Reckoning Interviews: Gavin J. Grant of Small Beer Press

lcrw33_medThis week’s learning-how-to-edit interview is with one of my favorite people in the world. Full disclosure, I’ve worked with Gavin for years running Weightless Books, and for additional years before that performing various technological and zymurgical somersaults for his and Kelly Link’s much-lauded small press as “chief technical officer” and “head brewer”. In fact, if it weren’t for Gavin putting a bee in my ear about guest-editing an issue of LCRW, Reckoning would not have happened. I love Small Beer Press, I love what they publish. If Reckoning manages to be anything remotely like what they have, I’ll consider it a resounding success.

In the time I’ve known Gavin I’ve asked him for a great deal of advice over a great many cups of tea and pints of beer. So it is a singular and strange opportunity to get to interview him in this formal setting.

If you’re new here, the point of these interviews has been to help me learn how to be a good and conscientious editor, to practice what I preach, to understand whether and how and to what extent fiction can inspire and encourage people to change the world for the better, and hopefully to encourage others to do the same.

9781618730862_medMichael: You’ve advocated for creative commons. You’ve advocated for women writers. You not-so-subtly celebrated Obama’s first presidential win with the cover of LCRW #23. You published Sherwood Nation, one of my favorite meditations on climate change in fiction. How do you negotiate the line between progressive politics and activism and the practical concerns of publishing?

Gavin: At this point I don’t spend too much time thinking about the line. I want a level playing field. (I sound like my 7-year-old: why isn’t it fair?!) I do want to sell a lot of books — two of the best days of the year are the royalty check writing days — so I guess I don’t want to get in the way of that but I think readers will find the books anyway. In some ways I would have expected to have published more environmentally leaning novels but while we’ve been sent a few over the years they have not been a good fit. We were very lucky with Sherwood Nation that we’d published Benjamin Parzybok’s first novel, Couch, so got a chance at his second novel. He takes on deeply serious themes while still managing to be hilarious.

Michael: What’s the most political thing you’ve ever published?

1931520054_medGavin: Perhaps Angélica Gorodischer’s novel Kalpa Imperial which was originally published in two parts in 1983/84 in Argentina although by the time we published Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation in 2003 the government in Argentina had changed over.

Michael: Do you ever think, I’ve gone too far, this is going to put people off?

Gavin: No. I’m on the humanist side: we have one planet, one life, and I’d like it to improve for everyone, not just the historically privileged. I’m an immigrant but I’m still a middle-aged white guy in the US trying to get outside my own bubble. I’d like to find out (a little) more from the people who are voting in the racists and misogynists. I know that Trump et al have been sending jobs abroad for years — I was no fan of NAFTA when it was proposed — and now he has settled a lawsuit for ripping off thousands of people so I don’t see how people can vote for him on an economic basis. The only person he is looking out for is himself. I suppose looking for logic is foolish and I should pay attention to the victory rallies that he’s about to do. Scary? No. Terrifying? Yes.

Michael: Does fiction influence people? Has a piece of fiction ever convinced you of something you weren’t sure about before?

Gavin: I think fiction can at least introduce people to ideas, places, and peoples that might be unfamiliar to them and once someone is no longer the “other” it is (can be?) harder to treat them badly. That is my most optimistic interpretation. I’ve been convinced of how little I know about the world.

Michael: Have you actively sought work from marginalized writers? How? Do you think it’s important?

Gavin: More and more as time goes by — see above for why. Also I want to read about all parts of this world (and, hey, sf&f: other worlds!), not the same old, same old.

Michael: Small Beer Press has been around for sixteen years. In that time you’ve obviously had an influence on the field. There’s a certain kind of unclassifiable, unquantifiable fiction that might never have found a place otherwise. And you’ve given a lot of great writers their start. How else do you think you’ve influenced fiction and publishing? Can one small press really make a difference?

Gavin: We probably made a difference for the writers we’ve published and for the readers who found the books but I do think that anyone we have published would have been snapped up very quickly by other publishers given the chance.

Michael: If you had it all to do again, is there anything you’d do differently or do better?

Gavin: Apply for an editorial assistant job at a huge publisher at age 23 and have a multi-million dollar buying budget by now. Or probably not. I would not want to miss out on any of the books we’ve published and what if I did not see them?

