Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.
I grew up in Portland Oregon and, minus some years in Olympia and Southern California, have lived in Tokyo for most of my adult life.
How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I majored in film as an undergrad, so I started out writing screenplays, but I didn’t like the format (or the business very much). I’ve since worked as a journalist and a translator and got a late start in fiction after convincing myself to just try. My first published piece was an alien invasion story called “Tfoo” in the queer speculative fiction magazine Collective Fallout. After that, I kept going and didn’t look back.
What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?
It helps me work out the personal; dealing with social anxiety, for example, in a world where self-promotion has become a necessary survival skill. And, to risk a big generalization, I think speculative fiction speaks more to economic survival. So much literary fiction, or what gets celebrated in the U.S., is about people for whom eating and heat or dental care are rarely an issue.
What life skills and experiences, other than writing, do you bring to your work?
Teaching has been a constant character study. You learn so much about the falsehood (and sometimes accuracy) of first impressions. Also, living in Japan’s high-context culture has (I hope) helped me get better at reading the room. So much is implied in both language and gesture, and you have to process the atmosphere before you can really understand what people are saying. To give an example, a few years ago, my partner and I dropped in at a police box to ask about a hiking trail to a hot spring. The cop scratched his head, jabbed his finger at the map, and said, “This is not that.”
What he meant was, “this is not one of those hot springs attached to a nice hotel where you can rent a nice changing room with towels, and maybe have a beer in the adjoining restaurant after you’re done. This a hole in the ground in the middle of the woods, and you’ll have to slog through brambles and mud and mosquitos to get there. Oh, and you might run into some naked men. You gals okay with that?”
You learn to assemble entire stories based on vague statements or unfinished sentences, which is invaluable. Also, there’s no dearth of understated humor—the Kyoto insult is second to none.
Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project.
My story “In-Flight Damage” was in the May/June issue of Analog, and I’ve just finished another called “The Machine Wasn’t in the Mood,” based on the very bad, very good rock trio, The Shaggs. I was struggling with it, so I’m very happy to have it done–or so I hope.
I’m finishing the book I initially workshopped at Milford but got stuck on in the last third. It’s a lot lighter now and much more focused.
Sara Kate Ellis is a Lambda Emerging Writers Fellow and attended the Milford Science Fiction Workshop in 2017. Her stories have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, Visions, Fusion Fragment and Space and Time (under Kate Ellis). She is currently an assistant professor at Meiji University in Tokyo, where she lives with her partner and a few ornery street cats. She likes soba.