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Interview: Traci Chee Talks ‘A Thousand Steps Into Night’, Her Writing Process, Book Recs & More

If you’re looking for a wonderfully written fantasy, look no further! Traci Chee has another hit on her hands with A Thousand Steps Into Night and it’s certainly a tale that you should add to your TBR lists right now (no, seriously – check out our review right here, not that you should need any further persuasion).

Chee’s latest novel couples a thrilling tale rooted in Japanese fantasy that sees humans, gods and monsters collide. With cool characters, whimsical world-building and a page-turning story, Chee was kind enough to speak with us about A Thousand Steps Into Night, her writing process, dabbling in genres outside of fantasy, what’s on her book recommendation list and much more!

Check out the interview with Traci Chee below:

Traci Chee
(Courtesy of Traci Chee)

What led you to your journey of being an author and when did you get your first idea for your novel, The Reader and the ensuing trilogy? 

Traci Chee: I’ve always been in love with books, especially sci-fi and fantasy, but my journey toward being an author actually started with video games. When I was in seventh grade, my mom finally allowed my brother and I to get a video game console, and one of the first games we got was a role-playing game called Final Fantasy VII. That game has a whopper of a story, with magic and ecoterrorism and monsters, and I was enthralled. An epic story! That I could control? I immediately knew that I wanted to be a video game designer and even started trying to create my own game, which quickly led me to writing fan fiction, poems, and stories of my own.

The initial spark of the Reader Trilogy came from a similarly unexpected place: a Facebook message. In 2008, my friend Tucker asked me to write him a fantasy story, so I opened up Facebook Messenger, started typing, and what came out was an idea that stuck with me for the next ten years: a girl on a pirate ship with a magic book. Of course, I later added a prophecy, a secret society, a little court intrigue, some clowns, and a war generations in the making, but throughout it all, the core of the story remained the same: a girl on a pirate ship with a magic book.

In your latest book, A Thousand Steps Into Night, What was your process like in terms of creating your characters and the worlds they live in? And how did this differ from your process in past books like The Reader?

TC: I’ve come to realize that I’m a concept-first and character-second kind of writer, so it was the world of A Thousand Steps that came first. I wanted to write a world with the feel of Japanese folktale, where the worlds of the mortal and the spirit exist side-by-side. At the same time, I wanted to write about American patriarchy, the ways that sexism and misogyny manifest in our day-to-day lives, and what that does to the people who live in that society. It wasn’t until I had those two elements that I settled on a main character, Miuko, who has for her entire life chafed at the restrictions her society places on her gender, and whose world opens up when she is cursed to become a demon.

How does your process for creating your characters differ when you’re working with real-life events such as the characters in your book We Are Not Free?

TC: Although the research and world-building for fantasy vs. historical tends to be very different for me, I actually find the process of finding characters for those stories quite similar. I look for characters who are different, or unexpected, or who have a unique perspective, whether that’s an ordinary girl who turns into a demon hero, like in A Thousand Steps, or a young diva in a high-desert incarceration camp in 1942, determined to live a glamorous life even behind barbed wire fences.

Cover for A Thousand Steps Into Night, written by Traci Chee. (Courtesy of Clarion Books)

Miuko learns many important lessons throughout her journey in A Thousand Steps Into Night. Is there a particular one that spoke to you most when you were writing that particular scene moment in the story?

TC: Miuko faces some big moments on her road trip with her shapeshifting magpie friend Geiki, including encounters with serial killers, demon princes, and petulant gods, but I actually think the most resonant moments for me were the smaller ones, the ones rooted in everyday experiences, like when a neighborhood priest keeps interrupting her because he doesn’t think she can speak for herself, or when she discovers that sometimes it’s the women in proximity to power who fight most fiercely to protect it, or when she rejects a man and he throws a temper tantrum so violent, it threatens to destroy the entire realm. You know, the relatable stuff!

Are there any book genres you’d like to write in and explore for potential new stories that you haven’t yet?

TC: Fantasy is where my heart lies, but I’d love to delve into other genres one day. Science fiction? Contemporary? Murder mystery? Yes please! 

What is some advice you’d give to aspiring authors wanting to share their stories with the world?

There are two things I try to keep in mind, no matter where I’m at on my writing journey. The first is to always keep learning. There’s always another class to take, a workshop to join, a craft book to check out from the library, a new trick to try, a new industry conversation to learn from, another writer to ask for advice, and I’m always trying to improve my skills, interrogate my own ideas and practices, and challenge myself. At the same time, I try to balance all this new information and all these new approaches by paying close attention to that little creative spark inside me that drives me to write. What’s at the core of my stories? Why am I writing this in the first place? What’s most essential to me in my creative pursuits? It’s so easy to lose track of that creative spark, or to have it get snuffed out, or to lose your way with a project, I think it’s worth remembering to check in with yourself sometimes, and to remember what makes you want to write in the first place.

Lastly, what are some books you have on your TBR list right now or ones you’ve already read that you’d highly recommend?

I absolutely adored The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh. It’s a feminist retelling of a Korean folktale, about a girl named Mina who throws herself into the sea to save her brother’s bride-to-be and ends up embroiled in a fascinating world of gods and spirits! If you liked the folktale/Studio Ghibli feel of A Thousand Steps, I highly recommend checking out The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.

Traci Chee’s A Thousand Steps Into Night is now available wherever books are sold and also available in e-book format.

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