- If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
SNUFF by Sir Terry Pratchett
- You describe yourself as a Japanophile? What does that mean to you and what attracts you to Japanese culture?
The paradoxes in Japanese culture intrigue me. On one hand, they celebrate the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossom. On the other, their educational system is so harsh and competitive that students who fail their exams often commit suicide. What I enjoy most about the history of Japan is its transition from the Tokugawa Shogunate period of martial law to the Industrial Revolution brought about by the Emperor Meiji determined to modernize Japan. This feudal archipelago in the Pacific became a crossroads of strategic interests for the world powers who already foresaw world war looming.
- Do you outline prior to writing your story, or do you work out the plot as you write?
It depends on the story. Novels require some thinking to sort out the cast of characters and their motivations. With short stories, I tend to get an idea for a main character or a scene and run with that, then build the rest of the story around it.
- What’s the most interesting, little known historical fact you have ever come across?
When the Tokugawa closed Japan to the West, a delegation of samurai on its way back from Spain were locked out of their own country. Some of the samurai ended up in Mexico. There is evidence to suggest that the samurai’s interest in Kabuki may have influenced the designs and colors of masks worn by lucha libre wrestlers.
- Is there an overall theme to your writing?
I am fascinated by cultural intersections, both in real life and in fiction. One of the most common points of meeting is the ghost story. Much of my nonfiction reading is about folklore and the supernatural elements found in other cultures.
- What made you start writing?
I needed somebody to talk to, so I started writing in an ordinary spiral notebook. I recall doing that as far back as first or second grade. Like many writers, I come from a dysfunctional family, my mother’s second marriage. When other family members were fighting, I was writing, running away from home inside my own head.
- What are your favorite things to collect?
Ghost stories. Wind chimes. Bookmarks.
- Is there any subject that is off limits for you as a writer?
I’m not sure how to interpret the question. Is there a subject I refuse to write about? Or is there a subject I can’t bring myself to write about? The deaths of children, especially babies, upset me terribly. I lost my first son to miscarriage. I have to limit my exposure to the daily news because the resulting rage and grief is very draining.
- What is your best quality as a writer?
I can be relentless about my research. I want to write for my most intelligent reader, the one who will spot it if I get an historical detail wrong. As far as technique, I like to think I’m good at dialogue.
- If you could pick one other author to collaborate with on a novel or story, living or dead, who would it be?
Tanith Lee or Seabury Quinn. They know how to put the “weird” in weird tales.