Michael: Any forthcoming titles you’re particularly excited about?

Gavin: Yes! Some of them not even announced. How about two short story collections next spring and summer which I think Reckoning readers may like: Sofia Samatar’s Tender: Stories (April) and Christopher Rowe’s Telling the Map (July). Both have unique, very different, voices.

Michael: That sounds amazing! Thank you so much.

This is the next-to-last interview before Reckoning One comes out on the winter solstice. The next and final, at least for the nonce, will be in two weeks or thereabouts, with Michael Damian and Lynne Thomas of Uncanny.

Reckoning Interviews: Djibril al-Ayad of The Future Fire

f38cover

Ladies and gentlepeople of all those other sixty-two genders you hear tell about, my latest interview is, I think, just the right thing for the Tuesday before US Thanksgiving, zero plus two weeks into orangemageddon. These have not been an easy two weeks for many of us. Talking to Djibril al-Ayad, editor and publisher of The Future Fire, was an energizing and uplifting experience when I needed it most; it reminded me there are still people in the world struggling to encourage deep thinking and new ideas about positive change, that those people aren’t going anywhere, and that every one of them is something to be thankful for. I hope reading this helps you in the same way.

If you’re new here, the object of these interviews has been to help me learn how to be a good and conscientious editor, to practice what I preach, to understand whether and how and to what extent fiction can inspire and encourage people to change the world for the better, and hopefully to encourage others to do the same.

Michael: The Future Fire has been open since 2004, which is a pretty amazing thing. Surely that must put it among the longest-running fiction markets online. What was it like starting out? Did you have trouble finding the kinds of stories you wanted to publish? What kind of work did you have to do to get people (both writers and readers) interested? Did you do anything specific to encourage contributions from queer writers, indigenous writers, writers of color?

Djibril: Yeah, we’re also delighted and a little surprised that we’ve kept going so long—although that’s as much to do with low expectations as any successful formula: for example, we don’t aspire to make any money, so there’s literally no financial failure that could knock us out of existence. To start with, yes, it was very hard to get going: partly we didn’t have the experience or sites like Duotrope and the Submissions Grinder, and until we had a few issues behind us hardly anyone had heard of us. Rather than compromise on quality we published very slim issues: one story a quarter to start with, then two or three, until the slushpile built up. Experience and exposure both helped.

As for encouraging contributions from diverse/minority authors, that was something we struggled with for a while. Our first breakthrough was when we did a count of women vs. men authors, and the ratio was pitiful (this was part of one of the repeated soul-searching discussions on this topic in the genre as a whole, around 2009, I think). We didn’t want to just say, “We want more stories by women,” which felt weak; we also didn’t want to be less selective of women’s stories—that wasn’t the issue, it was rather that fewer women were submitting to our open call (perhaps dissuaded by the sausage-fests that were many of our first dozen issues). What we decided instead was to run two themed issues (#19 and #20 respectively) of Feminist SF and Queer SF, which had the result that: (1) the best stories were overwhelmingly “own voices” works; (2) we were able to show diversity in theme and in authors simultaneously; (3) we demonstrated that we had an interest in these themes and these authors, which made our slushpiles going forward much more healthy. You could say that a similar effect was discernible after each of our print anthologies: body issues, postcolonialism, disability matters—raising our profile and showing that queer, colonised, disabled, etc. authors are welcome here.

Michael: How have things changed since then? Do you think political SF writing has gotten more sophisticated? Do you still see new approaches to expressing political ideas in fiction, techniques or story structures you haven’t seen before?

Djibril: I can’t speak for the world of political science fiction generally, which I think has always been very strong and I’m only aware of a very small part of it. We do continue to be surprised by new approaches, techniques, angles and modes of storytelling that we haven’t seen before (sometimes because of our own naivety, no doubt!); recently we’ve been particularly impressed by people’s ability to tell an important political story in a poem or piece of microfiction. We’d love to see people experiment with language, e.g. untranslated dialogue in a story, or by mixing prose, verse, drama, nonfiction, tense and voice, etc., creating a collage of words that combine to tell a story greater than its parts. A few pieces have started in that direction, but I’m not sure it’s something we can influence as editors. Better to continue to be surprised.

