Kij Johnson has received the 1994 Sturgeon award, Nebula nominations, honorable mention three times in
Gardner Dozois' Year's Best SF and five times in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's
Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, as well as long-listed for the Tiptree award.
Her novel, The Fox Woman came out in January 2000. She teaches at
James Gunn's SF writing workshop
every summer and now judges the Sturgeon with James Gunn and Frederik Pohl.
I interviewed Kij, cramped underneath her house, along with Sid, Nancy, Tatsuko, Yoshifuji, creepy-crawlies, and
a few assorted foxes. At least we were in out of the Seattle rain. Christopher McKitterick, writer and her
husband, was making and exploding rocket ships in the house, so Kij and I were forced to exchange emails.
Did writing the Star Trek novel prepare you in any way for writing The Fox Woman?
The world the ST:TNG story is set on is (very approximately) medieval Chinese in flavor,
which was useful. Mostly it taught me that I could write a book, more or less from beginning to end. This
was a tremendous help to me during those times when I started to lose faith that I would ever be finished. I
might not want to, but I knew I could finish in two weeks if I had to. Of course, the rewrite would then
have taken five years, I expect.
Please describe the process of writing The Fox Woman.
I started with the original fairy tale, which was a complete story, in that it had a start ("Once upon a time"),
a middle (perhaps 400 words), and an end ("The End"). I wrote the novelette "Fox Magic," which added characters to
the fairy tale, and a theme. From that I wrote a very long outline (about 100 pages), which was the novelette with
additional storylines and a lot of new scenes added, as well as thematic observations I wanted to shoehorn in there
somewhere. At the same time, I was keeping research notes, which included scraps of scenes to add later, and
diary-like paragraphs about aspects of my life I thought might be relevant (this research folder eventually
expanded to over 200 single-spaced pages).
I never "started" writing the novel. I just kept adding to the enormous outline, which eventually became 200 pages,
then 300, and ended up at 500.
About two-thirds of the way through, I did a scene-by-scene breakdown of what needed to be finished, and then
filled in those scenes, which were spread through the entire book.
I never "finished," either. I sent it to my editor, Claire Eddy at Tor Books, when I still had a half-dozen scenes
to finish (including a parenthetical comment that said ***WHAT HAPPENS HERE?***), figuring that she'd ask for
revisions, and at that point I'd finish those scenes up. As it was, I finished them in two more evenings of work,
so I sent a revised manuscript and she accepted it virtually without
change. ***WHAT HAPPENS HERE?*** did not make it into the final book.
Did having the novelette "Fox Magic," already written, make it easier or more difficult to write the novel?
Absolutely easier. It is the skeleton of the novel. It gave me the bones on which I could hang so many new
things -- how Kitsune's brother fits into the family, what would drive Yoshifuji away from his wife (and vice versa),
Grandfather's story, the old Princess, the crazy dream-diviner, what their world is like, some sex scenes. The book
I'm working on right now, Claws and Teeth, is starting not as a short story but a 15,000-word outline, and
sometimes I feel the difference. Because of the short story, Kitsune was crystal clear as a character to me; in the
new one, the main character is not yet as clear, because I haven't spent the same time with her. I'm wondering whether
I want to write a short story about her, just to get her settled in my head.
The amount of research you did is mind-boggling. How did you find time to eat and sleep?
It took me seven years to write The Fox Woman. I didn't actually write most of that time; I did desultory
research for months or even a year or more, and then I would slam through writing fifty or so pages of the book in
a week or two; and then I'd stop and do more research. I once figured that if I took out all the down time and research
time, the book could have been written in a year of evenings and weekends. Of course, it wouldn't have been the same book.
A lot of people ask about the research. I did do a lot of it, but I am a writer, not a scholar, and I was always more
interested in keeping the story moving. I've recently shown the book to a professor, and now I'm waiting nervously for
the ruler to come crashing down on my knuckles.
Sometimes I pine to write something slapdash. It would be so satisfying to whack out a novel in two weeks, because then
it would be done and out of my hair, and wouldn't that be nice? When I was outlining proposed novels for my agent this
fall, I kept thinking of ideas that looked research-free -- ye Olde Medieval Fantasy World, modern Minneapolis, stuff
like that. And then, as I wrote the outlines, I would realize that the ideas would take tons of research to do right. I
claim to hate research, but I am starting to suspect that this is not strictly true. After all, no one said I had to
do so much of it. No one is giving me a college degree for all this work.
What projects do you have planned for the future?
I'm working on another medieval Japanese novel, which happens both before and after The Fox Woman,
called Claws and Teeth. I've proposed a couple of other books to my agent and editor: a contemporary fantasy
(with SF overtones), and a nominally SF novel set on the world of "The Horse Raiders." I've also got some short stories underway.
I'm already looking forward to 2001. I'm going on a writing retreat to the Soapstone Writer's Residence in Oregon; I'm
assisting at the Center for Science Fiction's Summer Writing seminar; I'm one of the final judges for this year's
Sturgeon awards; I'm teaching almost a semester's worth of classes in three days at the GenCon gaming convention. I'll
also be writing a lot. That's the plan, anyway.
Copyright © 2001 Trent Walters
Trent Walters co-edits Mythic Circle, is a 1999 graduate of Clarion West, is working on a book of interviews with science fiction writers.