Interview: Miyuki Jane Pinckard

Miyuki Jane Pinckard writes fiction about magic and space travel, and nonfiction about games, technology, and culture. Her work has been published in Strange Horizons, 1up.com, Salon Magazine, and other venues. A graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, she’s a member of the SFWA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and serves on the editorial board of the Well Played Journal from ETC Press at Carnegie Mellon University. In a former life she was a game developer whose credits include Super Street Fighter Turbo HD Remix and Rock Band Unplugged. She was born in Tokyo and currently lives in Venice, California. “A House Full of Voices is Never Empty” is Pinckard’s first appearance in Uncanny, a beautiful examination of family, memories, and the ways people deal with change and loss.

 

Uncanny Magazine: I love the descriptions of family in this story, and the way the relationships play out over time. What was your process for creating all the characters—did you have the whole family in your head from the beginning? Did you start from the narrator and branch out?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: Haha, for once I actually had the characters pretty developed in my head—this is the most intensely personal story I’ve ever written! Obviously I’ve enhanced and refined elements of these characters for narrative impact, but the inspirations for them came from my own family and from one of my oldest friends.

The story is deeply entangled with my own family dynamics, especially my relationship with my sister. I realized while writing this that my feelings about family are bound up with my feelings about traversing cultures. Invariably such a transition, I think, shifts your relationships, especially generationally. My sister and I were different ages when we left the country where we were born and therefore we have a really different relationship to the idea of “where we’re from.”

Uncanny Magazine: What was the easiest part of writing this story? What was the most challenging?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: The easiest part for me to write was probably the siblings’ relationship, because there was a lot that flowed as I started to write and unpack it for myself. The most challenging part was trying to figure out the ending—that’s usually my biggest weakness as a writer!

This story went through many phases. A horror-ish version of it started at Clarion, which my classmates read and gave me wonderful feedback on. Then I shelved it for two years.

Last year, I wrote a story for a Codex contest that had a really similar theme and I realized that it was another version of the same story, if you stripped it down to the core, a story of how loss triggers the desire to hold on to objects, and a story of how objects become imbued with spirits.

I wanted to change the dark, horror-adjacent ending I had originally written because I felt like it fell too squarely into the trope of immigration trauma, and I also didn’t want to stigmatize hoarding. I wanted instead to find a path forward through the pain. Trauma can be, perhaps not overcome entirely, but healed, and people who’ve suffered can find joy and peace, and I wanted to make sure my story fell firmly on the side of hope.

Uncanny Magazine: “A House Full of Voices is Never Empty” is a beautiful portrayal of the different ways people deal with change and loss. Is this a theme that you find yourself returning to repeatedly in your writing? What other themes are you drawn to?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: I didn’t realize it until this year, but pretty much everything I’ve published or is forthcoming deals with loss in some way, so, yes? It’s funny how you sometimes don’t see the themes in your own stories at first.

I suppose it makes sense—I lost my father when I was a teenager, and my mother in my twenties, and since then I’ve had several friends die as well, including a close friend just a few months ago. For most of my life, awareness of the proximity of death has been an integral part of how I experience life. But death, to me, is not tragedy, or not solely tragedy; it also prompts a reimagining of life, and it sounds like a cliche, but it’s a reminder to hold people you love close, treasure the small moments, and find peace as you can.

I’m also drawn to families, both found families and blood relations, and I think I write about that a lot. Also the idea of community, of finding strength in each other, and not necessarily valorizing the individual as a sole “hero.” So much of what actually changes the world is community organization, not a single person’s lone effort.

Uncanny Magazine: Are you more likely to keep objects that hold memories for you, or let them go?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: Oh, I am a big proponent of letting things go!

I think it’s because, at an impressionable age, the house I grew up in burned down in a fire, just a couple of years after my dad died. At first it was really hard to accept that photos of him, his writing (he was a writer, too), and other beloved family artifacts were gone, but eventually I came to view it as a sort of liberation from material ties. We don’t have to be bound by physical objects, and they don’t have to represent who we are or who we love. That said, I also very much understand and deeply sympathize with people for whom objects hold great value, and there are times when I dream I still have an object that I’ve lost and cry when I wake up and realize it’s gone. So I want to acknowledge the power of objects, too.

Uncanny Magazine: Your academic background is in media and gaming—has that had an influence on your stories? Do you ever write stories that are inspired by games?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: I think working in games has made me able to let go of the story and trust the reader. When you design a game, you’re essentially designing a space for the player to create their own stories, and I think writing is like that, too. You write a story, but what the reader takes away from your story is their own, and you have to relinquish control over to them. It’s theirs when they read it, a precious and private thing that you have no business interfering in, in my opinion. That’s one of the things I love most about writing.

My game experience has also encouraged me to be more experimental and let the reader be more active, filling in the blanks themselves, discovering connections, finding things on their own.

I don’t think I often write stories inspired directly by games, except for this one novella I’m playing with, which, I’m almost embarrassed to say, is inspired by a recent return to the game World of Warcraft. I got intrigued by the priest mechanic in that game, and started to build a character around it. Priests are seen primarily as “support” characters in the game, and I was interested to see how to center a priest-type of character, whose primary function is to heal combatants, as a protagonist. (Also this novella is basically The Untamed fanfiction…! :))

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Miyuki Jane Pinckard: In addition to a bunch of short stories in various stages of done-ness, and the novella I mentioned above, I’m working on a spy-versus-spy, star-crossed lovers novel about rebels running a seditious printing press in a city under occupation. With magic!

I’m also working on a nonfiction project with my friend and colleague Maureen McHugh, based on conversations we’ve been having for the last couple years about craft and writing instruction and how we learn how to write. I love collaborating with people so that’s been really rewarding.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

 

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of the 2017 Hugo and Nebula finalist short story “Carnival Nine.” Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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