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Fuyumi Ono, Author of The Twelve Kingdoms

When did you know you wanted to write professionally?

FUYUMI ONO: I never really gave much thought to becoming a professional novelist. It was only after I'd become a writer that I wanted to do it professionally.

I've read that you have a degree in Buddhist Studies. How did you end up becoming a novelist?

When I was in the middle of my career at graduate school, my tuition suddenly ran out and I had to drop out. I was without a goal and felt completely lost. It was then that an editor who had read some novels I wrote when I was in college suggested I try writing for a living.

Is your career what you imagined it would be? What things would you change if you could? What are you most proud of?

I'd never imagined myself becoming a writer, so everything's really turned out quite unexpectedly. There's no part of that I'd like to change, and I'm quite happy with how things are.
As for what I'm most proud of, it happened back when I was first writing novels aimed at young girls. It made me happier than anything to hear so many of my small readers say that it was the first time they'd read a novel all the way through to the end.

What fantasy writers inspire you? Why? What other genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

I'm embarrassed to say this, but I hardly ever read fantasy novels. It was mostly because I was asked by publishers to write fantasy novels that I somehow ended up in this genre. It was once I started writing that I discovered books like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber, and found the kind of ideal fantasy series that I strive to achieve.
In any case, because I'm a bit tone-deaf when it comes to the fantasy genre; I honestly consider Twelve Kingdoms to be more of a mythic story. Or maybe more like a historical drama set in a fictional world. That's why I'd say that the biggest influence I got was from novels about Japanese history.
But my favorite type of genre to read is mystery.

In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a novel? Why?

The hardest part is evaluating your own work. When you're trying to decide if the book will really be amusing, or if you're actually connecting with your readers, no matter how many times you reread it and analyze it, you'll never find the correct answer. That's because you can never really gain the proper perspective necessary to evaluate your own creation. Now that I understand how impossible that task is, I can't trust my own judgment. And as long as I can't trust in it, it's terribly difficult to simply say “It's good enough as it is.”

Can you tell us about what you are working on now?

I'm currently rewriting a girls’ horror series I wrote long ago.

How did you create the wonderfully complex world of The Twelve Kingdoms? How long did it take you to develop all the history and character in the universe?

Originally, the world of Twelve Kingdoms was created for a previous series of mine, Demon Child (Masho no Ko). This was another series created at the request of the publisher when they wanted more fantasy, but now I'm not too sure it could be classified that way, but rather as a horror story with fantasy elements (at least, I hope so). That's when I roughly created the world and its history.
Ever since my childhood, I've enjoyed thinking up stories that had a strong link to plausible reasons. (For example, because a river flows here, the country would be invaded from there. Or, because of this certain event in the world's history, this sort of legend was left behind.) Part of it was just for fun, so I'd play around with maps and timelines I drew, so I'm not sure exactly how long I actually worked on it. Even after I've finished an important work, I still recall adding onto it and playing around more with the idea. The real reason I do series is because with every story I write, I add more and more details.

How did you keep track of events while writing such a long series?

I wrote the story while creating a timeline. I also compiled dictionaries with the terminology that appears in the story.

Who is your favorite character? Why?

There are a lot of different meanings to the word “like,” but as for which character I enjoy writing the most, it'd have to be the townsfolk who rarely have names. I'm not sure how to explain it, but it may be because I feel that they are the most similar to me, and down-to-earth. They're fun to write, and I get the greatest feeling of accomplishment when I pull them off well.

Having read the first volume, Sea of Shadow is for me an incredible story about a young girl who is pushed beyond her limits physically, emotionally, and mentally. Was the character based on anyone you know and/or have you ever been in a similar position as Yoko?

Yoko wasn't based off anyone in particular, but if I had to choose, I'd say that all my readers that wrote me letters served as the mold.
Recently I've been writing novels aimed at young girls. Many of my readers end up writing to me and they often share their personal problems. I was never able to write back to them, so instead, I wrote Sea of Shadow. As for the events that befall Yoko, I feel that all people end up experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, the kinds of mental and emotional trauma that Yoko does as they grow and establish themselves in the world. I've experienced the same things in the past, and I was able to overcome them somehow. There's no set answer, but I just hope to arouse the feeling that you, too, have been like that some time.

What went through your mind when you learned that Twelve Kingdoms became a huge success? Did you celebrate? If so, how?

I never had a single moment of realization that it was a success. I had MY FIRST STORY published back in 1992. When I first finished writing it, I was told the story was too heavy for readers, and it was rejected. After several ups and down, it finally made it to publication, and I was so happy to receive the overwhelming support of my readers. Thanks to that, I was able to write the continuation, and here I am now. It's been almost 15 years since that day, with my readership slowly growing to the current level, little by little, so overall it doesn't feel like anything terribly surprising has happened regarding Twelve Kingdoms.

The last novel, so far, was released in 2001. Do you plan to revisit the world of The Twelve Kingdoms and write more stories for it?

Yes, I do.

Since the anime was released in the U.S. several years ago, what are the differences between the anime and the novels that readers should know about?

Aikawa-san wrote the script to the anime, and being the amazing scriptwriter he is, he excels at being very aware of the differences between the unique characteristics of the media he's working with as well as those of other mediums. The best of a novel is not necessarily the same as the best of an anime. If you aim for the best, you cannot avoid changing the original work. I think it's best for fans of the series to keep that point in mind.

Interview courtesy of Tokyopop

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