Giselle Leeb Interview: “Wolphinia”

giselle-leebMichael: What inspired “Wolphinia”?

Giselle: I’d written a few stories about the environment, when somebody showed me a video about a dolphin asking divers for help to remove a fishing hook. I started reading about dolphins and found out that they can have vestigial hind limbs and probably used to live on land. There is some evidence that they are self-healing and can completely recover from wounds like shark bites, keeping their original body shape. Then I discovered that there is a rare hybrid called a ‘wolphin’ or ‘wholphin’, a cross between a female common bottlenose dolphin and a male false killer whale. I’ve always been interested in the question of what makes some people take political action and others not, and also in the fact that intelligent species like dolphins can’t protect themselves from humans simply due to their lack of hands and mobility on land. I imagined a future where humans are coming to an end, but dolphins (eventually) make it back onto land, with a little help from a courageous girl.

Michael: Your writing has a unique and I think delightfully black sense of humor. How do you approach humor in your fiction?

Giselle: Thank you! I have to say that I don’t ever set out to be funny. I’ve always thought there isn’t much distinction between light and dark – all part of life, I mean, and always weirdly related. Sometimes, the darker things are, the funnier they can be: experiencing the worst can make you appreciate the best. This is not to minimalize the seriousness of certain things, but humour helps to alleviate them and highlight the absurdity of awful actions—also to point the finger at the perpetrator in a way. I suppose once the character’s voice comes through, then the humour just follows. I often laugh a lot while writing and occasionally I cry, sometimes both at once! I think black humour can make the emotions more affecting, rather than less.

Michael: What would you say are your satirical influences? What writers most inspire you?

Giselle: I’ve got no idea if it’s affected my writing, but Kurt Vonnegut made a massive impression on me when quite young, as did J.D. Salinger and Joseph Heller. I read a lot of Anthony Trollope when I ran out of Jane Austen. Satirical writers I’m inspired by now include Lorrie Moore (who else can begin a story with somebody killing their friend’s baby by accident), the inimitable George Saunders, ZZ Packer, and Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read much Martin Amis, but loved London Fields (which seems to be a real Marmite book). Tom Lehrer’s songs are unbeatable for dark humour. There’s lots of others I love who are less satirical, but I won’t list them all here.

Michael: Does writing fiction have a cathartic effect for you? Does it make you feel better about the world? Worse?

Giselle: A killer question! Definitely cathartic: I love the process of writing and I enjoy life more because of it. I’m not so sure if it gives me hope for the world, but it helps me connect with it and I’ve learnt a lot of interesting things doing research for stories. It makes me think about the seeds of human peculiarities, both light and dark, which is hopefully useful information for the coming environmental battles!

Michael: Could you tell me a little about something you’ve done in the past year that has made you feel better about the world?

Giselle: A cycling trip from The Hook of Holland to Copenhagen, mostly along the coast. Lots of wind and even more wind turbines—people protest about them ruining landscapes, but I think they look amazing, like some sort of better vision of the future. People’s houses were often covered with solar panels. Also, the brilliant cycle lanes and number of people cycling in these countries—Copenhagen recently became the first city to have more bikes than cars. It made me feel that these things are within reach and that there is some hope.

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Read “Wholphinia” in Reckoning 1.

Wolphinia

Reckoning 1

It used to be that I didn’t dare stop driving around—people would notice; I’d make them feel guilty and they might attack. Now, on my walks through the harbour, all I have to do is duck the cars that smash through the barrier high above my head. And flinch when they hit the heap of metal that lines the sea wall.

Ride not riot. That’s the tiny government’s latest slogan. Not that anyone’s listening since the election turnout dropped to 2.3%. But the people keep queueing up for their petrol. Fucking lemmings!

I follow the harbour wall that ends at the old customs house, tucked underneath the flyover, now the seat of the tiny government. I’m wondering what they actually do, besides doling out petrol, when out of the mucky water pops this wolphin and I jump a fucking mile.

I put my hands up. Wolphins aren’t stupid. It’s very likely to be pissed off: every time another car ‘forgets’ to take the curve and flies off into the sea, a wolphin floats belly-up afterwards.

Still, what on earth do I expect it to do? Gun me down? Wolphins don’t have hands.

I look closer. It’s way too big to be an English wolphin. Maybe the rumours were true, maybe it’s ex-Russian. Not that anybody cares. Even the Nationalists have given up—more important fish to fry and all that.

The wolphin half-rises from the waves and opens its mouth, as if it’s struggling to say something. I’m interested. Conversation is pretty scarce these days. I edge closer, keeping my hands up, but the wolphin moves back. You can’t blame it for being suspicious—I am a human, after all.

