The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall chronicles the move of an American family to Japan. It combines a fish-out-of-water story with elements of mystery, mythology, horror, and realism. It's a page-turner sure to haunt readers from the first page to the last.
Two years after the loss of her mother, Kara Harper has become even closer to her father, Rob, with whom she has always shared a love of Japanese language and history. When Rob gets the opportunity to become a teacher of American Studies and the English language at Monju-no-Chie school, he accepts, and they move to Japan. Little did they know what horrors awaited them there.
I'm proud to be kicking off the blog tour for Thomas Randall, the author of The Waking series. Every weekday this week and next, Thomas will be appearing at different blogs, answering interview questions, posting guest blogs about the research he completed for these books, and revealing secrets about the series.
The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall will officially be in bookstores tomorrow, on Tuesday, September 29th, 2009. On that date, we'll have even more goodies available at the website.
Now let's get on with the show!
The first line of Dreams of the Dead is so striking: "Akane Murakami died for a boy she did not love." Was that line or that scene always the opening of the novel?
Sometimes I sit literally for a whole day trying to figure out how to start a book. I can't explain why sometimes an opening line is more important to me than other times, but usually I want something arresting, something that is simultaneously abrupt and intriguing. I knew what the scene would be, but I wanted to sum it up in a way that would draw the reader in most effectively. I hope I've succeeded here.
What was the biggest difficulty you encountered as you attempted to fuse different cultures and genres together in one story?
Once I started to do research, including talking to a friend who had taught English in a private school in Japan...well, the more I learned, the more fascinated I became with how different life is for Japanese teenagers and American teens. Certainly there are a lot of similarities, mostly in how they relate to each other, but the different customs and expectations and behaviors were interesting to me. I'd known from the start what the book was...a girl and her father trying to start their lives over in a place where they knew no one, in an idyllic location where they would encounter curses and vampiric spirits and demons very different from the trendy vampires we usually see these days. But especially in the first book, that stranger-in-a-strange-land element became huge because just as I was discovering things by writing Kara's experiences, I wanted the reader to see all of these new things through her eyes and feel the same kind of fascination and sense of displacement that she feels. The only difficulty for me, I think, was in choosing what details to include and what to leave out. I could easily have done a five hundred page book on just a gaijin girl adapting to life in Japan, but that wasn't the book I set out to write...and it wouldn't have been scary. :)
Some of your novels under your real name of Christopher Golden have had crossover characters and other tie-ins. For The Waking series, you use the pen name Thomas Randall, who was your main character in the novel Strangewood. Do you plan to have anyone or anything crossover between Kara's world and Strangewood, or any other Golden books?
Heh heh. All right. For you, Little Willow, I'll break character. Right now I don't have any such plans, but you never know. THE WAKING is buried in fiction. They are real books in the real world written by a fictional author who exists in a fictional world. But I think they are books that Thomas Randall would have written. STRANGEWOOD is also in many ways about being a stranger in a very strange land, with rules and customs that are unknown to the characters, and about the perils of not learning them.
Why a pseudonym for this series?
There were a lot of reasons, some of them contractual, but mostly this came about because I've always wanted to do it. Multiple times during my career I've suggested to publishers that one thing or another be published under a pseudonym. The first time, ironically, was on STRANGEWOOD, which was submitted to publishers with no name on it. Unfortunately, in the past, publishers have always insisted that they'd rather go with the known (a familiar name) than the unknown (a brand new one). But I went to Bloomsbury with this project and from the very first conversation was very clear that I wanted to write it under a pseudonym. It's different from my other work. Yes, it's similar in some ways. The voice is obviously mine and it's creepy, and I've done creepy before. But the whole approach felt different to me. The setting, the research. I wanted to present a blank slate to people shopping in bookstores so that they could pick it up and look at it with no preconceptions.
Was Thomas Randall your first choice, or did you go through different names? (If so, what were some of the other names you considered?)
I'm sure there were others we discussed, but using Thomas Randall just felt right because, in many ways, he was already me.
What makes The Waking unique from other books in the YA market right now?
I don't think there's anything else out there right now that is quite like this. The setting is so beautiful and fascinating to me. Kara has had a lifelong interest in Japan that is much more in depth than my own has ever been, thanks to her father, but the country has always intrigued me. That brings an exotic quality to the setting and a sense of wonder that doesn't really exist in most mysteries and supernatural thrillers. The challenges of this new environment, of being so far from home, and being so uncertain all the time if what you're doing is appropriate...the book just feels different from others, at least to me. That sense of dislocation only makes the character, and the readers, more uneasy. And I like uneasy. :)
When researching Japanese culture and customs, what were you surprised to learn? What fascinated you?