Michael: What kind of influence do you think The Future Fire has had on the field? Are there any writers you published early in their careers who have gone on to do work in this vein you particularly admire? I’ve noticed editors tend to hesitate about picking favorites… but are there any stories you’ve featured you would point to as having had a significant influence on other writers and editors?

Djibril: I’m not sure TFF has had influence on the field, or if so I’m not the one to be able to detect it. On the contrary, I feel venues like Crossed Genres and Strange Horizons are blazing trails that we can’t hope to keep up with, partly due to the fact that we’re not a pro market. But I can speak with some pride of a few authors who we published early in their careers, such as James Bennett, Jennifer Marie Brissett, or Benjanun Sriduangkaew, who have gone on to greater things and are all very talented writers. I don’t claim we “made” or “discovered” them, but it’s still nice to have been a part of their journey.

Michael: How have you felt about the recent series of socially progressive themed issues in Lightspeed and elsewhere, “Queers Destroy”, “POC Destroy” etc.?

Djibril: I think they’re useful exercises, much as I said of our themed issues and anthologies above, and although I haven’t read them all I’ve heard that some of them were of mixed quality. We (as a genre) do of course wish that we didn’t need to publish queer-themed issues to get queer authors visibility, and that instead progressive ideas could be told in “own voices” in all sorts of venues. But I suppose we’re still in a place where queer (etc.) themed issues are needed as well.

Michael: Would you do anything differently if you were starting a magazine today? Do you have any advice for me?

Djibril: I honestly can’t imagine starting a magazine now without the Twitter and other SFF communities around us to keep us going. It’s an incredibly lonely business, working on your own. My main advice (to you, or to the 12-years-ago me) would be to make sure there are other people working with you, preferably as equals, and that the whole enterprise doesn’t rely on you alone. Collaborate with other publications (joint themed issue some time, maybe?), get in guest editors and guest edit on other projects. The more flexible you can be the better… I’ve never been able to get to the place where we accept more excellent stories that we can use (in pro-paying anthologies yes, but not in the $20-a-story magazine), so our release schedule depends on when we have enough content, not vice versa. I can also honestly say that without the writing and publishing communities full of lovely people around us, I would have quit years ago. They don’t just make life easier, they make it fun!

Michael: What’s your next project?

Djibril: I’m glad you asked me that, Michael! We’re actually about to start fundraising and calling for stories for a new anthology, to be co-edited by Nicolette Barischoff and Rivqa Rafael. Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. We’re looking for beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, with a specific focus on the lives and experiences of women of colour, QUILTBAG women, disabled women, sex workers, and any intersection of these. We want it to be a pro-paying, multi-mode anthology including fiction, art, poetry, nonfiction, and experimental content. I’m really looking forward to starting work on it!

Michael: Thank you so much. Honestly, I needed something like this, you have made my day better.

And I take these recommendations to heart. At the moment I am doing this nearly all by myself, but I’ve had a lot of advice and in fact have just been composing an email soliciting more substantial help from a very few people. And I’ve been thinking about guest editors. And you are not the first person to suggest a co-issue. I still need to wrap my head around that concept. But thank you very much for suggesting that, and for all of this.

Your new marginalised feminism project sounds great. And timely. Though I guess there has never been a time when it was not timely.

(If you missed any previous interviews in this series, and would like to catch up, so far I’ve talked to T.X. Watson and Faith Gregory of Solarpunk Press, Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine of Urban Green Man, and Phoebe Wagner of Sunvault. Up next, I’ll talk to Gavin J. Grant of Small Beer Press.)

Reckoning in the Time of Cholera

I thought about calling this “Love in the Time of Reckoning”, but I’m afraid I’m not quite there yet. I’ll write that next, hopefully.

A disastrous thing happened a few days ago the consequences of which I fear will necessitate a great deal more reckoning, for everybody: rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed, even the people in the middle keeping their heads down trying to avoid either, even more than I was already expecting when I got the idea for Reckoning a year ago. Global warming will not be averted. It will be mitigated, to some degree. The world will not make the cap of two degrees C of the Paris Accords. Here’s a Danish professor arguing a three or four degree increase in average global temperature is far more likely. And that was last month. Environmental justice, likewise, will have to be fought for tooth and nail if it’s to come at all, for anyone.

I am up for that fight.

