In today’s ORIGINS, Matthew Salesses discusses the origins of his chapbook Our Island of Epidemics, which is forthcoming from PANK’s Little Books in October 2010.
I was working on a novel, but I needed breaks. I would work on the novel in the morning for two hours, then again at night for two hours. In the afternoon, I wanted immediate gratification. So I decided to write a chapbook. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an idea for a chapbook. I wanted short shorts that held together like a longer linked story collection.
I had been reading some “magical realism.” I had just read One Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time—I know, late. And I had devoured this tiny book by Shane Jones, when everyone wanted to be Shane Jones, called Light Boxes. I wanted to make a myth of my own.
(I also wanted to try my hand at first-person plural. I hardly ever like this in other stories, so of course I decided to go for it.)
What crept into my subconscious was this Korean movie about a future world in which Korea is ravaged by contagious memory loss. Outside of Korea, sad people have seen the potential in this disease, and want to catch it to forget their problems. The memory loss ends up being a tourist industry. The movie is called Nabi, “Butterfly.” It’s this amazing idea that just wasn’t executed as I would have executed it, so I stole it, I guess.
I wrote the first short short about an epidemic of memory loss, except the people on the Island of Epidemics don’t want the memory loss tourists and try to drive them out. The islanders, I realized, liked the epidemics. It was their way of life. The tension lay, as all good tension does, in their inner insecurities and desires. (I’m starting to think I write a lot about denial.)
The other stories came out one a day, after that, until I had the basis of what the book would be. And now is.