The Next Big Thing Interview: Kitsune

Thanks for tagging me, Maggie Cleveland! Check out Maggie’s interview here. I can’t wait to read Atom Fish.


What is the title of your book?


Where did the inspiration for the book come from?

A kitsune is the Japanese iteration of a trickster fox spirit found in storytelling and myth traditions around the world. Depending on context and culture, it is sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes human-shaped, sometimes fox-shaped, sometimes a shape-shifter, always extremely seductive, and eternally, insatiably hungry.

Some of the tales are enlightenment sagas (leading to the 9-tailed fox who personifies wisdom and is associated with Inari, for example), but in the smaller-scale folktales of daily lived experience, kitsune shows up as a lover who possesses some hapless human, seeking sustenance. The stories are tragic, usually ending badly for both possessed and possessor, neither of whom acted from malice: the human’s heart is broken by the shape-shifting nature of the beloved, and the fox-spirit’s hunger can never be satisfied.

I got interested in merging the archetype of kitsune with the structure of Greek tragedy as a way of opening up the symbols and language of a catastrophic love affair.

It is my belief that tragedy—both Classical and personal—inheres in the fact that character does not, in fact, change. For all that we can change specific behaviors for the better, and effect social change, and can and must and should invest in these ethical ways of being in the world, our fundamental individual natures do not actually change no matter how many weekend workshops we attend.  This is, of course, an heretical view in a self-help culture, but to me, self-help culture simply illustrates how we have domesticated and commodified the notion of “change” beyond all possibility of real use. In a sense we are stuck with ourselves, even as we are solely responsible for our own behavior as adults: we are simultaneously powerful and existentially bound. This generates enormously interesting conflict.

The structure of Classical Greek tragedy—the parados/choral entrance song, the episodes, the stasimons/choral commentaries, the exodus-kommos/choral exit and lament—offered the right emotional conveyance.

The trickster fox lover offered playfulness, intensity, ravenous hunger, uncomplicated dog-like qualities complicated by shape-shifting trickster ones, the opportunity to play with inversions and subversions of who is shape-shifting and tricking and ravening at any given moment, ferocity, sleek fur, sharp teeth, and the color orange.

Kitsune is one of a trilogy of short collections: the other two (in progress), Raven and Coyote, will come together with it to make a longer collection with a current working title of “Tricksters Make Inconstant Lovers.” Or maybe “Trickster Love.” Or “Beware the Trickster.” Or just “Trick or Treat?”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The manuscript came together in pieces over a period of several months; in January of 2012, I shaped and revised it, with feedback from first readers; in February I sent it out to Finishing Line. I have been known to sit on manuscripts for years, so for me that was extremely prompt.

What other books would you compare this story to?

Comparisons are tricky: for all that they are intended to attract, they can also repel or circumscribe a reader’s expectations, unintentionally making an experience of a book smaller instead of larger. Some books do resonate in similar ways, though, even if at the level of language they are quite different. To me, Kitsune might be in the emotional neighborhood of Marguerite Yourcenar’s Fires.  But each reader might also answer that question very differently, and I want them to.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Tricksters. Ravening. Tragedy.

Oh wait, that’s three sentences.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The story these poems tell required visceral, skinless presence and overt sensuality. In oblique ways, I think my writing always has that: strong location in place, the body, the senses. Kitsune demanded being much more direct about the sexual dimension of the human animal than I usually am, though.

Writing sexuality of any mood—never mind an emotionally complex mythic possession—can be hazardous in any number of ways. It’s such a subjective human experience, and so often completely unexamined, that writing directly about sex can easily end up being not only anti-erotic,  but unintentionally funny, clichéd, bodice-rippy, soft-focus-maudlin, or any number of other deeply untruthful and tiresome things.

People also carry peculiar baggage about sex, and project it aggressively and constantly, especially onto women. So women writing about sex get different reactions than men do: stentorian condemnation, conflation of the writer with the text and/or a sense of entitlement to the writer herself, professional threat, damned if you do/damned if you don’t, that sort of thing. We’re not past any of that.

And yet, sexuality is this powerful language and force and bounty in our lives, and sometimes it is an essential part of the only true way to tell a particular story.

In my personal life, my sovereignty is in privacy. In my writing life, there can be no armor. That means following the story to some hazardous places.

What genre does your book fall under?

Short answer: poetry.  All my work lives at crossroads, though, as that’s where I find the most interesting travelers.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hooch very sweetly sent a headshot. I do think he would offer a sensitive rendition of the fox-spirit, but he might have trouble fitting into the costume.

Where is your book available & who published it?

Kitsune won a place in the New Women’s Voices Series competition at Finishing Line Press. You can pre-order it now, here.

Ship date/release is May 31st, 2013.


I’d love to read about the next big thing coming from E.J. Levy, Elizabeth Eslami, Elizabeth Macduffie, Dale Favier, Karen Skolfield, Katherine Durham Oldmixon, and any of the rest of you who want to share what you’re up to and how we can have it!

Fellow Finishing Line Press compadres with upcoming books Margo Lemieux (Believe in Water) and Kim Baker (Under the Influence: Musings on Poems and Paintings), has this interview been passed to you, yet? Would love to see yours.

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