Tag Archives: Sequoia Nagamatsu

An Interview with Sequoia Nagamatsu

7 Jul
Sequoia Nagamatsu's forthcoming debut collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, is a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture.

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s forthcoming debut collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, is a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture.

Sequoia Nagamatsu is the author of the Japanese folktale and pop-culture inspired story collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, ZYZZYVA, Bat City Review, Fairy Tale Review, and Copper Nickel, among others. He is the managing editor of Psychopomp Magazine and an assistant professor of creative writing at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

To read Nagamatsu’s story “Placentophagy” and an exercise on defamiliarizing the familiar, click here. In this interview, Nagamatsu discusses first lines, his process for outlining stories, and why realism sometimes falls short.

Michael Noll

The story starts with a solid impact: “My doctor always asked how I would prepare it, the placenta.” I’m curious about the genesis of that line. For some writers, first lines simply appear and the challenge is finding the story that follows, but I know others who start with a scene or an idea and then need to find a line to kick it all off. Was this first line always present in the story?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

For me, I like to do a lot of “writing” in my head long before I actually put any words down. I knew I wanted to write a story about Placentophagy but it took another week or so of thinking about the idea to attach a grieving couple to the practice vs. the story focusing on folk medicine and celebrity mothers who have eaten their placenta (i.e. Alicia Silverstone). Once I had the grieving couple tied to pieces of folklore, I knew I had the necessary emotional tension plus the fun facts that interested me to begin writing.

I believe first lines (and first paragraphs) are crucial to pretty much any story (but especially so for flash pieces where you need to draw the reader in, provide some kind of map of what the story will be about (even if only via tone), and establish character and world building in short order. As an editor, I want a story to provide the central characters, introduce a central tension, and do something unexpected and interesting within the first few lines. Don’t reveal all your cards certainly, but I don’t believe in messing with readers too much. Give them a map of an unfamiliar town. Give the reader something they can navigate as more information is revealed.

As a writer, I don’t continue with a story until I’m satisfied with at least the first few sentences. For this story, the first lines came pretty quickly (with other stories, it can be more of a slog . . . and sometimes I’ll think I have a first line I’m happy with until I finish the story and realize my first line is actually buried somewhere else b/c, as a writer, I was navigating to a destination just askew from where I thought I was going when I started).

This question has made me revisit many of my first lines. A few from my forthcoming collection:

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.

Our daughter, Kaede, has returned to us five years after the police fished her out of the community pool, her body sodden and distended like the carcass of a baby seal when I identified her in the morgue.

On our wedding day, you weighed 115 lbs. When you died, you weighed 97. You are now 8.7 cups of ash, and I figure I can make enough 1:25 scale figurines of you from what you’ve left behind, so we can see the world.

Michael Noll

Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone is "an exhilarating debut that serves up every guilty-pleasure pop-culture satisfaction one could hope for while simultaneously reframing and refashioning those familiar low-art joys into something singular, unanticipated, and entirely original," according to Pinckney Benedict.

Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone is “an exhilarating debut that serves up every guilty-pleasure pop-culture satisfaction one could hope for while simultaneously reframing and refashioning those familiar low-art joys into something singular, unanticipated, and entirely original,” according to Pinckney Benedict.

Backstory is crucial to the present action in this story, but it’s handled in a quick, compact line: “Somewhere in the building Ayu’s tiny body, caught in the strained expression of her first and last cry, rests in drawer, waiting for someone to fetch her.” Again, I’m curious how much revision was required to achieve such efficiency. Many of your other stories are quite long, which would seem to require a different process than a piece of flash fiction like this.

Sequoia Nagamatsu

When I conceive of a story or a character or a place that I think could contain some kind of world, I start with sketches and summaries. For a longer short story, this might take the form of a rough synopsis. For the novel I’m working on, these sketches might take the form of bulleted points which represent important scenes within an act. I knew from the get go that Placentophagy would most likely be a flash piece, so instead of thinking about my initial sketches as guidelines to be fleshed out later, I made more of a concerted effort to make my notes resemble lines that could potentially be included in the story. The line in question was born from knowing that I needed to capture the loss of a child. Instead of noting “enter scene of miscarriage,” I immediately played around with a couple of variations that captured the essence of this plot point. In other words, when I’m writing smaller and shorter, I inhabit the atoms that make up the molecules of a larger story’s architecture. I need to capture what’s going on at that level.