I’ll admit, half an hour before sunrise Wednesday morning, I considered canceling Reckoning and tearing up the contracts. For that moment, it didn’t seem worth doing anymore. A slim technical majority had issued a referendum; it didn’t want hope or change or progress, it wanted everything back to the bad old way even if it it killed them. Then I realized that made this even more worth doing. The harder it gets, the more it’s worth doing.

This dovetails with something I’ve wanted to articulate about Reckoning. This journal, whose first issue will appear one month before He Who Shall Not Be Named enters office (and believe me, I’m aware of the problems in that reference; forgive me, I find myself in need of black humor), will never be about revenge or punishment, it will never be about watching the world burn and saying “I told you so”. It’s about trying to understand, about finding a way forward. “Finding Our Way in the Time of Cholera”, I could have called this post, only it doesn’t roll quite so trippingly off the tongue.

Reckoning 1 has received just over three hundred submissions; I’ve read about half of those and accepted seven. I am so grateful to those seven people. I can’t tell you how excited I am to share their work. That I get to do that makes me feel immensely better about this whole mess. But regarding the remainder: it seems a lot of people mistook “reckoning” to mean I was looking for horror. Around Halloween I tried watching 28 Days Later, the alt-zombie film from 2002 that opens with all those scenes of a ruined, empty London, devoid of culture, populated with rage-filled cannibals. I shut it off after ten minutes. Once those scenes were eerie and compelling. This time they did nothing for me. I guess I could read it as a Brexit allegory, but why would I need that when I have the real thing? I’m tired of apocalypses. I was tired of them before the echo-chamber-dwelling troglodytes of my democracy elected Lord Farquad. Octavia Butler already predicted this whole trainwreck back in 1993. The end of the world is old news. And worse, it’s lazy. I want to see something new.

You’ve heard it from editors before. This time, please consider applying it to more than just fiction, to whether I want to see or you really need to write another wet Mad Max. Please consider it as it applies to the real world–not just in the big, abstract sense, but to you personally. That’s the kind of difficult, at times painful work I think needs to be done, and it’s the kind of thing I want to see in fiction. Honestly, I could adopt it as Reckoning‘s statement of purpose.

We can’t let the grief overwhelm us, we can’t just close off. We have to keep thinking, we have to keep finding new ways, and we have to keep talking and writing about them, so everyone else will see.

That’s where the love part comes in.

Reckoning Interviews: Phoebe Wagner, Editor of Sunvault


712cf200c8be59aee0a52e518d555c67_originalSunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation 
is an anthology of original fiction forthcoming in Spring 2017 from Upper Rubber Boot after a successful Kickstarter campaign, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland. I got in touch with Phoebe as part of my continuing efforts to learn how to edit an eco-themed journal.

(Also see their interview with our friends at Solarpunk Press.)

Michael: What kind of submissions were you hoping for?

Phoebe: Well written and imaginative. Since solarpunk is still developing as a genre, we weren’t sure what exactly would show up in our inbox. If the story made us think differently about the world or catch our breath, we were excited.

Michael: Did you solicit specific writers or seek unsolicited submissions or both?

Phoebe: We did both. Diversity is an ongoing issue in the publishing world, so we wanted to solicit women, writers of color, and writers from the LGBTQ+ community.

Michael: Did you seek out writers from marginalized groups, and if so, how?

Phoebe: Partly through soliciting manuscripts, but also by emphasizing our desire for diversity in the submission guidelines. As we were reading submissions while the submission period was still open, we also tweeted about what marginalized groups we hadn’t seen submissions from yet in hopes to encourage more voices.

Michael: Did you get enough submissions/good enough submissions/the kind of submissions you were hoping for?

Phoebe: We did!

Michael: Is the set of stories you’ve chosen different from what you expected?

Phoebe: Yes and no. Some stories are so unique I couldn’t imagine them on the page until I read them. Others deal with solarpunk in a more straight forward manner. Overall, reading how writers and artists interpreted solarpunk was invigorating.

Michael: Are you satisfied?

Phoebe: More than satisfied! Working with the authors and artists was a truly rewarding experience, and we can’t wait to have the finished book out in the world!

Michael: How was your Kickstarter experience? Would you recommend it as a funding source?
Phoebe: We enjoyed the Kickstarter experience, especially since it allowed people who didn’t know what solarpunk was to find us. I’m a believe in Amanda Palmer’s the “art of asking,” and it was really special to see the literary community supporting us.

