This week I am doing an interview with Jeffrey Cook, who is part of Writerpunk Press, a group of authors who write in the various ‘punk genres. They have just released “Sound and Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk”, an anthology of stories based on William Shakespeare’s works. None of the authors, editors, artists or others who worked on Sound & Fury are making any money from this book. All proceeds are going to PAWS, an animal shelter in WA.
1) Tell us a little bit about the Writerpunk idea?
Writerpunk Press began with the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) boards on Facebook. A writer there, John Wesley Hawthorne invited a number of other writers who were writing in the ‘punk genres to join a group to focus on discussion related to our work. The most famous of the punk genres would be Cyberpunk and Steampunk, but there’s a variety of eras and technologies represented.
After a few months of discussion, one of the primary organizers, Esaias Mayo, suggested that we might be able to do an anthology together, putting forth the idea of punk Shakespeare as one possible example. I volunteered, and put together the first draft of a Steampunk take on The Winter’s Tale. I’d been done for a month before I realized there was a number of volunteers, but no deadline and limited push to get other stories together, and I was the only one done. I took over as project head, coordinating the authors, editors, art-staff, etc., with some excellent help along the way.
Once this book is released, we begin work on volume 2 of Shakespeare goes punk, with some of the writers who didn’t finish by this first deadline, or have stepped in since. Ultimately, with the number of writers who indicated they were interested, we hope to eventually have 3 volumes out.
2) Why Shakespeare?
First, because a lot of these stories are timeless. Sure, kids still groan at the difficulty of reading all the thees and thous and the rest when he comes up in school. Despite that, there’s still regular references made to Romeo and Juliet in pop culture. People still know a lot of the quotes, from “To be or not to be, that is the question.” to “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” the stories are about broad themes that still resonate with people. A lot of them have been adapted for different settings in movie and theater.
Secondly, because we suspect Shakespeare would approve. Some of his stories are very old stories, or based upon old stories that were well-known in his era. Then he took those events and dramatized them. His stories persist, and stand out from others, in part because of his willingness to challenge some of the accepted order of his day. His work includes mad rulers, incest, betrayal, falling in love with the enemy, and, of course, Puck. Very little was off-limits if it would get the audience in the theater.
Also, everyone who contributed to this book was a reader first. We all admired Shakespeare’s craft and way with words. We appreciated just how much depth there was to these stories, and with it, how readily all those elements could be made at home in different settings.
Finally, Shakespeare is one of the foundations of literature. Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar are taught in a lot of high schools. His stories are major pillars of a lot of college English classes. His plays are still performed on stages around the world, from poor little school stages to major productions. So if punk literature is about taking the expectations of literature and twisting it, then punk Shakespeare is only natural.
3) What is your story in the anthology about?
I started with the world’s most famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear” from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I had to re-read it, but before anything else, my first inspiration really was “More bear.” So he’s a character now. His name is Thomas.
After that, it’s an action comedy. There’s snappy dialogue, there’s airships and pirates, there are hints and more than hints of magic – and there’s the necessary elements to the tragic set up of the tale, with betrayal and insanity setting the stage for everything to come.
I’m pretty sure anyone who read both stories would have no trouble connecting them, but along the way, I had a lot of fun with it. Especially the parts with the bear.
4) What inspired you to try to raise money for this particular charity?
First, I’ve been an animal lover, and especially a dog lover my whole life. My wife, also an animal lover, used to volunteer at this charity. More specifically, though, back when I was writing my first book, I had a sidekick. Khaya used to sleep at my feet while I was writing – waking mostly to growl and ward off her ‘little brothers’ when the boys threatened to interrupt my writing time. She passed away of brain cancer 7 months before the release of my first book, but earned her place in the dedication to that book. My very first goal, in terms of proceeds from this book, is to earn $250 in profits, so I can sponsor a big dog kennel at PAWS in her name, to support other dogs in need of a good home.
5) Are you planning to “punkify” (yes, I made that up!) other authors in the future?
The next two books on the agenda are Shakespeare. However, there are current discussions, not so much about if, but when and who. Names/themes that have been included so far are Poe, Kipling, or possibly doing a holidays anthology at some point doing winter classics, from Dickens to the Snow Queen.
Right now, it’s just a matter of time and not overtaxing our generous editors and other support staff. Writerpunk, the Facebook group, is growing, and there’s a good number of people interested in doing more of these.
Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. His mother insists he has wanted to be an author since he was six years old, but he began writing professionally in 2014. In addition to his novels and anthology projects, he has contributed material to publications by Deep7 Games out of Seattle, WA. When not reading, researching or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football.
You can find him at:
He is @JeffreyCook74 on Twitter
PAWS in Lynwood is a no-kill animal rescue and shelter. Their services include a wildlife rescue, info and resources via their website and contact info, and a dog & cat rescue and shelter. All three of my current dogs, and my former four-legged writing sidekick were adopted from PAWS.
Thank you for your time, Jeffrey, and I hope the book does well for your charity!