Research Notes · 10/26/2012

May We Shed These Human Bodies

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Amber Sparks writes about May We Shed These Human Bodies (Curbside Splendor).

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The Effect of all This Light Upon You

The research process for me, especially when the piece is a historical one, is a lengthier and more convoluted process than the writing of the actual story. I’m a huge history buff, and so usually the story itself is inspired by something I come across, some tidbit. Then, of course, the story requires research: for major plot points, for authenticity, and finally, after the writing of the story, for fact checking.
 
The process of researching “The Effect of all This Light Upon You” was a particularly strange and twisty and lengthy one, especially given how short the final story ended up being.
 
Genesis: I was watching a documentary on The History Channel about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it told the stories of several citizens of those two cities and what they went through pre and post bomb. And there was this incredibly harrowing story about this woman, living just outside of Nagasaki, I think, who watched her children burn to death after the bomb blast, and then watched her husband die of radiation poisoning, and she herself went on to live to be an elderly woman, and was in fact a very successful businesswoman. I really wanted to tell her story, but I wanted to tell it in a way that made it clear that I was a Westerner looking in, trying to interpret, that I couldn’t really know or understand what it was like and I could only try and share her story through my own filters, as it were.
 
The Lightbulb!: That’s where the idea of writing the piece as if it were a movie, an old silent movie with tinted film, different shades to evoke different moods, came from.  The silent film as story provides distance, because it’s strange, old, unnatural to us now; and the tinted film provides a very obvious and artificial interpretation: I am telling this woman’s story, but it isn’t really her story at all. It’s my story about a woman I read about, a woman I know nothing about in a culture I know very little about. It is, by its nature, artificial, and I thought this was a perfect way to make that very clear.
 
The Research: I did most of it online. I researched three separate things: 1) the bombings and the aftermath of the bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, including the medical implications and what happens to the human body when it’s hit by a blast wave; 2) what the life of a young, wealthy Japanese woman would have been like back then and before; and 3) different colors of film tints used during the silent era and what moods they typically would have been used to convey.
 
Of course, these bombings are not a cheerful subject, and at times it was very difficult to read the material I was sifting through, to look at the pictures of the children without hair, the burned faces and bodies and hands. But it was certainly one of the most rewarding historical projects I’ve taken on, and remains so today because of the breadth and depth and human tragedy of what I learned while working on it.

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Amber Sparks’s fiction has been featured in various publications, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and elimae. Her chapbook, “A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World,” is included in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty, published by Tiny Hardcore Press. She is also a contributor at lit blogs Big Other and Vouched, and lives in Washington, D.C. with a husband and two beasts.