Earlier this year, Hiromi Goto's phantasmagorical and often harrowing Half World was published as a young adult novel, although it's the kind of cross-over that deserves a wide readership among adults. It's already received the 2010 Sunburst Award and was just longlisted for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The cover sports a glowing blurb from Neil Gaiman. Goto has received the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in the Caribbean and Canada region, was a co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award, and has won the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. You can check out her blog here.
Half World is a potent, deeply felt mix of fantasy and stark reality, and beautifully written. It also avoids cliche by refusing to indulge in stock situations. We've run great short essays from Goto about the problems with romance in dark fantasy , relationship between fantasy and reality, and how fantasy is horror's best friend forever. Now, to end, she talks about where her ideas come from. Many thanks from Omni to Goto for so many interesting posts!
Momotaro (aka Peach Boy) Saw Bosch's Hell in Frida Kahlo's Bathtub
by Hiromi Goto
During Q & A's authors are often asked where their ideas come from. It's not so easy to answer this question, because, well, it depends, and, often it can be a combination of numerous things. Like a perfect storm.... Sometimes my ideas arise from something witnessed or experienced, and I can extrapolate upon the brief moment of life, and expand upon it in a fictional and imaginative way. For instance, I saw a woman in her thirties, wearing sunglasses and Capri pants, walking from her car to the elementary school to pick up a child. In her hand she clasped a replica gun, the same size and colour as a real gun, presumably her child's toy or a new present. She held it like she meant it. I could see the details well enough that it looked cheap and plastic, but I did a double-take, and thought, Holy smokes! What is she thinking? Sometimes the eye is snagged, or the ear lifts up words of someone's speech, and the moment is somehow fraught with story potential.
I also play the "What if?" game a great deal, inside my head. "What if a girl lost everything that's the most important to her in her life? How could she go on?" "What if all the cyclical suffering and struggle we see in our world, our lives, is because something is terribly wrong? What went wrong?" "What if it could be undone?" These are some of the "What if?" questions that I asked myself in writing Half World. After the main "What if?" questions are asked, all the other questions of who, why, how, etc follows.
I love playing the this game and it's a great way to creatively explore ideas when you're, say, waiting for the bus, or in the checkout line at the grocery store at 5 pm and you chose the wrong row because the cashier is wearing a button that says, "I'm New!" and you noticed too late....
My mum sometimes says, with a tone of wonderment, those ideas just keep coming out of your head! Whenever she says this I visualize her imagining me with a glossy and colourful ribbon of story ideas undulating out of my skull, an ever-lengthening strand, until the novel is completed.
I think my lifetime of playing "What if?" has developed my imaginary muscles, but those muscles need to be nourished by other imaginations, other art forms, images, music, novels, poems, plays, movies, news stories, folk tales, myths, religions, nature, my environment, the world, etc.
So, in Half World, references to Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japanese folk legend, can exist beside allusions to Agamemnon. The concept of reincarnation can partner with purgatory. And The Garden of Earthly Delights can be glimpsed from the window from Frida Kahlo's bathroom.... The recombination of unlikely narratives makes the story resonate on different frequencies and, when it works well, may offer a unique sound. (One can only try, of course....)
Stories are birthed from stories birthed from stories birthed from stories.... I have this feeling that we exist, as self-aware beings, simply because we began speaking stories in a long ago time, in a long ago place, where the skies were much darker and the stars so brilliant, our dreams so vivid they became flesh and walked upon the land as we lay sleeping.