The first short story Thersa Matsuura ever wrote in Japan, "Sand Walls, Paper Doors," introduces the fantastical nonhuman characters of Japanese folklore, from the pillow-swapping trickster to the ghostly children who frolic through human dreams.

Inspiration for the story materialized from the traditional ramshackle wood and paper dwelling that was Matsuura's first home in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Matsuura learned about Japan's otherworldly beings from her elderly neighbors, and they populate her stories with whimsical reality.

Elderly storytellers gave the U.S.-born Matsuura a love for Asia from her early days as a university exchange student. "In high school, I started studying the internal martial arts from China, so in my freshman year of university, I applied for a short, one-month program on a small southern island in China near Xiamen, Gulangyu Island," she recalls. "There was this mountain in the middle of the island, and I would get up before dawn and hike to the Kannon Temple to do tai chi. It was a temple for women only, so the elderly women not only let me in, they taught me the chants and let me wear the robes. I had no idea what they were saying, but they fascinated me."