Devil’s Lake


Interview with Kim Fu

Q: I’m curious about the origins of this novel. I know you are also a poet, essayist, and short story writer. Did parts of For Today I Am a Boy ever exist in any other form?

For Today I Am a Boy began as a short story, roughly analogous to the first chapter of the book, “Boy.” Almost every word has changed, but the entire Huang family was already present, all six characters. I was in an MFA program at the time, bringing in a lot of work that was all over the place. My classmates hadn’t connected to anything the way they connected to that story. They were extremely excited and encouraging about its world. The dynamics of the family, already fully-formed in that story, dictated to me the entire trajectory of their lives. Everything that happens to them, every choice they make, has its roots in that house and their relationships to each other. I felt right away that I had to write more.

Q: Many of the characters in your book are born into personal circumstances that threaten their senses of self. Have you ever had the experience of wishing that you were born differently, somehow?

I’m still figuring out my own gender identity; I’m very much in the midst of that exploration. At the time I was writing the book, I think I actually had more in common with the Father character, and his generational position. In some ways, he’s the villain of the book, but I think his determination to erase his family’s ethnicity, his straightforward desire to be white, is common, honest, and logical—a feeling many minorities have. Of course it would be easier to be white. Of course it’s easier to move through North American society by assimilating and walling off parts of yourself. As an adult, my heritage is an important part of who I am, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever wished I could be less conspicuous, less subject to certain stereotypes.

Q: You’ve said in past interviews that you were initially concerned about the transgender community’s reaction to being represented by a cisgendered writer. Have those fears been allayed at all? Has the publication of your book make you feel differently about responsibility in fictional representation?

“Let the conversation happen around your art. Let other people lead it, chime in only when asked, and apologize if necessary. You have every right to write whatever you want, but you also have to accept the consequences of doing so.”

I get a lot of wonderful emails from trans and genderqueer readers, and they come up to me at events, to share their stories and their responses to the novel. That’s probably been the best part of the whole experience of publishing a book. The National Post review by trans writer/activist S. Bear Bergman also meant a lot to me. The intense anxiety I felt around these issues has lessened somewhat with time, as I’ve gotten used to the public eye, and as the spotlight has moved off the book altogether. The literary landscape has also changed a lot since I first started writing the novel in 2009. I believe more than ever that publishing is not a zero-sum game. I hope my book resonates with readers, and that there is more space and opportunity for writers of marginalized identities to tell their own stories, and to write beyond their own stories, too.

Q: I found your portrayal of the Asian-Canadian immigrant experience to feel so original and true. What kind of reaction have you had from that community?

Positive. I’ve had some really interesting conversations with other Asian-Canadians about the book, especially teenagers, academics, and writers. I guess those are weird groups to lump together. Teenagers, I think, are the most sensitive to media representation, looking to see themselves and their families, looking for different ways of inhabiting and navigating different parts of who they are. They see my book as part of the cultural moment they’re living; we talk about Fresh Off the Boat and Buzzfeed. Asian-Canadian academics tend to have a more longitudinal view, wanting to discuss my book as part of a body of Asian-Canadian literature, a successor to writers who have come before. While other working Asian-Canadian writers see each other as part of an extremely eclectic, heterogenous, not-always-useful designation. They’re very different ways of thinking about one story, one lens on an experience.

Q: Do you have any advice for authors who endeavor to write from the point of view of a different sex, gender, or sexual orientation?

While you’re writing and editing, research as much as you can, and invite in as much feedback as possible from a variety of people who self-identify in a similar way to your characters, especially other writers and artists. Treat your characters with dignity, respect, empathy, and diligence—which doesn’t mean writing dull, perfect role models, but it does mean writing complex, whole human beings who are more than a set of labels, who you connect to honestly as a writer, rather than exoticizing or putting them on display. And then once it’s published, step back and shut up. Do your best to create something authentic and meaningful, but if people tell you that you got it wrong or that your work is offensive, accept that and hear them out. Let the conversation happen around your art. Let other people lead it, chime in only when asked, and apologize if necessary. You have every right to write whatever you want, but you also have to accept the consequences of doing so.

KIM FU’s debut novel For Today I Am a Boy won the Edmund White Award, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, the Kobo Emerging Writer Award, and a Lambda Literary Award. Her first collection of poems, How Festive the Ambulance, will be published in May 2016. She was a 2015 Writer-in-Residence at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, and is a 2016 Ucross Foundation Fellow. She lives in Seattle.