Issue 034 author Jenny Wong‘s story, “The Volcano Keeper,” is a quiet yet powerful story rooted in nature. Go read her story here, then come back for this enlightening interview.
LSQ: The setting is vivid, haunting, and desolate. What inspired you to write about a person, once a group of people, living in a volcano?
Jenny: The idea that started it all never actually ended up in the story. I was mulling over the theme of resurrection, trying to find a different take, when I began toying with the idea of a volcano coming back to life. One of the first scenes that came to my mind was Ari gathering pine cones at the base of a volcano in winter. I didn’t really see any other people with her, so I decided to leave her on her own and explore why that was the case.
LSQ: Nature takes center stage here. Is there a message you wanted to convey by juxtaposing Mount Panajashi with the encroaching city of Hjarakhil?
Jenny: I think, maybe, I wanted to touch on the fact that we don’t know (or no longer understand or even ignore) all of the impacts that our actions and cities have on the environment. The story hints that Hjarakhil’s urban borders could overtake the Ujimi forest and, if the legends were true, might result in Mt. Panajashi’s awakening. I didn’t want Mt. Panajashi to awake with vengeance, but to show that there was a natural balance between the pines and the volcano and that there may, in the future, have to be a re-balancing that might not work so well in Hjarakhil’s favor.
LSQ: Not much is revealed about Ari’s character. What sets her apart from the others who left for Hjarakhil? Why are the volcano and forest so important to her?
Jenny: As our world’s population grows, our cities expand into the surrounding areas and there’s a natural migration of people from rural areas to the cities. Although, in this case, it’s taken to the extreme where Ari is the only one left. Ari has an understanding in the history of her people and the belief that the growth and cultivation of the singing pines are what keeps the volcano from erupting. I think she might also believe that she is making a difference by protecting the life around her from Mt. Panajashi’s awakening. Too often, I find people are lured into a sense of “it’ll never happen”, or “it’ll never happen again” which fuels a disinterest in the world outside of our habitual bubbles. I didn’t want Ari to have anything really different or unique about her other than her awareness of the world around her, and I think it’s that awareness that causes her to act the way she does.
LSQ: What is your favorite thing about this story and why?
Jenny: My favorite part in the story is where Ari extracts the pine seeds by sending the cones down little holes in the volcano. There’s an existing biological phenomenon (I apologize to any biologists if this explanation is lacking) where some species of pine require heat and fire in order for the cones to open up and release the seeds. I had a lot of fun imagining how the volcano could be used to mimic that fiery catalyst.
LSQ: Are you working on other projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Jenny: There’s always little short term projects in the back of my mind, like the next poem, the next story, the next chapter in a novel, maybe. More long term, I’m working on putting together a collection of poems from my travels which could be a book or a chapbook. It really hasn’t decided what it wants to be yet.