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The Phantasm Japan Q/A with Lauren Naturale

Phantasm Japan is a first for us, just as it is a first for contributor Lauren Naturale. It’s our first time publishing a fiction debut, and her story of turn-of-the-century Japan, “Her Last Appearance” is her first published piece of fiction. (It pays to be courageous and when you see an opportunity, for go for it!) It’s a great and contemplative piece of urban fantasy that you definitely need to read.

“Her Last Appearance” is your short fiction debut. How long have you been writing and submitting?

I’ve been writing forever, but this was only the third story I’ve ever submitted. Mostly, I’ve been working on novels; I went to Clarion in 2008, so I wrote short stories for the workshop – and again when I took fiction workshops in grad school – but short fiction doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m ABD in a Victorian Lit Ph.D. at Berkeley: I like long, messy novels with tangents and subplots and 200 characters.

One cool thing about publishing “Her Last Appearance” is that I feel like I might have finally learned how to write a story less than 20,000 words long. So that’s exciting.

One thing that stood out about your story was its historical milieu. When people hear fantasy, they often think of a feudal past or an ultracontemporary setting. How did you settle on 1900?

I wanted to write about a fictionalized Kairakutei Black towards the end of his career. He’s most famous as Japan’s first foreign-born rakugoka, but he also published cultural “translations” of English sensation novels which abridged and retold the stories for a Japanese audience. So people would read these novels to learn more about English culture, but the specific details which were the most foreign had been ironed over and edited out in the name of accessibility.

I knew I couldn’t write a story About Japan without feeling like an impostor, so I built the story around that question of authenticity. Black is in a tough position, because he grew up in Japan, but he can never belong there; he’s a perpetual foreigner. His family tried to send him “home” to the UK, where he wasn’t born and had never lived, but it didn’t stick. Instead, he tries very hard to Become Japanese at the same time that Japanese culture is becoming more Western, which means he’s really just trying to live in his own fantasy of what he thinks Japan is supposed to be like. It turns out that Japanese people aren’t interested in running a queer orientalist theme park? The kuroko has his own version of this problem, because he’s a country boy with romantic ideas about city life, and together they raise Shizuko to fit their ideas of how a sophisticated woman ought to behave. Meanwhile, Shizuko latches on to the English stories Black tells her. Everyone in the story is a giant fake in one way or another, but for most of them, it’s a survival mechanism. How the hell are you supposed to be “authentic” when everyone’s telling you you don’t exist?

Do you have a performance background at all? What sort of research did you do for the story?

I do, though I hadn’t made that connection – I was a theater student for most of college (as a writer, not a performer), and I’ve done a lot of academic work on melodrama. The real research I did was to read a lot of books. I read Ian McArthur’s book on Kairakutei Black, plus everything else about him that I could find, and I read about women’s lives and women’s fiction during the Meiji period. I also spent a lot of time looking through photo archives like Harvard College Library’s Early Photography of Japan archive.

Something that hurts my head: My girlfriend’s mother wrote one of the books I read for research, Women Writers of Meiji and Taisho Japan: Their Lives, Works and Critical Reception, 1868-1926. We started dating after I submitted the story, and I didn’t actually figure it out until a month or so ago. Life is weird.

Have you seen a rakugo?

I haven’t! I haven’t seen a Victorian spiritualist act either. I thought I saw a kuroko in Brooklyn the other night, but it was so dark, it was hard to tell.

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The Phantasm Japan Q/A with Gary A. Braunbeck

Phantasm Japan’s “Shikata Ga Nai: The Bag Lady’s Tale”, by Gary A. Braunbeck, is a classic ghost story in a way. As fantasist Robert Aickman once noted, a ghost story doesn’t need a ghost. The ghosts here are the ghosts of the past, as Braunbeck tells the story of an old woman telling the story of a most peculiar set of events inside one of the US internment camps for Japanese and Japanese-Americans set up during the Second World War. Nick Mamatas talks to Gary about it, and a few other things:

If I recall correctly, your father fought in the Second World War? Was he in the Pacific at all? What inspired this story?

My father fought in both Africa and Germany during the war. It was near the Germany/Austria border where he was severely injured when most of his unit was wiped out by a crash in the mountains of Eberstadt. After an 18-month recovery period (which he spent in a full body cast) he served out the rest of his time (about four months, as I recall) at a desk job, filing paperwork in Minidoka, Idaho at the Japanese internment camp located there. This story was inspired, in part, by conversations he had with various “detainees” at the camp, particularly a tailor.

Unusually for horror writers, your work often engages in sentiment/senitmentality. How did that become one of your major themes?

