Hiromi Goto: Darkest Light
By John Endo Greenaway
In 2009, Hiromi Goto published Half World, a book for young adults featuring Melanie Tamaki, an unpopular girl who comes home one day to find her mother missing. She follows her mother to Half World, a Boshean world of strange landscapes and even stranger inhabitants, a place at once terrifying, absurdist and bewildering. There she meets by the vile Mr. Glueskin, one of the most original and odious villains to ever grace the pages of a fantasy novel. Melanie soon finds herself locked in a battle to rescue her mother and escape back home in one piece.
The book was popular with readers and critics alike and went on to receive a number of awards and nominations for the author, who first received acclaim for her book Chorus of Mushrooms.
In Half World, Goto introduced readers to the three realms: the Realm of the Flesh, Half World and the Realm of the Spirit. In her new book, Darkest Life, she revisits the same world with a new hero (or anti-hero), Gee, an unpopular boy with a mysterious past.
I talked to Hiromi Goto by e-mail shortly after the release of Darkest Light.
In her Own Words: Hiromi Goto
In Darkest Light you revisit Half World, the world you brought to life in Half World. Was this planned all along or did you decide to do a sequel based on the success of the first book? And will there be a third book?
Half World took over eight years to write so when I had finally completed it I was very much ready to move on. But my editor gently asked me if there could be another Half World book and after a little time had passed I knew that there could. I don’t know if there will be a third book—but then I hadn’t known if there would be a second book. There are characters in Darkest Light who could stand to become a fully-fledged main character. I wonder about The Gatekeeper and her sad trapped life. I adore bad-ass Cracker.
Half World is a pretty horrific place, with lots of gruesome characters. Is it disturbing as a writer to delve into this kind of depravity? Or do you get a perverse pleasure out of it?
I’d like to make sure that we’re defining “depravity” as “moral corruption” rather than tipping toward more general connotative associations around the idea of “perversion.” It’s not at all easy to create a world that’s so despairing and tortured. It was a struggle. The bleakness can affect my own emotional state—a lot of my process is a kind of immersive method writing. None of this is done lightly. Although writing the dialogue for “mean” characters like White Cat is a delight.
When I read first Half World and then Darkest Light I was aware I was reading a young adult novel and I remember wondering how young people would respond to its dark themes and content. What has the response been to the books?
Both Half World and Darkest Light were written as YA crossover novels. I’ve received myriad responses from a range of reader demographics. Fans have remarked upon their happiness that Half World has a female hero who is big bodied, for instance. They’ve also commented on the positive depiction of a strong mother-daughter bond. More recently fans have said that they are drawn to Gee’s flawed and troubled character as well as appreciating the creepy atmosphere of the realm.
You have two children. Do you run your books past them as you’re writing them? What do they think of mom’s vocation and her books?
Sometimes I will run an idea past my daughter who is a teen. My son is a little older now and busy blazing his own trail. I think my children are proud of me, but at the same time it’s my work I’ve always done throughout their lives so it’s also rather mundane as well.
I’m sure all authors get this question: is there anything of yourself in these characters you’ve created—like Melanie and Gee—or are they complete fabrications?
A lot of my characters are compilation characters so often they may have some aspect of my personality or experience folded into their formation. In the case of Melanie I drew upon feelings I had had as teen, particularly around fear of what may happen in the future, and the doubts I had about being strong enough to face uncertainty. As for Gee, I drew upon my own feelings about the perpetual struggles we experience as self-aware individuals over conflicting drives/thoughts/compulsions between “good” and “evil.” In Darkest Light these warring feelings were taken to the extreme. We can do this safely in fiction—not so in our lives.
The three realms you’ve created, the Realm of the Flesh, Half World and the Realm of the Spirit, are they’d based on a particular mythology or belief system or did you create them from your imagination?
The cosmology of the Three Realms loosely riffs from several aspects of world religions/mythologies such as notions of reincarnation, Persephone and Demeter, Buddhism and Catholicism stirred vigorously by my imagination.
Either way, what gave you the idea to create these worlds and these books?
The genesis of the worlds arose from my trying to come to terms with, or at least some kind of fictional rationale, of why human history has been entwined with so much violence, abhorrent behaviour and suffering. As a species we continue to kill each other in wars, violence against women is ongoing, and powerless children are perpetually victimized throughout the ages. And I’m not even going into how humans treat the natural environment. It can be soul-destroying to contemplate all of this. Why? Why, as a species, do we continue in this way? And it came to me that something was terribly wrong. Somewhere along the way something was broken or severed and we were incapable of becoming “whole”—that is why atrocities continue. These notions were what seeded the workings of The Realms.
You’re pulling up stakes and moving to Toronto (I could make a Half World joke but I won’t). What made you decide to forsake Vancouver for the centre of the universe?
I would never forsake BC . . . (I’m from Burnaby, btw . . .!). I turned 45 in December. And my children are grown. It feels like a good time for a major life change. Toronto is an interesting city with a very mixed demographic. I was thinking I could imagine staying in BC and finding a very comfortable groove—but maybe it was time to bring in change instead of grooving. A move to a new city physically alters the trajectory of my life and experiences. I’m rolling the die. I think it should have an interesting effect upon my writing. A move to Toronto now, however, does not preclude my moving back to BC later to settle on a small farm with six chickens, an Angora goat, and a Jersey cow.
As a writer, does your environment have an impact on your writing? Do you see this move having an impact on your writing?
Environment absolutely has an impact upon my writing. See response above! Part of my role as a writer is not just to imagine, but also to serve as a filter. As least it has been so for me. My imagination is seeded by the external world. Should my external world shift, so would my imagination via new experiences, sensations, interactions, observations, etc. It’s all rather breathtaking and magical!