Interview with Yukimi Ogawa

Yukimi Ogawa lives and works in Tokyo. Her stories have appeared in F&SF, Clarkesworld magazine, Strange Horizons. Her story “Town’s End” was chosen for the Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2014 (Ed. by Rich Horton, Prime Books) .

As far as I know, it was the first case that a non-translated story by a Japanese writer whose mother tongue is Japanese appeared in anglophone year’s best SF anthologies.

Check her bibliography at goodreads.

*This interview was conducted in Japanese and this is translated by the interviewer Terrie Hashimoto.

At Hachioji, Tokyo with cakes and coffee.

Rikka Zine (RZ): You said that you started reading Anglophone SFF magazines in 2009. Did you start submitting your stories in that year as well?

Yukimi Ogawa(YO) : Possibly I started submitting in 2010.

RZ: Your debut year was 2012, right?

YO: Yes, it was 2012.

RZ: Strange Horizons published your story for the first time in 2013. And I noticed you at that time.

YO: I also noticed you, too. I did ego-searching for the first time and found that “Oh, someone in Japan had read my story!”

RZ: I guess that you checked the taste of the magazines before you submitted. How did you look for magazines? Did you google “SF Fantasy Magazine”?

YO: It was mostly all like that. The first magazine which I found was Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. Since (Anglophone) SFF magazines that we could buy in Japan was very few, F&SF was almost one and only option. I was too reckless to try to submit to it but it was a hopeless challenge at that time.

RZ: You must be happy when your work was finally published there!

YO: Indeed. After that, I found a magazine database, Duotrope where I could look for more SFF magazines. I preferred webzines because I have lived in Japan. I also focused on the magazines which accepted e-submission.

RZ: Almost a decade ago, were there many magazines which required printed drafts?

YO: Yes, there were a lot. And F&SF had accepted only printed papers until very recent.

RZ: That was tough! I think Strange Horizons was launched in 2008. So you got started when webzines were blooming.

YO: Yeah, it was nice timing.

RZ: Many good webzines appeared since then. Did you read SFF magazines in English originally? Or did you start when you decide to submit your stories?

YO: I started reading magazines to submit.

RZ: You read books in English before then, right?

YO: That’s right. I had less chance to use English after I graduated from university. That was why I started reading English books on my commuter train.

RZ: The commute time is very precious. I could read much more when my commute time was longer. Well, it is as typical Japanese are.

YO: We cannot do almost anything except read something. (laughs)

RZ: You have submitted your fictions not only to a few specific magazines but to here and there. Strange Horizons seems to be your base camp. Is my impression true?

YO: Yes, I think Strange Horizons is a kind of my base camp. It is a very important place for me. When I complete a new Youkai tale, I always send it to them.

RZ: You talked that your stories also appeared in a Japanese magazine.

YO: Yes, but that was a long ago. When I was 14 years old or something

RZ: Was it “Poem and Fantasy” magazine?

YO: Yeah, but actually, it was titled “Poem and Märchen” at that time. “Poem and Märchen” once ceased and it was renewed as “Poem and Fantasy”. How did you know it?

RZ: You mentioned on one of your interviews that you were accepted by a magazine which chief editor was Takashi Yanase. So I guessed that was it.

So your first publication was very early.

YO: I wrote very much at that time. But I stopped during I was in high school and university. I hadn’t kept writing. After a long pause, I started again.

RZ: Your first submission to “Poem and Märchen” was your first acceptance, too? Or you tried a few times?

YO: No, it wasn’t. I tried a few times. Well, Japanese magazines basically don’t respond anything but acceptance. I wonder they do like that still now. Do you know?

RZ: I think some publishers respond much better. For example, they sent back detailed comments by the editors to applicants who pass the first screening. Because they would like to have submissions from new and good writers.

YO: Oh really? I needed to keep waiting for a response that I wasn’t sure to receive. That was a sad experience in the old days.

RZ: You said that you looked for SFF magazines. Why didn’t you look for horror magazines? Youkai is monster actually.

YO: Now if I think about it, that’s right. However, I didn’t regard my stories as horror. I thought what I wrote was fantasy. If I tried to submit to horror magazines, did I get published faster possibly?

RZ: Who knows. Do horror readers say like “This doesn’t scare me much. IT IS NOT HORROR.”? (laughs)

YO: And I’m not sure of the definition of horror, or the boundary of it.

RZ: Hmmm. Splatter seems definitely not to be on your taste. Do you know whether there is any “decent” horror magazine?

YO: I saw a few magazines didn’t want splatter stories and make it clear on their submission rules. Probably magazines like them could fit my style, which is in between horror and fantasy.

RZ: Speaking of genres, you looked for SFF magazines but I think actually most of your stories are fantasy. A few are science fiction, like “Nini”.