Michael: How have you found the solarpunk community? Is it vibrant/thriving/growing?

Phoebe: The solarpunk community is growing! Like any independent movement, there are key voices, but new people keep find our Tumblr and making solarpunk blogs on a regular basis. Right now, it seems like the most vibrant element of the community is on Tumblr. Following the tag always brings up interesting and enlightening posts.
Michael: Thank you very much for talking to me!

Reckoning Interviews: Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine of Urban Green Man

urbangreenman-270px-100dpi-c8As part of my continuing efforts to learn how to be a good and conscientious editor, to practice what I preach, to understand whether and how and to what extent fiction can inspire and encourage people to change the world for the better, here I am pleased to present the second in a series of interviews, this time with editors Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine, who were so good as to include a story of mine, “Deer Feet”, in the Edge Publishing urban fantasy anthology Urban Green Man: An Archetype of Renewal.

Michael: Tell me a bit more about how you envisioned your anthology’s theme. What kind of stories were you hoping for?

Janice: Adria had the original idea for a Green Man anthology. It was suggested that we needed to narrow it down in order to create a continuity within the anthology, so we decided to bring the Green Man into modern society. How would he react if he saw what has become of the contemporary world. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was amazed at the variety of stories that were submitted.

Adria: I think we really wanted stories that gave the feeling that it was time to face the consequences of the harm we’ve done to the planet, in the form of its protector waking up to start a process of renewal…which is of course the theme or meaning of the green man: renewal. Further to that, we discovered many well-educated and well-read people had never heard of the green man, and to me that was just a sign of the problems we face. So it was super fun to re-introduce this mythology into the world.

Michael: Did you do anything special when seeking submissions?

Adria: We spread the word best we could using a website, Facebook page, and listings on Duotrope and Ralan. If you’re a writer looking for markets, you should be on those sites regularly! The publisher also had a call for submissions online, and made announcements through social media. We had our fingers crossed we would get enough submissions…and ended up with enough to fill a dozen anthologies!

Janice: Many people found out about it through simple word of mouth. The theme attracted lots of attention.

Michael: Did you seek out writers from marginalized groups, and if so, how?

Adria: We didn’t specifically seek out marginalized groups. I’d rather it was normal to accept stories from anyone who submits in good form and on time, regardless of race, gender, or anything else.

Janice: We received submissions from all over the world. The Green Man is an archetype. He shows up in many cultures, in one form or another. And I believe the state of the environment affects us all, regardless of who we are or where we’re from.

Michael: Is the set of stories you ended up with different from what you expected?

Adria: The stories that came in, including many we couldn’t take but wished we could, never failed to amaze me. They were on theme, and yet somehow took the idea to places I never could have thought up myself. It’s thanks to the authors that Urban Green Man is the amazing read that it is!

Michael: How has the anthology been received?

Adria: Really well! The book itself continues to sell, which is pretty cool, and the stories received some wonderful reviews.

Michael: Would you have done anything differently, given the chance to do it again?

Adria: Ask for more money? Hahaha…

Michael: Do you have any editing advice for me?

Adria: It’s fun to find a balance between bending the rules a bit and holding the line, when it comes to choosing what to keep. It’s also fun to fall in love with stories and get to be the one to put them out in the world. Just follow your heart, is all I can say. I’m sure you’ve got the technical stuff well in hand.

Michael: What’s your next project?

Adria: We’ve pitched an anthology of World Tree legends called Twisted Roots to a small press and are waiting to hear back. There’s a little idea bug to inspire you!

Michael: Thank you!

Reckoning Interviews: Faith Gregory and T.X. Watson of Solarpunk Press

Happy Equinox! The first issue of Reckoning is exactly one season away.

As part of figuring out how I want to run Reckoning, it occurred to me to ask some editors, people who have done this before or something like it, for advice, ideas, caveats. I’ve long been a fan of open source, and I very much want this to be a place where we all think and learn together, where we seek new ways to see and progress that will let us keep going for another season, another year, another generation.  So I thought I’d share the results. With any luck somebody will get inspired and found a competing magazine or two. Creativity is like love: it’s an inexhaustible resource. The more you use up, the more there is. Also we all stand to benefit from a hell of a lot more of it.

downloadBelow, then, in the first of what shall be an intermittent series, please find my interview with Faith Gregory and T.X. Watson, the editor and publisher, respectively, of Solarpunk Press.