Though hardly anyone’s fishing anymore. Even the police just drive around. To be fair, there’s not a lot else left to do.

Whistle, whistle goes the wolphin and it flips over and wiggles its tail.

I wasn’t too hot at Wolphinese when everyone was into it—before the wolph-fishing started. Anyhow, I don’t even know if it speaks Wolphinese, let alone English.

I sneak a look at its undercarriage, but I can’t tell if it’s F or M. Oh well, nobody gives a shit since the babies stopped coming. It probably can’t tell about me either: I’ve shaved my hair off now Mom’s not around to tell me to act like a proper girl.

I’m trying to remember ‘hello’ when another wolphin swims up, a big grin on its face. Well, it’s hard to tell really when a wolphin is smiling.

Maybe it’s for the best I don’t speak Wolphinese: the fanatically fluent were the first to start eating their new friends.

I put on a lame grin and lower my hands.

Whistle, whistle goes the first wolphin again, and the second hesitates, then rolls over.

Fuck me! It’s got little hind legs.

I’d read about this during the wolphin craze. Super-rare. And these ones look like proper legs—like they might actually be going somewhere—not like the tiny buds in the pictures.

I’m literally at a loss for words, but I want the wolphins to know that I would never eat them—unlike some, I recognize their official person status. I’m not a fucking cannibal! I look towards the concrete bunker of the tiny government and I flip the finger and spit afterwards for good measure. The wolphins do a little jump and I know they understand. They start to swim away, but then they turn and look back at me and I wish I could go with them.

But I can’t. Sure, I’m a little mercury-toxic already, but it’ll be swiftly over if I so much as touch that water.

I can’t even say ‘tomorrow’ in Wolphinese, so I point to the sun, then roll my hands, and they do another jump.

I watch them swim out to the harbour mouth. I wonder if they’ve managed to get anywhere beyond this crappy island.

I meander in the direction of the customs house. The tiny government blew the remains of the budget on bulletproof window glass and fenced off the last working petrol pumps—conveniently located next to the customs house, underneath the flyover. Rumours are they even recruited a few ex-Russian wolphins to protect them on the ocean approach. Hush hush, of course: the soldier wolphins were officially all home-bred British. Fucking Nationalists.

There’s a ripe breeze coming off the cars that didn’t make it into the water and I pull my scarf up over my mouth as I stare out to sea. It looks almost beautiful, a grey gleam catching the sunshine through a break in the clouds. But I know what’s in that water.

Still, plenty of fish in the sea, if you don’t mind eating just a little mercury.

The wolphins frolic in the dim sunlight, a bit creaky, but basically survivors—the new roaches of the sea, as their ex-friends, the wolphinistas, took to calling them, just before they started eating them. After they conveniently forgot they had person status.

No one would dare eat them now: they are packed to the gills with mercury. But somehow thriving—like the tiny government is rumoured to be. Everybody used to want to know their secret, when they still cared about living forever.

I pull out a cigarette. Mom and Pops went on and on about it, before they started the big drive, but really, my lungs can’t tell the difference. I lift up my scarf and take a drag and pretend to blow the smoke out through the top of my head, like a wolphin.

The tiny government hasn’t been sighted outside their bunker for some time, except for their petrol people, doling out the rations.

I cough in surprise as a school of wolphins swims right past me—at least forty. They roll over and wiggle their legs. They all have the legs! Except for the leader, who I take to be the first wolphin I met. They clear their blowholes and swim in formation in the direction of the tiny government.

Once, I would have run to tell someone the news . . . now, I just stare. Who is there to tell?

But it’s a bit like old times. I haven’t seen a wolphin parade since before the wolph-fishing. As far as I was concerned, conscripting them was cruel, more soldiers for the useless cause. God knows what they were actually making them do.

The wolphins surface way past the customs house and swim back out to the harbour mouth.

I can’t help wondering what they’re up to. Do they have a plan? Or are they just stupid great fake-fish in the pay of the tiny government?

Still, what would they pay them with? Wolphins don’t need petrol, and even if they could drive, they’re already in the sea.

Whatever. I may as well try and find out. I don’t exactly have anything else to do.

It’d be less suspicious to get close to the customs house in a car and I’m sort of regretting my resolution to give up driving. But there are a few people who approach on foot if they’re dumb enough to run out of petrol . . . usually women, according to the government.

I never thought I’d count myself lucky to be a girl. How could I when the tiny government are all men? It’s kind of a sicko joke now that women are crashing through the barriers into the sea in equal numbers.

