Kij Johnson was born January 20, 1960 (as Katherine Irenae Johnson) in Harlan IA. She attended St. Olaf College in Northfield MN, where she took an undergraduate degree in the Paracollege, titled, ‘‘A Cultural History of England to 1066.’’ She lived in Minneapolis MN and Eugene OR before moving to New York City, where she began working in publishing as managing editor at Tor. She then moved to Portland OR to work as an editor at Dark Horse Comics; to Baton Rouge LA to teach at Louisiana State University; to Seattle to work at Wizards of the Coast/TSR; to Lawrence KS to work for the University of Kansas; back to Seattle for five years, to work at RealNetworks; and finally to Raleigh NC to study for her MFA at NC State University, graduating in 2012. She has also managed bookstores and worked in radio.
Johnson began publishing work of genre interest with ‘‘Roadkill’’ (1988). Other notable works of short fiction include ‘‘Schrödinger’s Cathouse’’ (1993); World Fantasy, Sturgeon, and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change’’ (2007); Hugo and Nebula Award finalist and World Fantasy Award winner ‘‘26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss’’ (2008); ‘‘The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles’’ (2009); Nebula Award winner and Hugo finalist ‘‘Spar’’ (2009); ‘‘Names for Water’’; Nebula Award winner and Hugo and World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘Ponies’’ (2010); Hugo and Nebula Award winner ‘‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’’ (2011); and ‘‘Mantis Wives’’ (2012). Some of her short fiction was collected in the e-book Tales for the Long Rains (2001) and more recently in At the Mouth of the River of Bees (2012).
Her short story ‘‘Fox Magic’’ (1993) won a Sturgeon Award, and was the inspiration for the novel The Fox Woman (2000), winner of the Crawford Award for best first fantasy. Follow-up Fudoki (2003) was set in the same world, and she plans a third volume in the series. She also wrote a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel with Greg Cox (1996).
Johnson is one of the final judges for the Sturgeon Award, and lives in Lawrence KS, where she is an associate director of the Center for Science Fiction Studies and assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Kansas.
Excerpts from the interview:
‘‘My mom was a school librarian, so she would bring home whatever books came in – on a Friday, she’d bring home a huge armload of books and hand them to my brother and me. We would read them all over the weekend, and then we’d tell her the ones we liked and some reasons why we liked them. My parents read everything. I had no interest at all in being a writer, but I come from a publishing family: my grandfather was a big-deal publisher of agriculture magazines, and my grandparents and parents were editors and copyeditors. I got my undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College, in an alternative program based somewhat on the Oxford tutorial system. My degree was called ‘A Cultural History of England to 1066,’ and it was awesome. (I really did get drunk and recite Anglo-Saxon at parties!) I studied Latin and Old Norse and a bunch of other stuff, even though I’m not especially good with languages. What it was good for was teaching me how to research. Oh my God, I can research like a motherfucker.”
‘‘The nice thing about starting to write at 25 was that I had some life experience. I eventually published all the Clarion West stories I wrote, though not in the original versions. I feel as though I do nothing but rewrite. The fewest I’ve ever done is ten rewrites, on a flash piece. I wrote ‘Fox Magic’, the story that developed into my novel The Fox Woman, for Ursula at Clarion West. I was just thinking through a Japanese tale from Konjaku, one of the largest collections of Japanese folk tales, because that was the latest obsession for me. The fox falls in love with a guy while the wife is out of town, the fox seduces him, he moves in with her, the wife comes back…. The original story takes 250 words to tell. I had already obsessively researched canid behaviorism for my own interest, and then I’d strayed from that into wolves and foxes and coyotes; they keep showing up in my stories. A fox has no conscience. They do what they want to do. Their purposes in life are to get through and have babies. And the fox in my story succeeds. But there’s this extra little piece, that she’s in love.”
‘‘Though it doesn’t show, I’m really influenced by Stephen King’s way of putting a story together. He has a conventional narrative style, but when he gets to a scary part he goes right down to ancient words, one syllable each: just punch, punch, punch, punch, punch. I’m so impressed by how he does that. He pulls the rug out from under you, saying, ‘I’m not giving you any out. You cannot even pretend that you got lost in this sentence, or that you don’t understand any of these words. These are the facts, as brutally as I can put them out.’
‘‘With the Japan stories, it’s the inversion of that. If I tell you a really horrific thing in pretty language, you get to the end of it and suddenly you’re like, ‘Wait, wait! What was that? Did that guy get stabbed in the guts?’ It’s interesting when you have a conflict between voice and content. That’s why I enjoy writing in historical voices. We think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be about a lot of women in pretty dresses, drooping around talking about guys. Or pretty women being disgraced by men and killing themselves,’ but it’s not.”
‘‘As for what’s coming up, this is where I take off my glasses and scrub my eyes in despair. I want to write another Kit Meinem story but I don’t want to write the predictable story, which is why I’m kind of sitting on it. The idea I have had requires a metric fuckton of research, so it’s not on the top right now. I’ve been writing a series of tiny little flash pieces, called ‘‘The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary.’’ And then there’s Kylen. Set in the late 18th century, it’s SF that looks like the kind of fantasy where just one strange thing exists. It takes place in London and Tashkent, inside this strange microscosmic city that’s based on Hak Nam, which was the Kowloon Walled City. It’s also a political theory book, where I’m framing out a functional anarchy. And it’s a science adventure, and there’s some killing, and stuff about women’s roles. It’s a very ambitious book for me. It’s all being told with an epistolary voice combined with a distant third person, possible present, and then the main character’s stuff is all in the past. I’ve written about 160,000 words, all of which are bring replaced! There are some more projects I want to do. There is a third Japan book coming. I just took this University of Kansas position, and part of my job is to write. Which is exhilarating! It beats a day job.’’