M.L. Brennan Talks Kitsune Science and Folklore in Her Reddit AMA

When we first covered M.L. Brennan’s urban fantasy series Generation V in Under the Radar last year, Justin Landon summed up part of what granted these books “underlooked” status: Instead of being about some kickass woman, the protagonist is Fortitude Scott, underachieving film studies graduate who’s also a prepubescent vampire. He’s not particularly good at anything, yet he’s investigating murders and vampire territory issues, along with his kitsune shapeshifter bodyguard Suzume.

And that’s all what makes the Generation V series—the latest installment, Dark Ascension, is available now—so enticing to readers. So, when Brennan took to Reddit’s r/fantasy for an AMA, she led a rousing conversation about proper Tupperware storage of organ meats, how an unemployed Millennial makes for a relatable hero, and, of course, the ins and outs of kitsune folklore. Check out the highlights!


Kitsune Rule, Werewolves Drool

Author and AMA champ Django Wexler asked for three reasons why kitsune are better than werewolves, so of course Brennan complied:

  • Kitsune are travel-sized, and can easily be carried onto a plane in a cat carrier. Werewolves have to travel in the baggage hold.
  • Foxes have a reflective lens behind their eye, just like cats, which gives them superior nightvision than wolves. They are extremely smug about this.
  • Foxes are fluffier and therefore cuter than wolves. That’s just basic science.


Kitsune Science

Noting that Brennan has used a lot of science in creating her characters, Redditor cheryllovestoread asked, “Are you just a science nerd or did you actively set out to find a plausible biological basis for the typically magical beings in fantasy?” Brennan’s answer:

It’s a bit of both, actually. I enjoy reading a lot of pop science non-fiction, and I do have a bit of armchair enthusiasm in the natural world. Attending a heavily science and technology-geared college certainly shaped my approach to things as well. So there’s a certain amount of science nerd in my makeup — but I also really wanted a vampire that had more of a biological function, and I’ve always felt that they would benefit from reproductive ceilings and a clear lifecycle.

And of course, that later led to “who would win” kinds of debates:

Mars445: To draw from The Dresden Files, who would win: a older vampire or a concealed sniper shooting from outside the vampire’s field of view? Super fast beings would be unable to dodge a rifle shot they do not see, due to the supersonic nature of nearly all rifle bullets which make the bullet arrive before the sound of the bullet being fired does.

Also, what’s the lifespan for a kitsune? Atsuko is described as being incredibly well preserved for a woman in her 80s-90s.

MLB: Sniper beats vampire, hands down. Problem is that a bullet will temporarily incapacitate an older vampire (and how “temporarily” that is will depend on how old that vampire is), but it won’t kill them. A better bet is actually a car bomb — enough explosive to destroy heart & brain, then a fire to finish the job.

Kitsune lifespan is human normal. Atsuko is extremely well preserved, but not unusually so for a Japanese woman who has had good levels of activity and nutrition all her life.

And Ellber wanted to know what new monsters Brennan might bring in, to which she responded:

It would be a lot of fun to bring in another Japanese monster to add some particular discomfort to the kitsune. It would be fun to work with some kappas or perhaps a baku.


Kitsune Folklore

On the other side of things, Brennan shared some of the folktales that inspired the kitsune mythology in her series. One in particular sums up the creatures pretty well:

I read a lot of folktales when I was constructing the kitsune. My favorite is about a kitsune who is harassing travelers by making them give her rides on their horses. A samurai decides that he’s had enough of that shit, so he rides his horse at night where everyone has been running into her. Sure enough, he runs into her. As soon as he does, he takes her prisoner, tosses her over his horse (she’s in human form), and starts to ride back to town with her so that she’ll be punished. She cries and begs him to let her go, but he refuses, and they ride through the night. Then, almost at dawn, a group of five riders come up — they’re a powerful lord’s soldiers, and they’re also hunting for this kitsune. They demand that he hand her over, and he does. They take the kitsune and ride off.

The samurai rides a little further, but then he realizes that he’s deep in the woods. His ride toward the town, plus the entire encounter with the lord’s soldiers, was all an illusion that the kitsune set. She tricked him into taking him where she wanted to go anyway, then left him lost and alone in the woods.


Millennial Issues in Urban Fantasy

Tfrohock: I love how you make Fort so easy to relate to and so real. It’s almost like he was born into a family of mobsters and he, being the only son with a conscience, is trying to escape. It has undertones of The Godfather, if The Godfather was a comedy with vampires, werewolves, and ghouls.

What gave you the idea for such a complex society moving in tandem with ours?

MLB: Thanks for the compliment! I like it when urban fantasy works with the issues and conflicts that exist within our own world. Fort is, at his heart, an underemployed member of the Millenial generation who is afraid of making the moral compromises of his elders.


Sibling Rivalry and Other Battles

When CourtneySchafer asked about Brennan’s favorite and hardest scenes to write, turns out sisters played a part in both:

My favorite scenes to write are almost always the ones between Suzume and Fort — I love the rhythm that these two characters have with each other, and the dialogue always flows very easily. But one of my favorite scenes to write was when Prudence was teaching Fort to home-citrate blood in Tainted Blood — she’s such a wonderfully amoral character, but that makes her so much fun when she’s being nice to her brother. And it creeps him out so wonderfully.

Some of the hardest scenes have usually involved Suzume’s twin sister Keiko. As easy as Suzume is to write, I have found her twin to be an absolute headache. I think it took me a long time to figure out Keiko’s particular voice — also, I discovered in Tainted Blood and Dark Ascension that Keiko was easiest once I’d figured out how much of her motivation derives from the relationship she has with Farid. I finally figured out why that is — Keiko is actually very unlike Suzume, which was how I was attempting to approach her for the first two books. Instead, Keiko is a lot more like Fortitude in terms of idealism and stubbornness. I spent two books beating my head against a brick wall until I realized that my approach to her was wrong (so wrong, in fact, that I cut her completely out of the first book in frustration, and her on-page appearances in Iron Night were as stripped back as I could get them).


Imperator Suzume and Playing in Other Genres

SheckyX: When are you gonna have Suze take the wheel, scare the holy bajeezus out of Fort and say, “Furiosa, eat your heart out”? In all seriousness, you know my love for this series, and DA turned that up even more notches. But what other books, if you were left entirely to your own devices, would you want to write?

MLB: In seriousness — Suze could never be even a temporary protagonist in the current Generation V series without fundamentally changing the tone of the books. Fort is a very idealistic and high-moral fella — Suze definitely has not only a willingness but a track record of knifing inconvenient individuals and tossing bodies in the river. For all her pranks and snark, she has a much bleaker worldview than Fort.

There are a lot of directions that I’d like to go eventually — sci-fi space opera is extremely enticing, as is secondary world fantasy, and of course historical fiction. Decisions, decisions!


You can read the rest of Brennan’s AMA here!


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