Monday, January 27, 2020

Interview with Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani for Seven Deadly Shadows

Seven Deadly Shadows

by Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 28th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal
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Kira Fujikawa has always been a girl on the fringe. Bullied by her peers and ignored by her parents, the only place Kira’s ever felt at home is at her grandfather’s Shinto shrine, where she trains to be a priestess.

But Kira’s life is shattered on the night her family’s shrine is attacked by a vicious band of yokai demons. With the help of Shiro—the shrine’s gorgeous half-fox, half-boy kitsune—Kira discovers that her shrine harbors an ancient artifact of great power . . . one the yokai and their demon lord, Shuten-doji, will use to bring down an everlasting darkness upon the world.

Unable to face the Shuten-doji and his minions on her own, Kira enlists the aid of seven ruthless shinigami—or death gods—to help stop the brutal destruction of humankind. But some of the death gods aren’t everything they initially seemed, nor as loyal to Kira’s cause as they first appeared.

With war drawing nearer by the day, Kira realizes that if this unlikely band of heroes is going to survive, they’re going to have to learn to work together, confront their demons, and rise as one to face an army of unimaginable evil.

Can you briefly describe SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS and its characters?

COURTNEY: SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS is loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s immortal film, SEVEN SAMURAI. It’s about a young woman named Kira Fujikawa, who works as a miko, or shrine maiden, at her family’s ancestral Shinto shrine. 

One night, the Fujikawa shrine is attacked by a band of yokai demons, monsters who are searching for an ancient sword that once belonged to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. When they are unable to locate the sword, the monsters promise to return during the rise of the next full moon. With her ancestral shrine in shambles and the shadows closing in around her, Kira teams up with the shrine’s kitsune guardian, Shiro, to seek help in Tokyo . . . only to find hope in the unlikeliest of places.

VALYNNE: Seven Deadly Shadows is a retelling of an old, classic film by Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai, a movie of which Courtney and I have always been fans. In the original story, a village is being attacked by bandits. The villagers end up hiring seven samurai to help defend their homes. Our saga replaces the bandits with monsters and demons from Japanese folklore. Shinigami, death gods, are used instead of samurai. 

Kira, the protagonist, is a young teenage girl who is subject to all kinds of metaphorical demons before she is forced to face actual monsters. Seven Deadly Shadows depicts a character who must learn how to form relationships in order to navigate a world filled with adolescent issues as well as the fantastical world that surrounds her.

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

COURTNEY: For me, it’s probably Lady O-bei. The scene in which she and Kira meet is one of the best things I’ve written thus far; I remember feeling utterly transported while writing it! 

VALYNNE: My favorite character is Kira’s grandmother. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think you have to have a dark sense of humor to appreciate this character. She is abrasive, not afraid to say exactly what she thinks, and does not possess the kind nature usually associated with grandmothers.

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

COURTNEY: If I recall correctly, it started with a tweet. Valynne and I had been talking about writing a novel together for years; and during a Twitter conversation about SEVEN SAMURAI, someone mentioned yokai and shinigami and it was all downhill from there.

VALYNNE: The idea was Courtney’s. She pitched the story to me, and I immediately fell in love. My inspiration came from many Japanese samurai movies I watched growing up, and then Japanese folktales that were told to me as a child. We both have a love for anime and manga, so those influenced the writing as well.

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

COURTNEY: Hmm, that’s a great question! I’m really into K-pop at the moment, so I’d say that Red Velvet’s PEEK-A-BOO fits the mood, Twice’s BREAKTHROUGH fits the theme, and ONEUS’s VALKYRIE adds a nice dose of epic!

VALYNNE: For me it would be Panic Room by Au/Ra. I think the song and lyrics embody someone plagued by fear and the feeling of being surrounded by demons.

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

COURTNEY: Honestly, I’d like to see SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS as an animated film; especially since the book drew so heavily on anime and manga like BLEACH and DEATH NOTE.

VALYNNE: For Kira, or any Japanese female character, I always say Kimiko Miyashima because she is like my little sister. I like Haruma Miura as Shiro, Kento Nagayama as Ronin, Ken Watanabe as Shimada, and Rinko Kikuchi as Roji.

Can you tell us a fun/interesting fact from SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS?

COURTNEY: While I was in Japan researching SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS, I spotted an enormous black butterfly in the middle of an empty shrine path. It launched itself into the air as I approached, circled a few times, and disappeared into the shrine’s gardens.

I like to think that one of Shimada’s spirits stopped by to say hello! 

VALYNNE: In the first draft, Ronin wasn’t even a character in the book.

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

COURTNEY: Ooh, perhaps matcha tea in a lovely Japanese garden. Or if you aren’t a fan of tea, get a Ramune soda!

VALYNNE: I am a Diet Coke girl. Everything goes with Diet Coke. As for the place, I always like curling up in bed.

Is there anything we need to know before we start reading SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS?

COURTNEY: The finished novel contains both a Fujikawa Shrine map and a Japanese glossary to help you acclimate yourself to Kira’s world.

VALYNNE: I think sometimes it is hard to understand just how important honor and duty are in the Japanese culture. That alone is reason enough to motivate a character to risk his/her life.

What is it like to be a co-author and what would be the most difficult part of writing a book for you?

COURTNEY: Co-writing a novel in one voice is difficult, but not impossible. In general, I’d first draft the odd-numbered chapters, and Valynne drafted the even ones. I’d revise the even-numbered chapters, and she revised the odd. 

We had a verbal framework for the first draft—we’d meet weekly to discuss where we wanted the novel to go; but by the second draft, we needed a hard outline to make it all work. I’m not a great outliner, but I learned!

VALYNNE: Being a co-author is good because you have two people bringing ideas to the table as opposed to one. It’s also more difficult because you have to make sure the voice of the characters is consistent despite different writing styles.

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS?

COURTNEY: Go read Kat Cho’s WICKED FOX! It’s set in Korea, rather than Japan, but features a nine-tailed gumiho that needs to consume the energy of men to survive. It’s fantastic! 

What’s next for you?

COURTNEY: I’m currently researching a historical horror set in Paris during the Belle Epoque; developing a YA sci-fi world and mythos for [redacted—sorry, if I told you I’d have to kill you!]; and writing a feminist adult fantasy novel. I’m also working on a new comic. In short, I like to stay busy!

VALYNNE: I am hoping to finish two more companion books for the Ink and Ashes series.

Courtney Alameda

A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney Alameda now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels for young people. Her debut novel, SHUTTER, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award and hailed as a "standout in the genre" by School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novel, PITCH DARK (Spring 2017), is a genre-blending science fiction/horror novel in the vein of Ridley Scott's 1979 film ALIEN.

Courtney holds a B.A. in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. She is represented by the talented John M. Cusick of Folio Literary. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah with her husband, a legion of books, and a tiny five pound cat with a giant personality.

Valynne E. Maetani

Valynne E. Maetani (pronounced Vuh-lin Mah-eh-tah-nee) grew up in Utah and obtained a Bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In a former life, she was a project manager and developed educational software for children with learning disabilities. Currently, she is a full-time writer. She is a member of the We Need Diverse Books team and is dedicated to promoting diversity in children's literature because every child should grow up believing his or her story deserves to be told. Her debut novel, Ink and Ashes, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013, a Junior Library Guild 2015 selection, and Best Fiction Book in Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts Award for 2015. She lives in Salt Lake City.


  1. Those dratted demons, always making such trouble! Thank goodness she will have the help of the half-foxy Kitsune!

  2. I am a fan of Japanese culture and folklore. Fantasy is my favorite genre.

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