What was the first thing you knew about “The Elephants’ Crematorium” before you began writing it?
With this story, I actually knew the title before anything else. I was watching some nature documentary about elephants, and the phrase “elephants’ crematorium” sprang into my head. While I knew that elephants’ graveyards aren’t actually real, that idea stuck with me and began percolating. The rest of the story came as I developed just why this group of elephants would be self-immolating, and then the parallel human aspects came from that. In the initial conception, James was going to be the viewpoint character, but as I thought about it, I realized that this is Liyana’s story. Once that clicked into place, everything else followed.
Did you already have a lot of knowledge about elephants before you started, or did you have to do research? What were your best sources of information, in either case?
I probably had more knowledge about elephants than your average dude on the street, but I was (and am) certainly no expert. Since I was a kid, I’ve been very interested in nature and animals, and so I knew some facts that influenced the story, such as that elephants appear to mourn their dead. But I still had to do a fair amount of research on things like group dynamics and elephant intelligence. Mostly, I just googled things like “elephant society” and “elephant intelligence” and then read a whole bunch of articles. Honestly, the Wikipedia page for “elephant cognition” was a great resource in terms of how many articles it linked to, which I could then read for deeper background.
I really liked the background of a world gone mad and dying for reasons that our characters don’t understand, with all these strange effects, like the hyenas! Do you have any plans to write other stories in this setting, and maybe explore what happened and how it all turns out? (Because if not, I would like to suggest that . . .)
Well, now I’m thinking about it! Seriously, though, it was not something I’d given a lot of thought to, as I haven’t set multiple stories in the same world before. When I was working on this story, I did think about the world at large, and just what might be going on there, but nothing all that concrete. But now that you’ve got my wheels spinning, maybe something more will materialize!
I know you also write novels. How does your process differ between novels and short stories?
I think the biggest difference is that with short stories I know much more about how things will go. I almost never write full-on outlines, but I have the big moments in my head (and sometimes written in a notebook) before I start writing a short story. By the time I sit down to write a story, I know not just the major plot points and character moments, but the themes that I’m hoping to address as well. Novels are different, in that I have the big moments in my head, but a lot is still worked out during the drafting stage. And it hasn’t been until after my initial draft that I really figure out what the novel is about on a deeper level than simply what happens. Of course, I should add the caveat that I’ve only written two novels so far, so things could change down the road.
What are you working on now?
As you mentioned above, I do write novels as well, and my second novel is currently with my agent, so hopefully it will get some good feedback, at which point I’ll revise further and then he’ll send it out to publishers. In the meantime, I’ve been working on short fiction, with one story that I’m about halfway through drafting, and a handful more that have finished first drafts and are waiting for revision. My plan is to finish this current story, put it aside with the others for a while, and then begin work on my next novel, which I have mostly prepped. And then when I need to change things up a bit while I’m working on that, I can go back to those drafted stories and edit them. And then get them on the submission carousel!
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