All posts by Belinda Burke

A Risky Conversation

This week for #SaitoSaturday I decided to give a little bit more of a clue than usual, because while Kagami gets a lot of love (he’s the namesake of the book, poor dear, and thus doomed), Akira gets…much less. Therefore, it’s back to chapter three, draft two, for a bit of a snippet that expands on an excerpt from a few weeks ago. Akira enters the fray via Taira Arashi, he-who-is-a-dragon-bastard, and one Watanabe Sakiko, she-who-is-a-pain-in-the-ass. Of course, he doesn’t know this yet, but he will…


The low, black throbbing of Taira Arashi’s laughter followed Akira out of his office and into the elevator, with the woman, Watanabe-san, right behind him. As they stepped out onto gold-veined marble of the first floor foyer, she smiled at him, almost a grin. “You did well, Saito-san. I’ve seen very few men hold their ground against Taira-sama.”
“And this amuses you.” It did not amuse him.
“Oh, yes.” If she was aware of Akira’s irritation, Watanabe-san didn’t show it. “What is that old saying, laughter or tears? Perhaps you should keep it in mind, Saito-san.”
Shaking his head, Akira tugged at the hem of his jacket and scanned the foyer. The two of them seemed to be the only humans, at least judging by the breadth of the smiles aimed in his direction, their fanged promises. No one approached them, and yet he felt the weight of many eyes, much attention, and shuddered. “How do you work with him, Watanabe-san?”
She did not meet his eyes, scanned the room for a moment then slanted her gaze into the shadow of her own hair. “How? I wonder. Perhaps, as he said, it is just because this is a different time. Another era.”
Akira snorted, then cleared his throat . “Apologies, Watanabe-san. I… Having heard the stories of my parents and grandparents, I can’t see how anything is changed. ”
Widening her eyes at him, she leaned closer. “No? Your job exists, doesn’t it? A hundred years ago there were no human police.”
“And what good does it do?” He kept his voice quiet, but Akira couldn’t let her statement go without challenge. “Eight out of ten cases reported are dropped, because in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators are yokai. And that line? That’s where we lose all jurisdiction.”
There was something blase in her shrug, and she sashayed away from him, catching up with her gaze over her shoulder, pulling him along behind her with it. He followed because he had to, but she seemed to think it was her due. “Don’t such things make you eager to follow Taira-sama’s instructions? To make a place for yourself here in Asakusa, to expand your sphere of influence?” Watanabe-san settled herself on a soft couch and gestured at the chair across from her. “The lines one cannot cross, one must patrol…or at least observe carefully, even from a distance. Is that not so?”
This woman. There was something strange in her smile, in her sudden sadness. Akira settled himself gingerly, trusting not even in the furniture in this place, and nodded slowly as he contemplated the woman and her words. Even her name was suggestive. “Perhaps we will be so lucky. Watanabe-san, I hope you don’t mind the question, but are you of any relation to Watanabe Jiro, head of the Relations commission?”
“The judge of YAMA?” Her laughter was very soft. “You could say that. He’s my husband.”
“Your – husband.” Akira blinked at her in confusion, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “You’re married to the head of YAMA, and you work with Taira-sama?”
She hummed her affirmation, tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch, tilting her head as she smiled at him. “This surprises you? But my husband also works with yokai.”
Shrugging, Akira narrowed his gaze at her. As if the two were the same thing. “Of course, but -”
“And it is you and your work we should be discussing, Saito-san.”
The sharpness of her words stopped Akira short. Again, something…off stuck out to him, as if the edges of his woman’s presence were prickly, too hot, thorn-studded…something. “Ah…” Was there a flame in the flicker of her eyes, a glow burning brighter? No, couldn’t be. Just the florescence of the overhead lights. “Right. I apologize.”


*Interested in where this all begins? Check out the first KAGAMI post, which starts at the beginning of the book!

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Secrets of the Soak

To go along with the excerpts from KAGAMI, and to expand a bit on pieces of Japanese culture and life that pop up now and then, Sugoi! posts are here, starting with number one (this one): secrets of the soak!

With Japanese culture making waves in the West, a number of things have started to stick out as “different”. Some of them are pretty obvious, but at the same time, ‘obvious’ observations come with some…well, not-so-obvious limitations. Manners and customs, like anything else, grow up in a culture over many years, and generally for a reason (even if the reason has been forgotten). You can’t see them just by looking at a thing, and it takes time to adapt to new manners and traditions – but it helps to know what you’re getting into before you literally get into it!