Michael Noll

I love the essay-ish section about the practice of eating placentas, but I can also imagine workshop readers advocating for it to be cut—because that’s the sort of thing that workshops do. How did you approach that section so that it moved the story forward?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

Whenever I become fascinated with something and consider treating the topic in a story, I tend to be cautious because there’s a real danger that I might dilute forward motion and character with unnecessary minutiae. With that said, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with tracts of reportage and “essay-ish” writing in fiction so long as 1) the conventions of the story have been firmly established to allow for such asides (esp. if they are lengthy and a bit more detached from character) and/ or  2) the momentum for characters and the overall story are not completely lost or forgotten. For this section, considering the length of the piece, I knew I would have to pick and choose a couple of interesting facts, tie them to the emotional tension of my narrator, and quickly move on. The facts in this story, while certainly stepping outside of my main character, illuminate her research, as well as her relationship to her children and to her body, so if I chose, I probably could have added a line or two more without much lost momentum.

Michael Noll

When I first read this story, it seemed like a piece of horror fiction. Then, I read some of your other work, which involves science fiction situations and characters, and it all seemed to cohere as a single vision. Horror and sci-fi are obviously different genres, but both depend, to some extent, on defamiliarizing the familiar. Is that what attracts you to these types of stories?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

Defamiliarizing the familiar is something present in pretty much all fiction. But to the degree of horror and fantasy and sci-fi (and its genre-bending cousins by various names: magical realism, slipstream, fabulism), the defamiliarizing is often illuminating aspects of reality whether that be racism or rampant consumerism via what many might consider obviously unrealistic, surreal, or fantastic.

I’ve long been a fan of literature and film that forces me to suspend my disbelief, that takes me to other worlds. I love these kinds of stories because I find them entertaining and imaginative. I love these stories because the primal part of me wants to be afraid, wants to use that fear. I love these kinds of stories because they force me to consider the gadgets around me and how they factor into who I am and who I’ll be 10, 20, 50 or more years from now. To quote the title of a Chan-Wook Park film (of Oldboy notoriety): I’m a cyborg, but that’s okay.

These kinds of stories are important and increasingly necessary because we live in complex times and sometimes “realism” falls far short of what we need to comprehend how fast we are evolving, how we process information, and how we define personal, cultural, and geographic borders and spaces. What we consider fantastical fiction used to simply fall in the realm of story or religion. Our stone age ancestors needed a way to understand and process the world around them. For countries who have had to deal with colonial and post-war transitions, the fantastical has become a vehicle where the distant native past and the unhinged identities of the present intermingle. Today we’re compounding these past relationships born from colonialism and warfare with globalization and technology.

Many of my stories are set in Japan. And for me, Japan is a unique case b/c it is a country that has had to reinvent itself multiple times over a short amount of time (notably in the 1800s when there was a push to westernize and again after WWII when the country shifted from military empire to technological and commercial super power). These shifts occurred so rapidly that Japanese culture & identity couldn’t keep pace, and you’ll note that creatures of Japanese folklore often share the stage with technology or modern society gone awry in anime, showcasing the tenuous relationship between the past and present. Akira was released nearly thirty years ago but has never been more relevant for Japan and the rest of the world.

In short, I’m drawn to and write in the realm of the fantastic because, for me, they are the stories that help me navigate the many spheres constituting who we are.

First published July 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

Advertisements

How to Make the Familiar Seem Strange

5 Jul
Sequoia Nagamatsu's story, "Placentophagy," was published at Tin House and is included in his collection, Where We Go When All We Were is Gone.

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s story, “Placentophagy,” was published at Tin House and is included in his collection, Where We Go When All We Were is Gone.

Any discussion of writing horror, sci-fi, or fantasy fiction will inevitably arrive at the phrase “defamiliarize the familiar.” What this means, in short, is that those stories aim to make readers pay attention to something they’d normally not give a second glance. Think about the film The Shining. It transformed a kid on a tricycle into the stuff of nightmares. Of course, all writing can do this, not just genre fiction.

A creepy example of a straight realism that does this is Sequoia Nagamatsu’s story, “Placentophagy.” It was published as part of Tin House‘s blog series “Flash Fridays,” where you can read it now.

