Soramimi Hanarejima talks about her piece, “Heightened Sensitivity” from issue 6 of Arkana.
Interview conducted by Liz Larson (Fiction Editor)
Liz: Where did the surprising take on allergic reactions in your story “Heightened Sensitivity” come from? What conversations were you hoping to raise with this story?
Soramimi: A few summers ago, I had the pleasure of dining in an art museum restaurant on the little, artsy island of Naoshima. On the table before me, small plates of prix-fixe specialties with pretty presentation came and went, and outside the ample windows lay a sunset sky above the Seto Inland Sea. Everything seemed ephemeral—the amber light upon the landscape, the little dishes of delicious food, the wistful music in the background—the meal like an exercise in experiencing transience or even savoring mono no aware. That may have been the most significant influence on this story, leading to the idea that one might be allergic to the fleetingness of things around them and react adversely to facets of life typically benign, even enjoyable. And isn’t that simply an exaggeration of what it’s like to be human? The desire to prolong or maximally delight in transitory beauty can result in anxiety, frustration and despair. This is of course related to the age-old perspective that the attempt to hold on to what cannot last causes stress, or worse, anguish. I’d like to think that the story also encourages consideration of the idea that childhood leaves us with certain sensitivities we don’t get to choose, whether learned from our parents or imparted by the environment we grew up in, and we—along with those who care about us—then live with these tendencies, vulnerable to them and to loved ones who understand them.
Liz: Although “Heightened Sensitivity” is centered around a situation and concept, what techniques did you employ to ground the piece and give it a narrative arc?
Soramimi: My stories often work with fanciful, rather abstract premises, and that pushes me to think at length about how the story can have its own kind of concrete, convincing reality. I rely heavily on Cara Blue Adams’ perspective that compelling stories tend to have 3 qualities: vividness, urgency/momentum and depth. The way Cara described vividness as “the sense of entering a world” made an impression on me, and I try to include key sensory details that facilitate the feeling of entry and immersion into the world the characters inhabit. With regards to arc, urgency and momentum make the forward progression of the story apparent, even inevitable, signaling to the reader that the characters are heading somewhere, which should happen in a story. As Daniel José Older said, “We’re not just going from point A to point A.” In “Heightened Sensitivity” the urgency comes from the necessity of addressing the allergic reaction, which launches the characters toward a desired resolution and opens up narrative arc and character arc questions: Will characters get there? What will it be like if they do? Whether they do or don’t get there, how will they change? Questions that I hope the reader will be asking, that I grappled with (no doubt both consciously or unconsciously) while working on this story.
Liz: What advice can you give to young writers or writers just starting out writing and publishing?
Soramimi: Take the opportunities that could lead to growth—better yet, take them with an open mind. Much of my journey as a fiction writer has been fueled and (re-)directed by the stops I made along the way. All the workshops, lit mag calls for submissions, author events at bookstores and residency programs that I could have just shrugged at and zipped by but instead took the time to engage, these opportunities sometimes became experiences that equipped me with vitalizing perspectives. Sure, some opportunities end up not being unhelpful and frustrating—so a sense of discernment towards them is valuable—but to paraphrase Ira Glass in his frequently referenced (now nearly legendary) interview with Current TV, you have to put yourself in situations where you could get extremely lucky. Or just plain lucky; I’ll gladly take that. Then sometimes you end up somewhere luck is likely to strike, a place where people make opportunities that all but promise creative progress or at least perspective. I can trace almost every quantum leap I’ve been able to make in creative writing and publishing to workshops and conference sessions (like the one with Cara Blue Adams alluded to earlier) offered by GrubStreet, and if I hadn’t taken the opportunities this amazing literary organization makes possible, I’d be somewhere a lot less interesting in this creative journey.
Liz: Aside from Arkana, are there any other recent publications, projects or opportunities you are excited about?
Soramimi: I’m looking forward to publishing a collection of short and flash fiction with Montag Press later this year. I’ve put out 2 books with them now and love working with their editors. I’m also excited that soon I’ll have two stories out in literary magazines: “The Persistence of Memory” with [PANK] and “The Sublime is Difficult to Replifake” with Tahoma Literary Review, a short fiction and flash fiction, respectively. These stories each allowed me to gain a sense of what can be achieved in compact fiction and together consider how we often try to change our emotional states, sometimes doing so with the assistance of other people, substances or technology.
Fascinated by the ways in which the literary arts can serve as a mode of metacognition, Soramimi Hanarejima writes innovative fiction that explores the nature of thought and is the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018, KYSO Flash, and Mad Scientist Journal.