Last week Bitten by Books hosted an online book launch for the Urban Green Man anthology. This included a comments section where authors and readers were encouraged to answer questions from other authors and readers about the book, its themes, and writing in general. My answers, along with my little mini-interview, are reposted below. For those of you who missed the launch, the full page can be found here. It is full of interesting tidbits from the rest of the cast, and especially fun to read after reading the book. Which, by the way, can be purchased here.
And not to worry, this is spoiler-free for the entire anthology!
BBB: Title of your story?
GO: “Abandon All —-”
BBB: Brief synopsis, without spoilers?
GO: Trying to avoid bullies after school, a socially-awkward boy makes an unusual new friend in the city cemetery.
BBB: What inspired this work?
GO: Pedestrian and bicycle paths, oddly enough. I’d been doing a lot of bicycle commuting in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was pleasantly surprised at how overgrown the various non-motorways were. I remember two in particular: a pedestrian/bicycle bridge that ran beside a canal, with drooping trees overhead and ivy growing up the wall on one side; and an abandoned basketball court which lay beyond a chain link fence next to a bike trail. I thought, if such vestiges of nature continue to fight and cling (and indeed gain ground) in the midst of such a vast urban sprawl, what else might be hiding there? I wrote my story mostly in answer to that question.
Rhiannon Held (Author of “Green Apples”): What comes to you first when writing a short story? Beginning, middle, or end? Which is the hardest part to write?
GO: Stories come to me in bits and pieces, never in any particular order. However, what gets me to sit down and actually write it is when I have a sudden, clear vision of how it’s going to end. Then I get very excited about how the story is going to get to that point, and I write it to find out. Of course, this isn’t what ALWAYS happens…
The hardest part varies, but it’s usually somewhere in the middle when I’m floundering around after the first big burst of creativity in the beginning, but haven’t quite lined up my sights on the end yet. Sometimes I muddle around here for a while before I pass a “summit” as it were, and then it’s all easy downhill.
Gary Budgen (“Mr Green”): How do you see writing Urban Fantasy in relation to writing in other genres?
GO: Truth be told I don’t see genres very clearly. It’s all storytelling, really, with different wrappings on. I suppose what defines “Urban Fantasy” to me is this contrast between some place very ordinary, very mundane—a place most people have been or lived in—and something completely crazy, wild, and magical. I like these sorts of stories because they make you see the magic in even the most awful, industrialized places. I think this is the niche Urban Fantasy fills, and I think it’s good that it’s there to fill it.
Karlene Tura Clark (“Whithergreen”): What music helped inspire your work?
GO: Would you believe it? I didn’t listen to ANY music when I was writing “Abandon All —-”! I was in this little cottage in Mountain View right off Castro Street at the time, and I was mostly listening to the sounds of the city. I suppose that was the soundtrack that inspired me most. After all, the story opens with those sounds…
Martin Rose (“Sap and Blood”): How did you approach your story in relation to the idea of the Green Man? Did you do anything different than you would have for other stories?
GO: To answer the second question first: No.
Now back to the first question: I guess the first thing I did or needed was a character. For me stories happen around characters, like planets around a star. In the case of the Green Man Archetype, I didn’t want to simply do a version of him that had been done before. I wanted to take him back to his “roots” as it were. I wanted to write a story with the thing that inspired the Green Man. This ancient, inhuman, sexless thing. But that was not enough for a story. I had to wait until Marvin came along, and his story needed someone like that, and I thought… “we have something here…” and then the story happened.
Maaja Wentz (“Fallow God”): How was your piece in Urban Green Man a departure from your other works?
GO: I guess the biggest departure was that this story was written for the Urban Green Man anthology. I make a point of only writing things I want to, since I’ve had enough of doing a great deal of work for someone else and then having them not want it. In the case of the UGM, however, I had this idea I wanted to write anyway and hearing about the project from Adria sort of sent me off thinking along those lines. I’d heard of the Green Man before, but I’d never written anything like it, and it seemed like fun.
Janice Blaine (Co-editor, artist): Was it the myth of the Green Man or the environmental nature of the anthology’s theme that first inspired your story?
GO: You know, I’m not sure. I think it was more the myth of the Green Man. Specifically, it was the idea of the Green Man in an urban setting. It was so surprising, so odd—and yet so RIGHT. I live in the country, mostly, but I have family in the SF Bay Area, so cities are not strangers to me. And I’ve found places in cities—alleys, back roads, abandoned cemeteries—where there’s just this huge tangle of plant life. And after talking with Adria I kept seeing these places and thinking “The Green Man would be there…” and that got me wondering about what it would be like to meet him (or her) (or, as it turns out in my story, it), and who they would be and how they would react to me… and I to them.
dsvduncan (“The Green Square”): To you, what is a green man or a green woman?
GO: I think my story pretty much explains it. XD But for those who haven’t read it (and not to spoil anything): I see the Green Person as a sort of anthropomorphic manifestation of the nature and life of plants—as opposed to animals. The Green Person can take human-like form, can even speak in human-like tongues, but it is not human. Whatever human emotions or human tendencies we ascribe to it, that is simply a reflection of our own beliefs, fears, and desires. The Green Person is a protector, an agent, and an enabler. And, like a tree, lives and dies in a different way from you or me.
That is what it is to me. As the anthology shows, that is only one interpretation of many!
Michael J. DeLuca (“Deer Feet”): Is the Green Man still relevant in the modern world, or just a fun mythic tool for storytelling? Is it possible for a resurrected myth like this to positively influence the course of humanity’s interaction with nature? What would that take?
