Relative Scale is the new anthology of my work that Sera Blue publishing house is bringing out (http://www.serablue.com/), launching on the 7th, 8th and 9th of October at rAge, at the ticketpro dome in Johannesburg (http://www.rageexpo.co.za/about-rage/)
For overviews, discussions and reviews of the work, check out these previous blog posts: (https://cyanseagulls.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/anthologies-and-other-childhood-marvels/) (https://cyanseagulls.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/new-things/) and (https://cyanseagulls.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/reasons-to-try/)
So, an anthology is always in part a collection of existing things arranged with thought. Sometimes, as in the case of relative scale, they are arranged into a pattern that makes the reading experience more than the sum of its stories. Or that was the intention, anyway. Working with the publisher, we were able to treat the book a lot like the way I was trained to do site analysis as an urban planner: you start by looking to see what you have already.
Once we chose the initial stories that we already had, we went through a pruning process, take this out, add this in, place this better, until we had a collection that both of us were happy with. Then just like with an undeveloped piece of land, we looked at the nature and potential of the collection: where was there underground water? From what points were there great city views? What patterns and potentials shifted just below the surface that we could coax to light? How could we take what we were already sort of seeing and make the anthology more itself.
The first thing was realising the myriad of voices, the delightful, the dark, the melancholy, were one of the books strengths, rather than a weakness. We had beta readers say to us that it sounded like different authors altogether!
So we said, ‘let’s work with this difference, it’s already here. So we split the stories into categories of fantasy-style, horror-like and science fiction-ish things. But then we had a problem: two stories in fantasy, two stories in horror, and three in sci-fi. Seven may be secret (and a venerated number in some interpretations of some religious texts), but the kind of asymmetry attendant on it just will not fly. I promise this was a joint decision and not my obsessive compulsive bullying of Sera Blue.
So we needed new work, to keep the book and publishable length and preserve the pattern we’d found to be its heart. One piece was easy, half-written already, just needing some strong editing. The other was something different. The last story finished for this anthology was something new.
I still think it’s the best piece of writing in the work (not that any of them are bad, but talking up your own stories always feels like writing a dating profile for your mom). It had to come from nowhere, something different to the other stories, something fantasy, something linked to childhood, and most importantly something new. This is the story of this story. This is the story of the Rose Garden.
Some stories come from an idea, a dream, an image, a line of dialogue, a feeling. This one was a little different. This came from a place. I don’t know how many of you know the Johannesburg Botanical Garden? Not the big one, in Roodepoort with the eagles and all, but the park by the water, between Emmarentia Dam and the Westpark cemetery.
I remember growing up in that garden. There would be Sunday picnics with chicken and tongue (yes sometimes tongue) sandwiches with the grandparents. I caught tadpoles in kitchen sieves with my sisters. We lost and found statues and hidden places between the trees. There was the ritual reading of the names of each different rose. There were the fountains, of course, and all the bigness and magic that shaped stone and flowing water intimate to a small child. There were joys, and cherry blossoms and secrets. That memory was where the story was conceived.
But memories weren’t enough to write the actual story. I don’t often write about my writing process, because often I don’t have one, and it’s different for different writers anyway. But with this story, I decided, much like putting together the anthology itself, to go and see what was there and if I could find patterns in it, somewhere just below the surface, that I could pull to light. This is what I found:
(Yes, the mouse over captions will make less sense than you’ll find in them once you’ve read the story, but you can see the potential for a story in them. That is what this piece is about, finding stories in places. Also, now you have extra reason to buy the book. Right? This how we market things right?)