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Belated Readercon Recap: Towards a Literature of the Anthropocene

July 23rd, 2015

LCRW 33 in my mom's raspberry patch

LCRW 33 in my mom’s raspberry patch

One LCRW theme issue, two Readercon panels and a lot of hallway/bar/dealer’s room conversation (not to mention years of bumping around blindly alone in the dark), have only whetted my appetite for a much broader, sustained conversation about the promise and pitfalls of writing fiction in and about the anthropocene epoch. Don’t get me wrong–the panels were great (see previous post for titles/descriptions) and I even got to moderate one of them. But I confess I am not particularly good at steering discussion, especially not in person, in front of a crowd, with four smarter, more eloquent people all of whom have equally valid and quite distinct perspectives. And there just wasn’t enough time to cover it all. My fellow panelists laid out fascinating ideas, and I got a decent line in here and there, but we barely got into stuff I thought we could have spent a whole panel on, or two, or seven. And I had all these lovely panel notes I didn’t even get to!

One of my hall conversations afterward was with Emily Wagner, program chair, who I asked for more like that next year. “Propose panels,” she said, and I will. But I’m also going to do what I can to get people talking in the meantime.

To that end, I’ve convinced a few of the LCRW 33 contributors to field some questions about how they apply these ideas in their own work. I’ll be posting those interviews here over the next couple weeks, and doing a few interviews myself elsewhere (here’s one with the UK-based Nottingham Writers’ Society).

First, though, I thought I’d recap the Readercon discussion for those who missed it (insofar as I remember it), share some of those notes I haven’t yet managed to get the good out of, and lay out the directions in which I think this conversation needs to go.

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Readercon 2015 Schedule

June 29th, 2015

Friday July 11

12:00 PM    F    Writing in the Anthropocene: SF and the Challenge of Climate Change. Gwendolyn Clare, Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca (leader), Max Gladstone, Vandana Singh. Science fiction and fantasy have often dealt with fictional apocalyptic scenarios, but what about the real-world scenario unfolding right now? Climate change, or climate disruption, is the most challenging problem faced by humankind, and some have called it a problem of the imagination, as much as economics and environment. In the wake of the latest scientific reports on what is happening and what might be in store for us, we’ll examine how imaginative fiction conveys the reality, the immediacy, and the alternative scenarios of the climate problem.

4:00 PM    EM    LCRW. Christopher Brown, Michael J. Deluca, Eric Gregory, Deborah McCutchen, Alena McNamara. Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Group Reading

6:00 PM    ENL    Solarpunk and Eco-Futurism. Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca, Jeff Hecht, Rob Kilhefer, Romie Stott (leader). In August 2014, Miss Olivia Louise wrote a Tumblr post proposing the creation of a new subgenre: solarpunk. Solarpunk, sometimes called eco-futurism, would be set in a semi-utopian future visually influenced by Art Nouveau and Hayao Miyazaki, and built according to principles of new urbanism and environmental sustainability—an “earthy” handmade version of futuretech, in opposition to the slick, white, spacebound surfaces of 1980s futurism. Solarpunk blogs have since proliferated, as Tumblr users like SunAndSilicon create and aggregate concept art and brainstorm solarpunk’s technological and societal shifts, enthusiastically building a shared-world fandom with no single owner or defining central text. For some, building solarpunk is an escapist fantasy. Meanwhile, in San Francisco there have been meatspace conventions to develop some kind of manifesto, with the hope of eventually moving realworld society in a solarpunk direction. What, if any, are the precursors to this kind of grassroots genre creation? Is it an inevitable outgrowth of fan-funded niche publishing through crowdfunding? Is solarpunk’s locavore pro-tech optimism in the face of climate change a distinctly Millenial backlash to Gen-X dystopias? And can the inevitable contradictions of a crowdsourced utopia survive the rigors of critical reading?

Saturday July 12

10:00 AM    ENV    Reading: Michael J. Deluca. Michael J. Deluca. Michael J. Deluca reads A short story, 2900 words, forthcoming in Mythic Delirium.

