New Hopeland City was built to be the center of the technological age. It was supposed to be a shining example of humanity’s achievements. A beacon to guide us towards a better future. But some habits die hard. Within five years, it had become a hotbed of crime and corruption. And now, even the police are sometimes in too deep to help. That’s where I come in …
My name is Cassie Tam. I’m a PI. And this is my story.
“I’m sorry, but did you want to get changed before we speak? We’d be happy to leave the room while you get ready. It must be hard work performing in both the TS gear and a kimono thick enough to house projectors without them moving out of line with each other, even if they are the smaller, lightweight models.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Kitsune sighs. “There’s a wireless motion detection system in each hand too,” they add, waving two metallic, clawed paws. “You’ll note that my tails are missing. They don’t yet make multi-tailed suits, you see, and the number is important within the folklore, so we had to find other solutions. The projector tucked under the obi sash keeps the back open nicely, and it allows movement, both in animation and in the actual device, but it’s a bit stronger than the main ones.”
“Meaning that it’s heavier,” I reply.
“Indeed. The way the system works is identical to the tail guidance in regular suits though.”
I frown and Lori clarifies, “Regular Tech Shift gear uses two small wireless touchpads to control tails, one for the bottom half, and one for the top half. They’re embedded in the hand rest of Ink’s front legs. For hybrid-style gear, they usually sit inside the thumb of each hand. It’s the same concept in each one, but animal-style gear allows for bigger movements, while hybrid gear measures micro movements.”
“Which would be rather fiddly, given the level of movement that I require. These are built into the paw pads and are set to register larger movements so that the tails can move in time with the different dance routines and my more flamboyant gestures,” Kitsune explains, demonstrating one of the hand flourishes from the show. They pause then and chuckle. “Ah, but I’m rambling. I am afraid that changing is, contractually speaking, impossible. Will my appearance be a problem?”
“No, I’m used to Tech Shifters…”
Lori laughs and cuts in with, “You are so not used to us yet.”
I laugh quietly, despite myself. The miserable old loner that still lives in my head says I should be angry about that; I’m working after all. But the part of me that was enjoying the evening is far more prominent and reminds me that this was supposed to be Lori’s evening too. I can allow her a small jab or two on that basis. “My early experiences with Tech Shifters were not positive,” I say, addressing Kitsune. “I’m getting better, though. What do you mean by ‘contractually speaking,’ if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all. It is essentially as it sounds. The Kitsune brand is a joint venture between myself and Kevin, and there is a lot of paperwork involved dealing with how the whole thing is to be played out in every mundane situation that you could imagine. What it means is that I can boss Kevin about and make him my dogsbody as much as is required, but at the same time, I must respect his rather brilliant marketing strategies. Part of that means that the mystery of the Kitsune’s true identity is to be protected at all times. As such, I do not meet with anyone without my professional face on. It seems a little strange, I know, but he was previously a historian of certain old-world sporting brands by trade and thought that applying a degree of what he called kayfabe would help give the whole thing a new edge. I can’t say that he was wrong.”
“So, are you Kitsune when you’re around family too?” Lori asks. “Or partners?”
“Oh, I have no time for partners, not with my touring schedule. With family, I can be myself, though Kevin did insist upon them signing a gagging order to prevent them from revealing my identity to anyone who hadn’t signed a similar contract. You should have seen my mother’s face when he brought that up. I honestly thought that the rolling pin she was holding was going to be put to nefarious use. Outside Kevin, even my oldest friends do not know who resides beneath the mask.”
“That must be hard to maintain,” I say.
“Oh yes, I have cover stories and everything. It’s somewhat akin to witness protection if television is to be believed. As far as most know, I am simply a touring stagehand for the great performing fox spirit.”
I nod. “Kitsune, as pleasant as this is, I assume there was a reason that you wanted to see me?”
“Oh yes, of course. I saw the news coverage of your recent success with that Gary Locke character,” they say, and Lori flinches slightly. “As far as local detectives go, there are plenty of them about, but you are certainly the most well regarded. I have actually been in town for a week now, and I am due to remain here for a further two. I am afraid that, over that initial period, I was subject to a crime of the nature I am led to believe the police do not take overly seriously.”
“The police wouldn’t be happy about not knowing your identity, regardless of the crime. If it’s one that they won’t usually touch, that doesn’t leave many possibilities. What are we talking about?”
“It is rather lonely on the road,” they sigh wistfully. “A few months ago, we stopped in Toledo, and I was awoken from a post-performance nap by a clattering outside the tour bus. I wandered out, expecting to find a fan or two hunting autographs, and instead found this charming little thing skulking around the bins. I named him Fish.”
Kitsune produces a phone from their kimono, loads up a photo, and passes it over. It shows a snow white American Shepherd dog sitting on one of the tour bus seats and giving the camera a suspicious look. It’s too big to be a puppy, but certainly not big enough to be fully grown.
“You named your dog Fish?”
“It seems strange, doesn’t it?” Kitsune laughs. “There’s a reason, though.” They take the phone back and enlarge the picture, revealing that the dog’s tail is about half the length it should be. It was easy to miss at normal size because the single colouring made it seem like it was tucked under its legs. “When I was young, my parents had some rosetail betta fish. One of them was pure white, and it had a habit of nibbling through its tail fin. When we took Fish to the vet, they said that the tail damage, judging by the angle of the marks, was likely self-inflicted. I couldn’t remember what my parents called the fish, so I just stuck with Fish.”
I nod. “And I assume that Fish is now missing?”
“I am afraid so. It happened yesterday, during the early hours. I was woken by a loud bang and found that Fish was gone, and the tour bus door was open.”
