Emmarayn Redding lives on the plains of North Dakota. She is the author and illustrator of 2013 fantasy novel The Quest for the Ivory Sword, and 2016 short story collection, The Madman of Elkriahl and Other Fairy Tales. She has been in love with stories, both literary and visual, since before she could remember. When she is not writing or drawing, she can be found hiking the trails of her favorite state parks, listening to endless playlists of eclectic music, or staying up til unreasonable hours watching ‘one more episode’ of her favorite anime. You can learn more about her and her other work on Facebook.
What anime/manga/light novel inspired your short story?
I was inspired by the slow and beautiful films by Kyoto Studios, such as “A Silent Voice” and “Violet Evergarden”. “Garden of Words” was also influential, in a smaller way. I love the way those works feature the exquisite beauty of everyday life, in both the visual and narrative sense. I also really appreciated the way the characters—particularly in “A Silent Voice”—are allowed to grow and emote in a very relatable way. I wanted to recreate that heavily atmospheric and character-driven narrative in my short story.
What was your process like for writing this story? Did you have a specific idea for the ending or a theme you wanted to write around?
I had been toying the concept of a quasi-romance between total strangers at a bus stop or subway station for a long time, so when this anthology came along, I decided to build my story around that idea. Ellen’s visions of light paths are also a concept I’ve had for a while, as a means of visualizing the connections I perceive between people. I wanted the overall theme to be about courage and acceptance, ideals which I felt would fit well with a story inspired by Japanese works. I knew from the beginning that I wanted Ellen’s ultimate goal to be bigger than her ‘lost stranger’, but that I did want them to at least meet again, since I’m fond of happy endings. It was the stuff in the middle that was uncertain for me. I started the story with a solid idea, and then ended up writing somewhat by the seat of my pants, following the natural rhythms of what I thought Ellen’s life might be. Zack, Jessica, and Aimi sprang up on their own, as if in some way, by composite memory, I’ve met them before.
What was your favorite part about writing this story? Was there anything challenging about it?
My favorite part of writing the story was incorporating small details that I’ve experienced myself, knowing that others will find them relatable as well. I’ve worked as a barista twice in my life, so the little moments in the coffee shop were all real. And anyone who’s ever slept in a memory-foam bed should know that alarming feeling of having been sucked into the depths of the mattress!
What I found most challenging was infusing Japanese-American culture with what I know as a writer. There isn’t a whole lot of diversity in my area, so my experience is limited. I’ve admired Japanese culture for some time, but I know there’s so much that I’m missing since I’m not a part of it. As such, this story required a lot of research, most of which was not included in the story itself, just so that I could feel comfortable writing a character who came from a different background. The language was a special part of this; I wanted to do more than translate English into Japanese; I wanted to use idioms and poetry. Hopefully, this comes across alright to someone who knows more than I do.
Do you have a favorite sentence or quote or paragraph from the story?
I’m fond of the very first subway scene; I felt that the atmosphere I wanted really came through in that section. But another paragraph I loved was this one, when Ellen is close to an emotional snap:
How can a life this beautiful feel this old? She asked herself as she marched her to the subway. This is what people covet, when they watch those idyllic shows and romanticize a single life. I’m a Hallmark girl, a rom-com protagonist waiting to happen. I’m that slice-of-life cutie with the flowing hair and perfect life, waiting for some deep connection to come along in the shape of a gorgeous man. Her pace quickened, only to come to a screeching halt when the pocket of her jacket caught on the handrail on her way down the subway steps. She lurched forward, backtracked, and untangled herself. Stuck!!! That was it. She was stuck. It was the reason for her inability to paint. Too much routine! That would freeze anyone up.
Can you tell us about one character in the story? Any insights into who they are as a character that we didn’t get to see in the story?
Sure! Spoiler alerts ahead, though. Carnelian—or Jonathan, Ellen’s stranger from the subway station, has a back story I simply didn’t have time to touch on. If the story had been longer, you would have found out that he is a fifth-grade teacher who dabbles in writing detective fiction. He comes from a large family and who adores him, but doesn’t entirely understand his artistic leanings. The music he’s listening to is usually Vangelis’s ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack.
Can you briefly share about your other works? Where can people find you if they want to read more?
I’ve written and released two books on Amazon: “The Quest for the Ivory Sword”, a juvenile fiction novel, and “The Madman of Elkriahl and Other Fairy Tales”, a collection of original fairy tales inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ works. I’ve also published “Crimson”, a Red-Riding Hood retelling on FairyTalez.com . If you want to learn more about what I’ve written, you can find me on Facebook as Emmarayn Redding (author).
Did you write any of Ellen’s experience of being artistically blocked from your own experiences? If yes, what helped you become unblocked? (And do you paint?) If no, what is your most consistent source of inspiration?
Absolutely. I’ve been artistically blocked more times than I care to count, though fortunately in my case, it hasn’t stemmed from grief. The bits about being locked into a pattern of life are dead-accurate. When I started my first full-time job, I quickly found that my habitual nature led me to live identical days for weeks or even months on end, which in turn led to creative stagnation. What unblocks me is usually when I break from routine and starve myself of all external media; no music, no movies, no books… nothing. After about two days of that, my mind gets so desperate for entertainment, it starts spinning stories and pictures again like clockwork. I do paint; watercolor is my favorite medium, but I’m also quite fond of acrylic. Some of my best (and so-far unpublished) work has probably been done in acrylic.
Is this a fictional story set in a real place, or is the setting fictional too? Is there anything about the setting we don’t get clued into that would be fun or interesting to share?
There’s a pretty little pocket garden in downtown Grand Forks ND, the ‘city’ closest to where I live. That was the basis for the garden where Ellen goes to paint the sunset on the ivy walls. Bright Risers was inspired by a coffee shop that used to be nearby. Before the shop closed, I used to visit both places often to write! I still visit the garden from time to time. The rest of Ellen’s city is fictional.
If the story were extended, would we get to meet Zack’s love interest?!
If the story were to be extended, I thought it might be cool to follow the gang (Ellen, Jonathan, Zack, and Jessica) on a trip to Japan, where they would meet up with Zack’s love interest, Kimiko. I’ve never exactly had a plot for it, but that’s my head-canon.