After our last review on “Sumerhill” we talked with Rikoshi (Kevin Frane) and he agreed to answer some of our questions on his book and his work as a furry artist:
So, Rikoshi, what can you tell us about yourself?
Well, let’s see. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, then went to college to study Biology. I was originally planning to go on to grad school for Paleontology because I wanted to work as a museum curator, but a summer exchange program between my junior and senior year of university sent me to Japan and that wound up derailing my whole life. After graduation, I lived in Aomori, Japan for a while, where I taught English before I eventually got too lonely and moved back to the U.S.
I’ve been in the furry fandom since around 2001, after ‘lurking’ for a few years, and really dove into things headfirst the summer before I moved to Japan. The online fandom was a really important social outlet for me, it turns out, because I was very much an outsider in Japan, since I wasn’t in a big city like Tokyo where people were more used to foreigners. After coming back to the U.S., I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, which has a huge furry community, and I’ve been here ever since.
Nowadays, in addition to being a writer, I work as a Japanese translator (see what I mean about derailing my life?). Since I love to tell stories and experience them, I’m a big fan of tabletop roleplaying games. I drink lots of wine and lots of coffee, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars and I love to go to parties (and furry conventions, and parties at furry conventions).
Oh, right, and online I pretend that I’m a red fox. With antlers. And the tail of a Siberian husky.
When did you know that writing was your thing?
Since I was around nine years old, back in fourth grade. I remember one week where we were given these “portable computers” (which weighed like fifteen pounds or something) to take home for an afternoon–this was back in the 80s, mind–so that we kids could get experience with these newfangled ‘computer’ things they had. And I remember writing a story about a talking dog (go figure, right?).
When I went off to college to study Biology, my mother was very confused. She asked me, “Why aren’t you going to study English? You’re going to be a writer.” And I told her, “No, no, that’s not what I want to DO.” And now I am a writer, so I guess she was right.
Do you have any artist you admire or who you think had a direct influence in your style and work?
As far as people who I admire and who inspire me, I definitely have to mention my fellow furry writer Kyell Gold. I’m lucky enough to be able to call him a good friend of mine, and he’s always been extremely supportive of me and my work. He’s done a lot to pave the way for legitimizing furry writing with the fans, and I’m really impressed by what he’s been able to do.
The other writer that I look on with sheer awe is David Mitchell. His novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ is nothing short of pure genius, in my opinion (the movie version is awesome, too!), and ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ is just as impressive (plus it made me cry while I was on an airplane with nowhere to hide). He inspires me just by the sheer talent he has. He does things with writing that leave me dumbstruck, and I like to joke that if I ever someday have the amount of talent in his pinky fingernail, I’ll be happy.
Now, speaking a little bit about ‘Sumerhill’ we noticed a very interesting story-telling, drawing a fine line between linear and non-linear stories, which made it something fresh to read, are all your works looking to be something different?
Well, first and foremost, I’m interested in telling a good story, but I definitely try to push myself to do new and more interesting things. I don’t want to be gimmicky, and I don’t usually want to write something ‘weird’ JUST to have it be weird, but I have fun experimenting, and in testing my own limits.
With ‘Summerhill’ in particular, part of the reason it took me three years to finish was because I really wanted to make sure that it was good enough. I rewrote the whole book from scratch at least three times before I got it to where it was, and even now I still think I might have been able to make it better, but I think that a lot of readers at least appreciate that it was something they hadn’t really seen before.
“…the only really difference between whether they’re ‘furry’ or ‘mainstream,’ really, is whether or not the creator self-identifies as a member of the furry fandom”.
In your experience, how difficult is to start a book from page one to get your ‘paws’ on the first printed copy?
I struggle a lot with every book I write. Actually, I’ve been I’ve written has been harder than the one before it. Part of this may be related to question 3 up above, where I talk about always wanting to push myself to new limits, but yeah, I find the process really difficult.
My main thing is wanting to be proud of what I do. I try to hold myself up to a high standard, so that when my book DOES come out and other people read it, I can be proud of it, and not thinking, “Oh, well, all I did was make it ‘good enough.'” I don’t ever want to settle for that.
We’ve seen a few other artists doing well bringing furry art to the mainstream market, what do you think about that?
I think there’s less of a line between furry and the mainstream than a lot of people think. There are plenty of comics and graphic novels that feature talking animal characters, and the only really difference between whether they’re ‘furry’ or ‘mainstream,’ really, is whether or not the creator self-identifies as a member of the furry fandom. It might be a little more complicated than that, on some levels, but I think that’s the basic gist of it.
You’ve got the works of Alan Dean Foster, who’s “Spellsinger” series is extremely furry (and he’s been Guest of Honor at furry conventions because of it). Same with authors like Diane Duane and Larry Niven–there are plenty of people out there who are well-regarded, mainstream creators who put out work that’s very ‘furry’ if you look at it.
If you look at something like Blotch’s “Nordguard,” which got some pretty high-level praise and recognition from the comics community outside of the furry fandom, I think it’s something we should be proud of. It’s a really well-made, well-produced book, and I think it’s great that other people recognize that, and that people don’t just think that it’s a ‘lesser’ form of art just because it’s about two-legged animal-people.