“Could Fish have run away?”
“It would have been difficult for him to open the door, but not impossible. I don’t think that he would have run, though. We were lifelines for each other, you see. He kept me company during the day, and when he had nightmares, I comforted him. If he was spooked, he would usually run and hide near my bed. I heard something else too, a van door being slammed shut maybe? And then an engine.”
“So you’re thinking that he was stolen.”
“Honestly? I don’t know. Do you think that you could take the case? How much would it cost?”
☆ Author Interview ☆
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I know that a lot of writers don’t agree with this, but I read absolutely every review that I come across, good or bad. I understand what people are saying when they say that reviews aren’t for the author, they’re for readers, but honestly, I love them. It gives me a chance to see what readers think I did well or not so well, and that’s really important, I think. The way I see it, if I’m reading that a lot of people really loved x, then I’ve hit the mark there, but if lots of people don’t care for y, then I may want to consider not doing so much of that. As to how I deal with them … I tend to share the good ones over social media. If it’s 3 stars or up, the chances are I’ll at least tweet about it. If it’s a bad review, I don’t share them, but I don’t get too hung up on them either.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
While the first book in the series, Addict, was inspired by The Maltese Falcon and Blade Runner, this one was a little different. That original feel is still there, but there’s a bit more focus on building the setting a bit more. If anything, I’d say that the long term plan for the series has a bit more of an X-Files influence. The mythology episodes specifically. Getting the feel that there could be something going on behind the scenes that nobody knows about was something that I wanted to kickstart here.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
There’s a long term plan in place for The Cassie Tam Files. The goal with each book is to create a standalone case that has a proper start and finish contained therein, but to drop clues for the bigger mystery. That’s a challenge, especially as I decided early on that I’d ensure that some of the hints aren’t so obvious, and I didn’t want that to interfere with the storytelling. Once we hit book five, it’ll all come together, but right now I have to get the balance between telling the book’s story and doing the set-up for later on. That was particularly hard here, as I was also worrying about creating a Highlander 2 situation whereby the sequel doesn’t measure up to the original. I was proud of Addict, but I didn’t expect it to be as well received as it has been. So, when it came to The Fox, The Dog, and The King, I was worried that I’d mess things up with an inferior sequel. So yeah, I think it really boils down to my own fear being the biggest challenge here.
Tell me about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
I humanise things quite a bit. To give you an example, when I was a teen, my parents had a lotof mugs. Whenever I made myself a tea or coffee, I used to make sure I used a different mug each time because I didn’t want of them to feel left our or get jealous that the others were being used more. It’s a habit that I haven’t quite kicked either, I sometimes still verbally thank things that I’ve used or give them reassuring pats if something’s gone wrong. If you’ve never seen someone apologise to a stool after knocking it over, it’s quite an odd sight from what I’ve been told.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
This is going to take you a while. Back in school, you had some unique ideas compared to a lot of your peers, but right now, you’re doing things differently. Everything you’re writing is a pastiche of other people’s work, and that’s why you’re not having any luck getting the stories out there. Don’t change though. The ideas are still good, and this is all just you learning. Once you find yourvoice, you’ll hit your stride. That’s when the real fun will start. And trust me. You’ll be surprised how people react to your weirder stuff.
What fantasy realm would you choose to live in and why?
The Sonic the Hedgehog universe, definitely. The franchise was one of the favourites as a kid, and its remained so into my adult years. I still collect the comics, I still watch the cartoons, I still buy and play the games, I even pick up plushies when I see them around! It’s a vibrant, exciting world full of brilliant characters. Okay, so there’s the odd chance of an evil genius attacking, but that’s more than balanced out by being able to hang out with Tails, who’s one of my favourite fictional characters ever.
What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
I love to get creative! Let’s see … the cosplay is a big one. I like to design and build costumes, ranging from modifications of existing items to built-from-scratch fursuits. It’s a lot of hard work, and I usually end up hurting myself (sharp items and hot glue are my mortal enemy at times), but my word it’s fun!
I also do some art. A lot of it is digital art, as is attested to by my DeviantArt page, but I do enjoy doodling with fine line markers too. I actually have a few ideas in mind for simple greetings cards that I want to get stuck into when I have the time.
I’m also a pop culture blogger, writing about everything from anime and video games to books and film trailers. Again, it’s a lot of hard work, as I have a five post a week minimum, but it’s all worthwhile.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
I never did get why there’s such a clash between Star Trek and Star Wars fans. Growing up, Star Wars was a family tradition at Christmas. There was always at least one of the original trilogy on over the Winter. But … Star Trek The Next Generation is my go-to of the two franchises. I used to watch the series with my Dad, which gives it a bit of a nostalgic feel for me. Looking at it objectively though, the cast of characters is phenomenal. From Data and his quest for humanity to the cultural nuances with Worf, the crew were all really interesting, and the way they interacted with each other was just so natural. Plus, Picard is the coolest Captain.
What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
I’m working on a couple of things, actually. There are some ideas for a number of different titles in my head (and various loose sheets of paper in folder-of-unordered-stuff), but for the time being, my focus is on The Cassie Tam Files. The third book, LV-48, was signed by NineStar Press, and is currently in editing. I’m hoping that will be out this year, but we shall see how it goes. I’ve just finished the plan for the untitled fourth book and will be beginning work on that soon, and then it’s on to planning the fifth and final book. With luck, books four and five will both appear next year, but I don’t want to rush them.
These days, Matt can be found working on far too many novels at once, blogging about anime, comics, and games, and plotting and planning what other things he’ll be doing to take up what little free time he has.