An Interview with Room 41.4 Commission Kim Fu

Interview by 
Yvonne Robertson
Kim Fu

Photo Credit: L D'Alessandro

Kim Fu is a Canadian-born writer, living in Seattle, Washington. Her most recent novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, was published in February 2018, and her previous novel, For Today I Am a Boy, won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Fu’s debut poetry collection, How Festive the Ambulance, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and includes a 2017 National Magazine Awards Silver Medal winner and a Best Canadian Poetry 2016 selection. She is an instructor-advisor at the Humber School for Writers.

Fu, our commissioned author in the winter 2018 issue, spoke to us about writing, her featured story, “Liddy, First to Fly,” and her advice for emerging writers.

ROOM: Why is writing important to you? 

KF: The only way I can think to answer that question is to explain how important reading is to me. Books have enriched and expanded my life and worldview more than anything else—what a small, narrow experience one lifetime would be without them. Writing is the dream that I could do that for someone else, transport them, and change them, as I’ve been changed.

ROOM: Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

KF: The narrative of my life I usually give is that I always “wanted to be” a writer, from the time I was a small child, from before I can remember, and aside from a brief, failed attempt at an engineering degree, that has remained true. Nobody in my family recalls why or how I started writing stories and poems. I assume I was just trying to copy the books I was reading.

But lately, I’ve been thinking it’s more accurate to say that I started writing at a young age, that I have always been a writer. As a child, I thought you grew up and “became” something, chose a career and stuck with it for life, but in reality, life is long, late capitalism is a nightmare, and we’re always evolving as individuals, moving through phases.

I have been very lucky, in the people who have surrounded me, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and that anyone wanted to publish what I felt compelled to write. “Being a writer” in the sense that it’s my primary livelihood and what I put down as my occupation on forms—I’ve come to see that as something over which we have limited control, something not determined by desire. I’ve been lucky, but that may not always be the case.

ROOM: “Liddy, First to Fly” is featured in our issue, and is a beautiful and compelling story. What inspired you to write this story?

KF: The image of a girl with wings growing uselessly out of her legs was kicking around in my mind for a while, waiting for a vehicle. Something that comes to mind in retrospect is when a bike mechanic friend tweeted that she’d gotten a piece of her work glove embedded under her skin, and she was about to try to extract it with scissors and tweezers. She wrote the “weird little kid” inside of her was excited about performing surgery on herself. Another friend and I both replied that the weird little kids we used to be would want to watch, which must have put that strange scene in my mind: children watching another child cut into herself, disgust and curiosity blurred.

And metamorphosis as a metaphor for puberty is hardly a new idea, though hopefully I’ve done something interesting with it!

ROOM: What does the story mean to you?

KF: To me, the story is about the end of childhood—the end of a fiercely loyal friendship based on nothing but proximity, the end of imaginative play and invented worlds. And it’s about the bodily horror of pubescence. It’s an open question, to my mind, whether growing wings out of your tibia is more or less alarming than what actually happens.

ROOM: You’ve written on a variety of topics in a variety of different forms, are there common themes or questions that continue to emerge in your writing?

KF: “Liddy” definitely shares themes with my most recent novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, about a group of girls who get stranded while kayaking. I was similarly interested in raising the stakes on the power dynamics and inherent drama of early adolescence, and giving serious literary attention to the concerns and agency of young girls, which are so often dismissed as frivolous.

ROOM: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

KF: My process is always changing, and it’s been different for every project. I feel like I have to relearn how to write every time. But generally speaking, in the early stages of a piece, I create a lot of meandering experimental material, just lines and images and questions for myself, before taking a pass at a true first draft. And I typically do several drafts, a lot of rewriting and self-editing. 

I’ve never been able to be one of those writers who writes for a set amount of time or words every day. I write in bursts, whether that’s for twenty minutes or seventy-two sleepless hours, with fallow periods in between—which could be a day or could be months, terrified I’ll never write again. A completed story or poem or, heavens above, a novel, never ceases to seem like a miracle.

ROOM: As our theme is around the idea of emergence, do you have any advice for emerging writers?  

KF: I second the advice you hear everywhere: read widely and deeply, consume and consider art of many kinds. I’d also emphasize the importance of forming genuine connections with your writing peers; worry less about impressing people in power and more about building community with the people who are coming up alongside you, whose work you care about and are invested in. Support them emotionally and practically, share opportunities, exchange editing, celebrate their successes, go to their readings, simply be a good friend.

That kind of mutual goodwill builds a more solid foundation for careers than cynical, targeted schmoozing, and it’s just a better way to live.

ROOM: What are you reading now?

KF: Some books I read recently that I really loved: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, Twin Studies by Keith Maillard, The Ensemble by Asa Gabel, and Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin.

ROOM: Who inspires you?

KF: Karen Russell, David Rakoff, Louise Erdrich, Yiyun Li, Heather O’Neill, Kevin Brockmeier, Peter Ho Davies, to name just a few. This past year, Jen Sookfong Lee’s writing about her career and experiences in CanLit really kept me going. The choreographers ilvs strauss, Anna Conner, and Kate Wallich. Every contestant on the Great British Bakeoff, and everyone involved in making Steven Universe and Kodoku no Gurume.

Yvonne Robertson is a member of Room's editorial board.

“It's Canadian, feminist, and one of my favourite things ever.”

—bucketofrhymes, "29 Amazing Literary Magazines You Need To Be Reading", Buzzfeed Books

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