A Little Bit Of History

Everything about bathing in Japan, including the bathroom itself – the ofuraba – is just a little different. The story of the Japanese bath starts with the onsen and sento. An onsen is the kind of bath that we’d all love to vacation at: a natural hot spring.

oldesthotel0915-pool
An onsen at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

Since the Japanese islands are volcanic, hot springs are all over the place, and have traditionally served as public baths. Fun fact – the oldest hotel in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is Japan’s Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – it’s been operating since 705 AD! As the name gives away, the Keiunkan’s onsen are one of its main attractions. But despite the fact that Japan is volcanic, there aren’t an infinite number of hot springs, so as the population grew, sento sprang up to fill the gaps. Just like the onsen, sento serve as public bathhouses, but instead of hot springs, they’re more like a bath at home. There are generally showers and/or faucets to bathe with, along with pools for relaxation, but they’re just filled with heated tap water.

800px-Kiyonaga_bathhouse_women-2
An Edo or early Meiji period sento: note the lack of male bathers, as well as the buckets being used to wash outside the baths proper.

Sento can be traced back to the Nara period, during the 700’s, when Buddhism started making inroads in Japan. Steam baths in temples became commercial bathhouses over the course of several hundred years (there’s mention of one in 1266), but these were still steam baths – tiny, dark, humid rooms where a patron was sent with their hot water ration, since there were no faucets yet. Skip ahead a few centuries more to the Edo period, and by the 1800’s, baths were beginning to look more like one might find in a modern sento.

Keep in mind, both onsen and sento are public baths, and traditionally, kon’yoku, or mixed-gender bathing, was allowed. However, during the 1800’s, kon’yoku was gradually banned more and more as Japan was opened to the West, making it rare nowadays to find a bath that offers such an option. And of course, as it became easier and more affordable to have a bath at home, fewer people frequented the public baths in general. Modern Japan’s houses and apartments have their own baths, just as in the West, even if a Japanese ofuraba isn’t much like a Western bathroom. Sento linger, regardless, as places for people to bond and as cultural centers that serve as a reminder of old times. Onsen are now an enormous part of the Japanese tourist industry, but they’re also a fixture of the modern Japanese lifestyle. Not much beats a weekend at a hot spring!

Inside The Ofuraba

Now, to the important stuff! If you’ve read the scene I posted, or are an anime person (I see you, otaku!), you’ll be familiar with the fact that the ofuraba is nothing like a Western bathroom.

Classic-Japanese-bath-with-simple-teak-stool-and-daft-use-of-stone
An ofuraba.

Firstly, ofuraba is better translated as ‘bathing room’ than ‘bathroom’, because toilets in Japan have their own space – they aren’t in the same room as the bath. Secondly, the ofuraba is usually a smaller room than Western bathrooms, often like a walk-in shower with the tub along one wall. Finally, ofuro, Japanese bathtubs, are deeper than Western tubs, but also smaller. They’re meant for soaking, not for “bathing” in the sense of washing.

asian-bathroom
A modern ofuro. Note the showerhead and bathing accessories outside!

Ofuro themselves used to be nothing more than wooden boxes, or even cauldrons with a fire underneath, but like everything else these days, technology has gone to work on them. Now you can find ofuro made of exotic materials, with all kinds of upgrades like the ones that come with Western bathtubs. The shape, however, remains classically Japanese, and a square tub with flat sides that don’t slope makes a definite change from a Western tub.

But the strangest part about bathing in Japan for a Westerner is probably the process of bathing itself. Instead of soaping up in the tub, or just climbing into a tub of hot water and rinsing in the shower afterward, ofuro are meant for soaking after you’ve already washed. When you walk into the ofuraba, you scrub off first, outside the ofuro. Usually that means showering – Japan is probably the number one place in the world for movable showerhead-hoses. In more old-fashioned homes, the bucket-and-rinse method is still used, but in either case, it’s a huge faux pas to enter the bath without having at least rinsed off first.

covered ofuro
An ofuro with its cover on.

It’s just as important you make sure not to get soap in the yubune – the bathwater – as it is to make sure you scrub beforehand! Often the bathwater isn’t changed between soakers, but daily. Instead, the ofuro and yubune are covered while not being used, much like a jacuzzi, and the water is reheated later – though these days, recirculation systems make it easy to keep the water hot.

It’s also not uncommon for people to bathe together, even at home in ‘private’ baths. There’s the obvious necessity of making sure kids get clean, which means families tend to bathe together, but more than that, bathing is a ritual in Japan that promotes closeness. There’s even a special term for it: hadaka no tsukiai, which translates roughly to “naked communion”, or “skinship”. The idea is that in the relaxed, necessary openness enforced by nudity, people bond more easily and honestly. This has been important enough that older Japanese people are expressing concern for modern children, who are growing up without the custom of public bathing. As to whether or not the custom dies out completely, only time will tell.

bath screen
A bath scene by Toyohara, showing an old-fashioned mixed bath.

