An Alternate San Francisco, Just A Step To The Left Of Our Own Glittering City —
When I began to write Bound, I knew I wanted to have a bit of fantastical combined with a dash of Asian horror. Sort of. The monsters in Asian mythology are usually a bit odd and driven by fierce emotions, usually revenge. There were bits and pieces I wanted to pull together as well as give a shout out to inspirations along the way. Since I’m going to be writing this as a serialized saga, it allows me to tease out bits and pieces of the world as I go, which is a lot of fun.
There’s a long argument of the pros and cons of having a paranormal world that’s hidden or out in the open. I’ve done both, most notably in Ink and Shadows for hidden and blurring the lines of hidden and open in the Hellsinger series. For the Chinatown Demons serializations, I wanted to do a hidden world where only the very wise could see the dangers but people knew something was off about the supernatural. Kind of a step away from the world we live in now.
So with all that being said, let’s talk about world building and what the underlying layers of the Chinatown Demons’ worlds hold.
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If you’ve already read Bound, then you know of the presence of cats in this world. Well, supernatural cats. I made a deliberate choice to riff off of the Bakeneko from Japan.
The bakeneko (化け猫, “changed cat”) is a type of Japanese yōkai, or supernatural creature. It is often confused with the nekomata, another cat-like yōkai. The distinction between them is often ambiguous, but the largest difference is that the Nekomata has two tails, while the Bakeneko has only one.
The reason that cats are seen as yōkai in Japanese mythology is attributed to many of their characteristics: for example, the irises of their eyes change shape depending on the time of day, their fur can seem to cause sparks when they are petted (due to static electricity), they sometimes lick blood, they can walk without making a sound, their wild nature that remains despite the gentleness they can show, they are difficult to control (unlike dogs), their sharp claws and teeth, nocturnal habits, and their speed and agility.
There are a lot of tales associated with the bakeneko but they are often connected with the enigmatic lifestyle of red lantern districts and prostitutes. When I created Xian, I took a bit of that as his backstory and how he eventually became an oni… or demon.
As the series goes along, I’ll explore more about how he was turned into a demon and the man who brought him across as well as more on his brother-in-blood, Jiro. Their relationship is a tangled one because both are independent creatures—just like cats—but they depend on one another. In the San Francisco they live in, they’ve staked out territories, like cats, and while they interact as brothers, there’s always an underlying aggression there when one crosses over the other’s boundaries.
This tension is easily absorbed between them but if another one of their kind should enter the city, there will be an issue and that’s something we’ll see in the future. The bakeneko are very territorial and someone coming into their area… or flirting with what they have claimed (like a certain SFPD detective).
Cats aren’t the only shapeshifting demons in Asian folklore. Badgers, foxes, tanuki and birds all have shapeshifting legends and of course, there are dragons. But it’s harder to hide a dragon in Chinatown. *grins*.
There are quite a few attributes I was able to sneak into Xian from the bakeneko but I didn’t include them all. The practice of wearing a towel on his head and dancing might have to wait until he’s really drunk because his character doesn’t lend itself to doing that out in the open but a large part of him being a medical examiner comes from the bakeneko manipulating dead people. He is fascinated by that threshold of death… and well, like most cats, enjoys playing with dead things. So of course most humans find that creepy.
But it is so in character.
Xian does need certain things to survive, most notably blood (although he does eat food) and well, satisfying his deep curiosity. Basing his demon type of the bakeneko gave me a good framework to build him on and since the cat demon exists in one form or another throughout Asia. It was important to give Xian a good solid base for his demonic ways and tie him into the area. I purposely included his true nature being seen by some people on the streets and in a way, it allows me to write windows or portals from the mundane world into the supernatural in such a way the reader has a wink and a nod knowledge of what’s going on and who is out there.
At one point, Xian points out that no one will ever believe Spencer or any other human if they say demons or supernatural creatures are real and that’s a pretty hardcore belief in the modern world. By reaching back into legends, I am able to play with the stickiness of a supernatural reality, superstitions, and the skeptical wariness of society… and of course, bring demons out to play in San Francisco.
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About the Author
Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.
She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.
Rhys can be found at the following locations:
Facebook Group: Coffee, Cats, and Murder: https://www.facebook.com/groups/635660536617002/
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