Accomplished author and musician Derek Vasconi has just unveiled his debut novel Kai, a chilling horror tale of devastating loss. And we managed to catch up with the multi-faceted talent to ask him a few questions about his latest exciting project.
Could you tell us a little about what made you decide to become a writer?
Well, I've always written things, even when I was a young kid. And I guess I was pretty good at it too. I don't say that with any ego either, but here's a good example of what I mean. When I was in Ninth Grade, I had an Advanced Placement English class. I was given a writing assignment and my teacher thought I had plagiarized another person's writing, so she gave me an "F." When I talked with her and asked why she thought that, her words were, and I'll never forget them, "Nobody in Ninth Grade can write something that good." So, I guess my inspiration comes from the fact that I've been masterful with words my whole life.
I think what made me become an actual writer who is now publishing books, as opposed to somebody who just upkeeps a blog or does ghostwriting for other individuals, is that I felt that it's one of the only professions where I don't have to depend on anyone but myself. AND I can be as creative as I want to be with my words. My imagination is the limit, and as Shel Silverstein once said, "Just USE YOUR IMAGINATION!" That's the mantra that has tugged me into writing now as much as I possibly can!
You feature novel KAI has been described as the bastard child of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 and Stephen King's CARRIE. How influential have these authors been during the development of the novel?
I think Stephen King is an author who needs no explanation as to why he would be an influence to anyone writing horror, such as myself. He's been with me a long time in my life, though I think it was his book, ON WRITING, that really captured me perhaps even more than some of his horror books. I really appreciate anyone who totally immerses himself in his own mind and pulls out iconic imagery we will never forget in human history. That's Stephen King, in a nutshell, and that's why I have such profound respect for him. And it's this kind of profound respect that made me think of his first novel, CARRIE, and how it has a cool idea buried inside of it that I could give a fresh spin. I tried to, I mean, but I guess a reader will have to see if I did that or not.
As for Murakami, he's somebody I've read for years as well, and he's always taken me places I didn't think I could go, mentally and emotionally. It's 1Q84 though that is the culmination of what he's done in this regard for me as a reader. That's my all time favorite book, and so KAI is a bit of a tribute to my love for this amazing, universe-transcending piece of fiction. When you read KAI, I think you'll see how Murakami's book totally has had an influence on what I've written, but to say how would give away a huge part of the plot and surprise twist at the end, so I'll just leave it at that.
Where did the idea for KAI come from?
I was working in Chicago as a mental health counselor for young girls with eating disorders and other individuals who suffered a myriad of mental problems and issues. I had a lot of overnight shifts at the residency where all these girls stayed, and I was pretty much living by myself in Chicago at the time too. I started to think about loss and what we feel when we lose somebody, and then I started to think about the idea that if we could do something about the loss in our lives, what would we do? I'm talking about the kind of loss where there's really nothing you CAN do about it, such as losing a loved one, for instance. And then it hit me... what if you could take revenge on the world? Or better yet, what if you could use creativity to destroy the ache inside of you from losing something so dear to who you are as a person? From this kind of idea, KAI was born.
I guess you could say, in some regards, that my book is kind of a drama/horror book, in that I think anyone who has ever lost somebody in their life can totally relate to the two main characters, both of whom have lost people they really love and care about. And I think where the horror of the book comes from is the unfairness in both losing somebody you love, and how we are all connected and that kind of interconnectedness can lead to something truly horrific and awful in us all.
Derek: "I feel it's important to feel the experience of something you want to talk about and write about".
We understand you've spent quite a lot of time living in Japan which has obviously inspired elements within the novel. How important in your life was this experience?
I love Japan. Since I was a young child, I had always wanted to be a Ninja. I used to carry around a whiffle ball baseball bat and pretend it was a katana blade, then find kids in my neighborhood to "slash." I also had a neighbor who was Japanese and really inspired me to love Japan. So after I got done counseling girls in Chicago, I mentally needed a break. Chicago really exhausted me, so I hopped on a plane and decided to go live in Hiroshima for awhile. I did this because at this point in the development of the novel, I had Seul Bi's story, who is the young girl that counsels people in the Chicago area, but I didn't have Satsuki's story yet. And I thought to myself that there is no way I can, as a white man living in the US, accurately write about a young, teenage Japanese girl who grew up in Hiroshima, unless I went there to experience life firsthand. So I did.
When I went to Hiroshima, I didn't do it as a tourist. I mean, sure, the first week or so I was a tourist, just having fun, but after I started to live there, I started to get to know a lot of people there. And I was really educated about what it means to live in Hiroshima today, and also what it means to grow up there. I had a lot of consultations and revisions and made sure I faithfully portrayed Hiroshima as it is now, and the people living there, and I feel I did justice to my experience living there too. KAI was read by several of my Japanese friends who live there, and not a single one of them told me anything was out of place. And they weren't just being nice to me either. I feel it's important to feel the experience of something you want to talk about and write about, so living in Japan was totally essential to writing KAI. I couldn't have written the book had I not gone there and lived for a period of time.
As a horror fan which novels or even movies have helped influenced you?
