Miyuki Jane Pinckard writes fiction about magic and space travel, and nonfiction about games, technology, and culture. Her work has been published in Strange Horizons, 1up.com, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and the Dungeons & Dragons adventure book, Journeys through the Radiant Citadel. She was born in Tokyo and currently lives in Venice, California, where she’s teaching herself piano (badly). In her day job she plays video games. “Radcliffe Hall” is her third appearance in Uncanny, a powerful tale of queer romance, ghosts, mystery, and oppression.
Uncanny Magazine: This is a story that deftly combines a lot of elements—queer romance, a wonderfully creepy setting, ghosts, and seances—what was your starting point or inspiration?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: I was doing some research for another project on early women’s colleges, and reading about the white supremacist foundation of so many of them. Places like Bryn Mawr were led by early feminists who were deeply racist, and many of these institutions were founded explicitly to educate and uplift white women who would advance the cause of white supremacy. I wanted to set a story in that kind of environment, and it felt so natural that it should be a Gothic story. I think the Gothic mode is beautifully suited to telling a story of being othered, of being excluded, of systematically being oppressed—and the Gothic house itself becomes such a rich metaphor for that oppression.
Uncanny Magazine: What research did you do as you were writing “Radcliffe Hall”? Did you find anything interesting that you weren’t able to include?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: My main character, Tomoé, is loosely based on a historical figure, Tsuda Umeko, a remarkable woman who, in 1871 when she was eight years old, was sent to study in America as part of a Japanese government program called the Iwakura Mission. It’s remarkable to me that a staunchly patriarchal society like Japan in the early Meiji era would send girls and young women abroad to be educated, but they did! The model for her family was another fascinating historical figure, the scientist and industrialist Takamine Jokichi. The Japanese government sent him to study chemistry in Edinburgh in 1879, and then he founded a chemicals company in the United States. He was an inventor and an entrepreneur. I imagined Tomoé as his (fictional) daughter.
Some of the really fun things that didn’t make it in the novella are details of college life for women around 1908! I loved learning about campus leisure life, dining customs (everyone had to dress for dinner, of course, and the faculty dined at the high table at the end of the room—much as they do in Oxbridge colleges still today), sports, and activities. Many college women at the time were also part of the suffrage movement and held rallies and protests on campus (or near campus, as in some cases the school administration prohibited them from gathering on school grounds). I wish I could have included a scene like that but maybe in the next story!
Uncanny Magazine: What did you most enjoy about writing a novella, as compared to short stories? What was the most challenging part?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: A short story is something I can hold complete in my head as I work on it, and it’s also something you can (given the time) draft in a day or a weekend. A novella requires a lot more sustained concentration and I couldn’t hold all the parts in my head at once, which was a difficult way to write for me. Each time I sat down to work, I had to spend a little time reminding myself what the story was about.
The most enjoyable part was that I got to spend more time with the characters and the world than I usually do in a short story, and allow little story seeds to develop over time!
Uncanny Magazine: If you could be any character in this story, who would you want to be and why?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: I would love to be George! She’s bold, she’s fearless, and she has such an unshakeable faith in herself, even when she makes mistakes. And plus she’s just so cool. I just know she’s destined for a life of adventure!
Uncanny Magazine: “Radcliffe Hall” straddles the genres of speculative fiction, romance, and mystery. Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences, in any or all of these genres?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: Oh my goodness, so many. I already mentioned my love for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books, especially Mexican Gothic but also The Beautiful Ones and The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. In romance, I adore Alyssa Cole’s The Loyal League trilogy and Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister series, but I think for this novel I was most influenced by the Charm of Magpies trilogy by K.J. Charles, which blends romance, mystery, and magic. I love classic mystery novels too. I’m really drawn to the complex psychological characters in P.D. James’s novels, especially Death Comes to Pemberley, one of my favorite pieces of Jane Austen fanfic.
Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?
Miyuki Jane Pinckard: I wish I could figure that out. I have a few novels in progress…I have a terrible habit of working on multiple projects at once! I think my favorite idea right now is a spy versus spy, star-crossed lovers romance—Romeo and Juliet on opposite sides of a war, a dash of John Le Carré, and a sprinkle of magic.
Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
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