GO: I think fun mythic tools for storytelling are entirely and utterly relevant in our modern world, so… yes!
And I think if we can see the Green Man as the bridge between humanity and nature, if we can allow ourselves to anthropomorphize plants and therefore become more attached and respectful of them, and if the Green Man myth encourages us to do this… then yes, I think it can definitely be a positive influence on the course of humanity.
I think something like that would take more books like the UGM anthology. Maybe a television show, too. A narrative for people to hold on to, that will sink into their souls and color the way they look at the world.
Michael Healy (“Cottage on the Bluff”): Does the Green Man need to be murderous in his protectiveness of nature?
GO: Can he? Clearly, he can. Does he need to be? I don’t know. In my head, the Green Man is a force of trees, and trees do not kill violently. When they do, it is subtle; slow. I think the Green Man wouldn’t bludgeon us to death or explode tractors… he would trap us in his roots, rust the tractors and grow grape vines over them. The Green Man would kill us by making other life take up the space we need to live.
Peter Storey (“Awake”): Does your story reflect your own feelings toward the environment?
GO: Not really, actually. *shrug*
Heather M. O’Conner (“Buried in the Green”): How are your feelings and attitudes about the environment reflected in your story or poem?
GO: Okay, okay, I guess they are. Sort of. At the end I wanted to leave people with a sense of… beginning. Something has changed: someone has woken up, and they are looking at the world, and they are thinking “Huh, I have work to do here.”
So maybe, somewhere out there, there’s gonna be changes happening. The helpless trees and plants aren’t so helpless anymore, and maybe we’d better treat them with more respect.
Which is very much my attitude to the natural environment: respect, dude.
Susan MacGregor (“Evergreen”): What is your favorite memory of a tree and/or forest? Why?
GO: My memory is more of a story, bear with me for a moment…
When I was seven my parents bought a house with two big oak trees in the front yard. Originally the property had three, but the third had died a lot time ago and all that was left was the bottom part of its trunk: it was one of those trees that split into three at the bottom, and these trunks had been cut off about ten feet up. Its bark had peeled off, and it was pale and naked—like bones.
I loved climbing on this tree-skeleton, because two of the branch-trunks were so close together you could chimney your way up to the top and sit on the flat, sawn-off surface. Year after year I would go up there, and year after year it got just a little bit harder every time… because, as it turned out, this tree was not quite dead.
There was one strip of bark remaining, up the back side of one of the branch-trunks. At the top of this trunk, right below where it had been sawn off, was a small branch. At first this branch was bare. Then it had a few leaves. Then it had more leaves. And more, and more, and more. It got so you couldn’t sit on the top of it, because of all the leaves. One year I went out there and I couldn’t even sit on the branch-trunk next to it; the little branch had grown into a big bushy head of leaves the size of a small tree.
It kept growing and growing… and the dead parts kept decaying and decaying. One winter quite recently the dead bits (most of the tree) fell over in a storm, but they left behind this slender, flattish truck—the slip of living tree where the bark still was—with its huge canopy of leaves.
My parents have gotten rid of the dead wood now. You can hardly tell a great tree once stood there. In its place is what looks like a very young, very thin oak tree—but it is actually the sole surviving stalk of the original. Its trunk is flattish with a gaping wound down one side—where the dead trunk fell away—but this is slowly healing over; the skin of the bark growing in to close the gap.
Every year there are more leaves.
And to answer my own question (What is your favorite type of tree/bush/large majestic plant?): My favorite tree is the Giant Sequoia.
Sandra Wickham (“Purple Vine Flowers”): What would the Green Man think of the current environmental state of our planet?
GO: Green Man: *turns gravely to Sigourney Weaver* “I think… we’d better nuke it from orbit.”
Sarina Dorie (“The Forest Lord”): What is your favorite book?
GO: The short answer is Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones. It is so intricate and beautiful and amazing and thrilling and scary and smart and and and and…!
The long answer is: anything by Diana Wynne Jones, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and Anathem by Neal Stephenson.
I am also quite fond of the original Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories and the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian.
Miriah Hetherington (“Green Salvage”): Other than your own story/poem, do you have a favorite story/poem in the anthology?
GO: Aurgh! Where do I start? Um… YOU, Ms. Hetherington, wrote a very sweet story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought that “Waking the Holly Kin” (Eileen Donaldson) felt a bit shaky at the beginning but then came on really amazing and strong at the end and I was like “wow I need to go have a drink or something… that gave me chills!” and “The Forest Lord” (Sarina Dorie) was really touching and sweet. I think of all the Green Men proper, her version seemed the one I’d most like to befriend.
“Green Apples” (Rhiannon Held) really surprised and charmed me, as did “Johnny Serious” (Satyros Phil Bucato). “Buried in the Green” (Heather M O’Connor) made me wiggle with delight, and “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” (Kim Goldberg) was just… so… hysterical. And awesome. But mostly hysterical. I come from a Jewish family myself and it’s just… the Hebrew… the raccoon! Peanut butter and apples! it robs me of coherent typing! And there’s so little I can say that wouldn’t spoil it. Just suffice to say, if you haven’t read the book yet, I agree 1000% with Adria for putting it at the end. You will not be disappointed.
The Urban Green Man (EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2013) Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine, can be purchased here, and a complete list of authors can be found on the GoodReads page. You can read the long-form story of how I became involved with the anthology in the first place here.
Goldeen Ogawa is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist, the author of “Abandon All —-” and numerous other stories. You can email her at email@example.com or peck at her on Twitter @GrimbyTweets.