Before answering that, I have to tell you I have a problem with the word “sentimental,” and here’s why: for me, it trivializes what I try to achieve with my work, which — though it will never be seen as important literature — I work very hard to imbue with emotional authenticity, and in the eyes of a lot of speculative fiction readers (and more than a few writers) this means I’m pretentious and depressing. Douglas Winter’s oft-quoted line about horror being “…an emotion” has been brandished too many times as a shield by lazy writers and lazier, impatient readers who want their dark fiction to deal only with that single emotion: horror can encompass fear and revulsion, yes, of course, that’s fine and dandy, but if your work wants to explore any emotions beyond that, you’re labeled pretentious.

A writer I know once paid me a backhanded compliment by saying that I “… do maudlin well.” Maudlin? Seriously? Nicholas-fucking-Sparks and Robert James Waller do maudlin; Danielle Steele is sentimental; a distressing amount of Spielberg’s work succumbs to both (witness the badly thought-out final reel of Saving Private Ryan). It’s work that sometimes flirts with an honest emotion but backs off before things get too complicated, before grey areas are entered and people may have to actually God forbid think about something deeper than wether or not the heroine will still love the hero when the deep dark secret from his past is revealed, or vice-versa. It’s paint by numbers storytelling, dealing with nothing more than instantly-recognizable emotional situations and complications, and the result is shallow phoniness that relies solely on heavy-handed manipulation to trick readers into thinking that they’re reading something with depth. Oscar Wilde said, “A sentimentalist is one who wishes the luxury of exploiting an emotion without having to go through the bother of experiencing it first-hand.” This drives me clown-shit crazy most of the time. I will not apologize for attempting to dive head-first into the core of a messy and unpleasant emotion in order to take it apart piece by ugly piece and reassemble it in a manner that, if I’ve done my job as a storyteller right, will present it in a new — if sometimes dim — light.

I don’t find, for instance, Kurosawa’s Ikiru to be at all sentimental; there is, for me, a palpable, almost overpowering sense of deep regret that runs throughout that film, underscored with a bitter sadness that makes the final minutes of the story utterly and unapologetically heartbreaking. The emotion is raw and honest and often unpleasant, even ugly, and that’s why that film achieves and maintains the resonance it still has after over half a century. The emotions it deals with are universal (pardon that word), and if a viewer is willing to let him- or herself experience these feelings along with the character, and in the end perhaps carry their resonance into their own lives in some small way, then how can such an experience be trivialized or dismissed as a “sentimental” one?

Rant finished. Here is your answer: Exploring and grappling with human emotions became one of my major themes because if a piece of fiction doesn’t have an honest, authentic emotional core, then any impact the storyteller hopes the work will have is lost and the work will be forgotten within minutes of the last line being read.

What research did you do for this story about internment camps, Japanese folklore, etc?

I’ve been a reader of Japanese folklore for several years — I have volumes of fables and fairy tales — and have read about the internment camps since I was a teenager. The idea that the United States imprisoned its own citizens simply because of those citizens’ genetic background was, is, and will always be reprehensible. That so many great Japanese composers, artists, writers, and scholars survived is arguably miraculous.

Why short stories at all, or publishing at all, when novels are where the money is and you can public on Kindle so easily?

I like the challenge of short stories, of creating a microcosm of character, place, time, and situation that can encompass all aspects of human experience in a tight, focused experience. I’ve never made much money with any of my writing — especially the novels — and I don’t expect that I ever will. I long ago gave up on the idea that my work was going to be widely embraced by a large readership, and the older I get, the more okay I try to be with that knowledge. I simply love writing stories. It’s arguably the only thing I’m truly good at.

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The Phantasm Japan Q/A with James A. Moore

Welcome to the first of our brief Q/As with select contributors to our new anthology Phantasm Japan. First up is James A. Moore, who wrote a great, and chilling, story of the feudal era and snow people, “He Dreads the Cold.” (Phantasm Japan co-editor Nick Mamatas is asking the questions this time out.)

I was thrilled to receive a story involving samurai and the like. What made you choose this particular myth to explore?

I was absolutely delighted to get a chance to work on PHANTASM JAPAN because I have been fascinated by feudal Japan and by the amazing layers of the society since I was a kid. As to the story itself, the cold and the silence that is often prevalent in a deeply showed in area lends itself perfectly, to my way of thinking, to a horror story. Having been in a blizzard and its aftermath, I remember walking around and being stunned by the silence, when the only sound was the snow dropping from branches and the trees creaking softly in the wind. And I remember looking at the shoes and wondering what was waiting underneath.

You’re known for your novels, including some very long ones. Does it require a shift in your work or mentality to create a piece of short fiction?

