Great stories are rooted in the characters inhabiting them. S. M. Cook has given us a treasure trove of characters in her novel, Kyuuketsuki, in which she has fused vampires with her love of the Japanese culture.
During the first year of publication, THE DARK SIRE has been privileged to present to its readers the first two chapters (printed as four parts) of S. M. Cook’s novel. Here at TDS, we thought that you, the reader, might like to hear from the author herself. Therefore, we prepared some questions and S. M. Cook was gracious enough to answer them.
So here, launching The Creative Nook (a new series, released every Monday at 11am, that features author, poet, and artist interviews) for the first time is our interview with S. M. Cook.
TDS: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I can’t tell you how fascinated we are by your creative choices. What drew you to the Japanese culture and why did you fuse it to vampires?
S. M. Cook: I first became interested in the Japanese culture back in high school during a Russian History class, of all things. It was when we were studying about a war between Japan and Russia. I found the Japanese way of life interesting because it was unlike any cultures I had learned about before that point in time. I think it was that even during war with another country, the Japanese had a sense of honor about them. They fought with it, died with it, and lived their lives adhering to it. I also first learned about the samurai and their bushido during this time. The samurai were my inspiration for the Senshin Warriors, the group that the protagonist, Shizuka, is a part of.
As for fusing the Japanese culture with the vampire one, that’s simple. I’m an avid anime watcher and manga reader, so I have encountered various Japanese vampire stories in this way. Also, in college, my degree field was Asian Studies with a focus on Japan, which allowed me to learn even more about the Japanese culture, as well as their history and folklore. I grew up with the more European idea of “vampire” but have always been fascinated by what “vampire” was in other cultures. So in my story of Kyuuketsuki, I wanted a different vampire that most English readers have not encountered. As the story progresses, I bring in various vampire cultures from all over the world. But of course, since my heart is in Japan, I chose to make my main character Japanese.
TDS: While reading Kyuuketsuki, I was reminded of Vampire Hunter D by Hidehuki Kikuchi and wondered who your biggest influence has been.
S. M. Cook: I know of Vampire Hunter D, but it’s not a story I’ve pursued to be honest. I think in Kyuuketsuki I have had several big influences. First would be the manga/anime Vampire Knight because of their take on Vampires having a progenitor, as well as having a vampire council that determines the rules and laws for the vampire race. I know the idea of a progenitor is also in Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, but the Japanese lore drew me in more deeply with their portrayal and story.
A second influence would be the manga Vampire Game, another story of vampires and the Japanese idea of the vampire. This time, the vampire is charming, cunning, but in some way likable although the villain. That’s part of the inspiration behind Lazarius.
Thirdly would be Selena from the film series Underworld. She is such a strong yet vulnerable character, and I wanted Shizuka to be both. I also wanted her to be good but flawed and with her own agenda. There are obviously various other influences, but those are the main ones, I think.
Also, as I mentioned briefly above, samurai were a big influence on the team that Shizuka works with -- the Senshin Warriors. The bushido code that samurai followed was their way of life. It meant that they lived frugally, with loyalty, honor, and martial arts mastery. The Senshin are vampires who hunt down and capture, preferably rather than kill, other vampires who are causing hell and havoc or involved in activities the vampire council would disapprove of. The Senshin Warriors live by a similar code of honor and loyalty as the samurai, although few of its members are Japanese.
TDS: It has been said that people are drawn to questions of wrongdoing and injustice. How do you see your main character, Shizuka, mirroring the lives of your readers?
S. M. Cook: I’m not sure how much Shizuka mirrors my readers lives because I write to bring a world to life; I don’t really worry about the readers, so to speak. Like any author, I want people to enjoy what I have written, but I don’t go into it for the readers, I go into my story with a desire to tell something different.
However, that said, I think Shizuka, like many people, has lived through difficult and painful times. Shizuka has the same struggles of right and wrong like most of us do. She may be a vampire, but her Japanese sense of honor is something she can never fully ignore, and thus, sometimes her choices are harder than needs be. She has lost the people she has loved; she is not the same person she once was because fate has interfered, if you will. I don’t want to give away too many details, but I will say that Shizuka’s world was changed due to a yet unknown (to her) person.
TDS: Shizuka and Lazarius are both portrayed as perpetrators and victims. How do you achieve the balance that will hopefully engage your readers?
S. M. Cook: When I started writing Kyuuketsuki, I wanted a main character that the reader had just a tiny bit of dislike or even hatred for. You want to root for her, but you don’t always like her choices, because I think a lot of people can relate to that mind set: You want something so bad, you are willing to do almost anything to achieve it. But the opposite is true of Lazarius. He is the direct cause for Shizuka being a vampire, and he revels in his control over her. But it’s because he knows, deep down, that Shizuka could destroy him if he were not her master. But I didn’t want him fully hated. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in how our lives turn out, and while I wanted people to dislike or even hate Lazarius, I don’t want it that cut and dry.
Some of the greatest villains are the ones you can connect with, can understand their reasons and motives. While on the reverse, some of the best heroic characters are the ones that leave just the slightest bitter taste in your mouth, if you will.
TDS: What particular themes and/or motifs do you enjoy exploring in your writing?
S. M. Cook: I’ve always been a huge fantasy reader more than anything else. Stories like The Dark Tower series, or Lord of the Rings, or even The Discworld series have always given me a passion to want to write. The theme of good over evil but with a character’s own internal conflict continue to draw me in. For me, I wanted to use a traditional theme but achieve it in untraditional ways. The idea of how much a person can change after a heart wrenching traumatic incident, lose themselves, but also reach their goal while coming out stronger - finding something else to live for rather than just feeding on the hatred in one’s heart - is always fascinating.
TDS: What observations do you have about the Gothic/Horror community?
S. M. Cook: To be honest, I’m not much of a horror person. I only like a few horror films and I don’t read much in the way of horror stories. Gothic, however, I’m more old school. I enjoy Poe’s stories and poems the most. I think true gothic literature seems to have fallen by the wayside, and people now lump it in with horror. I find this disheartening because gothic literature is vastly different than horror, and especially gothic-horror. I must admit, until I became part of THE DARK SIRE, I didn’t really think there were many gothic/horror readers any longer. I was pleasantly surprised to find out there are still a large number of readers who enjoy such works.
TDS: What is the "Blood Ruby" and what is its significance to the story?
S. M. Cook: The Blood Ruby is an ancient medallion created centuries ago for a powerful vampire to use as a means to control other vampires who were out of sorts -- killing recklessly, losing control of their vampire nature, etc., so that humans would not learn of their existence. Through the passage of time, the medallion has changed hands, been lost, been found, and been used for both good and evil. In the wrong hands it could be used to control the human race (and thus control vampires!), because they need human blood to survive.
However, Shizuka also wants the Blood Ruby. It is the only way she can destroy her master: the man who made her a vampire -- Lazarius! So while she is trying to locate the medallion for the council, she has her own ulterior motives, too.
TDS: While Kyuuketsuki was being serialized in THE DARK SIRE, you also had a poem, Hell's Love of Heaven's Hatred, published in the first issue. So which are you first, a poet or a writer? Also, what themes do you explore in your poetry?
S. M. Cook: I have always been a poet first. I began writing poetry back in middle school, usually for my own benefit. Poetry helped me get ideas and thoughts out on paper and explore different themes. My poems vary in their meter, rhythm, and content. Some are fun, light and fluffy while others are darker, talking of loss and death. So in this case, I don’t stick to any one particular theme or group of themes.
Although I am a poet first, I’ve also written short series scripts, as well. I enjoy writing because it lets me create other worlds that I can share with people who enjoy reading. I can get lost in my work, even for just a little while and thus allow others to get lost, too.
TDS: Your poem, Hell's Love of Heaven's Hatred, was later composed by Fernando Fidanza as a folk song. What did you think when you first heard your poem as a folk song?
S. M. Cook: I was greatly surprised and a little emotional when I first heard it. When it was first played for me, I wasn’t even told that it was my poem. I kept listening, thinking I knew this piece but couldn’t place it. Then, one of the lines popped out at me. I knew the line because it was one of my favorites in the poem -- Saints of hell are traveling near. To say I was floored would be an understatement. I absolutely loved how Fernando created the song. He gave it such a gritty dark tone, capturing the poem perfectly. I was so grateful he chose to do my poem.
You can hear Fernando Fidanza's rendition of S. M. Cook's poem, Hell's Love of Heaven's Hatred, on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/KyGhy4sKIao.
Have a question for S. M. Cook? Post it in the comments and TDS will get the answer for you.
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Don't miss the next Creative Nook, coming Monday at 11am, when we interview David Crerand, author of The Village series.
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