I'm K. M. Shea, an Amazon bestselling indie author, a fairy tale freak, and an Otome game fanatic.
How I was Infected
I first started playing otome games to help my Japanese when I was in college. As an intermediate Japanese speaker, the kanji system was my worst nightmare. I knew roughly the same amount of kanji as an elementary schooler. Normally this would have limited me to games meant for first graders, but while searching for games to play to increase my fluency, I learned that some Japanese otome games were fully voiced—which would make it easier to play as my listening comprehension was much higher than my reading skills.
I decided to do a trial run of what would become my absolute favorite otome game, Tokimeki Memorial 2. To my delight the game helped me learn heaps (my Japanese teacher was a little surprised that I was able to recognize all sorts of kanji loosely related to dating) but I quickly became hooked on the game itself. (Shiba is my boi, even if I worry every time I do his route that Toudou Tatsuko is going to kill my character in her sleep.)
After I finished most of the paths in Tokimeki memorial 2, I tried Tokimeki Memorial 1, and had kittens when I heard about the release of Tokimeki 3. Next I snagged copies of Duel Love and In a Distant Time. Eventually I tried out American made visual novels—like RE Alistair++.
I always thought my love for Otome games would remain a hobby. It would never have a professional impact on me…right? Wrong!
Writing as an otome fan
In 2013 I became an Indie Author—which is a fancy way of saying I’m not attached to a publishing house and I sell my books myself. Most importantly, I sell most of my books only in an ebook format. My latest released book—Rumpelstiltskin—was briefly an Amazon YA fantasy bestseller in the US and the UK.
Otome games impacted my books and stories in huge ways. I didn’t even notice the way the aspects sunk into the cracks, until I release book two in my Timeless Fairy Tales series, The Wild Swans.
The Wild Swans is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. In it Elise—the foster daughter of the King of Arcainia, making her the foster-sister of seven handsome princes—takes a vow of silence and knits seven shirts made of stinging nettles to break the magic curse laid on her foster-brothers, who have been turned into swans by their evil step-mother. (I know. Only in fairy tales, right?) In my version of the story, two of Elise’s foster-brothers fall in love with her and spend most of the book scrambling to secure her affections before Elise and her boys head back to Arcainia to kick their step-mother’s butt.
Just in reading that short book description you can probably already see the otome influence. I mean, Elise spends the entire book in the company of seven hot princes. (Reverse-harem anyone?) But the similarities deepen with the brothers’ personalities. The princes, you see, are callbacks to a lot of typical, otome arch-types. There’s the younger, mouthy prince; the intellectual but polite prince; the identical twins who act like opposites; the tsundere prince; the sparkling hero prince; and the bossy, oniichan prince. Elise—the heroine—does have a more of a personality than your typical visual novel heroine. She had to, or the bright personalities of her foster-brothers would wash her out.
The king-pin of Otome’s influence on my writing, though, is the ending of the Wild Swans. Rather than choose one prince for Elise, I decided to write two completely different endings, one for each brother, and include both of them in the ebook. Readers have the ultimate power in deciding whom Elise falls in love with.
The double ending rocked a lot of my fans. You see, book readers—especially fairy tale fans— are used to endings where the heroine ends up with her one true love that she is absolutely, positively meant for. The idea that the heroine could be happy with either prince was revolutionary. Many readers begged me to reveal which was the “true” ending.
Their reaction caught me a little off guard. It hadn’t occurred to me that the double ending would be anything but delightful—probably because of the hours I spent replaying games like Tokimeki, pursuing all available suitors. One absolutely positively true love who was the only man the heroine could be happy with? Please!
Interesting enough, the longer Wild Swans has been out (it was released in February 2014) the more popular it has become. I’ve had a lot of readers email me to admit that they were rooting for the prince who they thought would have been turned down had I stuck with the typical single ending. Some enjoy how very different the endings are, others just like the idea that Elise had enough brains to consider both princes.
What does this mean for Otome fans?
It’s important to realize that the ebook market is a different creature from the market for traditionally published, physical books. Ebooks also give more room for invention. Ebooks allow me to put in clickable links that will take readers to their desired ending.
This means self publishing ebooks will open up new possibilities for otome fans. Much the way Ren’py and Novelty provided a sort of grass-roots American otome visual novel market, I believe the self publishing/indie ebook community could start a trend for Otome novels. Yes, you lose the beautiful artwork, but how much more fun would it be to read a fantasy novel where you decide if the girl ends up with the hot elf warrior; the grungy, anti-hero human; or the handsome druid?
So tell me, fellow otome-enthusiasts, what do you think? Would you be interested in reading novels where you choose your own ending, or would you like something different? Tell me about it in the comment section below! Thanks for reading!
As a thank you for letting me guest write this editorial, Wild Swans will be FREE March 5, 2015 through March 7, 2015. Pick up a free copy of kindle version here!