How the Story Works

For some readers, the story’s title, Placentophagy, will give away the plot. But, I suspect most readers won’t immediately recognize or know the term, and so the moment of surprise happens a few seconds later, after reading the first sentence:

My doctor always asked how I would prepare it, the placenta.

In that single sentence, Nagamatsu manages to defamiliarize the familiar. The familiar: a body part (and, thus, something as familiar as can be). The unfamiliar: preparing the body part in order to eat it. It’s as simple as that: apply an unfamiliar context or action to something familiar. If you’re like me, there’s no way you won’t read the next sentence and the one after it. We’re hooked.

But now what? The story has made us pay attention to something we’d normally give no thought to: a placenta. How does it advance the premise?

First, it suggests ways to prepare the placenta:

Powdered and encapsulated for my Yuki—two, three, four or more a day depending on my level of sadness and how much I believed the vitamins and hormones within the tissue would make me whole again. Pan fried and stuffed into dumplings for Toru. A smoothie and two yakitori for Keiko.

Then, the story adds a moment of doubt: will the characters eat it? The husband introduces the doubt:

“We don’t have to do it this time—just because we have it.”

That doubt gets extended into the preparation:

I write down daal and naan. I write cumin and cardamom. But I’m not sure if I want to do Indian.

The story now has different directions it can go: eat it or not. Prepare it this way or that way. But that’s not enough. It’s not until the next section that the story really advances the premise into something beyond shock value.

First, Nagamatsu introduces the medical rationale for eating a placenta:

Despite being regarded as unusual, eating the placenta (placentophagy), can help women restore hormonal balance after labor and provide much needed vitamins and nutrients: Iron, B6, B12, Estrogen, Progesterone.

So, he’s made the unfamiliar into something as familiar as the medical text at the end of commercials for medication. He then takes this rationale and the fact that eating a placenta is something that does, in fact, happen, and makes it unfamiliar again:

The Baganda of Uganda believe the placenta is a spirit double and plant the organ beneath a fruit tree.

The story has advanced. It’s not simply a matter of will the character eat the placenta and, if so, how it will be prepared. Now it’s a question of will she eat the placenta and, if so, what will that action mean?

That final question of meaning makes the story so much more satisfying. It’s not simply trying to shock us but, rather, grappling with the eternal issue of how to be in the world, which is the question behind all great fiction.

The Writing Exercise

Let’s make the familiar seem strange using “Placentophagy” by Sequoia Nagamatsu as a model:

  1. Pair something familiar with an unfamiliar context or action. You can do with this with absolutely anything. Here are some examples you’ve seen before: intelligent car (Herbie), flying car (The Absent-Minded Professor), killer car (Christine), and talking car (Knight Rider). In all of these, something familiar as a car is made unfamiliar with an adjective. The film Men in Black did this with Tommy Lee Jones’ car. It suddenly began driving on the roof of a tunnel, and Jones’ character put on a song by Elvis. The song, then, became defamiliarized. So, try this: pair a noun with either an adjective or a verb (eat) that wouldn’t normally be paired with that mount.
  2. Play with the possibilities of the premise. Nagamatsu does this by listing the ways the placenta could be prepared. If you’re using “flying car,” think of all the things a flying car could do. Yes, it can fly, but once it’s flying, then what? Where can it fly? What do the characters do while flying it? Utterly normal things like listening to music or looking out the window suddenly become strange.
  3. Re-familiarize the unfamiliar. Just as Nagamatsu uses medical terminology to make eating a placenta not so strange, you can make your premise less strange and more familiar. After all, if you fly a car enough, you get used to it. It’s not a big deal anymore. So, what would make your premise mundane again? Frequency? Social acceptability?
  4. Make it strange again. Nagamatsu adds the element of folklore: the idea that a placenta might be a spirit double. So, we’ve gotten used to one way of viewing the eating of a placenta. Then he introduces a new way of viewing it. So, what are other ways to view your premise. A flying car is awesome, for instance, until the atmosphere above one hundred feet becomes toxic. Or, a flying car gains new meaning if the ocean level rises and covers all of the land. Notice how this works: you’re shifting the background of the premise—the context. Nagamatsu shifts the context to Uganda, and suddenly the premise doesn’t look the same anymore. How can you shift the context of your story?

Good luck and have fun.

An Interview with Sequoia Nagamatsu

16 Jul
Sequoia Nagamatsu's forthcoming debut collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, is a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture.

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s forthcoming debut collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, is a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture.

Sequoia Nagamatsu is the author of the forthcoming Japanese folktale and pop-culture inspired story collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, ZYZZYVA, Bat City Review, Fairy Tale Review, and Copper Nickel, among others. He is the managing editor of Psychopomp Magazine and a visiting assistant professor at The College of Idaho.

To read Nagamatsu’s story “Placentophagy” and an exercise on defamiliarizing the familiar, click here. In this interview, Nagamatsu discusses first lines, his process for outlining stories, and why realism sometimes falls short.

Michael Noll

The story starts with a solid impact: “My doctor always asked how I would prepare it, the placenta.” I’m curious about the genesis of that line. For some writers, first lines simply appear and the challenge is finding the story that follows, but I know others who start with a scene or an idea and then need to find a line to kick it all off. Was this first line always present in the story?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

For me, I like to do a lot of “writing” in my head long before I actually put any words down. I knew I wanted to write a story about Placentophagy but it took another week or so of thinking about the idea to attach a grieving couple to the practice vs. the story focusing on folk medicine and celebrity mothers who have eaten their placenta (i.e. Alicia Silverstone). Once I had the grieving couple tied to pieces of folklore, I knew I had the necessary emotional tension plus the fun facts that interested me to begin writing.

I believe first lines (and first paragraphs) are crucial to pretty much any story (but especially so for flash pieces where you need to draw the reader in, provide some kind of map of what the story will be about (even if only via tone), and establish character and world building in short order. As an editor, I want a story to provide the central characters, introduce a central tension, and do something unexpected and interesting within the first few lines. Don’t reveal all your cards certainly, but I don’t believe in messing with readers too much. Give them a map of an unfamiliar town. Give the reader something they can navigate as more information is revealed.

As a writer, I don’t continue with a story until I’m satisfied with at least the first few sentences. For this story, the first lines came pretty quickly (with other stories, it can be more of a slog . . . and sometimes I’ll think I have a first line I’m happy with until I finish the story and realize my first line is actually buried somewhere else b/c, as a writer, I was navigating to a destination just askew from where I thought I was going when I started).

This question has made me revisit many of my first lines. A few from my forthcoming collection:

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.

Our daughter, Kaede, has returned to us five years after the police fished her out of the community pool, her body sodden and distended like the carcass of a baby seal when I identified her in the morgue.

On our wedding day, you weighed 115 lbs. When you died, you weighed 97. You are now 8.7 cups of ash, and I figure I can make enough 1:25 scale figurines of you from what you’ve left behind, so we can see the world.

Michael Noll

Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone is "an exhilarating debut that serves up every guilty-pleasure pop-culture satisfaction one could hope for while simultaneously reframing and refashioning those familiar low-art joys into something singular, unanticipated, and entirely original," according to Pinckney Benedict.

Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone is “an exhilarating debut that serves up every guilty-pleasure pop-culture satisfaction one could hope for while simultaneously reframing and refashioning those familiar low-art joys into something singular, unanticipated, and entirely original,” according to Pinckney Benedict.

Backstory is crucial to the present action in this story, but it’s handled in a quick, compact line: “Somewhere in the building Ayu’s tiny body, caught in the strained expression of her first and last cry, rests in drawer, waiting for someone to fetch her.” Again, I’m curious how much revision was required to achieve such efficiency. Many of your other stories are quite long, which would seem to require a different process than a piece of flash fiction like this.

Sequoia Nagamatsu

When I conceive of a story or a character or a place that I think could contain some kind of world, I start with sketches and summaries. For a longer short story, this might take the form of a rough synopsis. For the novel I’m working on, these sketches might take the form of bulleted points which represent important scenes within an act. I knew from the get go that Placentophagy would most likely be a flash piece, so instead of thinking about my initial sketches as guidelines to be fleshed out later, I made more of a concerted effort to make my notes resemble lines that could potentially be included in the story. The line in question was born from knowing that I needed to capture the loss of a child. Instead of noting “enter scene of miscarriage,” I immediately played around with a couple of variations that captured the essence of this plot point. In other words, when I’m writing smaller and shorter, I inhabit the atoms that make up the molecules of a larger story’s architecture. I need to capture what’s going on at that level.

