After I finished my graduate work, I lived in Southeast Asia and Japan for five years, teaching in a wide variety of situations and traveling whenever I had the chance. While “The Way It Felt to be Falling” was the first story I ever wrote (and endlessly revised), many of the stories in The Secrets of a Fire King grew directly or indirectly out of my experiences in Asia. “Aristotle’s Lantern,” for instance, is set on a beautiful island off the coast of Malaysia where I used to go snorkeling. “Sky Juice” began when I read a newspaper article about mail order brides and tried to imagine how my own culture might seem to someone in that powerless situation. “Rat Stories” grew out of a conversation I had over drinks with a group of long-time expatriates. The framing story I made up entirely, but the rat stories were true–the one about the oven was, anyway, because it happened to me.
I wrote some of these stories once I’d returned to the US, but with a new and more detached perspective, which in many ways I carry with me still. When an American friend married his Japanese love and moved with her to a small southern town, “Spring, Mountain, Sea” began. I started thinking about “The Story of My Life” when protestors blocked the driveway of a Midwestern clinic by having small children lie down across the driveway, an action that seemed—and still seems—terribly strange and skewed. “A Gleaming in the Darkness” grew from my life-long fascination with Marie Curie. And “Thirst” was that rarest of stories, one that came to me almost fully formed, inexplicablythere one day when I’d been swimming and reached for a glass of water.