Sheesh.... too many to list! I guess if I was forced at knife point to answer this, I have a few that stick out. For books, obviously Haruki Murakami's entire roster of novels he's written. Also, I would say the nasty stuff that Ryu Murakami has put out over the years (Odishon, Piercing, In the Miso Soup). Natsuo Kirino is another good one, and for the sheer beauty of her writing, Banana Yoshimoto.
For movies, every single Sion Sono movie has truly made me appreciate horror and craziness and going to extremes with what you cans how on camera. Suicide club comes to mind, as does Strange Circus. I get chills just thinking about those two films!
Also, I would say the movie CONFESSIONS. It was based on a book written by a bored housewife in Japan (bored housewives in Japan should probably be a category of horror, actually!), and it's probably one of the greatest films I've ever seen by anyone. Truly essential horror, and definitely an enormous influence on me. The book it was based on is equally as good.
These are just snippets of what I adore, but if anyone wants to get down and dirty with this kind of a conversation, I'm game. I can talk a person's ears off when it comes to movies and books, because I live for them.
We've heard you're currently working on a new horror book based around Japanese idol girl group AKB48. Could you tell us a little bit more about this?
WOW! So happy you asked me about this! Well, it's no secret that if you visit my website, you'll see I'm rather obsessed with AKB48. Actually, I love all kinds of JPOP, especially the band PERFUME, who are my all time favorite musicians ever. But AKB48 has held a special place in my heart for a long time now. I hate seeing so many idiots online try to bash them or say things about them that are totally misleading and not true. They truly are important and incredible and their overall concept is absolutely brilliant. One of those concepts you kind of wish you had thought of first. I mean, every time you buy a CD of theirs you get a handshake ticket that you can redeem to shake the hands of any of the 240+ girls in the group, and of who the large majority are movie stars, gravure idols, and solo artists that you can't walk even out of Narita Airport in Tokyo without seeing their faces on an ad poster? SIGN. ME. UP!
Anyway, my book is based on this idea of a group with as many members and who kind of comes into focus after AKB48 has fallen by the wayside. I won't give the reason why that happens, but the opening scene involves the number one girl in the group getting penetrated vaginally by a butcher knife from her boyfriend, who she isn't allowed to have because of the rules of idols in Japan, and instead of it being a kinky, sexual thing, her boyfriend ends up killing her. From this point, it makes the group wildly popular, since her death becomes media fodder to project the group into the stratosphere of popularity. Nothing sells like a good scandal, you know? And where this book becomes very much like AKB48's universe, I would think, is that I start to show all the girls who are left trying to assume the top position in the wake of the top girl's sudden departure from her number one Center Ace position. Some girls do horrible things to each other to get that number one spot, but others in the group suspect something else is going on as to why the number one girl was killed in the first place. And then it gets completely out of control from there.
Sorry, that was more than a little bit, but it's going to be a pretty epic sized book full of hundreds of girls that you'll probably come to hate. The idea is that I think AKB48 portrays this great, innocent image of happiness and they spread smiles all over, which I believe is genuine, but my book pretends that an idol group that big is actually full of schemers and evil bitches who want nothing more than to be number one. So it's kind of funny in that regard, but also kind of a commentary on the evil that can manifest in something so competitive as an idol group full of idols where only one girl can have all the recognition.
What other projects are up next for you?
Besides the idol book? That is actually the third book up for me. Right now, I'm working on a trilogy about cryptids destroying the world and the Pan Gu mythology. It has a huge cast of people in it and is also a love story, at its core, but the kind of love story that is perpetuated by the horror surrounding it. So yeah, it's totally screwball.
After this story, I want to write a very minimal story about a girl in Tokyo who is obsessed with ikemen porn and has a very brutal secret that she, um, shares with one of the actors she loves from the ikemen porn world. Ikemen porn is a specialized type of porn for women in Japan. If you are a girl over there, you can actually meet the guys in the porn and go out on non-sexual dates with them. But my girl takes things a bit further, and then some.
ABOUT DEREK: www.derekvasconi.com
Derek Vasconi hails from Sharon, PA, a mid-size city an hour north of Pittsburgh. At some point during his four-year collegiate experience, Derek founded, along with a few friends, the wildly popular and massively successful metal and hardcore band, FROM A SECOND STORY WINDOW. Derek co-wrote the first two albums that FROM A SECOND STORY WINDOW, better known as FASSW, released on the label Black Market Activities and distributed through the legendary Metal Blade Records. From this point, it was headlining tour after tour and playing gigantic festivals like Hellfest and the NJ Metalfest.
Around 2007, an idea began to take hold of Derek that filled the creative hole left in his heart due to leaving FASSW. The idea became Kai, which is a horror story set in Hiroshima and Chicago and deals with a mysterious and tragic connection between a young Japanese girl and an adopted Korean girl. The story is based, in part, in Derek’s time working in Evanston as a counselor and also on his time spent living in Hiroshima. It must be mentioned that Derek is an otaku of the highest level, having lived in Japan several times and while doing so, spending countless hours exploring all things anime, JPOP, manga, and practically living in Akihabara’s nerd cafes and videogame stores.