But I’m not stupid enough to just walk right up to the bunker empty-handed. I’ll have to go home for some props.

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It’s been a while since I’ve seen the house. The dead telly reflects slices of yellow grass between the window slats. Mom and Pops used to spend a lot of time watching the news; later, they just watched the crashes.

I run upstairs to their room, grab one of Mom’s wigs and Pop’s binos and run back down to the kitchen. I’m ravenous.

I open the cupboard and stare at the tins and tins of fucking fish.

“Eat your little fish, Monkey,” I hear Mom saying, and I force myself to move on to the garage.

I fling a rusty petrol can into the back seat of the saloon.

The keys are in the ignition. I haven’t driven my car since Mom and Pops sailed into the harbour, in a manner of speaking. I start the engine and collapse against the wheel, laughing. When I remember that mood incongruence is one of the early mercury symptoms, I laugh even more, until I’m weeping. Eat your little fish—what’s a little poison on the side? Mom and Pops couldn’t help it. What else was there to feed me? Ha ha ha!

I hoot and wave at my one remaining neighbour as I cruise past. Once she would have been so proud I’d started driving again. Now, she doesn’t even look up. She just carries on checking the petrol in her tank.

It’s dusk by the time I get back to the harbour. I drive right past the bunker. Hopefully they’ll pass me off as just another petrol junky, desperate for my next ration. I scan the sea as I take the entrance to the flyover.

I’m not supposed to stop up here, but it’s almost dark and I pull over to one side, where I can get a good view of the customs house. Just in time, it turns out. A small van accelerates through the hole in the barrier and lands way out. Talk about making a big splash!

I aim Pop’s binos at the bunker to avoid looking at the red stain spreading across the water. I can tell it’s blood, not petrol. They must have hit a wolphin. And that’s when I see the dinghy heading out from the customs house.

I didn’t know there were any boats left. It’s even got an engine and there are three MPs crouched in it. They have a long pole with a hook on the end. They putter out and snag the wounded wolphin as soon as it surfaces.

What the fuck? Its best chance is to be left alone. People know about the self-healing power of wolphins—that’s what got them started on eating them. And it’s the tiny government that banned wolph-fishing in the first place, once they realized about the mercury. Maybe they are trying to save it?

The wolphins surround the dinghy and start jumping out of the water. They almost knock the pole away, but the MPs speed away, back to the bunker, and haul the wolphin out onto the fenced-off slipway. It makes a strange, strangled scream and tries to thrash free. They deliver a swift booting, and I know for sure that they are not going to save it. They drag it hurriedly through the big metal doors, to the answering screams of its fellow wolphins.

Fuckers.

I can’t stop thinking about Mom and Pops on their final trip into the harbour. Did they even remember me before the big crash?

Whatever.

I sit until it’s almost dark, watching Mom and Pop’s mascot wolphin swinging from the car mirror. They used to worship the wolphins for being mercury-tolerant, but in the end they were jealous.

I’m badly tempted to just keep on driving.

I roll the car forward until it blocks the gap in the barrier, pull on Mom’s wig, get out and throw the keys over the edge.

I feel my way down the flyover, one hand on the barrier, petrol can in the other.

A weak moon lights up the dirty mist floating over the harbour. I imagine the wolphin ghosts, torn and twisted, rising healed from the water—like Jehovah’s Witnesses on resurrection day—and marching back onto the land, while the humans drop into the gloom, trailing red, clutching their precious steering wheels.

I put down the petrol can and creep towards the bunker. I make it to the wall that runs at right-angles to the sea. I inch along it, before I notice the MP sluicing the wolphin blood from the dinghy. It’s tied to the inside of the fence that juts out from the wall into the water. I press myself against the wall until he goes back in.

I slowly lift my head. There’s a small circle of light showing through a hole in the blackout cloth over the only window. I have to stand on tiptoe to peer through.

Luckily, the MPs have their backs to me. They’re sitting at a long table, watching a tall man. He stands facing them, eyes closed, hands uplifted, doing some sort of prayer, it looks like. There’s an enormous white plate in front of each of them. I strain closer, until I see that telltale black wolphin meat with the red edges like hot and angry coals.

I turn and shuffle away as fast as possible, my hand over my mouth.

Fucking cannibals!

I wish those wolphins would reappear. I need somebody to talk to. Nothing makes sense. Not because the MPs are eating wolphin—you never know what to expect from humans. It’s because I realize that there is not one sane person left.

Why am I so surprised?

I crouch by the wall until the night smudges into another grey day, half-hoping the wolphins won’t come. I’ve never touched a sliver of wolphin meat, but how will they know that?

