Issue 045 Author Interview: Sam Grieve and “The Garden of Extinction”

And so we’ve reached our final Issue 045 author interview. We hope you’ve enjoyed these stories, and our authors’ wise words about them, as much as we did! Now let’s have Sam Grieve wrap things up with some answers to our burning questions about “The Garden of Extinction.”

LSQ: The first indication of Kedu’s age is in reference to her mother’s scarf. How does Kedu’s extremely advanced years (and being the cause of it) frame her life?

Sam: The spark for this story came from a trip I took to Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa, where I found myself walking through a real Garden of Extinction. My mind began to wander, and before I knew it the premise for this story was conceived—a futuristic world, where genetically modified crops cover most of the earth, science has led to a significant increase in lifespan, and the lucky inhabitants live confident in the knowledge that earth’s lost biodiversity has apparently been backed up on a secret planet. Soon after this, Kedu made her appearance; long-lived, clear-minded, and cantankerous. We meet her on her last night on earth, as she finally faces the destiny she has spent decades and decades waiting for—her opportunity to travel to the Garden. The reader learns that Kedu has lived the dream of an extended lifespan, but what becomes apparent in the story is that this long life has not necessarily brought her happiness. Instead, she lost those she loved the most when she was still young, and her adult relationships did not achieve their potential, mostly because Kedu could never give enough of herself. Instead, she spent her years helping build a utopian society where hunger is unknown and lives extend far beyond their natural limits.

LSQ: The book is a vehicle for Kedu’s memories and, in some ways, her regrets. Which do you think is the stronger pull of what wakes her in the night?

Sam: I believe it is a combination. I have witnessed in my own family the power that memory exerts on the very elderly and especially how identity is firmly rooted in early experience. It is this theme that interests me as writer and I do find myself returning to it again and again in different pieces. In terms of structure in this particular work, Kedu’s midnight exploration through the book allowed me to reveal the story of her life, as other than her walking from her bedroom to the study, there is no real action in the plot. The story arc hinges on her emotional journey as she confronts memory, regret, loss, and finally, a personal reckoning.

LSQ: Kedu will not let those that come for her know she doesn’t believe in their Garden and even refuses her cane on principle. How is it that she figured out their lie?

Sam: Subconsciously, Kedu has known for most her life that the Garden is, in all likelihood, a fiction. She first hears about it from her grandfather, but it is only after he leaves that she begins to doubt its existence. She is a clever woman, but this doubt is in direct conflict with her desperate desire to believe, and so she locks it away “in the carpentry of her heart.” In writing Kedu, I wanted to investigate, within the tight parameters of a short piece of fiction, the power of self-delusion. Like many people throughout history, Kedu commits herself to a particular viewpoint/interpretation/story and questioning its veracity would undermine all the choices she has made. The mere act of doubting, or disbelieving, would not only nullify all her work, but she would also have to face up to the fact that she, a genetic botanist, has been complicit in the destruction of the natural world. It is only on this last night that Kedu finally finds the courage to admit the truth.

And the walking without the cane…? Well, this is characteristic of her personality. Kedu is proud; even in this darkest moment of her life she would not wish to show weakness.

LSQ: It seems that everyone she knows has either died on Earth or “gone ahead”, while she worked tirelessly. Are these some of the factors as to why she “will surrender herself to the dream”?

Sam: No, I would not say that. At the end of the story, alone in the darkness, Kedu imagines the day ahead and gives herself a mental pep talk. She will be brave. She will walk without a cane. She will go out with style. For all of her adult life, Kedu’s belief system has been predicated on the existence of the Garden, but now, at the end, she acknowledges that her upcoming voyage is political theater, the shining pod is not a spaceship but a coffin, and that there is no paradise planet at the end of her journey. And yet, despite all the courage she plans to harness so she that she can face her death with dignity, Kedu still wishes to believe that this heaven exists. In fact, the only way she can be courageous, is to believe in it. This imperative, of course, is entirely human. It is hope.

Thank you so much for letting me write about “The Garden of Extinction” in further detail. I wrote this story a number of years ago, so it has been an interesting experience to revisit Kedu’s world. I do think that both as a writer, and somebody who has been a literature student, this exercise has made me realize how instinctual a process writing is. I don’t believe that when I was working on the piece, and knee deep in Kedu’s point of view, I could have discussed it like this. I hope I have helped elucidate some of the themes, but I also believe that short stories are like a scant handful of a character’s life, so hopefully there are still some questions left unanswered!