I’ve always loved complex stories, and, ironically enough, I’ve also always loved short stories. “He Dreads the Cold” was very much a challenge, because, as a few editors have pointed out in the past, even my short stories are normally novel length. They might be joking, but only a little. I wanted to test myself, to see if I could provide a good scare or even solid chill (no pun intended) in a shorter format, without sacrificing any of the character development. I hope I succeeded, but I’m not the person to judge that.

“He Dreads the Cold” obviously required a lot of research. Was there anything especially interesting that just didn’t fit in the story, and had to be left out?

I wanted to incorporate as much of the “snow people” mythology of Japan as I could, but it wasn’t possible to add it all in. There are a great number of different legends and some of them are rather uniquely localized. I was fascinated by the myth of Yukinbo—apparently a one legged snow boy—but couldn’t quite find a way to incorporate him and not expand the story in ways that would have expanded it substantially and hurt the story’s flow.

What’s the coldest you’ve ever been?

When I was six years old my family moved from Georgia to Colorado (near Breckenridge before it became a ski resort town) and my brothers decided it would be fun to stuff me in their clothes, fill the clothes with range and then toss me in a snow bank. I was six. they were fourteen and fifteen respectively. In order to get inside I had to climb out of their clothes and run over to the door in nothing but my underwear. They took the liberty of locking the door. I’m gonna have to say that was a pretty cold day.

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Phantasm Japan Contributor Bios

Gary A. Braunbeck has published ten novels and over a dozen short story collections, the most recent of which, Rose of Sharon and Other Stories (an assembly of his mainstream work), has been garnering excellent reviews. His novels include In Silent Graves, Keepers, Coffin County, and the forthcoming A Cracked and Broken Path, all of which are part of his on-going “Cedar Hill Cycle” of works set in the fictional town of Cedar Hill, Ohio. His short story collections include Things Left Behind, Home Before Dark, and the Bram Stoker Award–winning Destinations Unknown. His work has garnered seven Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild Award, and a World Fantasy Award nomination. Publishers Weekly has said, “Braunbeck’s work stirs the mind as it chills the marrow.” You can find him online at the woefully-in-need-of-updating web page www.garybraunbeck.com.


Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in. Her fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, Fantasy Magazine, and Strange Horizons, among others. Her essay “The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival” recently appeared in The Battle Royale Slam Book, published by Haikasoru. She lives in Washington, D.C., works in research, and tends her garden of student debt sowed by two political science degrees. For more, see nadiabulkin.wordpress.com.


Quentin S. Crisp was born in 1972, in North Devon, in the United Kingdom. Leaving A-level college without grades, he spent five years working with Wolf and Water Arts Company (then The Common Sense Project) before going on to study Japanese at Durham University. He graduated in the year 2000. His first collection of fiction, The Nightmare Exhibition, was published by BJM Press in 2001, while he was teaching English in Taiwan. He returned to Japan later that year to research Japanese literature on a scholarship at Kyoto University, studying in particular the works of Higuchi Ichiyo. Unable to convert his research into an MA due to depression, he returned to Britain in 2003, since when he has had fiction published by Tartarus Press (Morbid Tales, 2004), PS Publishing (Shrike, 2009), Eibonvale Press (Defeated Dogs, 2013) and others. He currently resides in a damp flat in South East London/North Kent, and is editor for Chômu Press.



Keikaku (Project) Itoh was born in Tokyo in 1974. He graduated from Musashino Art University. In 2007, he debuted with Gyakusatsu Kikan (Genocidal Organ) and took first prize in the Best SF of 2007 in SF Magazine. His novel Harmony won both the Seiun and Japan SF awards, and its English-language edition won the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation. He is also the author of Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots, a Japanese-language novel based on the popular video game series. All three of his novels are available in English from Haikasoru. After a long battle with cancer, Itoh passed away in March 2009. The translation of his novella “The Indifference Engine,” which appeared in The Future Is Japanese, was nominated for the 2012 Shirley Jackson Award.


Yusaku Kitano was born in Hyogo Prefecture and currently lives in Osaka. Kitano worked in an office until his writing career was launched in 1992 with the selection of his novel Mukasi kasei no atta basho (Where Mars Had Once Been) for the Award of Excellence in the Japan Fantasy Novel Awards. The same year, his script Geocentric Theory earned the first Jakusaburo Katsura Yagurahai Award for best new rakugo. In 2001, Kitano’s Kame-kun was awarded the 22nd Japan SF Award. In addition to prose fiction, Kitano writes in a variety of forms, including theater, rakugo and recitals, and radio dramas. His numerous novels include Doughnuts, Doronko Rondo, Kitsune no Tsuki, and Shaintachi.


