Interviewed by Haley Whishaw
Hiromi Goto is an award-winning Japanese-Canadian author whose novels include Chorus of Mushrooms, which received the 1995 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book in the Canada/Caribbean region; The Kappa Child, which received the James Tiptree Memorial Award; and Hopeful Monsters, a collection of short stories. She has written two Young Adult novels: Half World, which received the 2010 Sunburst Award and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award,and Darkest Light. She has also published the children’s book The Water of Possibility and a long poem, Wait Until Late-Afternoon, which was co-written with David Bateman.
Her work often straddles both reality and fantasy, weaving folklore with contemporary settings and issues. In keeping with this style, she suggested our interview mirror the Voight-Kampff tests that are employed in the film Blade Runner for detecting AI. There were no AI “retired” during the process of this interview.
After reading countless works of others, at what point did you realize that you yourself had a story to tell and that you were the only one who could tell it?
I was eight or nine or ten. I read the kind of book that makes you forget everyone else in the world, even yourself—you only feel the hopes and fears and despair of the character you’ve been living with for the past five hours. When I finished reading that book I came to the realization that the rich, saturated, intensely real life I had vicariously lived was one that was constructed out of words. Marks on paper. Written by a person. That was when I first felt the desire to write. My child self didn’t feel I had a specific story to tell—I only felt a strong desire to be able to make someone else feel the many intense feelings that I felt upon reading that book. I don’t remember the title of the book. It’s lost somewhere in the grey folds/ers of my soft drive….
There’s a blank page in front of you. Two conflicting realizations surface: one is that the yawning, 8.5 x 11 expanse could swallow up the worlds you wish to build, and the other is that this is the only place where your creations can spring to life. How do you proceed?
Overthinking your own significance in your process of writing can be the death of creativity. First of all, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if you write. No one cares, really. Think about the dinosaurs. They are extinct now. Imagine the significance of your writing in 250 million years…. Right? So, really–doesn’t matter. If you’re writing to try to prove something to someone else you’re in for a hard time of it. Good luck. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Now, on the flip side–it matters that you write. You can touch someone’s life, you can inspire, educate, suggest, seduce. You can break apart silence, smash oppression, set fire to old regimes, you can imagine a better world…. Hold the two contradictory ideas—your writing doesn’t matter, and, your writing matters, as if they are two small smooth metal spheres. One is silver. One is black. Toss both of the spheres into the air. Let them float above your head. Now turn to the blank page. And write for the pleasure of it. Write because you love writing, because the making of something is a joy in and of itself. The two spheres will float above you as long as you are connected to your writing in this way.
You’ve neutralized the threat of the blank page; in fact you now have an entire stack of pages that are no longer blank because your characters and their stories are nestled between them. Do you continue adding to the pile, or do you stop? How do you know when the right moment to stop is?
There are two kinds of stoppings. 1) End of the first draft. 2) End of revisions. I’ve seen writers never reaching the end of the first draft because they keep on changing the story as they go, so they just can’t reach an end. The story starts out as a hose that midway turns into a snake, that turns into a rope, that turns into a tail that turns into an intestine…. If you find that your first draft is ever-morphing in front of you but never building toward an end, stop. Move away from your story. Don’t touch it for at least two weeks. A month is better. Then, without looking at your manuscript, describe your story to someone whom you trust and has a logical mind. Explain the general premise of your story. They will have questions. Those questions will help you fill in the gaps in your story. They may see a pattern or make connections that you have not made, yet, in your conscious mind. You need to be able to close a story for it to ever be finished…. The other kind of stopping is to know when you’ve come to the end of revisions. This is best worked out with an external editor. You can seek out critical feedback from your peers, and if your goal is to submit your manuscript to a publisher I would recommend hiring a freelance editor to review your work.
You now have a story and when you squint hard enough, you can see a little but important piece of yourself at the foundation. You send this little piece of yourself out into the world in the hope that it may become a little but important part of someone else. It doesn’t. How do you manage this realization and continue to create?
We’ve returned to the Writer’s Contradiction: it doesn’t matter if you write, and, it matters that you write. First off, it must matter to you that you write. If it no longer matters to you, then you will no longer write. That’s okay, too. You don’t have to. But if writing is something that speaks to you, that nourishes your maker soul, you will eventually rise from your bed of ashes. You won’t be able to stop the ideas from popping up in your mind. It’s an important way you connect with this world. When you have the energy, desire, fortitude and stubbornness enough to try again you will be up to it and you will feel the joy of bringing shape with words once again.
Say one day you were no longer able to write. Nothing else has changed. What would you use as a creative outlet instead of writing?
If I’m not tired, and I still want to make something, I will draw. Paint. I will keep on cooking. I will read. Dream.
Haley Whishaw is a BFA in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. She is currently working on a graphic novel and a collection of short stories.