YO: That’s true. To be honest, I didn’t regard my stories as SF at first. I thought these were rather fantasy. I have submitted to SF magazines just because they also called for fantasy. I always believed what I wrote was fantasy and I would never write SF. But gradually somehow…well, what I assumed that one of my stories was totally fantasy. That was also published by The Book Smugglers (In Her Head, In Her Eyes from Book Smugglers Publishing) It was before “Nini”, my first acceptance by them. But when it was published, it was noted as an SF/Fantasy/Horror story. So I thought “Oh really?” I think that I started writing something Science Fictional after that.

RZ: Your recent stories are more Science Fictional compared with your earlier ones. “Nini” is an SF and also Horror story. That was really SF/Fantasy/Horror fiction. (laughs)

YO: I tried to write a comedy at first.

RZ: I read it as a comedy at first. But it ended up…

YO: I rushed to write a comedy that a protagonist was swayed by annoying grannies and grumpy old men. And suddenly I realized it became a horror story at last.

RZ: The ending was like a roller coaster flew up to somewhere far away beyond my expectation.

YO: I didn’t expect that it went wild like that. I almost always plot the ending, at least roughly. But about “Nini”, I didn’t control at all how it went. It was a mere chance.

RZ: Many of your stories don’t specify whether the scene is set in Japan or not. Also, your stories sometimes have some Japanese elements even though apparently the scene is not set in Japan. I can’t guess which era your stories are in. Can you tell me whether you have any policies about the settings?

YO: I just avoid the specific settings not to be bothered. Well, it might sound a bit offensive, but it is annoying that someone points out like “It is inappropriate in this era.” things. (laughs)

RZ: “History Police” patrols.

YO: Yeah, I would say “This is fantasy! No fault-finding!” to such reactions. I know my naming and the things I write tend to be Japanese-ish. But actually my settings are on somewhere. Nowhere exists in real.

RZ: You don’t write how the character’s looking is in specific, neither.

YO: That’s not intentioned. I think that the race of people had not been various in Japan. (Mostly Asian.) So the color of hair, eyes, and skin are much alike. Maybe that is one of the reasons I don’t explain the appearance.

RZ: I feel your stories are like fable or folklore in a sense. It has characters and the settings but the details are always blurred.

YO: It may be true. It is much better for me and comfortable to write.

RZ: Hadn’t you studied abroad?

YO: Yes, I had a kind of. I had studied abroad for 10 months when I was a high school student. But 10 months wasn’t enough. If I had a few more months, I could speak better. I was close to get the language, but I had to return then.

RZ: Can I ask where you went in fact?

YO: Sure, I had been to the UK. It was a rural area. It must be tough for non-English speakers to come to a rural area…

When I was in high school, I didn’t speak English fluently but I was good at English classes and got good grades. So I assumed that I could get along. However, I couldn’t catch what people were speaking. I was like, you know, “What the language they were speaking!?” I was so surprised that every person seemed to have a different accent on their own. Maybe it depended on areas, or it may depended on classes or roots…I‘m not sure. Anyways, their accents were various.

RZ: What the first SF event you attended? Japanese one or Worldcon?

YO: Let me try to remember…I am certain that Hal-con is my first convention. Ann Leckie was GoH of it. It was a rehearsal for me to attend Worldcon. A few months later, I went to Worldcon and I was so THRASHED.

RZ: Why were you!?

YO: I felt sick and didn’t do much anything. It was too cold on the airplane. And people’s accents were often difficult for me to understand.

RZ: That’s bad. Did you have any chance to talk with your fellow authors or editors?

YO: I wish I would talk to people more. But I felt sick and the sickness made my mood negative. I barely talked with Ellen Datlow a little.

RZ: What did you talk to her?

YO: Not so much really. She just told me she was glad to meet me. That made me happy and smiled. I thank her.

And I met Charles Coleman Finlay (the current chief editor of F&SF). The town has a kind of tram lines. When I took a tram in the morning, I noticed a guy with long hair was on it. During the tram ride, I was wondering he was Charlie. Since our destination was the same, I followed him unexpectedly. He might care for me because I looked apparently nervous and upset. So when we entered the convention hall, he returned to me and let me know where the registration was. I checked the name card and confirmed who he was. Then I could introduce myself to him finally.

I also met Rose Lenberg and their partner, Bogi Takács.

RZ: Do you remember any impressive panels?

YO: I couldn’t see many because I felt sick, but I listened to Ann Leckie’s reading. She read from her new book which she was on the way to finish at that time. She was so good at reading. She read at Hal-con as well. She made the audience laughed all. I thought that was a great advantage.

RZ: Here in Japan, reading at bookstores or on conventions is not common. So we don’t have much chance to use it as an advantage if we have the skill. Do you notice any other cultural difference?