To a lesser extent, Kyell Gold has seen some of this beyond-fandom recognition, too. He was one of the guests of honor at last year’s Gaylaxicon, which I think goes to show that people are interested in fiction that’s gay-positive, whether or not it’s necessarily about ‘people.’
Why do you think it’s important for the furry fandom to start feeling comfortable with being open to the public?
I think the furry fandom needs to stop being so ashamed of itself, is the biggest problem. I think a lot of us think that the world at large thinks we’re a bunch of super-weird freaks, and I don’t think that’s true. Sure, there are some people out there who look at us and probably think we’re really weird, but by and large, my experiences with bringing my furry content to the ‘outside world’ as it were, have been pretty positive.
Like my example of “Nordguard” up above: I don’t think there’s any reason that anyone would need to be ashamed of something like that, as an example of comic artistic merit. I don’t see why anyone would need to feel weird about having it on their bookshelf, or having their parents finding them reading it. Just because something’s about animals doesn’t mean that the average person is going to immediately think, “Oh God, since you’re reading this you must be a total weirdo.”
When I posted online about “Summerhill” being released, one of the first comments I got was from someone saying they needed to wait until the ebook version came out so that they could more easily hide it. And as a creator, that was actually really hurtful, to think that anyone would be ashamed of reading what I wrote just because the cover has a dog-person on it. I hope that, some day, people will realize how ridiculous a reaction that is to owning a book written by a member of the fandom.
Is there anything you know furries normally don’t look for in books that you wish they gave a chance and try?
My second novel, ‘The Seventh Chakra,’ is all about religion and philosophy. Well, and talking animal-people, of course, and it’s an action- and drama-packed spy thriller of sorts, but the themes of religion and philosophy were ones that I knew weren’t exactly common or popular with furries, and so when the book first came out, I was really, really nervous about how it would be received. Thankfully, the people who have read it mostly seem to like it, even if it’s probably not the most popular book out there in the fandom by a long shot.
If there’s one thing I think furries should be more open-minded about reading, actually, it’s stories about species they might not necessarily be ‘into,’ if that makes any sense. I have one good friend who doesn’t want to read any of my stories if they’re not about some sort of canine, which I think is kind of silly. I know he’s not the only one like that, and I understand that people have their tastes, but I think that those people are robbing themselves of the opportunity to read some pretty good stories.
What would you tell to people who write but feel shy about publishing their work?
Publishing can be really scary! You’re taking something that’s very, very personal and putting it out there for everyone to see. I think it’s natural to be nervous.
My advice is to start small. First, show some friends that you trust. Someone who isn’t your mother or your significant other, who pretty much HAS to tell you they love it no matter what. See what people think. And be ready for people to tell you that maybe what you have isn’t great. Because that’s fine–everyone starts at the bottom, after all. Just keep at it, and you’ll get better, and as you get better, you’ll have more confidence in showing more and more people your work.
What can you tell us about your life as an adult furry?
(Rikoshi) I didn’t really even ‘join’ the fandom until I was 22, myself, so I guess I’ve always been an adult furry (even if I was interested in furry things for as long as I can remember). Right now, I’m 33, and I have plenty of friends who are around my age and a lot older, and I think (or I at least like to think!) that we’re all functional, well-adjusted people and all.
I’m not very shy about my involvement with the furry fandom. My family, my non-furry friends, and even a lot of my former coworkers know that I write for this group of people who likes to read about animal-people, and honestly, I don’t think any of them really have a problem with it; if anything, they think it’s cool that I’m a published author who has a built-in audience.
My professional resume even includes my furry publishing credentials on it, because in my line of work, it helps to be able to show that I’m an author that’s been published, and employers care more about that fact than whether the characters in my books are animals or humans or aliens or whatever. My books are all under my real name, too; I feel like, if I work really hard on something, I should be proud enough to stand by it, if that makes any sense.
As people grow up, I think it’s natural and even healthy to hold onto things that might seem ‘childish’ or silly. After all, if it makes you happy, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business what you do with your own time or have for your own hobbies.
Is there anything you would like to share to our spanish-speaking furries?
First off, I want to apologize for not speaking better Spanish! I actually used to speak it very well, but it’s been over 15 years since I spoke it regularly, and now whenever I try to speak it I wind up slipping into Japanese, instead (I guess the files in my brain all got overwritten).
But no, I’m very happy that people who might not speak English as a first language are willing to check out my work. I’ve read books in foreign languages before, myself, and so I know that it can take a lot of effort, and I’m flattered that people would think my stuff might be worth that kind of effort at all–especially since a lot of what I write can be pretty strange!
Also, I think it would be really cool if someone wrote a big-name furry novel in Spanish, and that it would do so well that someone would need to translate it into English. Language and culture inform so much of what people write, and I think it would be really neat to see a well-done furry work that came from outside the English-speaking world. So yeah, if there are any Spanish-speaking furry writers out there, get to work! I want to see what you can do. 🙂
Additionaly, when we asked Rikoshi if there was going to be a sequel to Sumerhill on twitter, he answered: