestal stat. As I mentioned in my first point, Harry is awkward and starts off with this archaic issue of always having to save or protect women he meets, but there are deeper issues inside him as well. It takes a bit to get him riled up, but Harry’s temper definitely gets him into a lot of trouble, and he is fiercely protective of women and children even after he gets over his chivalry problems. His enemies have noted how Harry can get if you push the right buttons, and he is far less pragmatic when he’s angry than when he’s calm.

Anyone who actually has read the Dresden Files knows what I’m getting at. The main reason I decided to write this blog post was to discuss the idea that your main character, at some point in your storyline, needs to screw up royally and ruin everything. And boy, does Harry do that in Changes, and then some.

I won’t reveal what Harry does, but let me just say that the ending to Changes was so traumatic that I (a) literally SLAPPED the book after I was done reading it (b) I was so affected by Harry’s choices that I couldn’t even pick up the next book and read it for two whole months (c) I tried to read the next book and couldn’t because I was still too upset and (d) I skipped to Cold Days just to alleviate my pain. While it was hell for me, this is exactly what should have happened.

I love Harry. I love him more than I loved a book character in my entire life. And he does something so stupid that I had to take a break from my beloved wizard to deal with it. I’ve never had such a strong reaction to a book before, and it took me a while to realize it wasn’t a bad thing. As an author, I want my readers to love my characters and want the best for them, but it’s also important to frustrate your readers and cause them to be at odds with the main character if you want to do more than simply entertain them. I think successful long-running series are the ones that get beneath your skin, and nothing does that better than seeing your favorite character do something that ruins their own life, especially if it’s because they had no choice. Harry didn’t have much of a choice for what he does in Changes, and that’s why it was a gamble. I’m sure a lot of readers couldn’t take that amount of pain and decided to quit. It was by far the most controversial ending in the series’ run. But, in my opinion, it was worth it for the pay off.

If you’ve read She Who Fights Monsters, you’ll see that I subscribe heartily to the ‘your character is not Jesus’ mentality. Jordan Amador is a flawed woman and she makes some seriously questionable decisions that will (and already have) piss off readers. The tricky part is making your readers have an emotion, even a negative one, but not pushing them to the point where they give up. Inevitably, some of them will, and that’s sad, but it’s also the risk you must take in order to grow. If you keep your character in a safe little bubble-wrapped box, they can’t grow. They will never grow unless you let all the bad stuff in to force them to toughen up and learn a lesson and become better. I think an author needs to be sadistic at least once in their series (and I literally told Jim Butcher as much when I met him, and he guffawed and gave me an evil smile and a facetious, “Oh, I’m sorry!”) in order to make a character to last through the ages.

I’ve gone on pretty long about this series, so let me simply say this: the Dresden Files is an incredible run with a character who is too lovable for words, but what one should take away from this is that it has a little bit of everything: laughter, heart-wrenching sorrow, action, adventure, mystery, and horror. For me, this series is the first that I’ve read that has an actual soul. It wasn’t written to make a quick buck. It was real and solid and you can feel it when you’re reading any one of the many books. I can’t recommend it hard enough, to be honest, because it’s what I consider to be a game-changer. If you want to learn more about good writing and taking risks, give it a read.

Parkour, bitch.

-Kyoko

The Deadly Seven is FREE!

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Our lovely short story collection turns four months old this week! Can you believe it? They grow up so fast! *sobs*

In celebration, it’s free on Amazon all day long, just in case you’re new to my series or you didn’t get a chance to grab it the last time it was free. Plus, if you share this Facebook post with anyone, you’ll get an advanced preview of the upcoming sequel novel, The Holy Dark.

We’re coming into the later part of the year, so stay tuned. I’ll be announcing the plot synopsis for The Holy Dark soon, and then it’s on to a cover reveal, excerpts, blog tours, and all the other fun stuff as we approach spring 2015.

Finally, did you know that joining the mailing list or referring someone to it means you get any one of my books for FREE? Consider joining today, or send me an email with the name of the person you referred and claim your free e-book.

See you soon, readers!

-Kyoko

She Who Fights Monsters Launches Today!

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THE CHAMP IS HERE.

Well, not really, but my new novel is. And guess what? You can buy it for FREE right here today (July 22) and tomorrow (July 23), and The Black Parade is also free as well. Tell your friends. Drunkenly shout it in the streets. DO IT NOW.

And if you don’t have anything going on right now, please join me over at the virtual launch party for a chance to win free prizes!