A few weeks ago MANtastic Fiction was approached to take a look at a book by a relative newcomer. With no idea what to expect, I stole a bit of time and sat down and read. And had I read it straight through then it probably would have only taken an hour or two to wrap up … but that isn’t what I did.
I would bet that I doubled that time because I kept laughing. Or calling up the other girls in the bookclub to tell them about some cool part. Or re-reading parts out loud to my sister who kept looking at me funny since none of the scenes I was reading her followed each other so I can only imagine what she thinks the book was about.
Incognito, by Miho Li, is fast paced, mysterious, well written and entertaining. The humor is, at times, both outrageous and dry. And the romance is so subtle in its beauty. A definite addition to my “highly-recommend” list.
Here is the Blurb:
When Ren sees the new transfer student—Shin, black hair, storm-cloud-gray eyes, and more beautiful than any guy had a right to be—he makes it his mission to get to know him. Too bad Shin is about as sociable as fungus, and about as likable, too. But Ren isn’t good at giving up, so he takes on the challenge of cracking Shin’s titanium shell. What he finds underneath, though, is way more than he’s prepared to handle.
People are disappearing in Akita, and Shin might be behind it. As Ren’s feelings grow for the reserved man, so do the number of missing person reports, and Ren doesn’t know if their budding relationship is enough to withstand both the well of secrets and the organization Shin works for.
Here she is to discuss a bit about the origins of Incognito.
Thanks so much for hosting me, and letting me talk a bit about my writing. As an Asian American, I like to write stories that reflect both sides of how I was raised. As a result, I draw a lot of my inspiration from both cultures. This blend of Eastern and Western is the reason I chose Akita International University as the setting for my latest release Incognito. There’s a strong mix of students from all over the world, and the undergraduate program is unique in that all courses are taught in English.
In terms of what you can expect from the relationships, I love writing about characters whose personalities clash. There’s a fine line between like/attraction and dislike/annoyance, and it’s fun to watch the characters zigzag back and forth, creating confusion and friction, both figuratively and literally. Ideally, the characters would challenge each other—mentally, morally, maybe even physically.
I’m admittedly not very good at writing heavily sweet romance (which is not to say I don’t enjoy reading it or that I never write it, because I do in both cases). But when I approach romance in my writing, I think about subtlety, and by ‘romance,’ I don’t mean physical attraction, which can be instantaneous. I mean a real, slow-burning, emotional investment that transforms into love. This building emotion should be conveyed throughout in small ways—little gestures, lingering looks, shifts in thought or reactions like conceding to something they wouldn’t normally give into. Oftentimes, the characters have no idea it’s even happening.
The characters I write aren’t naturally inclined to romantic gestures or voicing (or even thinking about) their feelings, so that sort of tenderness has to be earned. That moment when one of them finally says or does something—it’ll almost be out of character, which should hopefully make it feel that much more significant.
Who formed first in your mind, Shin or Ren?
Ren formed first. Originally, Ren was supposed to be the mysterious transfer student, but as Ren’s personality became clearer, I realized he just didn’t possess the needed subtlety.
Shin barely seemed to tolerate Ren in the beginning, was that the appeal to writing their dynamic?
The best part about writing these two is that they can argue and take jabs at each other, and understand that their words aren’t born of pettiness or anger—it’s just one way that they communicate. They don’t take it personally. In fact, Ren finds it hilarious (Ren finds most things hilarious). At first, Shin resents the way Ren can provoke him into a reaction, but Ren is so compelling (and infuriating) that Shin just can’t help himself—and eventually, he starts to enjoy the banter as well (but he would never admit it).
I love the balance of their interaction … Ren with his in-your-face confidence and Shin with his quiet patience … and the subtle shift into romance. What do you think finally won Shin over?
I think it was Ren’s sheer tenacity. Shin, who’s pretty good at rebuffing people, has never met anyone like Ren before, and he isn’t quite sure how to deal with him. The physical attraction grows into admiration and reluctant friendship, which opens the path to something more. In a way, Ren represents many of the things Shin has never believed he could have (or want).
The humor comes in some of the most unexpected parts, is that how your mind works or is that solely the character you created?
It’s a bit of both. I often have to mentally edit the sarcastic quips or snipes of humor that pop up in my head as I’m writing something more serious. But with Ren, I didn’t have to hold back—in fact, Ren’s antics are well beyond the normal, and I often found myself second guessing what I’d written because it seemed too comedic (or just weird). But it fit Ren so I kept it.
As I was reading, it seemed fully formed as a visual in my head. How has some of the yaoi anime influenced this story?
I’m a fan of archetypes. Anime and manga are teeming with them, although in yaoi, they often feel more like stereotypes than archetypes. Archetypes are like an outline or a skeleton—you begin with a frame and then you build around it until you’ve got something whole and three dimensional. Yaoi stereotypes, though, drive me crazy (not a fan of the controlling seme and the weepy uke), but there are mangaka who break away from those stereotypes and create fully fleshed, intensely sympathetic characters. Ren and Shin were inspired by the desire to do the same. At face value, Ren is obnoxiously happy, but he hasn’t always been that way, and you have to at least wonder why he’s so adamantly optimistic. Shin takes a lot of pride in his job and what he can do, but he isn’t a drone. He questions the path his parents set out for him while, at the same time, fully committing to it.
Siren in known for their series work, do you plan on revisiting Ren and Shin or the characters of Akita International University … or create stories independent of each other?
I didn’t have any plans for a series when I wrote Incognito. But I do actually want to explore Shin’s background a bit more and provide answers for things I only alluded to in the story. I also want to expand on those internal conflicts I mentioned above. Shin and Ren don’t have an easy future ahead of them, and it will be interesting to see them take on the challenges.
Personally, I can hardly wait for more.
In the meantime, here is a chance to win an e-book copy of Incognito for yourself. Just leave a comment below letting us know you’d like to be entered. Or chat her up and say hi … she’s very nice. She will probably even say hi back 🙂