Regardless of whether one bathes alone or with others, the idea of bathing as leisure time, as well as something beneficial to health and hygiene, is deeply engrained in Japanese culture. It’s a lifestyle I’m having fun adapting as I write. I don’t have a furo, but a nice long soak is a wonderful way to relax…and contemplate the next thing Sugoi!

P.S: For those wondering how I picture Akira’s ofuraba, the one described in the excerpt, take a look at this little gem! It’s even got a shoji in the background (a Japanese sliding door) and what I can only imagine is a grumpy Kagami, soaking alone!Noodle In Bath

That Shower Scene

This week for #TeaserTuesday I decided…to expand on last week’s excerpt! Remember this hint of a scene? Have some more – but not too much! (And it’s still a wee bit NSFW, so read carefully.) As Kagami can attest, Akira is a distracting bathing companion…


The walls and floor of the ofuraba were both tiled with raw, grey stone – everywhere but a little window set in the wall above the ofuro. Mesmerized, Kagami stared while Akira turned on the tap, and the deep, square tub started to fill with steaming water. There was a drain set into the floor, with a short wooden stool above it and a wide, flat bucket with a washcloth in it set to one side, but Kagami had no idea what all this stuff was for.* Before he could ask, he was distracted from his perusal.
kagami sees an akira     Akira stripped off his shirt, was suddenly half-naked, and the shifting muscles under the skin of his bare back incited a need Kagami had never experienced before. Was this desire? This feeling, tight in his belly, hot in his chest, a startled ember rolling down his spine. His heartbeat – that he had a heartbeat – Kagami grew aware of its pulsing in his fingertips, the trapped, rigid length of his sudden erection, his lips, his tongue… Warmth fled his fingertips for his cheeks and the tops of his ears.
     With one hand, Akira tossed his bloody shirt in the trash, then seemed to hesitate for an instant before he stuck his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and boxers and shoved them down. Kagami licked up the man’s body with his glance, then lowered his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face as he stripped off his own borrowed clothes. His policeman was good to look at all over. The thick muscles of his thighs, his taut, dimpled buttocks – the angles of his shoulders, his hips…
wet abs (akira)     A rough rush of something like summer lightning spurred Kagami forward a step, had him reaching out, but he jerked his hand back as Akira doused himself with spray. It came from a shower head outside the ofuro, and Kagami regarded it with interest…but not as much as Akira. Wasn’t the bath already full of water? Why would he need to get wide outside of it? But when he was wet all over, the man sat on the stool, took a washcloth and soap and started to scrub himself around blossoming purple bruises. “If you’re gonna stand there and stare, you wanna wash my back?”
     The words jerked Kagami’s attention up to Akira’s face. “Saito…san?”
     He was looking at Kagami with eyes gone dark and heated, and his gaze flickered down over Kagami’s naked body, then up again more slowly. “Well?”
SONY DSC     Kagami gloried in being looked at, being seen, as much as in the fact that Akira seemed to return his desire. “I can…I can do that.” It was only as he took the cloth from Akira’s hands and started to rub it against his shoulder that Kagami realized this gave him permission to touch without misgivings or embarrassment. He stopped moving the washcloth to follow the lines of the policeman’s back with the tips of his fingers instead,  tracing lines beneath the suds. Thin, pale ridges of scar tissue came under his hands, and he frowned, staring. An old wound?
     Akira twisted around then, eyeing him with heated amusement. “You can actually scrub, y’know. I’m not gonna break.”
     Yes, there was that about humans, wasn’t there? They had their frailties, but to shatter at a touch wasn’t one of them. Even if those scars were proof of mortal vulnerability… Shuddering at just the thought, Kagami pressed closer to Akira’s back as he scrubbed up the man’s spine.


*Interested in what makes this scene different from how you might take a bath? Check out the first Sugoi! post, Secrets of the Soak, about the customs and history of bathing in Japan!

Kagami

It’s time for another dip into…the Secret Files! Have a peek at Kagami, the character who gave his name to the first book of the upcoming Yokai Chronicles!
Kagami is a type of tsukumogami (pronounced soo-koo-mo-gah-me), mythological creatures in Japanese folklore. His true form is a mirrored piece of glass, but he’s eager to escape the restraints of being a mirror. Mischievous, dedicated, and just a little bit of an oddball, Kagami escapes his mirror with an eye on Akira, a Tokyo police inspector who reminds him of the one he must avenge: his Maker. In search of the one who slew the glassmaker who created him, and the full experience of life in the real world, Kagami…begins!
Take a peek at some inspirational images (yes, that means gorgeous Japanese men), and a special sneak-peek of Kagami’s first scene below!

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Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami.
Are you awake? Awake…
Wake!
Ka
Ga
Mi.
From the depths of his own reflection, he surfaced with the sound of that name. Am I Kagami? The world around him, outside him, was a red-hot blur of indistinct intentions, full of the wild pounding of drumbeats, the ritual smoke of incense, sand burning, charcoal, fire. Most of all, the mirror was aware of the flames that kept his molten surface in motion, but his consciousness was scattered. Piecemeal. His perceptions gained meaning only as he grew aware of them.
To see. To feel – and again, to see. And then: to hear.
“No, no. There’s no point complaining, and I don’t want to hear you scream.”
A voice engaged the mirror’s whole attention as his surface smoothed into stillness and reflected more of the world than fire. Thinner than that boisterous voice, muffled noises hummed at the edge of his consciousness.
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
Are you awake, awake, awake – ?
The echo was distorted, a shallow vibration that twisted slowly through the molten depths of the mirror. Then, more strongly, he heard a single voice from outside, though it was not speaking to him but someone out of his sight. “You did this to yourself, yes, you did. Oh, I know all the excuses, all the reasons you could list. I have heard them all before – yokai, human, it makes no difference.”
A clatter of shining sound sprang to life all around the mirror. Metal? But no, it was too clear, too starry, too bright. The roar of the fire intensified in response to a bellows’ gust, and the mirror realized it was the sound of other glass, tingling voices shouting, laughing, agreeing with their Maker.
There was only a single muffled tremor of denial, and then the Maker’s voice again. “Yes, I know. You think yourself special. But it has been more than eight hundred years since I took this work on myself, and criminals are all the same. Now, wait just there while I make this beautiful baby ready.” A pair of gleaming eyes appeared suddenly above the mirror’s glowing surface, set in a soft, furry face. The dark eyes were black-ringed, tanuki eyes, and the whole of his body, nose to tail-tip, fangs to claws, glowed with a soft haze of yokai energies. The Maker leaned back and changed, his body flowing like the glass he worked, and the mirror observed with interest the way he traded his tanuki shape for one more human. Only the dark, soft eyes with their kind satisfaction, their encouraging expression, stayed the same.
Restless, the mirror shifted, bubbling with focus but not purpose, need but not understanding of it. He was, but who was he? Who was he to be? What was being?
Beautiful baby, the soft-eyed one had said, his Maker. Beautiful baby. Was that his name? Or was it kagami, as the shining echo still insisted? The question vibrated through him, coalesced in sparks on his molten surface, and the Maker’s voice was tender when he answered.
“You are awake, Kagami? Yes, that is your name, though I will call you many other things in love. It is almost time to give you your heart. Pay attention, now. This is your sacrifice, your beginning. You will cleanse his soul in the fire, and in one hundred years you will take it for your own.”
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
This time the pieces of echo, this new label for his being, came with laughter and a feeling of welcome, but Kagami, newly named, was still only a questioning awareness, perceiving and not understanding. A heart? What was a heart? What was a soul? Whose were the voices that laughed at him, reached out for him, not his Maker but shadows in the dimness with him, behind the surface of still-boiling glass?
Kin.
Your.
Kin. Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami!
The heart is –
The soul is –
The sacrifice!
The…sacrifice?
As if in answer to his questioning, a boy was lowered toward Kagami’s surface. The ripples of heat rising from him brewed drops of sweat that sizzled as they fell. The boy’s eyes were hard and cold and horrible, but Kagami perceived without knowing how that the fire still within him, his own molten being, would cleanse the grime from the soul that had been chosen for him, the heart that would beat inside him.
Yes.
Kagami!
A heart, a soul, a face, a name.
To be born.
With us!
Among us.
One of –
Us.
Kagami.
More and more voices, more and more entreaties called out to him, demanding, amusing themselves with his emptiness, the things he did not know or comprehend. The truth came in softer, firmer words from outside the mirror-world, beyond the inner reflections and their echoing glass voices. “You become, Kagami. My finest work, the most beautiful mirror, one pane of glass, never to be broken, never to forget your name. My masterpiece. You become, and you are tsukumogami. Do you understand? That is to be yokai, but born of man and not of nature. Tsukumogami: a living thing, an embryo one hundred years in the birthing. Behold your sacrifice, Kagami. Behold your heart, and the face you will possess.”
The face…he would possess? The Maker gestured, and the muffled source of the room’s discontent was revealed. A boy, hanging above him, bound and gagged and struggling vain and furiously. Sluggish, learning more of motion than he had in his first moment, Kagami rose up, pressing against his own red-hot surface to peer closely.
Oh. Pretty. As the sacrifice was lowered closer to his molten glass, Kagami could see the boy more clearly, the rippling muscles of a youth in his prime, soft, bronze curves of body, narrow nose, slender face, elfin chin…they were not quite human, those features. More than mortal. An interesting face. -a yokai face?
This one…he would be a powerful sacrifice.
Tendrils of bitter yoki embraced his Maker once more, embraced the boy as he pulled at his bonds, and rained onto Kagami’s surface.
“You can’t do this! I’m not human, you can’t just snatch up yokai and use them as you please! Don’t you know whose son I am? What right do you -” The Maker made a slashing gesture with one hand, and though the boy’s mouth kept moving, the hollow of his throat vibrated only with silence.
It appeared the Maker knew everything that mattered – even to this boy. “Quiet now. Enough struggling. This is the end of your world, you should know that. What does your father matter, compared to your crimes? What would the Fujiwara say to your excuses?”
The boy bucked harder, bent nearly in half, then screamed as his toes came too close to the searing glass beneath him. He jerked back as far as he could in the other direction.
“Was that a name you didn’t expect to hear? But that is why you are here, boy. The life you stole is the reason your life was given to me.” The glassmaker spoke in a conspiratorial tone, but with sad, sad eyes. “It troubles me to no end that I never have any trouble finding a sacrifice. Ah, well. You’re a beautiful boy, you will give my masterpiece a lovely face. And one hundred years from now, when the grief of your evil has faded, I am sure your soul will serve him better than it has served you.”
Dark hair flailed as the boy was dropped the last few feet, free-falling, the strands dancing like silk thread in a high wind. His face was a scattering of regrets-rage-hate, a distortion of his general, fleshly beauty. Then he hit the surface of the glass, and Kagami bubbled eagerly out of his frame, up around the boy then down to embrace him. He became more as he consumed this sacrifice. More aware. More shining. Brighter.
Blood and skin and bone melted away, eaten in an instant, devoured to the last particle, leaving behind only the diamond heart of a soul, and a realization. To be was… To be was to be Kagami.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Death, Noted

The upcoming Netflix-created Death Note film has been whitewashed so thoroughly, Tom Sawyer must have told Netflix how to do it.

I thought about posting another author rant about this one, (another meaning, pursuant to the Ghost in the Shell fiasco) but then figured…this might be better. Who knows, maybe someone can actually answer all these questions – because that’s what this is, a list of questions. I asked four of Netflix on twitter…but then I realized I actually had bunches more.  Then I realized bunches was too many, so I settled on seven.

These aren’t questions I think Netflix’s new Death Note movie will be able to answer  by being watched, these are questions I ask about why the movie was made the way it has been made, and why Netflix, with a relatively good reputation for diversity, would…well, screw up badly.

So, without further ado, the original four, and plenty more:

1. Death Note, reset in Oregon? So um… Shinigami, being Japanese death gods, won’t be in it, right? The cultural context and explicitly Japanese nature of the shinigami means that while the story of Death Note allows them to travel anywhere in the human world, their origin is still Japanese.

2. Why can’t Light Yagami be Light YAGAMI…and be an American? I know plenty of Japanese Americans; changing his (highly symbolic) name is irrelevant to his ability to be American, and Seattle, Oregon, the new ‘setting’ of this film, has a large Japanese American community.

3.  How can Netflix claim to be concerned for the moral relevance of Death Note’s story, while simultaneously disregarding the moral relevance, especially in today’s struggling society, of racism? The choice to make the lead a white actor instead of a Japanese actor implies that a Japanese American…isn’t an American.

4. Please explain why the only main character in the new film played by a Japanese actor…is Watari, the “butler” or “servant” character? There is no reason Watari could not be played by a Japanese actor, because his Western ancestry is vague in the source material, (and unimportant, compared to, say, the symbolism of Yagami, or the origin of shinigami) but in context…let’s be frank, this just looks bad. 

5. As a follow-up, why is Quillsh Wammy worthy of being played by a Japanese actor, and of keeping his Japanese code-name of Watari, while the lead’s last name must change from Yagami to Turner? 

5. I notice in the trailer that “Kira” is still spray-painted on a wall, prominently. However, in Death Note, “Kira” is the name the Japanese public ascribes to the unknown heart-attack murderer, “Kira” being a Japanization of the English word “Killer”.  As with question 1, please explain how this makes sense if the story has been moved to Oregon? 

