Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Five Questions: "The Origami Tree", Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II

It's Five Questions time again. I've put my internal blog narrator PT on their best behaviour to talk to me about "The Origami Tree" which appears in the anthology "Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II", released this month through Random Static.

AF: Alright you can come out now.
PT: How do I look?
AF: My, aren't you swish. You've put pants on and everything.
PT: Let's get the ball rolling so I can get this over with before this tie kills me. Alright, since I'm so nice, I'll start off with an easier question.

Walk us through the theme of Regeneration. How did it come about?
AF: The regeneration theme and name works beautifully on so many levels. First of all, it's a somewhat sequel to "A Foreign Country", the first anthology of short fiction written by New Zealand speculative fiction authors released at the first Au Contraire in 2010. It's revisiting the spirit behind that anthology - spotlighting the who's who on the New Zealand specfic scene today. I'd like to stretch the sequel theme a little bit more, and also call it a continuation of the spirit seen in "Tales for Canterbury", which brought together our community to inspire goodwill and hope post Christchurch earthquakes. Physically, Regeneration carries over a colour scheme (blue), typesetting, and some authors similar to one or both its predecessors. Editors Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanen, and Cassie Hart (for TfC), should be proud of such a body of work. Combined, the three books are a wonderful addition to New Zealand's modern literature.

From a writing theme perspective, it was certainly inspired by a national sentiment post-earthquakes and the unique opportunity to see a city reborn. While not everyone wrote on the theme of natural disasters, the reader will detect the emotions that touched everyone post-earthquakes, whether watching from afar, or sitting right on top of it, like myself and others like Cat Langford, Liz Gatens, and Fran Atkinson.

PT: So, is "The Origami Tree" about Christchurch?
AF: Only if you want it to be. There's certain imagery, snapshots, in there of what I saw and I am seeing on a daily basis. The dust was a huge thing for the first six months. It was on everything - I couldn't keep a surface clean. The broken bricks, shadows, empty lots, fences, bars opening up in odd places, that's all Christchurch. But the rest could be any place hit by natural disaster. I won't say "any place hit by war", because I learned very early on that an earthquake hit city looks or feels nothing like a bombed city. So you have to be very careful there.

PT: Why the paper cranes?
AF: It's one of the images I saw. I was going to work on the bus one morning, and saw outside a school a small collection of paper cranes dangling from a tree. I'm not sure whether they were any sort of signifier to the kids, or they were just chucked there randomly, but they were pretty bedraggled by the time I saw them.

Also, one of the many healing things people did around the city was decorate cordon fences and road cones. There were messages of love and support, memorials, flowers, miniature artworks, all used to brighten up some very utilitarian props. Many artists and art installations have taken this idea to the absolute limit, and there is now much wonderful fence and empty lot art around the city. Two of the biggest proponents of this are Gap Filler and Greening The Rubble. The Christchurch Art Gallery is also currently running a series called "Outer Spaces" as the gallery is repaired for use.

I combined the two ideas, the image of the paper cranes and the paper messages/art stuffed into fences, as my catalyst. I knew it would make a good story when I'd eventually get around to it, so I stored it away.

PT: How long did it take for you to feel comfortable with writing the story?
AF: I'm still not. I'm not sure I ever will be comfortable with writing about my experience. I have done it, and it turned out well enough, but I still feel like I haven't quite captured the brutality and terribleness of it all. That's also my frustration at missing out on certain aspects.

I took a shot at putting earthquakes into a fantasy story reasonably early in 2011, and that story turned out beautifully ("The City of Sand and Knives", The Future Fire). I was able to do that because it was an abstract, not of this world. When I wrote "The Origami Tree" it was the hardest writing experience I've ever had, even harder than starting seriously writing back in 2010. I sweated lots while doing the physical writing, it was physically painful, and I had lots of bad dreams during that time. I can't say I like the story very much because of that experience, but I'm glad to be on the other side.

PT: What do you mean when you say you're frustrated at missing certain aspects?
AF: The actual disaster scene? I had to make it up. The noise, the movement, the light, the glass and smoke...all fiction, drawn from the experience of others and media (the crushed bus was an actual thing, by the way). I don't remember the actual 30 seconds of 12:51pm, February 22, 2011. Whether I banged my head on my way down, or my brain simply said "Nup, Imma gonna protect you from this", I don't know. To this day I don't know how I got under my desk. I fell somehow, as my twist fractured foot can attest. It's equally frustrating and somewhat of a relief. I just have to live with the not knowing.

It's interesting. Every time I retell that story, how I don't remember the actual moment, people go really silent and seem very uncomfortable. Maybe they're expecting something else - something exciting or tragic like an action flick. Sorry. My story is uncomfortably weird.

PT: Welp.
AF: Yup.
PT: Goodoh.
AF: That enough?
PT: We're done. Thanks *slips quietly back into box*
AF: Later dude.

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