Tell us how the story came to be.
Three months after I returned home from a semester-long study abroad program in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2011 occurred. It took me almost a year to digest the events well enough to begin writing “The Sky Whale.” I put together the first draft of the story while enrolled in a fiction workshop – just before the one year anniversary of the tsunami. I sent an early draft to Shimmer and received a rewrite request; the next draft was written after the anniversary of the tsunami had passed, so I researched how the Japanese had mourned their loss, weaving those events into the story.
The whale itself was partially inspired by images of flying whales that I’ve seen here and there over the years. Although, of course, Hitomi’s whale has special significance.
What drew you to Japan and Asian studies?
A childhood fascination with Japanese cartoons stoked my interest in Japan early on. But as I matured, I discovered that Japan had a lot more to offer than magical moon princesses and Pokémon. My current interests in Japanese culture and history have a lot more to do with my degree than the childhood events that first sparked the flame.
Did spending a semester in Japan teach you anything when it comes to writing?
Staying in Japan taught me a lot – about myself, life, another culture. It also taught me that writing is not, for me personally, a process of simply putting pen to paper. A huge part of my process is going out and experiencing new things. To be honest, I wrote hardly a word of fiction during my entire time in Japan because I was focused on making the most of my time there and overwhelmed by all of the new concepts with which I came into contact. I needed a lot of time to sift through my own thoughts.
While I didn’t produce much in the way of fiction while abroad, I actually kept a blog during my trip. It’s a few years old and I’m not sure whether it’s of much interest, but you can find it here.
If you could invite an author, past or present, to an evening of karaoke, who would it be and what would you make them sing?
This one’s a toss-up between Diana Wynne Jones, David Sedaris, and Oscar Wilde. But I’d be much more interested in engaging them in conversation than in listening to them sing.
What is your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
I know it’s strange, but outside of a few journals and the books I read as a young adult, I don’t read very much speculative fiction. I often find myself in the middle of conversations concerning authors I am sadly clueless about. I’m sure most of my peers would shudder to know that I have never read a thing by Bradbury, although it’s something I intend to soon amend.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing in the near future. I’ve also got my eye on the Clarion West program, although I know the chances of my being accepted are outrageously slim. That’s okay though – I live in a make-believe world, so even if none of this pans out, I’ll go back to skipping through fields of singing flowers and fantastical happenstances in my daydreams.