6.  The position of Misa Amane’s character as a Japanese model and “Idol” is important to the plot in significant ways. American celebrities are observed by society in a very different way, and would not be useful in the same manner. Why has the most important female character in the series been reduced by removing her Japanese identity?

7.  A major plot point in Death Note comes from the poor relationship between Japan…and America, in the form of conflict between the Japanese Task Force and the FBI. Having reset the film in Oregon, how can this dynamic possibly be preserved? The difference between state/federal law enforcement, for instance, does not approach anywhere near the level of international interference. 

Bonus Question: Did no one in Netflix or Hollywood learn the lesson of Dragonball: Evolution, whereby it was shown that adapting anime by using white actors and tiny portions of Japanese mythology produces…a horrible flaming pile of donkey crap?

 

Icarus

It’s #1lineWed again! Meet Icarus, one of the main characters in The Wrong Things, a book series I shouldn’t be writing! He starts out homeless and alone, an Ara (submissive vampire) with a fear of Ada (dominant vampires) and a desperate need for one all the same. The one he ends up with is Raven – black, beautiful, and old as the desert… But Raven is for later.

For now, wave as he passes: sharp-tongued, snarky, still soft as a sigh, the redhead with bedhead, Icarus!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Icarus swallowed thickly, touched his tongue to his teeth, sucking on one fang, then chewed his lip. This Ada – he would never say it, but this Ada was tempting him, too. And more than just with his taboo offer of the richest blood in the world.

“Do you really mean it? I’m so -” He closed his eyes, felt the heat rising in his cheeks and couldn’t deny it. “I’m just so hungry.” And then he snapped them open again, shook his head and inched a little farther back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even -”

“I made the offer. I mean it. Come here.” And, more softly than he’d spoken yet, Raven said, “I have no idea why you are so terrified, but I will not hurt you.”

It was unbelievable. Icarus believed him anyway. Why not? This was already insane. An Ada in the room with him, ignoring his heat, sitting on his own hands – another hysterical flip of laughter popped out of him, and he crawled up the bed, put his hands on smooth, dark shoulders and sucked his lip between his teeth before he could moan just from the heat of Raven’s skin.  “Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you being so good to me?”

“That frightens you?”

Shaking his head, Icarus slid one of his hands up into the Ada’s thin, tight braids, and then other down his arm, over the swell of one huge bicep to the bend of his elbow. “You scare me. Ada scare me. Or maybe you don’t scare me, but you’re still an Ada and you should.”

Raven was frowning at him now, but he still tilted his head to the side, the curve of his scalp against the curve of Icarus’ fingers. “I will ask questions later. For now, if you are going to drink, then do so. It is not easy for me to have you in my lap like this.”

“Where…” The word was hushed.

“Were you not going for my throat?” There was so much amusement in Raven’s voice Icarus huffed, then realized he really wasn’t afraid, and was almost scared by that. Was it this Ada’s attitude, his gentleness? His self-control? His humor? Was it Icarus’ heat, the drive he could sense even now, encouraging him to –

Icarus.”

He sucked in a breath, then leaned up on his knees and sank his teeth into the Ada’s throat.

The Major Issue: Ghost In The Shell Is Now Whiter Than Ever

“I guess cyborgs like myself have a tendency to be paranoid about our origins.”

Major Motoko Kusanagi

 

Let’s be clear: there is nothing good about the upcoming live-action adaptation of Ghost In the Shell. As a film, its artistic merits (whatever they may happen to be) will always fall far behind its impact on the community of young women, especially young Asian women, who have waited for years for someone to make something out of one of the most influential manga and anime sagas in the last several decades.

For those who don’t know, Ghost In The Shell’s main character is Motoko Kusanagi, code-named The Major. She’s a scrap of human brain tissue in a completely cyborg body – a body that can be exchanged for any “shell”, that could conceivably look like anything or anyone.  It is, I’m sure, this convenient means that Hollywood has decided to use to explain why they’ve cast a white actress in a role that demands  a Japanese woman. The reason I say demands is simple: the Major’s shell is immaterial, when the titular “ghost in the shell”, her consciousness and personal identity, is that of a Japanese woman.

In every media depiction, anime move, series, or manga, Motoko Kusanagi expresses her discomfort and dislike for other bodies than the one in which she is depicted. She is a Japanese woman, and because of the fact that her cyborg-self can be so easily manipulated and changed, that identity provides a rock-solid core from which she acts and perceives the world. I want to say it once, all by itself, clearly.

Motoko Kusanagi identifies as a Japanese woman. She is a Japanese woman, and stripping her of that identity makes her someone else.