(Please consider contributing via their Patreon!)

MICHAEL: What kind of submissions are you looking for?

FAITH: We’re looking for optimistic science fiction and fantasy based in themes of environmentalism, social inclusiveness and awareness (including but not limited to LGBTQIAP rights, disability rights, black lives matter), optimism (but not utopian or blind unawareness of current issues of oppression) and progressive tech. Solarpunk is not a “back to earth” movement.

WATSON: We talk a lot about treating the issues that we’re facing in the real world as both serious and solvable. We try to lean away from utopianism because utopian narratives tend to treat the crises of the global present as already solved, and we’re looking for fiction to help people who’re going to live through the difficult time in between now and the solved-crisis future.

MICHAEL: Do you solicit specific writers or seek unsolicited submissions or both?

FAITH: We do both. Primarily unsolicited, but we will occasionally ask specific writers for original content or reprints.

MICHAEL: Do you seek out writers from marginalized groups, and if so, how?

FAITH: We state on our website that we specifically would like to publish queer writers and writers of color.

WATSON: When we’re reviewing our submissions, if a story deals heavily with issues about marginalization, we’re conscious about whether the writer is a member of the group they’re writing about. And we have reached out specifically to women authors and authors of color.

When we got started, I made a big list of authors I’d like to ask for submissions, and before I started I crossed off all the cis white dudes, which was a really informative exercise because that took out more than half of my list. I ended up digging a lot harder to find more authors to reach out to, and I’ve started reading some really cool authors as a result.

MICHAEL: Do you get enough submissions/good enough submissions/the kind of submissions you were hoping for?

FAITH: We’ve managed to keep going so far. Pickings are slim sometimes, but there’s always at least one great story that we want or are working on at a time.

MICHAEL: Is the set of stories you’ve chosen different from what you expected?

FAITH: Some of them are stories I wouldn’t have necessarily expected to publish, but I have no regrets.

MICHAEL: Are you satisfied with how it’s going so far?

FAITH: Solarpunk Press has been more successful than I would have originally imagined. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, and I hope we continue to be more successful in the future.

MICHAEL: Do you think the press has had an impact on the field, on how people are thinking and writing on this theme?

FAITH: I think we’re a pretty heavy influence in the development of solarpunk, just by showing what stories we are willing to publish.

MICHAEL: What would you have done differently, given the chance to do it again?

FAITH: Nothing.

MICHAEL: Any other advice for me?

FAITH: Use tumblr. There’s great writers and great support on tumblr.

WATSON: Great artists, too. Most of the people we’ve hired to do our cover art came from Tumblr, and we really like having the opportunity to give work to young artists, especially those who get involved in the community.

MICHAEL: Anything else I should ask the other editors?

WATSON: Ask them about what kind of role they see their work having in the world outside the text.

MICHAEL: Yes! That is exactly the kind of thing I’m trying to get to the heart of, and a great way of putting it.

Thank you both very much for talking to me!

The Broken Compass and the Old Map

There’s been a bit of debate/misunderstanding as to what I’m talking about when I talk about “reckoning”, so by way of explication, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the picture I’m using in the header and what it means.

(I am very much hoping that header will change, and maybe even the whole site design will change with it, for each successive issue, in order to showcase new art and possibly to suit a new theme. For now, though, I am happy enough with this minimalist thing as is.)

compass_zoom

The compass was my grandfather’s, Navy-issue, from when he was stationed in the Phillipines during the Korean War. The needle is rusted in place, so it’s only right once in 360 degrees; worse than a stopped clock. Zoom in close on this picture and you can barely make out the words below the needle. “West Germany”. My grandfather didn’t talk much about the war. He was born in Quincy, MA in the twenties, the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a stonemason, he was a stonemason. The way he talked about it you’d think he’d built half of Quincy, including the house my father grew up in, plus the lake house in New Hampshire. When I was a kid he was always out in the yard building a fireplace or a brick oven using stone left over from some job. He was a master with a brick hammer, the kind with a flat head at one end, a tapering chisel at the other. And he had an uncanny ability for finding the fault lines in a piece of rock. Hefting a football-sized piece of granite, he’d strike it, quickly, expertly, three times with the chisel end of the hammer, with a sound like a cap gun going off, and it would split. Then he’d call over whichever of his grandchildren happened to be closest. “Quick! Quick!” he’d say, as if we were about to miss a rare butterfly or a solar eclipse. “Touch that!” And we’d brush a fingertip over the fresh, bright plane of stone, expecting it to be fiery hot like molten lava, though it never was. “Nobody’s touched that for hundreds of millions of years.”

