‘New Grass’ published in the short story collection Face Forward
A large part of our lives takes place “somewhere in a dream between sleep and waking up,” to quote Kate Bush. This merging of dreams and our waking state plays an important part in New Grass by M.H. Vesseur (translated by Paul Vincent). Here are a couple of questions and answers about this story and the collection, which also contains stories by Barry GJ Quinn, Stephanie Buosi, Benjamin Logan Miller, Dhaval P. Nayi, Andrew J. Lucas, D. S. White, Nick Yates and EN Heim. Editor in chief was Daniel White.
New Grass is quite short, especially when compared to most of your other short stories. Why is that?
M.H. Vesseur: A couple of years ago I became interested in the Japanese art of the palm-of-the-hand story. The name is self-explanatory, I suppose. It was coined by Yasunari Kawabata as early as the 1920s and it is usually associated with him. I discovered it while reading the novels of Kawabata, who immediately had my undivided attention; I was reading all of his novels. So at some point I came to his ‘complete palm-of-the-hand’ works. This stunned me. When a story is extremely short — some of his stories were only two pages long! — you have to focus on something else than the story line. The plot becomes less important. Or it has to be condensed thoroughly. This creates space for focusing on something else. Kawabata was obviously a master at this, telling stories like the stroke of a brush. What struck me in particular, was that he practiced the art of palm-of-the-hand writing through his entire career, in between writing novels. I like that idea, to work on something very delicate and small, in between other works. So that’s how I started: picking up on this very old art of palm-of-the-hand writing, trying something out.
Was New Grass the only one you wrote with this palm-of-the-hand idea in the back of your mind?
M.H. Vesseur: No, I wrote several. But the other ones are in my archive at this point. I leave everything up to chance. That’s part of the allure of Kawabata to me: it’s modest, it is small and delicate, and it doesn’t answer to the demands of modern times. No practicalities, no goals, nothing to achieve. I was asked to submit material and I immediately thought: “Apparently, the time for New Grass has come.”
Why did you choose New Grass for the collection of Longshot Press and not one of the others?
M.H. Vesseur: I chose it because it’s the first palm-of-the-hand story I wrote. Perhaps I wrote four of them, or five, but I remember liking them equally well. I may have started a story and abandoned it, I don’t remember. The funny thing with these extremely short stories is that they leave little room for doubts or failure. When I write longer stuff, it takes months before it becomes apparent what I’m really writing and if it will make sense to the reader. With a palm-of-the-hand story, it’s clear from the first line. It has to be.
Is a ‘very short story’ automatically a palm-of-the-hand story?
M.H. Vesseur: No, definitely not. You’d have to read Kawabata and decide for yourself. They’re very short and the plot is reduced to the extreme. But then there is a delicacy to the Yasunari Kawabata stories that is very difficult to explain. I am not the one to decide whether a story may be called a palm-of-the-hand story. It’s just an environment, so to speak, that I like to be in as a writer.
About Face Forward
Face Forward is a collection of the best short stories discovered and published by Longshot Press in 2016. Some of them have appeared in the publication Longshot Island. The stories cover a wide range of genre from fantasy to science fiction to historical fiction and beyond.
Stories by Barry GJ Quinn, Stephanie Buosi, M. H. Vesseur, Benjamin Logan Miller, Dhaval P. Nayi, Andrew J. Lucas, D. S. White, Nick Yates and EN Heim.
In the stores
Face Forward is available as paperback and ebook. Here are a couple of links:
Face Forward as Amazon Kindle ebook
Face Forward as Blurb paperback