Thursday, January 27, 2011
The Story Behind Beauty Belongs To The Flowers
As you may have read here yesterday, my story, Beauty Belongs to the Flowers is up at Tor.com. Today's post is about the making of the story. You should read the story before reading this post. You can read it here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/01/beauty-belongs-to-the-flowers
How it started: I never cared for anime, though everyone else in the family was a fan, so I would often catch bits and pieces of shows, which I then decided were crap. Then I saw a bit of FLCL (Fooly Cooly) and loved the manga-in-the-anime scenes. I could never catch the whole show, but liked what I saw. Finally, Adult Swim ran the lot of them together and I TIVOed it, watched the whole thing at once and absolutely loved it. To this day, it's the only anime I love.
Long time readers know that I used to write a piece of flash fiction each day and post it at this blog. After I had watched FLCL, I decided to write my story for the day. I was inspired, especially by the pent up frustration of a couple of the characters in the show. Not just the sexual frustration, but the frustration of unrequited love. Naota was surrounded by older girls that seemed to love him in one way or another. He seemed oblivious to their feelings, yet at the same time he seemed to need them terribly. Mamimi sent me over the edge. There was so much yearning in that girl, I wanted to capture her trying not to overflow, the way she hugged Naota when she couldn't help herself anymore.
I went for a drive with these thoughts in my head and began to compose my story. I put Miho at the beginning of the scene at the high road party with the storm going on. All I had was Miho, the spacescrapers and the weather. I stopped the car at a Wal-Mart in the next town and began to lay the story down in the parking lot on my Alphasmart. I had the party, the need for Ichiro and the trip to Tanaka-san's restaurant before I ran out of steam. Then I got a call from the then-wife. When she discovered I was at Wal-Mart she asked me to pick up something inside. While I was in there, I checked out the Deli, wondering what future food service might be like in relation to Tanaka-san's establishment. I envisioned the food injector and very quickly saw to what use Miho would put the machine. Bang. I had my story.
But . . .
I thought, "This is too good a story for the smelly old blog [sorry, smelly old blog]. I need to develop this and send it to an editor." So I fleshed it out a bit and sent it to some friends, all women, because it happened to turn out that way at the time. They all found it interesting, but they didn't buy the romance. They hardly knew these people, after all, and found no reason to care about them. My friend, Nan, also a writer, said I had developed the city as if it were a character, but I needed to develop Miho as much as I had Nagasaki. So, that's where the flashbacks came in. I figured I'd tell the story of Miho's and Ichiro's relationship in a series of flashbacks within the story. I fiddled with this thing for months, seeking feedback. "Is it done yet? How 'bout now?"
One night I was thinking about Spider-Man 2 and how great it was. I actually didn't give much of a damn about the Doc Ock part of the storyline. What hooked me in a big way was Peter Parker's story. Those writers (Michael Chabon, among them) made that poor bastard's life hell and made me realize that this was what made fiction great. Make your main character miserable. That's when I knew I was sending Miho's pop to the hospital and all those chunks went in. It finally began to come together.
I sent it out and tinkered and talked to people. For some reason, among my friends, women seemed to like it and men didn't so much. Across the board. I got a little bit of encouraging feedback. I got a lot of people telling me the story took way too long for not much payoff. I felt those people missed the point. I think they were looking for the big science fiction gimmick, while I just wanted to capture a certain feeling, that teenage demoralization and heartbreak and inner burning that lasts forever, wherever you go and whatever you try to do to take your mind off of it. I'm proud of the story and I hope other people like it as much as I do.
I named Miho after Miho Hatori (straight out of purgatory!), lead singer of Cibo Matto. Miho has a gorgeous voice and is a beautiful woman and I can't tell you how many times the kids and I have listened to Stereotype-A. Tanaka-san was named after Tiger Tanaka from You Only Live Twice. I love Bond films and always liked the name. Tomi was named after a childhood friend's mom, Tomiko Gonzales, a wonderful woman who knew how to lay out a spread at the dinner table and was the first Japanese person I knew.
I chose Nagasaki because I thought Tokyo was overused in Japanese science fiction and I wanted to write a futuristic Japanese story that wasn't cyberpunk. Tokyo equals cyberpunk in my mind. The biker boys were my nod to Akira. The idea of the ephemeral nature of beauty was totally ripped off from James Clavell's Shogun. That's right.
Now for the acknowledgement part of our program. First and foremost, my big thanks to Liz Gorinsky, the editor at Tor.com who saw something similar to what I saw in the story and made it possible for me to share it with everyone else. She also improved it through piles of good suggestions and her mad punctuation skills.
Thanks to my very first readers, the above mentioned Nan Mick (And thank you, Nan for convincing me to trash that original, awful last line) as well as a whole pile of Smiths who aren't related to me: Danielle, Zack, Rani and Dana. It was the feedback from the ladies that really shaped the story. Many thanks to Zack's friend Collin Rand, who had lived for a while in Japan and whom I questioned relentlessly on Japanese social customs on a long trip back from a movie theater one night long ago.
My dear friend and resident Japanophile, Mike Ramshaw, who passed away last year, helped a bunch, with everything from research to editing, loaning me videos and marking the shit out of my manuscript with his red pen. Wonderful, intelligent and a man who cut to the heart of things. There will never be another like him.
Big thanks to Inkpunk John Remy, Jack Haringa and Paul Berger, all one-time residents of Nagasaki or its outlying burbs, who looked over my story and called out all the bullshit. If you see any bullshit in the story, that's where I wouldn't smarten up and listen to them.
Thanks to Irene Gallo and all the awesome folk of Tor.com and thanks to Yuko Shimizu, the remarkable woman who created the art for the story, which you can also see at the top of this post. When Liz sent me the art last week, my excitement squirted out of me. To imagine that something I created could inspire such gorgeous work from such a wonderful artist filled me with happy.
If you guys have any questions, ask them here in the comments. But if you have comments, I'd rather you wrote them on the story's post, so Tor can hear you.
That's all I've got to say. Go outside and play, it's nice outside.