The heart of the Major’s character is this identity, which is based, not on her body, not on flesh, which she doesn’t possess, but on a sense of her self. This idea, the concept of consciousness and self-awareness as mobile phenomena independent of flesh, is at the heart of the entire Ghost In The Shell universe. To cast a white actress in this role is not only disrespectful of the character, but completely destroys the foundations on which the Major is built.

Earlier, I read an article discussing the recent revelation that Motoko has not only lost her Japanese body in this film, but also her name. Motoko Kusanagi is now Meera. The article stated that:

It’s possible that prior to gaining her cybernetic body and possibly losing her memory, “Meera” was actually Motoko, a Japanese woman. Her ghost was removed and placed in the body of a white woman, creating a subconscious internal struggle for her. As Johannson says, “the heart of this story is her search for an identity.”

Convenient, isn’t it? Hollywood has been feeding us the same lie for decades now: “Audiences won’t watch a movie without a white actor as the lead!” Theories like the one above are excuses predicated on that lie. With hundreds of hours of source material, in which Motoko is always presented as a Japanese woman, why is it necessary that Hollywood’s version use a plot device that “forces” them to cast a white actress?

If source material in which the characters are depicted with non-white ethnicity or non-Western cultural origins aren’t safe – if a character that began as Japanese or Egyptian or Indian won’t stay that way in a film adaptation, then what hope is there for new non-White characters to just…appear? Obviously it hasn’t happened so far.  While I am aware that some excuse the decision to cast Johansson based on the “star-power” effect, let me ask you this: If only white actors and actresses are cast in star roles, then how will a non-white actor ever have that “star-power”?

There are numerous Japanese actresses already within Hollywood, not even counting those who would like to be actresses. There is no reason to cast a white woman in the role of a Japanese woman. In the end, it comes down to what it always comes down to: institutionalized racism.  Not only has this racism destroyed this movie – the whitewashing of Motoko Kusanagi highlights more clearly than ever that there is a problem in our cinema. There is a problem with the way stories are being told, even when there isn’t a problem with the stories themselves.

The time has come to vote the only way we can as consumers – with our dollars. If you want to support Ghost In The Shell, buy the anime. The HD releases are excellent. Watch some of the new OVAs, share the manga with a friend, stay up until two in the morning discussing how we know who we are. Just make sure you experience the story as it was meant to be experienced – with a Japanese woman as its heart.

Harvest Lick

Welcome to the second taste of A Harvest of Dreams & Embersin celebration of its full release this week! 

Remember, Licks are NSFW excerpts, so read carefully – and look forward to another erotic excerpt from my next new release, Wolf Bite, on Valentine’s Day!

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“This someone who is calling for you, you really must listen?” Kas’ words flowed warm across his shoulders. Myrddin turned and found himself caught in his lover’s arms.

“Yes. This time it’s my turn to go.” He paused, confused by the humor he found in the moment even now. “My turn to be summoned away.”

“I hear it. Did I not say? But I am surprised to find you giving such power to a mortal.”

“No lesser man than the High King of Britain.” He grinned as he said it, but the smile faded quickly as Kas stroked his hair.

“Why?”

“For the sake of peace, and my own conscience, and maybe…”

Kas gave a little tug to the strands still in his grasp. “You cannot stop what is coming. Not even you.”

Myrddin scowled and pressed his face against his lover’s chest. “Don’t pull my hair.”

“No? But that is not what you say when I take you.” And he stopped, ran his hands over the curve of Myrddin’s buttocks. “You have time before you leave me, do you not?”

“Always time for you.” He slipped out of Kas’ grasp and dropped onto his hands and knees. “Do what you want with me.”

Kas took Myrddin’s hips in his hands, bent over him and kissed the ridges of his spine. “What I want? That could take a while. This mortal king, he will have to wait his turn.”

Wait his—? Myrddin made a face. “No, thank you. I’ll have only you.”

“What a fool, to think that was what I meant. Even in jest, you would say that? As if I would let you, as if I would share you ever again.” The words were scalding, almost angry, but Kas’ hands were gentle, easy and eager both as he slipped them down to open him up.

Kas. I don’t deserve—oh!” his fingers inside, stroked just the right spot, and Myrddin gasped out the rest of his words. “I don’t deserve you. I don’t—deserve—ohhh.”

Kas slid one hand up Myrddin’s spine and into his hair again, tugged his head back and bent by his ear. “No. You probably do not. No more than I deserve you.”

There was a hint of subtle humor in his voice, the suggestion that he meant his words both ways that they could be taken. Myrddin opened his mouth to protest, but Kas kissed him and suddenly he was groaning instead. “It does not mean anything, Merlin. Deserve. You should know that better than I.”