YO: I’m not sure. I don’t know the Japanese literary scene. Why doesn’t everyone read at bookstores in Japan? Oh, perhaps because it is embarrassed? Don’t you think reading in public is something embarrassed for Japanese people? Besides, reading science fiction is difficult to decide which part to be read…

RZ: Do you read Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy and love it very much?

YO: Yes, I love it.

RZ: Do you have any favorite writers who write in English?

YO: I can say I love N. K. Jemisin. Hmm, who else I love? While reading a book, I am easy to love the author. But I easily forget their names.

RZ: How about Japanese writers?

YO: No one comes up neither. I just enjoy reading and go next. Everything falls out of me after reading.

RZ: Never mind. I didn’t care about the names of the authors and titles until entering university. When I got to have some chances to talk about books with someone, I started to memorize.

YO: Oh, because you couldn’t talk about books with someone if you didn’t remember.

RZ: Indeed.

YO: It makes sense. I got it. I am poor to talk about books. I often say something beside the point even for the books I love. I had failed for several times. So I tend to avoid talking about books with someone. Basically, no one around me read a kind of books what I read. I didn’t have any chances to get to accustom.

By the way, my recent favorite is Martha Wells.

RZ: Oh, Murderbot Diaries.

YO: Yes, it is so kawaii (cute).

RZ: Honestly speaking, do you like to attend events in real or not?

YO: I love to attend in real unless I have to talk something in front of the audience. If just being there is okay, I love to see the panels very much. But if I am called like “Come on, let’s talk together.”, I would say “No, thank you”. It is just my nature. I am not good at talking.

Besides, I don’t like to go somewhere I have never known. It is very convenient and safe here in Japan. There are so many convenience stores.

RZ: Well, writing alone and talking with someone is different. It needs different skills what another requires.

YO: Yes, I just like to ponder rather speak. Haven’t you talked in front of the audience as a panelist?

RZ: Yes, I had. But I don’t do anything professional right now. I read books less than before. I have to transfer the transportations frequently on my commute. It is too busy to read fiction in long form. I can read only something shorter. I tend to read short stories because I can finish a story before I get off the train.

YO: You read quick. I am not so quick. I can stop reading a novel on the way but in the case of a short story, I would like to finish it at a stretch. Nowadays, I mostly read novels and don’t read magazines very much. Well, commute time is one of the best chances to read something after all.

RZ: Do you look for more new magazines to submit?

YO: Not really. I am not quick both in reading and writing. It takes me a lot of time to finish a story. In recent years, I am ordered a story once a year. Since I can write only a few stories per year, I can write just one or two stories except for a commission. So I can submit basically only to a few regular magazines.

RZ: Which do you like being provided a theme to write or not?

YO: I don’t think I can write without a theme.

RZ: If you write a not-ordered story, do you also plan a theme before you start?

YO: No, well, I am not sure how I write. (laughs) Being provided a theme is easier. But everyone orders me Youkai tales. So sometimes it is easier to write without thinking a theme. But it is also a great pleasure to decide which Youkai I should choose for my new story. Both have toughness and joy of their own.

RZ: Okay, let’s talk about your upcoming story on The Outcast Hours. How did you join the anthology?

YO: The tentative title was Night. I was ordered to write what happens to someone at night who does something different at day, or something like that. It was the first case for me to need to contract just after I agreed on the request. By then, I was requested to write, sent the completed story and was accepted. This time, I had not to fail to finish a story. That was really worrisome and a little bit stomach-aching.

RZ: Is this the first time your story is published by Solaris Books? I had never seen before your story in Jared Shurin’s anthologies.

YO: Yes, it is. Another editor of this book, Mahvesh Murad worked for Apex book of World SF 4. She called me for a story.

RZ: Have you worked with any UK publishers before?

YO: Yes, this is not the first time. Asian Monsters was out from a UK publisher a few years ago. Everyone ordered me a monster story like as I mentioned.

RZ: Everyone has a weakness for monsters. Anyways, The Outcast Hours has such big names from all over the world.

YO: It really has! I didn’t know the details like who wrote for it or how many stories appear until the book was nearly finished. When I got to know the table of contents finally, it astonished me.

RZ: It has a great lineup. I am looking forward to read it.

Do you have any plans to do something new? Is it the length perhaps? I remember you tried to write a novella last year. Do you challenge to write longer?

YO: What I write is getting longer. I would like to complete a novel in the future. But I am not confident that my English skill will be able to hold on that length. I have not yet received the result for my novella. I will consider whether I try to write a novel after I receive the result.

RZ: You submitted a novella to the biggest publisher of the genre, Tor publishing. It must be a keen competition.

YO: The deadline was August 13th. I submitted in the morning of that day. And my submission number was about from 650 to 700. Maybe more people submitted by the deadline. So the number might go up to nearly a thousand. If only I will be able to receive an encouraging comment, I will consider writing much longer.

RZ: Tor is a giant in SFF market. They are very dominant in every year’s best anthologies and awards.

