Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Author of Japanese Historical Fantasy

Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the toad, her familiar, is shown in the inset with her father, Taira no Masakado. Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1884 (via Wikipedia)

Interview by K. Bird Lincoln

Both Laura VanArendonk Baugh and I (K. Bird Lincoln) write Japanese historical fantasy featuring kitsune, trickster fox spirits—we both happen to be Caucasian females. I was thrilled she agreed to answer some writing-the-other questions I often get myself.

1. So….why Japan? Why kitsune? What about them speaks to your myth loving heart?

LVB: It actually wasn’t kitsune specifically. I liked the idea of writing in a wholly different setting and approach from typical Western fantasy, and onmyoudou is a significantly different take than most Western-based magical systems in fiction. I liked the idea of a natural structure behind the magic, and the power and limitations that would bring. I’ve always had a thing for foxes—some of my earliest fiction was about foxes, kind of a vulpine Watership Down—and the popularity of kitsune meant western audiences might feel more confident about approaching the book, more so than if I started with a makura-gaeshi or a suzuri-no-tamashi.

Also, kitsune are really cool.

KBL: Yes, it’s true. Cool and beautiful while Western were-wolves are more terrifying. I love the cerebral aspect of the kitsune trickster—the riddles and such.

2. Is it harder to write male characters than Japanese characters in general?

LVB: Ooh, great question! And yes, all characters who aren’t me are different than me, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t think we can ever say we can totally grasp another personality or that we cannot possibly grasp another personality. The first is hubris, the second is our job.

I work pretty hard on my male characters, as I often tend toward too chatty and emotive. But that’s why we call it fantasy, right?

KBL: I think this is why I tend to focus my writing on female characters—Japanese or North American.

3. Nisi Shawl writes in “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation” about  Diantha Day Sprouse’s categorizing those who borrow others’ cultural tropes as “Invaders,” “Tourists,” and “Guests.” Invaders arrive without warning, take whatever they want for use in whatever way they see fit. Tourists are expected. They’re generally a nuisance, but at least they pay their way. Tourists may be ignorant, but they can be intelligent as well, and are therefore educable. Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal.”

KBL: I hope I write the Tiger Lily series like a Guest: I have had a long relationship with Japan, and Japanese culture, and my life is now intricately bound to that country through family ties. But sometimes I think the characters in Tiger Lily are a bit stereotyped…or not Japanese enough. What do you feel about your role as cultural mediator of Japanese culture for North Americans for the Kitsune series?

LVB: This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, especially in today’s politico-literary climate. But I draw hope from feedback I’ve received. I do presentations on Japanese folklore and mythology, specifically to educate people to better understand manga, anime, or films they pick up, and after one I received an email from a Japanese grad student visiting the US to complete some sociology work, who had wandered into my class. He complimented me on the presentation and said I’d given him some good ideas for cross-cultural education and communication, and that was a huge compliment.

A couple of months ago I was at a business conference. There a Japanese colleague turned to her Japanese friends and excitedly explained that I wrote books set in old Japan. What affirmation, knowing she could promote me to her friends! So I think my efforts toward interpretation rather than exploitation are holding steady.

Check out Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Kitsune Tales Series starting with Kitsune-Tsuki.

Winner of the 2012 Luminis Prize!
“Once I started reading, I could not put it down. The story is thrilling and magical.”

“Twisty! Turny! Magical! Wonderful!”

“…I figured I knew exactly how it was going to end. I was completely wrong.”

How does one find a shapeshifter who may not even exist?


Check out K. Bird Lincoln’s Tiger Lily series starting with Tiger Lily.

“A beautifully-written genderbending tale of rebellious girls, shifting disguises, and forbidden magic, set against the vivid backdrop of ancient Japan.”

Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs. But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls.





Interview with Alasdair Shaw

What genre are your books?
The overall genre is science fiction.

OK. What about sub-genre?
Now that’s a bit harder. Choosing a sub-genre is very subjective. Most books will have things which identify with several different categories. Sometimes I wish I could do a word cloud or heat bar for how much a book fits each sub-genre.

Sometimes I call my work military scifi, other times I call it space opera because there are elements that aren’t battles and strategy. Amazon puts my books in space marine, space fleet, and galactic empire. I guess they also fit some of the criteria of post-apocalyptic as there has been a planet-wide nuclear strike, but I really don’t think that is the right category given what most readers understand by it.

What draws you to this genre?
I have enjoyed reading SF for a long time. Iain M Banks’ Excession converted me to a fan and inspired much of the world I have created.

What is the easiest thing about writing?
The easiest thing for me is the world-building. I’ve had the background, technology, etc. in my head for years. I work out the history, rank structures, politics, and so on whenever I’m at a loose end. When I started writing the stories it just flowed.

One problem is trying to strike the right balance between info-dump and vacuum. Of course, different readers have different preferences, but I know that my love of long lectures on historical details is not shared by many.

One day, I might even write a ‘history’ of the Two Democracies universe.

What was your hardest scene to write?
There’s a scene where one of my main characters realises she is being sexually discriminated against. I haven’t written it yet as it will take place in a prequel series to the one I’m writing now, but having her remember it in a scene in my latest story was bad enough. Not only is putting myself in her place harrowing, more so than any of the combat or other horrific scenes I’ve written for her, but it is also very difficult to pitch correctly. She is the victim, but not a victim.

How would you react if a film were made of one of your books?
I’d be stunned. It would be really cool. To see “Liberty, the new movie by Stephen Spielberg” or something like that would be a mark that I had made it as a writer. I’d certainly go to see it.

One worry would be that it wouldn’t match what was in my head. Many of the scenes have detailed descriptions of actions, but a lot of what happens is going on in the characters’ heads and that is hard to do in a film.

If you could spend time with a character from your books, which would it be?
Now that’s not fair. I don’t think I could single one out without upsetting the others.

I’m going to have to insist on an answer.
Hmm. It’ll have to be a group outing: Prefect Olivia Johnson, Pilot Legionary Anastasia Seivers, and The Indescribable Joy of Destruction (well, its primary personality at least).

And what would you do on that outing?
Go for a walk in the mountains. Discuss things. Set the world to rights. Oh, and gang up on Johnson to try to get her to try reading more fiction.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It is incredibly witty and clever, as well as being a great story. I also love the power he gives to books in it. The lead character is a Spec Ops 27 agent, responsible for policing crimes involving literary works (other than Shakespeare, of course, which is covered by Spec Ops 29).

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Aristotle. I’d like to see if I could convince him of the Galilean/Newtonian understanding of the laws of motion.

Alasdair Shaw grew up in Lancashire, within easy reach of the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines, Lake District and Snowdonia. After stints living in Cambridge, North Wales, and the Cotswolds, he has lived in Somerset since 2002.

He has been rock climbing, mountaineering, caving, kayaking and skiing as long as he can remember. Growing up he spent most of his spare time in the hills. Recently he has been doing more sea kayaking, running and swimming.

Alasdair studied at the University of Cambridge, leaving in 2000 with an MA in Natural Sciences and an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics. He went on to earn a PGCE, specialising in Science and Physics, from the University of Bangor. A secondary teacher for over fifteen years, he has plenty of experience communicating scientific ideas.

The Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series starts with Independence, and continues with Liberty. The third story, The Perception of Prejudice, is released this month. Equality will hopefully be released in summer 2017, followed by Fraternity the year after.

You can see what else he gets up to on his website at