Good Morning! Hurry inside out of those cold April showers~ there’s someone special I want you to meet!
Eleanor Bluestein, author of Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, has stopped into the Sunday Salon with a guest post. She’s been telling me all about creating the imaginary South East Asian nation which is at the heart of this delightful short story collection. Her book came to me via TLC Book Tours (come back tomorrow for a complete review and giveaway!), and it was the highlight of my reading this week. Please, settle into the big chair by the window…there’s fresh tea in the pot, so help yourself.
Now, Eleanor, tell us how Ayama Na came to be….
Struck by the powerful will to thrive among the people I encountered in South East Asia, I wanted to try to imagine their individual lives. Even in Cambodia where the insane Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had killed between a fifth and a quarter of the population, leaving almost no family untouched by tragedy, there was an amazing resiliency in evidence, a desire to rebuild country, culture, and personal lives. To figure out what this must feel like at the individual level, I began to develop characters and situations that might reveal how people coped with recovery from war amid the challenges of a rapid modernization.
As I worked on the stories, all set in South East Asia, I was drawing for background and setting from what I’d observed in Singapore, Viet Nam, Thailand and Cambodia – the countries I’d visited as a tourist. I gave Ayama Na, for example, a street of fortune tellers similar to one I’d seen in Singapore, hill tribes like those I’d visited in Thailand, and the necessity to recover from a recent devastating coup that mirrors the situation in Cambodia.
At some point, I decided to create a new fictional country from this amalgam, to give it a name and set all the stories there. As soon as I did that, I felt free to invent additional elements to further the plots I was developing. I gave Ayama Na, for example, a long drought that caused crop failure and forced farmers from the country to the city, heightening the disconnect between rural traditional and modern urban life. I also felt more confident to enter my characters’ heads without worrying so much that I would misrepresent the thoughts or feelings of a person from a specific South East Asian country.
During the approximately two and a half years I worked on Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, I created details of the country and culture when I needed them – a currency, street and city names, geographical features, tourist attractions, religious practices, idioms and epithets in the Ayama Nan language. Increasingly, Ayama Na became unique and real to me…
…so real that some evenings, after a stint at the computer, I’d sit down to dinner with my husband and sing the Ayama Na National Anthem. I’d pepper my speech with bits and pieces of Ayama Na’s native language, slapping my forehead with the heel of my hand and muttering ack chee mi yobat – a kind of Are you kidding me?
…so real that I could see in my mind’s eye the exciting city of Pin Dalie, Ayama Na’s capital, the rugged beauty of the northern mountain ranges with their hill tribes and rocky slopes, the small family farms and rice paddies of the northern provinces. I could imagine tour agencies, such as Ayama Na In Depth, whose English speaking guides arranged day trips to the country’s ancient temples and sacred Buddhist shrines.
…so real that I could spot the sad evidence of the war-torn landscape – amputees with their hands out and hoping for a dollar or two from American tourists. And in the infamous and unsavory Pin Dalie Sector Nine, with its all-night street life, drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes, I could point out the one-legged red-headed whore, a figure so colorful she’d been pictured in the the Lonely Planet Guide to Ayama Na.
…so real I felt I understood the national character of Ayama Na, a population that bore the scars of a bloody internal coup, but remained resilient, hardworking, loyal, openhearted, funny, altruistic, and smart.
…so real to me, with its devastating recent past, its challenging present, and its hopeful future, that I want for all the Ayama Na’s of the world what Mahala, the idealistic sixteen year old in the story “Hamburger Wars,” who works after school in the country’s first McDonalds, wants for her country – “all parents to earn enough money to feed their kids, all amputees to regrow their limbs, all wars to cease, every tourist to spend a fistful of dollars, and the oil for the fries to heat to the proper temperature every time despite the vagaries of the timer and the generator.”
Thank you so much, Becca, for asking me to share the experience of bringing a country to life. It has been a pleasure.
Eleanor, the pleasure was all mine! How fascinating to hear about the process of creating an imaginary nation especially one like Ayama Na, which completely stole my heart. Thank you for spending part of your Sunday sharing this process with us!
For more information about Eleanor Bluestein, visit her website.
For a complete review and opportunity to win a copy of Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, return to Bookstack tomorrow.
For more reviews of this and other fine new books, check out TLC Book Tours.