All of it. So many little things, from bits of legend that I hadn't read before to a thousand small pieces of Japanese culture: what people put on pizza, how they celebrate Christmas and New Year's, that they wear special slippers in school, the fact that students clean their own school every day when classes are finished. Those little things have a sense of newness for me and I think those things that are surprising are part of what makes DREAMS OF THE DEAD intriguing.
Have you ever been to Japan?
Tragically, no. But it's certainly my hope that having written this trilogy will lead me there.
After immersing yourself in that environment, did you start to look at anything in American culture in a new way?
There's no question that there are problems in Japan as well. Bullying amongst students is a big issue, and there are others. But in doing my research I did find myself wishing that American education would follow more of a Japanese model when teaching because of the emphasis on respect in Japan. Respect for teachers and for each other, but also for the process. The weight of expectation--for both grades and behavior--feels so much heavier, and that was striking to me. This isn't to say that there aren't a lot of schools in the U.S. where such expectations exist, but it is not a universal, by any means. On the other hand, the emphasis on propriety in general might be too much for me personally. As an adult, I want to be able to say what I think, and I'm sure my frankness would be considered inappropriate more often than not.
When did you first picture Kara? Did any of the characters in this story arrive in your mind fully formed?
Kara is just Kara. I knew I wanted her to be blond because I could remember my sister telling me about the three months she had spent living in China and how when she went to places where few if any gaijins had visited in the past, she would get stared at because of her blond hair. Obviously Miyazu City has seen blond people before, but the image is more striking. The most important thing to me in the entire trilogy is the relationship between Kara and her father, the bond they share and the love they had even before Kara's mother was killed, and how they're starting this new life together as a dream they've shared, a real adventure together, and how what unfolds there puts some stresses on that relationship but cannot kill the love of a father and daughter. My own daughter, Lily, is seven years old -- too young to have given us any trouble yet -- but I can only imagine the arguments to come in a few years.
Did you plan on this being a series from the first, or did that need for additional stories develop as you wrote the first story?
It was always intended to be a trilogy. I'm not sure yet of the release dates of the other two, but they'll be following fairly quickly. Book two is THE WAKING: SPIRITS OF THE NOH and book three is THE WAKING: A WINTER OF GHOSTS.
Kara enjoys singing and playing the guitar. Is her taste in music is similar to yours? Do you listen to music as you write?
I've almost always got iTunes playing on my computer when I write. I listen to all kinds of music, but I wanted to give Kara things to play on the guitar that would be right for the instrument, but also that might reflect the kind of solitary life she's living. I think at one point she plays "When Your Mind's Made Up," which is a tune by the Frames that Glen Hansard performs in the movie ONCE. Love that song, love the Frames, love Glen Hansard. It's a song so full of loneliness and frustration and anger and even a little irony, and I loved all of that. I didn't choose them all with that much thought, obviously...sometimes it's just whatever would be good acoustically...but that one, yeah. I wish I could have put out the book with a soundtrack so that readers could listen as they went along to what Kara plays.
Will Annette (Kara's mother/Rob's wife who died two years before they moved to Japan) appear in future volumes, either in flashbacks or dreams? Will any other lost souls reappear?
Now that would be telling.
Follow The Waking blog tour:
Monday, September 28th: An interview with Little Willow at Bildungsroman
Tuesday, September 29th: Author Q&A with Courtney Summers
Wednesday, September 30th: A guest blog about writing from the female POV at readergirlz
Thursday, October 1st: A guest blog about researching Japanese culture at lectitans
Friday, October 2nd: Q&A at Sarah's Random Musings
Friday, October 2nd: An interview at Steph Su Reads
Monday, October 5th: A guest blog about writing mysteries at Books By Their Cover
Tuesday, October 6th: Q&A with Kim Baccellia
Tuesday, October 6th: An interview with BookChic
Wednesday, October 7th: An interview at Presenting Lenore
Thursday, October 8th: Special post for Michelle at GalleySmith
Friday, October 9th: Last stop with Kelsey at Just Blinded Book Reviews
I interviewed Thomas Randall again in November 2009 as part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT). Click here to read that interview.