The wolphin surfaces alone. I don’t expect sympathy after its companion has just been offed by its supposed fellows. But I remove Mom’s wig. I want it to recognize me. I want it to know that not all humans are the same.

“Sorry,” I say, and it does its little jump.

And it makes everything worse. I stand looking away from it, pressing my sleeve against my stupid mouth, trying not to laugh. Fucking mercury! I’m losing it!

“Sorry, sorry,” I say, and I look it straight in the eye and almost reach out to stroke its shiny poisonous flank, the red tip of its sore fin. I almost do. But I can’t. Even a few drops of water on my skin will . . . but what difference . . . .

The wolphin whistles at me, then turns its nose to point at its fin, then whistles again. My eyes have gone all blurry. All I can think of is Mom and Pop’s last drive and I realize I’m crying . . . . Better than laughing, I suppose.

It whistles again and I wipe my eyes. I finally understand what it’s trying to tell me when I see what it’s got wedged between its fin and body.

I look up, trying to clear my head. The school of wolphins have gathered at the harbour mouth and are swimming patterns in the water; it feels like they are showing me the way when they roll over in unison and wave their stubby legs.

I understand what it’s like to be them, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. What did the tiny government ever do for us?

I take off my scarf and wrap it round my hand. I lean down and gently lift up the grenade.

Pops was ex-military, like almost everyone since we became disconnected from the other continents and there was no longer any cause. He used to tell me tales about kamikaze Russian wolphins. “They couldn’t get the English ones to detonate the grenades,” he’d whisper.

I’m pretty sure he never dreamt I’d be dumb enough to try it one day. Even if I was a girl.

But now I’m finally a young woman. I breathe out. What next?

But I know already. I point towards the bunker, towards the remains of that feeble atrocity, the tiny government. “Now?” I ask, and the wolphin jumps up high.

My fingers are so numb that I let the scarf fall and hold the grenade with my bare hands. I can’t help flinching as the drops of water touch them, but I’ve got a feeling I won’t be needing them soon.

I’m shivering as I clasp the grenade and sneak over to the bunker wall. No sign of any MPs. I unbutton my shirt and tuck the grenade inside, then clamber along the outside of the fence and swing myself round to the inside where the dinghy is tied up.

The hardest part is getting into the boat. I still can’t stop trembling at the thought of all that water. Maybe Pops was right: those Russian wolphins must have been nuts to blow themselves up.

But then they didn’t have a good reason.

The dinghy rocks from side to side as I untie it and use the pole to push it close enough to the open metal doors.

The MPs stare at me as I bob into their line of sight.

The wolphins know that I’ll die in that water. And I know now for sure I will never join them when they march back out onto the land.

I may as well make myself useful.

“For Mom and Pops,” I yell, as I pull the pin and lob the grenade straight through the doors.

There’s a bright flash and I feel strangely illuminated from the inside out as I’m blown through the air into the poisonous sea.

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The wolphins push me up to the surface to breathe, and the feeling of being carried aloft on their little hind legs almost makes up for the fact that it’s nearly all over for me.

But my rage has gone now that the tiny government is wolphin food. The grey water actually appears blue and fresh. An obvious delusion, but I have to admit, I’m enjoying it.

At least it’s better than just driving around.

Read Michael’s interview with Giselle about “Wolphinia” here.

Editor’s Note: Love in the Time of Reckoning

Expect of me no high editorial remove. Not this year. I opened this project for submissions six months ago in a different world. Nothing is as I imagined it would be.

Yet I find that almost everything I wanted out of Reckoning remains the same—and suddenly it means a lot more. The individual, personal, visceral ways injustice and exploitation affect us mean so much more; narratives of resistance mean so much more; acts of protest mean so much more, for one thing, because they give us a voice, they help us find each other. I’m proud to think Reckoning might be another way of bringing us together—all of us still committed to resist.

In these pages you’ll find the people on the front lines: activists, ecopunks, scientists, historians, workers of the land, teachers, students, immigrants, the marginalized, and yes, the privileged. Environmental justice isn’t just for the exploited. Neither is reckoning. For what it’s worth, we’re 66% white, 60% American, 50% male-identifying, 12% Asian, 11% Indigenous, 7% Black. Yes, I counted. (No, I didn’t count sexual orientation.) I needed to know if all that agitating for diverse submissions had done any good. And it has. But not enough. I can do better, I’ll do better. We all have to do better.