Michael Noll

I love the essay-ish section about the practice of eating placentas, but I can also imagine workshop readers advocating for it to be cut—because that’s the sort of thing that workshops do. How did you approach that section so that it moved the story forward?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

Whenever I become fascinated with something and consider treating the topic in a story, I tend to be cautious b/c there’s a real danger that I might dilute forward motion and character with unnecessary minutiae. With that said, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with tracts of reportage and “essay-ish” writing in fiction so long as 1) the conventions of the story have been firmly established to allow for such asides (esp. if they are lengthy and a bit more detached from character) and/ or  2) the momentum for characters and the overall story are not completely lost or forgotten. For this section, considering the length of the piece, I knew I would have to pick and choose a couple of interesting facts, tie them to the emotional tension of my narrator, and quickly move on. The facts in this story, while certainly stepping outside of my main character, illuminate her research, as well as her relationship to her children and to her body, so if I chose, I probably could have added a line or two more without much lost momentum.

Michael Noll

When I first read this story, it seemed like a piece of horror fiction. Then, I read some of your other work, which involves science fiction situations and characters, and it all seemed to cohere as a single vision. Horror and sci-fi are obviously different genres, but both depend, to some extent, on defamiliarizing the familiar. Is that what attracts you to these types of stories?

Sequoia Nagamatsu

Defamiliarizing the familiar is something present in pretty much all fiction. But to the degree of horror and fantasy and sci-fi (and its genre-bending cousins by various names: magical realism, slipstream, fabulism), the defamiliarizing is often illuminating aspects of reality whether that be racism or rampant consumerism via what many might consider obviously unrealistic, surreal, or fantastic.

I’ve long been a fan of literature and film that forces me to suspend my disbelief, that takes me to other worlds. I love these kinds of stories because I find them entertaining and imaginative. I love these stories because the primal part of me wants to be afraid, wants to use that fear. I love these kinds of stories because they force me to consider the gadgets around me and how they factor into who I am and who I’ll be 10, 20, 50 or more years from now. To quote the title of a Chan-Wook Park film (of Oldboy notoriety): I’m a cyborg, but that’s okay.

These kinds of stories are important and increasingly necessary because we live in complex times and sometimes “realism” falls far short of what we need to comprehend how fast we are evolving, how we process information, and how we define personal, cultural, and geographic borders and spaces. What we consider fantastical fiction used to simply fall in the realm of story or religion. Our stone age ancestors needed a way to understand and process the world around them. For countries who have had to deal with colonial and post-war transitions, the fantastical has become a vehicle where the distant native past and the unhinged identities of the present intermingle. Today we’re compounding these past relationships born from colonialism and warfare with globalization and technology.

Many of my stories are set in Japan. And for me, Japan is a unique case b/c it is a country that has had to reinvent itself multiple times over a short amount of time (notably in the 1800s when there was a push to westernize and again after WWII when the country shifted from military empire to technological and commercial super power). These shifts occurred so rapidly that Japanese culture & identity couldn’t keep pace, and you’ll note that creatures of Japanese folklore often share the stage with technology or modern society gone awry in anime, showcasing the tenuous relationship between the past and present. Akira was released nearly thirty years ago but has never been more relevant for Japan and the rest of the world.

In short, I’m drawn to and write in the realm of the fantastic because, for me, they are the stories that help me navigate the many spheres constituting who we are.

July 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

How to Make the Familiar Seem Strange

14 Jul
Sequoia Nagamatsu's story, "Placentophagy," was published at Tin House and will be included in his forthcoming collection, Where We Go When All We Were is Gone.

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s story, “Placentophagy,” was published at Tin House and will be included in his forthcoming collection, Where We Go When All We Were is Gone.

Any discussion of writing horror, sci-fi, or fantasy fiction will inevitably arrive at the phrase “defamiliarize the familiar.” What this means, in short, is that those stories aim to make readers pay attention to something they’d normally not give a second glance. Think about the film The Shining. It transformed a kid on a tricycle into the stuff of nightmares. Of course, all writing can do this, not just genre fiction.

A creepy example of a straight realism that does this is Sequoia Nagamatsu’s story, “Placentophagy.” It was published as part of Tin House‘s blog series “Flash Fridays,” where you can read it now.

