How Twilight Zone and a Japanese Art Installation Inspired Sequoia Nagamatsu’s Novel
Sequoia Nagamatsu, author of How far do we go in the dark, enters the Damn Library Pocket Universe and covers a lot of ground, both real and metaphysical. We explain why most pandemic novels don’t focus on pandemics, how he put together some of the wildest chapters, and, of course, robot dogs. And then it comes out that of Brenda Peynado The stone eatersa collection of short stories that takes the figurative and gives it weight – so of course Sequoia is about what makes a successful short story.
Subscribe and download the episodewherever you find your podcasts!
What did you buy ?
Sequoia: The cat who saved the books by Sosuke Natsukawa, a second telescope
station eleven by Emily St. John Mandel • Breakup by Ling Ma • Solar System Vacation Guide: The science for the savvy space traveler! by Olivia Koski & Jana Grcevich • Laser Engraver II by Tamara Shopsin • “Five Characters Looking for an Exit”, Blurred area • “Help for the Lovelorn,” Congratulations • memory font by Yoko Ogawa • The work of George Saunders • The work of Kelly Link
Christopher: Breakup on Apple TV+ (dir. Ben Stiller), Jellyfish’s Spilled milk scrapbook (1993)
Sequoia: Servant on Apple TV+ (director M. Night Shyamalan), Reprieve by James Han Mattson
From the episode:
Christopher: So the novel, even though it’s related stories, it moves as you can imagine for the first two chapters. You have an idea of how the world works and how they react to illness. But then there’s this – I’m going to call it the bold choice – a few chapters where you abandon our typical plane of existence and head into the dark. And I loved that, and I just wish I loved going over with you guys what it was like to create that and what the challenges were.
Sequoia: Well, I’ve always been fascinated by the philosophy of mind and consciousness studies. I remember during my MFA thesis defense, I had a stack of books that inspired the directions in which my writing was going. I think one of them was called like The quantum physics of our mind Where The quantum physics of the afterlife. I’ve always been interested in what happens to us when we pass, what happens to our consciousness, what is the nature of memory on a spiritual and scientific level. And so I knew I wanted to unbox that for this novel at some point.
Curiously, the inspiration for this came from a blurred area episode. I think it was called “These Toys”. And basically we don’t know they’re toys at first, but there’s a soldier, there’s a cowboy, there’s a ballerina, and they’re all trapped in this space that ends up being this chest at toys, and they’re all trying to get out. For them, it’s basically their world, and they’re trying to elevate themselves. And I thought to myself, that’s a good idea. What if I took that and basically made it into this infinite limbo, this void? What if that void was essentially a place where our memories exist, where consciousness exists, and where we could come together in some kind of community and literally step into each other’s lives. What would that do to our ability to understand each other on a human level and let our differences fade? There’s a line in this chapter that sort of nods to that – would we actually be able to collaborate and work together if we could actually see each other?
And so I ran with a lot of these ideas and created this empty space. I was trying to figure out what those memories would look like, how they would present themselves. And on a trip to Japan, I came across this art installation called wonderful times. If you google “Wonder Moments Osaka” you’ll probably get the picture. The installation is basically just this orb in a dark room projecting like wildflowers and sea life; if there weren’t a lot of children, I would just like to go out and watch these images projected on this orb. It was an aha moment for me – I was like, this is my vehicle. That’s what I want memories to be. I want to walk inside this orb and I want the memories to replay. And I want this void to be filled with these orbs. So an art installation, which blurred area episode, and many of my previous readings on consciousness studies have informed this chapter.