Black Lawrence Press
August 10, 2015

Welcome, Sequoia Nagamatsu!

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Sequoia Nagamatsu, whose Japanese folklore and pop culture inspired story collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, was accepted in April and will be available in May, 2016.

About the AuthorSequoia 1

Sequoia Nagamatsu (@sequoian) is the managing editor of Psychopomp Magazine, a journal dedicated to genre-bending and innovative prose, and has taught literature, composition, and creative writing at The College of Idaho and Southern Illinois University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, ZYZZYVA, The Bellevue Literary Review, Tin House’s Open Bar, The Fairy Tale Review, Redivider, Puerto Del Sol, Bat City Review, and anthologized in One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories (New Internationalist, 2009) and The Museum of All Things Awesome and That Go Boom (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2016). He is at work on a coming-of-age novel about the genetic copy of a deceased girl who is the key to saving humanity. For the moment, he resides in Boise, Idaho with a kitty-like human and an actual cat. Visit him at: sequoianagamatsu.net

Photographer Credit: Cole Bucciaglia

About the Book

Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone contains Godzilla, ghosts, Japanese demons, underwater palaces, and creatures of cryptozoology. Being a science-fiction and fantasy fan (as well as an anthropology major), utilizing folklore and pop culture came pretty naturally. But  what do my myths mean? What role do my creatures play other than being spectacles? In Ten Nights of Dreams by Natsume Soseki, arguably the father of modern fantastical Japanese literature, the fantastic and surreal were necessary vehicles in trying to reconcile Japanese identity with a rapidly  Westernizing Japan in the Meiji Period. Soseki believed Japan was  advancing so fast that culture could not keep up. Of course, Japan reinvented itself again very rapidly after WWII (widening the gap even further). Ghosts and gods and creatures of myth became vehicles of nostalgia and symbols of a past that could longer be reclaimed. The fantastic no longer simply resides in the realms of origin and the natural world but has become a way to illuminate personal and cultural crises in an increasingly complex and tech-oriented world where realism sometimes seems inadequate. This is the tradition that these stories find themselves in and, as a Japanese American, these stories are my journey in understanding the tensions of where my great- grandparents came from, a way for me to look a bit differently at the pains that many of us experience at some time or another via the magic of a country that I never felt a connection with until recently.

Japanese Fox Festival Bride

 I wrote the book during my time in Japan–where I first started writing seriously and where I began to examine the relationships between the country’s traditions and its role as a modern power and how these tensions influenced identity. This photo was taken in Tsugawa, Niigata where a festival features a day-long Edo  Period wedding procession. Note the Panasonic sign behind the bride and her attendant.

Excerpt

From “Return to Monsterland”

Train Car, 1998

Mayu called me from the train car that Godzilla had grabbed hold of—no screaming or sobbing, no confessions of great regrets, no final professions of love. She did not ask to speak to our five-year-old daughter, who was unknowingly watching the news coverage of her mother’s impending death, as the train crashed into the side of a skyscraper and through a set of power lines. My wife spoke of feeling the radiation of his body coursing through her own, the view down his cretaceous mouth, an atomic breath swirling in a maelstrom of blue light. And then, before there was nothing but a roar and static, she said: “You should be here; he’s simply magnificent.”

Godzilla (irradiated Godzillasaurus)

{Descp. Resembles Tyrannosaur with pronounced arms. Dorsal plates similar to Stegosaur. Semi-sapient. Powers: Atomic breath, nuclear pulse, imperviousness to conventional weaponry (and meteor impacts), regeneration, amphibiousness, telepathy with other Kaiju. Weaknesses: High voltage, Oxygen Destroyer WMD, Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, Cadmium Missiles, MechaGodzilla}

Field Notes: lumber-waddle. posturing roar. rhythmic stomp with son. perhaps a game? picks up palm tree and throws. swats sea gull. Defecates two-meters highradiation: 15 krad. moves arms up and down. calisthenics or victory dance. long roar. shuffles across beach. throws log into water. throws rock into water.

Two weeks living among their kind on the island reserve we’ve created for them, and I still can’t wrap my head around the love my wife felt for these creatures. During the atomic age, when nations illuminated the atolls dotting the Pacific, we gave birth to many of the Kaiju. Annihilation begetting annihilation when the living ghosts of Hiroshima still roamed the streets. The Ministry of Defense contacted me partly out of kindness, I suspect. The widower of the famous monster biologist, the silent partner who stayed in the lab. I knew the creatures almost as well as Mayu did—the half-life of their blood, the frequency of their telepathic thoughts, the variations of their origins and resurrections. I could, without a doubt, answer Japan’s questions of new monsters being born in the wake of Fukushima, of old monsters shaken out of armistice. And so I said yes because I hated their kind, because my daughter, now a college student, still reads the letters her mother left her, because I need to experience the beauty my wife saw before she died.

The AttendantGuinea Pig

One of my few pet guinea pigs that I owned during my time in Japan. This one was named Wicket (like the Ewok). I often wrote with one or more guinea pigs roaming around me. I did most of my writing sitting on the tatami mat floor.