Regie, You are very welcome to my Writers Chat series. We’re going to talk about your novel Death’s Kiss aimed at Young and New Adult readers, and which you place in the category of “Dystopian (SciFi)”, as you say, along the lines of The Hunger Games or 1984.
SG: Let’s start by looking at what inspired you to write and self-publish Death’s Kiss. Can you tell us a little bit about both of those processes – the writing and the publishing?
RK: Hi Shauna! And to those reading this. First of all, I would like to thank you for giving Death’s Kiss a chance. My debut self-published novel is my baby and I’ve spent many years finishing it. I have so much to learn about writing and Death’s Kiss was such a super enjoyable and stressful story to write. But everything worked out well in the end. I first wrote Death’s Kiss in 2014, when I was 21. Hence, the reason why the virus only affected those who were 22 years old and older. I was saved, phew! Most of the writing was completed when I was deployed in Kuwait, and I would hang out at Starbucks after work to write. A very productive time in my writing career. I think I was just too excited to publish Death’s Kiss so I took the self-publishing route. Given a second chance, I would’ve taken the traditional route, I think Death’s Kiss deserved a bigger audience, but what was done is done. I am happy I had released my story to the world. The publishing process was very stressful. I had paid for the editing and publishing with an independent company and this was probably the worst decision ever. Though they completed editing, there were just so many corrections I had to still make. It was frustrating. I also paid for the cover design and website, which ended up as a massive disappointment. I ended up designing the cover and website myself because it was just frustrating to work with this company. Anyways, lessons learned and self-publishing was such a stressful but inspiring experience.
SG: It sounds like there was a lot of learning in that process, Regie, but also that you got through it and achieved what you set out to do – bring your story to readers and, most importantly for all writers, believe in your story. I loved the role Nat King Cole and Orwell’s 1984 played in the novel. The Shuffle also put me in mind of the wonderful Shirley Jackson story The Lottery. In Death’s Kiss once a citizen turns twenty-one, their name is entered into the shuffle, and thirteen individuals are selected from each age group. The scientist Lizbeth Bailey explains to The Aces that “It is so much easier to control people with fear. You’d be surprised how entertaining people are when they are scared.” What were your literary and cultural influences on writing this novel?
RK: George Orwell’s 1984, The Lottery, and the Hunger Games were my inspiration for Death’s Kiss. 1984 was my first dystopian novel I ever read, and we even had an assignment where I had to draw a 3-page comics of an important scene. The Lottery’s theme intrigued me and even though it was a short story, it had such a deep message. Then, I clearly remember reading The Hunger Games and I was just mesmerized by the writing and the story of Suzanne Collins. These three stories definitely had so much to talk about and I wanted to incorporate similar themes that were tackled in these stories to my book.
SG: And that emulation and those themes definitely shine through! So, at the heart of Death’s Kiss is a love story that runs over 53 chapters and traverses a myriad of time-zones, plots, subplots and challenges that our heroes Ryoma, Yuri, Chrystian and Samantha face in a future country called Yliria. It’s told through the eyes of Ryoma and Yuri, a dual- narrative which worked well, allowing us to get to know the characters deeply. Without giving away anything, can you tell us how difficult was it for you to keep track of all the twists and turns in this fast-paced novel?
RK: Honestly, I’ve read through Death’s Kiss that I got so tired. I had to rewrite and rewrite to make sure I’ve covered all plot holes and questions readers might think about. The characters also did whatever they wanted to do, and sometimes I just had to follow their lead. It was thanks to these four that I was able to cover everything I wanted to cover. It was a messy process, but I think it all worked out in the end.
SG: I think sometimes when the characters take over is when some of the more interesting story-lines appear! One of the themes that stood out to me was the push-pull and tension between duty/obedience and love/freedom and what it means to be part of a family. Our four heroes – their stories told through alternative narratives by Ryoma and Yuri – are Aces and one of their responsibilities is to protect the peace and “be the guardians of freedom and survival”. Their teacher warns them that “Curiosity reaps knowledge but it can also mean death.”
RK: That scene with Lizbeth was definitely one of my favourites. I would read that scene over and still get excited. The tension about the things you mentioned really added to the story, because really, we face many decisions and have to choose what’s more important and what needs to be sacrificed. It’s all about choices.
SG: Appearance is also important in the novel, and how we are marked – physically and psychologically – by the systems in which we operate. I’m thinking here, for example, of the wonderfully called The Joker System (for the justice system!), the division of the country into Space, Hearts, Diamond and Clubs and, of course, the huge historical backstory about the BlackJack virus that resonates – disturbingly! – with what we are going through now. I have to say here, also, that reading this novel whilst living through a current Pandemic (Covid-19) was a most interesting experience! Can you talk to us a little bit about the underlying motif of luck and cards?
RK: I had so much fun researching about the cards. It was very enlightening. Rather than about luck, the Cards symbolized making a choice, taking risks, and making a gamble. The Aces definitely were not lucky. They were chosen. And they had to make many choices, and sacrifices. Rather than fate, the characters themselves, walked their own path. And that’s what I was hoping the readers would think about the symbolism of cards. It represents life itself and the decisions we make that carve the body of our life stories.
SG: Yes, of course – the Aces were chosen and, as we see, this did not mean they were lucky. So this is a fast-paced novel with lots of twists and turns but it also has a philosophical element to it. In a way what Yuri and her friends discover is the power of knowledge, understanding the real meaning of immunity and protection and how betrayal “can only happen when there is trust.” Was this something that was there from the start or something that emerged through writing the novel?
RK: Many twists and turns happened along the way when I was writing. As I’ve said, the characters started making their own decisions that was different from the initial plot-lines I thought about. It was a whimsical experience because once I gave these characters lives, everything just unravelled before me. Initially, the Director was super evil who just wanted power. And I didn’t realize I ended up loving his character the most that his motivation why he does what he does had to be different. And the power he had as a Joker became the double-edged sword that he made the choice of wielding, no matter the consequences. Even the plot twist at the end came to mind almost at the final stage of the process. I had to rewrite it and made it work somehow. Like the books that inspired me to write Death’s Kiss, happy endings can’t be achieved so easily and the story continues.
SG: Yes indeed, I’m wondering if there will be a sequel! So, we’ll end our chat, Regie, with some fun questions :
- Countryside or city? City
- Boat or plane? Plane
- Family or country? Family (That was me referring to Death’s Kiss!)
- Coffee or tea? Tea
- Cats or dogs? Pandas? (Good one!)
Thank you, Shauna for giving me the chance to talk about my baby, Death’s Kiss. And I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I loved writing it.
Regie, I enjoyed our chat and the world you brought me into in Death’s Kiss and I wish you all the best with your writing and illustrating!
About Regie Khemvisay: She always loved stories and she had drawn and written two completed unpublished graphic novels. But she didn’t fall in love with writing a novel until she joined the Army and all she ever thought about is publishing her stories for more people to read. Death’s Kiss is her debut novel. She has a master’s degree in illustration and hoping to expand her audience by also publishing graphic novels and children’s book in the future. These days, Regie is often daydreaming and writing too many WIPS she hopes to publish one day.
With thanks to BookTasters on Twitter (@BookTasters) for introducing me to Regie’s work.