Research Notes · 03/03/2017

I’m Fine, But You Appear To Be Sinking

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Leyna Krow writes about I’m Fine, But You Appear To Be Sinking from Featherproof Books.

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People often want to know if the snakes are real.

They seem to worry less about the giant octopus, jumping squid, backyard tigers, and human clones. I’m not sure if it’s something about the way the snakes are rendered in the story, or if it’s a matter of proximity. The piece with the snakes is set just outside of Spokane, Washington, where I live.

“Is that thing with the snakes actually happening?” they ask.

I tell them “No, but I think something like it could.”

The story with the snakes is called “Habitat” and it appears near the middle of my collection, I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking. In it, two invasive species — ferns and snakes — take over the wheat fields of south eastern Washington, decimating that industry and displacing those living in the region. Invasive species are a real thing, of course, and their presence does, from time to time, impact livelihoods. Just not these particular snakes, which I made up.

That’s the way it is with most of the stories in my collection. They are populated with oddities and horrors that I like to think could be real, but aren’t.

There’s some research involved in this. The weird stuff in my stories is often based on actual weird things. It’s reality-adjacent. Or, as a writer friend of mine termed it, “fiction science” rather than science fiction. Take the snakes, for example. Washington doesn’t have a snake problem. But Manitoba does. Or, maybe Manitoba doesn’t think Manitoba has a snake problem, per se… but it does have a lot of snakes. Whole pits full of them. Like the protagonist in my story, I don’t much like snakes. So I will say, on Manitoba’s behalf, I don’t think this situation sounds all that great. To understand the closest real equivalent to my “fiction science” in this instance, I asked my husband to watch YouTube videos of the Manitoba snake pits and tell me what they looked like because I didn’t want to see it myself (again, not a fan of snakes), but I wanted to know about them.

Other research for that story, I was able to do on my own (like a grown-up!). I wanted to know about real instances of destruction caused by invasive species. Similar to the Manitoba snake pits, reality turned out to be very weird indeed. Perhaps the weirdest example I found was damage done by Eurasian boars in Texas. The boars were brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, bred periodically in the U.S. for hunting purposes, grew too numerous, and now roam the Texan country-side like hooved marauders, tearing up everything in their path.

I think the term “stranger than fiction” is cliché, and therefore irritating. But there’s truth in it. So often when I go looking for the real-world version of whatever made-up scenario I want to write about, it’s even more intricate and bizarre than my own version. I find this humbling. Nature and science outdo me every time.

If I can’t out-weird the real world, then what’s the point of writing fiction that is pointedly strange, fabulous, and fantastical? Why not just write realism? It’s a fair question. Because it’s fun, I guess is my main answer. But also because “fiction science” opens up the world of narrative opportunities for me in a way I’ve never felt with strict realism. Like, the possibilities for story are literally endless if I’m not confined to reality. This, however, is just a trick of perspective. Because, as research shows me, the possibilities are equal vast for realism. I just have to be willing to go find them.

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Leyna Krow’s stories have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, Ninth Letter, and other publications. She lives in Spokane, Washington.