Kij Johnson is a sci-fi rockstar: 2010 Nebula Award winner, 2010 Hugo Award Nominee, and 2010 Locus Award Finalist. She doesn’t know me from Eve; my God, she started publishing while I was still in high school. (Only ten years ago?) Nevertheless, she graciously agreed to be interviewed.
Can you talk a little about the transition from short story writer to novelist?
Initially I had no idea I would ever write a novel. I wrote short stories because that was about all the attention-span I had, and I had always heard that short stories were an easier sell than novels because there were more tiers you could get in at: unpaid, semi-pro, pro, and then the elevated heights of The Big Ones, Playboy and the like.
The first novel, THE FOX WOMAN, was really an enormous short story: very tightly crafted without a lot of events, which is both its strength and its weakness. Since then I have gotten a lot more comfortable with novels, which have breathing room for subplots and even loose ends.
How does your poetry factor in?
I wrote poetry before I wrote fiction which, combined with a linguistics-heavy undergrad degree, made me obsessive about language. I haven’t written poetry for many years and am coming back to it now, after some decades. We’ll see how returning to poetry changes things!
What did you learn most, in the process of building toward then publishing your first book?
100,000 words is a lot of words, and 125,000 is more. Story arcs need to be bigger in novels.
Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?
It’s always a series of tipping points, each of which feeds into the next. Going to Clarion West? Working in publishing? The Sturgeon Award, or the Crawford Award? Attending and then assisting at Jim Gunn’s workshops? The first Year’s Best reprint? Being nominated for one of the big awards? Winning? Maybe for other people there’s a big Tadaa! but it’s been incremental for me. My first story was published in 1987; my first pro sale was 1988.
When you were more focused on short stories, how many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?
I’m very focused on short stories at the moment! Right now I have one that’s recently been bought; three more out there somewhere or other; a couple that are teetering on done but have never gelled, and one I promised to an anthology that I haven’t finished.
When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS? How has the list changed?
Playboy, Asimov’s, Omni. I’ve been in Asimov’s several times, but Playboy’s a tougher nut than I will ever crack; and Omni is gone, alas. I love breaking into new magazines. Right now I have something out to The New Yorker on the “Hey, why not?” principle.
So say we all. Thank you, Kij.
Tune in Monday for another “How I Got That Story,” featuring NY Times best-selling author Laura Fraser. Oooooo!