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Interview: Leah Cypess on “Neko Brushes”

Tell us a bit about “Neko Brushes.”

Neko Brushes is a historical fantasy story set during the Japanese Shogunate, and is about a boy who draws cats that come to life. When a samurai and a noblewoman find uses for his skill, he will face a terrible decision… but in the end, does even he understand the choice he made?


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

This story was a blend of two different ideas. A long, long time ago, when I was typing my fiction on Wordperfect 5.1 for DOS, I wrote a story about magical paintings. It had a couple of good twists, but the characters were probably somewhat two-dimensional, and it was set in your standard vaguely medieval high fantasy world. I think I even sent the story to a couple of places, but, like many of the stories I wrote in high school, I eventually realized that it wasn’t particularly good, and I shelved it.

Years later, I downloaded a collection of Japanese fairy tales from Audible, and I really loved “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” I took several versions of it out of the library, and at some point during my reading, that old story popped into my mind. I took the basic idea of my story and applied it to the basic idea of the fairy tale — which was harder than I thought it would be. But I’m quite happy with the result.

I say the story is “inspired by” rather than “retold,” because I started with the basic elements that captivated me — a boy who drew cats that came to life, sent by his family to live in a temple — and then took it in an entirely different direction from the original, which involved a monster rat that was killed by the boy’s cats.


Mistwood by Leah CypessWas “Neko Brushes” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I wrote the original story so long ago that I honestly don’t remember how much of my heart and soul I poured into it. :) The process of getting it sold, though, is something I consider part of my personal/professional development. Prior to being accepted in F&SF, an earlier version of this story was accepted twice by anthologies that ended up folding or having other issues prior to publication. The first one was before I even had enough pro sales to be a SFWA member, so it was a bit crushing — but a good reminder that perseverance and a thick skin are crucial in this industry. (I’ve got the perseverance down; the thick skin is a work in progress.)


Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I’m thrilled this story, after its very long history, has found a perfect home in F&SF!


“Neko Brushes” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle):

Amazon US (Kindle edition):

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):

Leah Cypess’s website is

If you click on the image of Ms. Cypess’s book Mistwood, a Kirkus 2010 Best Book for Teens, you can purchase a copy on Amazon.


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