YO: They really are.

RZ: Have you never written a novel, even in Japanese?

YO: No, I have never written.

RZ: So if you will write a novel, it will be the longest ever.

YO: Right. I’d like to finish up a novel, nevertheless I know how it will be difficult. But during I was writing a novella, I could write nothing other than it. Actually, I had not been in good condition. It was caused possibly by sitting for too long time. So I am really worried if I can manage to write longer than ever. Anyways, I’d like to write a novel in the future.

RZ: Speaking of SFF not in written form, do you see movies?

YO: No, I don’t. I don’t like Star Trek nor Star Wars so much.

RZ: I’ve seen just a few titles of the two series. But as for movies, I enjoyed The Martian.

YO: Oh, I enjoyed it too. We see a quite number of SF in drama series and movies. However, people look hesitate when I recommend them SF in written form. What on earth is it?

RZ: Maybe seeing something spectacle in movies are OK. They probably don’t like reading the explain what it happens in details. Well, I don’t know.

YO: In case of someone who prefers to see without any examination or speculation, it makes sense. But for instance, there are people who love Star Wars intensively. They know all the details and the settings. Why don’t they read SF? Once I recommended an SW fan to Ann Leckie’s trilogy. Unfortunately (the person) gave up soon. I don’t understand.

RZ: Well, I know some SW fans read a lot of the novelization. But some people can keep their passion only for a program. Their love doesn’t expand to the genre itself.

RZ: How about manga? You mentioned in an interview that your mother loved Manga and you also read a lot.

YO: Oh, you know me well. Yes, I read Manga a lot when I was child and love to read till now. I have read fantasy for a long time. When I was younger, my favorite was Kyoko Hikawa’s From Far Away (1991-2002). It is a fantasy series which set in another world. Nowadays, another world setting is really popular. But I am not sure it was popular at the time. Was it?

RZ: Hmmm, Red River (1995-2002) is not set in another world but it was a time travel story. And Please Save My Earth (1986-1994) is a story about reincarnation. Both were best-selling titles. So at least in a broad definition, we can say that another world setting was popular.

YO: Uh-huh, that’s right.

RZ: I think reincarnation and “trip to another world” got popular too much just before the millennium. Do you remember CLAMP (manga artist group)?

YO: They created another world (isekai) stories. That’s true.

RZ: Possibly, once a boom ceased and now it comes again.

What is your recent favorite Manga?

YO: I love A Bride’s Story. It is not fantasy though. I read it with thinking like “How nice the embroidery!” I also love Land of the Lustrous. It is just on my taste.

RZ: I love it too. It makes me remember Mayumi Nagano’s works in mineral stones and the gender ambiguity.

YO: I think I have never read her fiction.

RZ: One of her stories appeared in a textbook. Her taste seems to follow up Kenji Miyazawa or Taruho Inagaki. She also wrote SF at one time. For example, The New World and Television City.

RZ: How long have you loved gemstones?

YO: After once you asked me about my love of gemstones, I tried to recall when I started to love stones…

RZ: You often tweeted about polishing gemstones when you started Twitter.

YO: Yes, I did. I started polishing stones and making accessories at that time, around 2013. Very recent. But I loved to see gemstones on the flyers of pawnshops that coming together with newspaper when I was a child. But I didn’t try to collect stones at the time. I didn’t know where my interest came from.

I was born and grew up in Gunma prefecture. I lived in the foot of the mountains. We could see Kantou loam stratum on some part of the mountains. Normal soil and Kantou loam made layers there. The layer of volcanic soil was so soft that I could grab some easily. It contained very small pieces of quartz. I took up quartz with grinning when I was five or six grade of elementary school.

But I can’t remember why I decided to go to Tokyo Mineral Show. It is a very interesting event.

Wait, I am finally remembering. I entered in a jewelry shop by chance. I remember that I saw a necklace made by fluorite at a shop in Shinjuku. Fluorite has a lot of color variation. It made a gradation, very beautiful. But the price was seventy thousand yen in spite of fluorite. I could not afford it. I looked for where fluorite is available and found the Mineral Show.

RZ: So you named your Twitter account after fluorite.

YO: Yes, all the mysteries are finally solved!

RZ: Can I ask your next publication?

YO: I don’t have any. Nothing. It is uneasy a bit. I wait for a few results of submission though.

RZ: But for someone who has a day job, a few publications per year is not a bad pace even writing in the mother tongue. You are prolific enough.

YO: But I cannot help seeing writers who write far more faster on Twitter.

I wrote a lot in 2013 – 2014. I can’t believe my pace at the time. How could I manage?

Just three stories were published last year and this year, only one was fixed. So I feel nervous.

RZ: To write something longer, you probably require an interval and a rest. Don’t mind about your pace. Please try your best in your own good time. Thank you for today!