The map was my father’s. It’s the 1:62500 scale 1964 US geological survey of the Kezar Falls quadrangle, along the Maine – New Hampshire border, and it hung on the wall of our family’s hunting cottage through my entire childhood, until it got a little too mildewed and moth-eaten and he replaced it with the much more detailed and up-to-date 1:2400 scale 1986 edition. Every fall, through my entire life, my dad has cashed in his accumulated vacation time, hung up his electrical engineer’s cap (he did not actually have a cap; rather a slide rule, then a graphing calculator–I only thought he was a train engineer for maybe the first seven years of my life), and spent a minimum of two weeks getting up before dawn to eat an enormous breakfast, put on hunter’s orange and step slowly and as quietly as possible to a carefully scouted and plotted location somewhere in the New England woods, where he would sit all day with a bow or a gun in his lap, watching the passage of time express itself in the motion of leaves, branches, birds, mammals, bugs. He took me with him a few times when I was a kid. I fidgeted. I couldn’t believe he had the patience. I never killed anything. I never even saw anything. After awhile I started to think I was jinxing him. I stopped going. He didn’t. As years went by, he graduated from binoculars, walkie-talkie, map and compass to infrared motion sensing trail camera, smartphone and GPS. He’s still out there every fall. Now I envy him.

My way of thinking about the earth and nature and what we do with it is a product of theirs; it entails a lot of study, close observation, forethought, patience and craftsmanship. I’m proud of that. But my understanding has evolved from theirs. It includes an appreciation for the assumptions theirs depends on, what they had that not everybody does. Property. Financial solvency. Access to natural resources. Education. And I appreciate what’s absent from the way they interacted with the natural world. Women, for example. My mother and grandmother had plenty to teach me too, though nobody issued them a compass. But I try to grow beyond their influence. The example they set out seems to me to require that. I look at them, then I look at the world, then I look for ways to reconcile them.

I want to publish writing that reflects this same kind of personal, idiosyncratic, subjective, but open and thoughtful experience of nature, its meaning and value, how we use it, what we take from it, what we give back, what we leave behind.

But I want to see experiences that aren’t my own.

Reckoning, in my estimation, is about finding our place not just in space or even time but in understanding, and looking not just where we’ve been and where we’re going but how.

I hope that sheds some light. If not, or not enough, I’ll keep trying. I’ll do better.

What Is To Be Reckoned?

Everything.

At the moment, it’s 136 degree days in Iran, 120 degree days in India, thawing permafrost in Greenland. It’s the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that lived only on a few coral islands in the Great Barrier Reef, extinct as of June 2016. It’s the remarkable but temporary upsurge in cephalopod populations in the world’s oceans. It’s my neighbor in suburban Michigan raking his front walk using a giant, gas-powered hairdryer. It’s the SUV holding steady as the most popular car in America. It’s the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous Honduran environmental rights activist, by a US-installed right-wing government. It’s the divestment movement. It’s #exxonknew.

Last year it was rail-thin polar bears moving south and mating with grizzlies to make bigger, tougher bears. It was mad mitigation hypotheticals about filling the sky with nanites to block out the sun a la Highlander II. It was tar sands. It was migratory bridges built for animals to cross highways in Europe. It was butterfly dieoffs. It was coral bleaching, ocean dead spots.

And these, of course, are only what I’ve heard about, from here in my comfortably passive-cooled, solar-paneled, hundred year old house in the water-rich, temperate (though momentarily droughted) Great Lakes State.

What I want to know is, what am I missing? What am I isolated from? What will it be like in a year? In two years? In five? Who will we be paying for the mistakes we’re still making today? What will get us to stop, and what flavor of too late will it be?

This is one of the purposes I want Reckoning to serve: as a milestone, something I can look back to from the future and remember what we thought was going to happen, where we were wrong, what has disappeared and what has gotten worse, what has been saved and what has gotten better.