Jacqueline Koyanagi is the author of Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel. She was born in Ohio to a Japanese-Southern-American family, eventually moved to Georgia, and earned a degree in anthropology with a minor in religion. Her stories feature queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles, because she grew tired of not seeing enough of herself and the people she loves reflected in genre fiction. She now resides in Colorado where she weaves all manner of things, including stories, chainmaille jewelry, and a life with her loved ones and dog.


Alex Dally MacFarlane is a writer, editor and historian. When not researching narrative maps in the legendary traditions of Alexander III of Macedon, she writes stories, found in Clarkesworld Magazine, Interfictions Online, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the anthologies Solaris Rising 3, Gigantic Worlds, Upgraded, Heiresses of Russ 2013: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2014. Poetry can be found in Stone Telling, The Moment of Change, and Here, We Cross. She is the editor of Aliens: Recent Encounters (2013) and The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women (2014).


Zachary Mason is the author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey (FSG, 2010). His next books, Void Star and Metamorphica, will be published in 2015 and 2016.


Miyuki Miyabe’s first novel was published in 1987, and since that time she has become one of Japan’s most popular and best-selling authors. Miyabe’s 2007 novel Brave Story won The Batchelder Award for best children’s book in translation from the American Library Association. Seven of her novels have been translated into English, as has her collection of short ghost stories, Apparitions.


James A. Moore is the award-winning author of over twenty novels in the thriller, dark fantasy, and horror genres, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels, Cherry Hill and Smile No More. He has also recently ventured into the realm of young adult novels, with his new series Subject Seven. In addition to writing multiple short stories, he has also edited, with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, the British Invasion anthology for Cemetery Dance Publications.

The author cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over twenty role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games, including Berlin by Night, Land of 1,000,000 Dreams and The Get of Fenris tribe book for Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, among others. He also penned the White Wolf novels Vampire: House of Secrets and Werewolf: Hellstorm.

Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print. His most recent novels include The Blasted Lands (A Seven Forges novel) and Alien: Sea of Sorrows. More information about the author can be found at his website: jamesamoorebooks .com.


Lauren Naturale is a Ph.D. candidate in the English dept. at UC Berkeley. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is trying to write a dissertation and a novel at the same time. “Her Last Appearance” is her first published story. Twitter.com/lnaturale, compulsively.


Tim Pratt’s stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and other nice places. His most recent collection is Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories. He’s won a Hugo Award for his short fiction and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards. He lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife, writer Heather Shaw, and their son. For more:www.timpratt. org, or follow @timpratt on Twitter.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, various Mammoth Books and best of the year collections. Her contemporary fantasy novella Scale-Bright is available from Immersion Press. She can be found online at beekian.wordpress.com and @bees_ja.


Seia Tanabe was born in Osaka in 1982. Her “Kuntou” received an honorable mention in the Fourth BK1 Ghost Story Award in 2006, and Tanabe was subsequently awarded the Japan Horror Novel Award’s short story prize for “Ikibyobu.” Her novels and short stories focus mainly on ghosts, with her latest work being Amedama: Seia Mononokegatari. Together with anthologist Masao Higashi, she has been active in Furusato Kaidan charity events to raise money for the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, collecting true ghost stories, and periodically speaking at ghost story events.


Joseph Tomaras lives in a small town in Maine. His fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming soon, in The Big Click, M, Clarkesworld, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Things You Can Create. He mows the lawn and clears snow, tweets (@epateur) and blogs at skinseller.blogspot.com.


Dempow Torishima was born in Osaka. He graduated from Osaka College of Art and works as a freelance designer and illustrator. He won the Sogen SF Short Story Award with his debut fiction, “Sisyphean” (Kaikin no to) in 2011. Since then, he has been writing a series of stories in the same far-future world of “Sisyphean,” which was published as Sisyphean and Other Stories in 2013. The collection was chosen as the best SF of 2013 in SF Magazine, won the Japan SF Award, and was nominated for the Seiun Award in 2014.


Born in Hyogo Prefecture, Sayuri Ueda is one of the more innovative science fiction authors in Japan. She won the 2003 Komatsu Sakyo Award with her debut novel, Mars Dark Ballade. The Cage of Zeus, her second novel, was originally published in 2004. Her recent short fiction collection, Uobune, Kemonobune (Fish Boat, Animal Boat), was highly acclaimed in the SF community and was nominated for the 2009 Japan SF Award. Also nominated for the Seiun Award in the short story category was “Kotori no haka” (The Grave of the Bird) from the collection. Her novel Karyu no miya (The Ocean Chronicles) won the first prize of Best SF 2010 in SF Magazine and was one of the most noteworthy books of the year in any genre. She published the sequel to The Ocean Chronicles (Shinku no Hibun) in 2013, and the novel was also a finalist for the Mystery Writers of Japan Award.

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