“Ka-a-ahhh-ahh—” Slow, deep penetration. Cock, not fingers. Then slower. Deeper. Each thrust dragged out almost past bearing. But the sensation was intertwined irresistibly with Myrddin’s memories of every other time Kas had touched him, and with the fear of the future that went on compelling him.

 

Want more? Pick up your copy of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers here!

 

 

Harvest Bite

To celebrate its full release,  today I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter one of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers, Eight Kingdoms book five! The second half of the saga begins with Merlin…and mayhem.

 

Chapter One

Sleep had come to Spring, though it did not belong there.

Myrddin advanced alone through the stillness of the Wyrdwood and found even the birds sunk into slumber. Drowsiness had descended, and with it a sacred silence that brought disharmony, reducing the promise of the branches to the ghost of leaves. There had never been such lethargy in immortal Spring before, but the season had traded away its show of splendor for somnolence.

King though he was, even Myrddin was tangled in threads of torpor and his own sudden awareness of the presence that incited them. Why here, why now? Father?

Yes.

With the feeling of acknowledgment came a summons Myrddin could not deny, though he wanted to. No other being was so perilous to him, had ever cost him so much, as his own father. And now, now that he finally had Kas for his own…

Neither the time nor the place of the visit pleased him, but Myrddin could no more deny the summons of the one who had sired him than the buds could refuse the spring.

His heart clenched. Had he regained what he’d lost only to have it taken away? Kas. All his desires were bound up in the single syllable of that name. He would not give his lover up again, no matter what demand the god of the wild had for him.

Myrddin found his father at the heart of the forest, wrapped around its most ancient oak. He knew it was his father, but Myrddin had never seen him like this. As the Stag of the wood, yes, carrying the moon in the spaces between his antlers. As a mist, or in a man’s shape, but like this?

The god of the wood had come to him as a dragon. His father was a moss-backed beast with leafed and feathered wings whose span stretched beyond Myrddin’s sight. He was the wildest and most beautiful of his kind Myrddin had ever seen, but he was a dragon all the same.

Did that mean…he was no longer a god?

There was a shiver in the branching pinions, a sibilant trembling of feathers. A sound like silk being stretched too tight and too quickly snapped through the air as the great wings beat once then settled.

“Father…” The dragon opened his mouth and breathed out the scent of somnolent blossoms, but not a single word in answer. “Father?”

He resisted the urge to go to one knee as he resisted the drowsy pressure of the air, a sudden urge to yawn. Silence greeted him. More than before, stronger the closer he came to the unsteady orb of his father’s eye. He recognized the source of the unnatural sleep with a familiarity that reminded him of his own long-vanished past.

‘My little shoot.’

Not his father’s voice, but the memory of his mother’s, brushed Myrddin with a faint prickling of dread. This sleep was akin to his own lost winter slumber. The sleep that had taken him at Samhain each year, before Spring had had a rite, or a kingdom… When winter had come to him as to the blossoms and dropped him down the well of the sleeping season.

His father blinked one enormous eye, and the flickering facets drew Myrddin in. The eye became a world, a universe in the shape of an ochre orb. “I forget who I was before the birth of this moment.

 

Want more? A Harvest of Dreams & Embers is currently available at Pride Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Grab your copy today!

Thirteenth Entry: Naagin

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We have passed out of the realms of men, beyond the watchful aura of city and civilization, into the wild that breathes to its own rhythms, beating the night-songs out of the brightest hour of day.  This is the land ruled in the name of the Tiger by all that has slipped into the hidden spaces beneath his feet.

The daylight is not dappled with shadow. Tenebrous intentions have conquered the sun. 

From the green dark she arises, out of the morning steam, only to scald us with a stare that glimmers unkindly. Half woman, all serpent,  this is the dawn of her hundredth year, and her arising is the arising of ancient magics that move only in this arena.

The music is silence; the jungle; the pressure of heat and dampness curling against our ears. The drumbeats are her stomping feet as they divide from serpentine coils, still evoking the same writhing comparison.

One by one, the leaves move, the forest floor disturbed by the motions of, not one, but many serpents, their slithering in time with the dance of the woman who has shed her skin. Golden-eyed, her stare too glittering, her skin brown as the dry leaves beneath her shining feet but smooth as summer, she moves away from us. Among them. One of them, as her dancing fades into the distance.

We retreat from the eyes that turn to us as she passes, away from the tongues that taste our air and the widening hoods of her cobra companions.

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Naagin References
Naagin Wiki
More about Naagin

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!