How the Story Works

For some readers, the story’s title, Placentophagy, will give away the plot. But, I suspect most readers won’t immediately recognize or know the term, and so the moment of surprise happens a few seconds later, after reading the first sentence:

My doctor always asked how I would prepare it, the placenta.

In that single sentence, Nagamatsu manages to defamiliarize the familiar. The familiar: a body part (and, thus, something as familiar as can be). The unfamiliar: preparing the body part in order to eat it. It’s as simple as that: apply an unfamiliar context or action to something familiar. If you’re like me, there’s no way you won’t read the next sentence and the one after it. We’re hooked.

But now what? The story has made us pay attention to something we’d normally give no thought to: a placenta. How does it advance the premise?

First, it suggests ways to prepare the placenta:

Powdered and encapsulated for my Yuki—two, three, four or more a day depending on my level of sadness and how much I believed the vitamins and hormones within the tissue would make me whole again. Pan fried and stuffed into dumplings for Toru. A smoothie and two yakitori for Keiko.

Then, the story adds a moment of doubt: will the characters eat it? The husband introduces the doubt:

“We don’t have to do it this time—just because we have it.”

That doubt gets extended into the preparation:

I write down daal and naan. I write cumin and cardamom. But I’m not sure if I want to do Indian.

The story now has different directions it can go: eat it or not. Prepare it this way or that way. But that’s not enough. It’s not until the next section that the story really advances the premise into something beyond shock value.

First, Nagamatsu introduces the medical rationale for eating a placenta:

Despite being regarded as unusual, eating the placenta (placentophagy), can help women restore hormonal balance after labor and provide much needed vitamins and nutrients: Iron, B6, B12, Estrogen, Progesterone.

So, he’s made the unfamiliar into something as familiar as the medical text at the end of commercials for medication. He then takes this rationale and the fact that eating placentas is something that does, in fact, happen, and makes it unfamiliar again:

The Baganda of Uganda believe the placenta is a spirit double and plant the organ beneath a fruit tree.

The story has advanced. It’s not simply a matter of will the character eat the placenta and, if so, how it will be prepared. Now it’s a question of will she eat the placenta and, if so, what will that action mean?

That final question of meaning makes the story so much more satisfying. It’s not simply trying to shock us but, rather, grappling with the eternal issue of how to be in the world, which is the question behind all great fiction.

The Writing Exercise

Let’s make the familiar seem strange using “Placentophagy” by Sequoia Nagamatsu as a model:

  1. Pair something familiar with an unfamiliar context or action. You can do with this with absolutely anything. Here are some examples you’ve seen before: intelligent car (Herbie), flying car (The Absent-Minded Professor), killer car (Christine), and talking car (Knight Rider). In all of these, something familiar as a car is made unfamiliar with an adjective. The film Men in Black did this with Tommy Lee Jones’ car. It suddenly began driving on the roof of a tunnel, and Jones’ character put on a song by Elvis. The song, then, became defamiliarized. So, try this: pair a noun with either an adjective or a verb (eat) that wouldn’t normally be paired with that mount.
  2. Play with the possibilities of the premise. Nagamatsu does this by listing the ways the placenta could be prepared. If you’re using “flying car,” think of all the things a flying car could do. Yes, it can fly, but once it’s flying, then what? Where can it fly? What do the characters do while flying it? Utterly normal things like listening to music or looking out the window suddenly become strange.
  3. Re-familiarize the unfamiliar. Just as Nagamatsu uses medical terminology to make eating a placenta not so strange, you can make your premise less strange and more familiar. After all, if you fly a car enough, you get used to it. It’s not a big deal anymore. So, what would make your premise mundane again? Frequency? Social acceptability?
  4. Make it strange again. Nagamatsu adds the element of folklore: the idea that a placenta might be a spirit double. So, we’ve gotten used to one way of viewing the eating of a placenta. Then he introduces a new way of viewing it. So, what are other ways to view your premise. A flying car is awesome, for instance, until the atmosphere above one hundred feet becomes toxic. Or, a flying car gains new meaning if the ocean level rises and covers all of the land. Notice how this works: you’re shifting the background of the premise—the context. Nagamatsu shifts the context to Uganda, and suddenly the premise doesn’t look the same anymore. How can you shift the context of your story?

Good luck and have fun.

%d bloggers like this: