Monday, August 27, 2012

Shape-shifting Foxes: An interview with historical fiction author Laura V. Baugh

Today I'm talking with Laura V. Baugh about her novella of mystical investigation in ancient Japan, Kitsune-Tsuki.


1) Tell us about your story.

Tsurugu no Kiyomori is an onmyoji hired to find a kitsune alleged to be in the area, to protect the daimyou's new bride. The problem is, how does one find a shape-shifter -- and what if that shape-shifter may not even exist? So Tsurugu and Shishio Hitoshi, assigned to assist him, must evaluate whether events are supernatural or human-caused, and whether suspicious persons are really kitsune in disguise or merely suspicious humans.

2) What inspired you to write this story?

I actually wrote this story on demand, so to speak, for an Asian fantasy anthology. The publisher ended up shelving the project for some years, though, and after my contract finally expired, I decided to self-publish, just to get Kitsune-Tsuki out there!

I'd been bumping into a number of references to Abe no Seimei, a famous historical onmyouji with a lot of legend now attached to him. One of the stories about him alleged his mother was a kitsune, and that supernatural element granted him extra ability. So I wanted to do something with onmyoudou and kitsune.

3) Your story revolves an onmyoji and his investigation into potential kitsune afflicting an area. Please tell us a bit about omnyoji and kitsune.

Onmydo is, in a nutshell summary for Westerners, a sort of astrological nature magic. Onmyouji (practitioners of onmyoudou) held court positions in Japanese history, much as a European court often had a particular bishop or cardinal, or the typical fantasy kingdom its court wizard.

Kitsune are one of the most popular Japanese youkai, fox spirits with one to nine tails, depending on age and power. They are wise and clever, usually pranksters, and can also be benevolent or malicious. They can change form into nearly anything, including a human you might know, but they have limitations as well. They might also sometimes possess a human and cause him to act a certain way, and this state is called kitsune-tsuki.

What's fascinating to me is how these traditions have influenced even modern life. A typical Japanese telephone greeting is, "Moshi, moshi" -- a sound a kitsune could not make, and a way to verify that one is speaking to the true individual and not a shape-shifter.

4) What got you interested in ancient Japan?

Oh, I'm interested in everything! But this era is pretty intriguing. Kitsune-Tsuki is set during the Heian/Kamakura transition, when the glittering hyper-stylized court life of The Tale of Genji is slipping into the feudal state and the warrior is gaining status on the poet. This gave me a chance to play with both the Heian conventions -- moon-gazing parties, poetry contests, the necessary obscuring of Kaede-dono's face -- and the setting of a warlord's household as he's trying to consolidate power and security.

5) Is there a particular aspect of ancient Japanese culture you find particularly fascinating?

The multi-layered stylization of Heian court life is really fascinating -- where one never says what one means, but instead writes a poem with subtext, and everything from the color and grade of paper to the quality of one's handwriting influenced the meaning of the poem and one's social standing. I don't think I'd fare well there, myself, but it's a really interesting world to consider.

6) Do you have any sequels to this novella planned?

I do! I'm finishing a novel now, following Tsurugu and others from Kitsune-Tsuki. Without giving anything away, I think the ending of this novella sets up some questions which will be fun to answer. Also, the sequel novel gives me room to introduce more youkai, so watch for kappa, oni, tengu, and more!

7) Please share with us about any of your other works in progress.

I'm shopping a fantasy series right now -- I can't say anything definite yet, but I'm feeling pretty good about it at the moment. It's set in a more typical Western world, but there are a lot of Eastern influences on the culture and particularly in the "other race."


Thanks, Laura.

If you'd like to learn more about Laura, you can find her at:

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