When I conceived of a journal of writing on environmental justice, I entertained the notion it might escape bias. I wanted a platform for the viewpoints of individuals, not movements, certainly not corporations. I learned with painful swiftness that the biases least to be avoided were my own: the confining nature of the English language, my education, my experience and lack thereof. I’ve tried to circumvent my biases, to balance them, but in certain ways they remain, and in certain ways, I am unashamed. You will hear no voice in these pages attempting to pretend climate change isn’t real, nor that we’re not responsible, nor that some of us aren’t more responsible than others, nor that there’s nothing to be done.

I wanted Reckoning to provide a means for perceiving the passage of time, a marker we can look back on and judge what’s changed. It can still be that. But watching the world change around us as this first issue has taken form has made the limitations of that ambition clear. Some of the darkest thoughts featured here look even darker since they’ve been written. Some of the most hopeful may begin to seem far-fetched. The outlook presented here on the world and humanity’s relationship to it became imperfect as soon as the words were put to the page. But I can also think of this as exactly the kind of reckoning I set out to do: seeking not blame or punishment, but new perspective, new understanding. It’s what humans do. We leave behind what we’ve done, we share it, we move on, we do better. I picked the winter solstice for Reckoning’s release because it seems in some ways to have always been a time humans used for looking forward, looking back. It’s the top of the cycle, when everything starts again, and we get another chance.

I cannot articulate how privileged I feel to get to be the one to pay these authors and artists for their work and put it out into the world, to encourage and in some fractional part help them to do more.

I hope their work encourages that in you.

If you’re reading this on the website, new content will be appearing weekly henceforth; links in the table of contents will go live accordingly. If you’d rather not wait, the full ebook is available now from Weightless Books (other outlets coming soon).

Reckoning Interviews: Michael Damian and Lynne M. Thomas of Uncanny

issue13coverv2_large-340x510The first issue of Reckoning comes out in ebook form one week from today–preorder it here from Weightless Books! Kermit flail (because as we all know, Kermit is an amphibian-American, and thus under significant threat of extinction due to climate change)!

In the meantime, here we have my final learning-how-to-edit interview of 2016, with the incredibly successful and multiple award-winning editors of Uncanny Magazine, Michael Damian and Lynne M. Thomas.

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.

Michael (DeLuca): First of all, congratulations on your Hugo win! Uncanny has huge momentum despite being only two years old. You’ve won lots of awards, run a bunch of wildly successful funding drives…how did you do it? Is there a guiding principle?

Lynne and Michael: Thank you!

The guiding principle of Uncanny has always been bringing more art, beauty, and kindness to our amazing community. That is pretty much how we do it. We work hard, surround ourselves with the best staff and creators, and try to build our community by making them shareholders in the awesome.

Michael (DeLuca): Your guidelines mention specifically seeking diverse submissions, and the stories you’ve chosen clearly reflect that. Have you had to do anything more to encourage writers of color, queer writers, marginalized writers to submit?

Lynne and Michael: We are always actively talking to writers from different backgrounds online and in person. We try to encourage as much as possible.

Michael (DeLuca): How big a part of the motivation to found Uncanny was making a space for diverse authors and marginalized voices?

Lynne and Michael: It is a core principle of what we believe art should be– it reflects the world we already live in. We couldn’t run a magazine that wasn’t a home to marginalized voices.

Michael (DeLuca): How important do you think funding drives are to Uncanny’s success? They seem such a pervasive part of the field these days…do you think it would be possible to get the attention you’ve gotten without them?

Lynne and Michael: They not only give us a portion of our funding (we also get money from subscriptions, Patreon, and advertising), they build our community and make our readers feel like the shareholders they are. No, we don’t think we would be as successful without them.

Michael (DeLuca): What kind of impact do you think you’ve had on the field so far?

Lynne and Michael: It is much too soon for us to say.

Michael (DeLuca): To what extent do you think fiction itself has the power to change minds? Can stories teach people to be better people?

Lynne and Michael: Fiction has the power to create emotions, to show people perspectives that they might not have considered, and to help people escape daily life (these things are not mutually exclusive). There are studies that show that reading helps create empathy. Stories may or may not teach people to be better people, but stories may encourage people to think differently, to make different choices, and that may lead to them being better people.

Michael (DeLuca): If you were starting Uncanny today, would you do anything differently? Any advice for me?

Lynne and Michael: Honestly, we’re pretty happy with how it has gone and is going so far. Lynne might have gotten the business management software a bit sooner so that she wasn’t filling out tax forms by hand, but that’s about it.

Michael (DeLuca): What’s your next project?

Lynne and Michael: More Uncanny!

Michael (DeLuca): Yay!

Thank you so much for talking to me.

 

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. (Late edit: the back cover of the new LCRW #35 is pretty great too.) 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

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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!