   HM, LCRW 33, News | No Comments »

LCRW 33 Contents

June 25th, 2015

lcrw33cover

It is done! And I am very happy.

fiction

Carmen Maria Machado, “I Bury Myself”
Alena McNamara, “Starling Road”
Giselle Leeb, “Ape Songs”
Michelle Vider, “For Me, Seek the Sun”
Deborah Walker, “Medea”
D. K. McCutchen, “Jellyfish Dreaming”
Sofia Samatar, “Request for an Extension on the Clarity”
M. E. Garber, “Putting Down Roots”
Eric Gregory, “The March Wind”

nonfiction

Christopher Brown, “Winter in the Feral City”
Nicole Kimberling, “Cook Like a Hobo”

poetry

Leslie Wightman, “The Sanctity of Nature”
Ingrid Steblea, “Another Afternoon in the Garden”
Kelda Crich, “Child Without Summer”
Peter Jay Shippy, “Singing Beach”

art

Kevin Huizenga
Dmitry Borshch
Steve Logan

What a mind-altering thing this has been for me. You know how, in this modern age, you look at social media and you only see what you want to see, from people you agree with, or at the most, you see stuff people you agree with are making fun of or eviscerating? Because that’s how the algorithms are designed to work, they’re these feedback loops trying as hard as they can to keep you coming back. Or maybe you look at TV, but your preferred stations and talking heads are doing basically the same thing, they’re narrowing down, they’re telling you what they want you to hear and only that. And of course, because everybody’s competing with everybody else for that privilege and for your attention, they simplify, dumb down, hyperbolize. And okay, maybe you go out into the world and interact with actual people, but disagreeing over drinks or a game of croquet just isn’t polite conversation, you don’t want to hear it from them any more than they want to hear it from you. Life as a process of polarization. It’s the virgin forest and the oil refinery and nothing in between.

Well, reading submissions for this issue has been the opposite of all that. It’s been open and organic and worldview-shakingly diverse, and it has been a balm. I feel like I’m seeing this thing, us and the world, in so much more relief and nuance than I ever was before.

I don’t know if it’ll feel the same for all of you who read it; you’re not vested in it in quite the same way; you’re not seeing yourself in it like I am. Seeing myself in the work of 250 or so writers, poets and artists, picking out the best of those, the ones that touch and cut at me and break me open. And then reading them all again, being forced by practicality and circumstance to pick out even fewer, then fewer still. And then arranging those in order, not unlike the way one arranges the scenes in a story, for all these other people to take in. What a thing.

Maybe it won’t be the same for you when you read it. But I hope it will. Because we all need that.

The issue will be out in print and ebook form in time for Readercon, at which there will with any luck be a small group reading from those contributors who happen to be in town. Later there will be a podcast episode. More about all that later. In the meantime, why not subscribe to Lady Churchill’s, get your copy and some delicious chocolate in the bargain.

A happy if belated solstice to you all.

   Angry, Environmentalism, HM, LCRW 33 | No Comments »

The Cairn War

May 1st, 2015

In my local woods, there are cairns: rock towers, more or less precariously or painstakingly balanced, maintained by passing hikers. I’m one of those maintainers. The others, if I had to guess, are a hippie couple I’ve passed once or twice on the trail, long hair, long beard, hemp clothes. I was like them once.

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The cairns follow a cycle, or so I subjectively perceive. Like the woods, they change with the seasons. They grow slowly, if at all, through most of the year. If a storm or a careless mountain biker knocks a stone awry, we maintainers will replace it. But come the end of winter there’s always an explosion of effort. I think this has to do with the melting snow, the thawing, the anticipation. There’s not much to do in the woods at the end of winter except slip on an ice patch and fall in the mud. And raise cairns. So: around March, I find new stone towers appearing where none were before. Who’s doing this, I wonder. What does it mean?

I’ve known about cairns forever. In the northeast they’re more common–if for no other reason, then because there are more rocks. Glacial processes, treeless mountain ridges over which the AT passes and there’s no place to paint the white blaze where it will stick up out of the snow, there’s always rocks. It’s practical. Less so in Michigan, where there’s nothing above treeline and you might actually have to walk ten paces to find a rock bigger than a fist.

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I didn’t become aware of cairning as an ancient human cultural institution, a ritual practice, until steph explained it to me at one of her solstice parties in Western Mass.

When Spring comes to my local woods, somebody knocks down all the cairns. Every year. The new ones and the old ones. Because I’m a lonely pseudopagan in a christian country, because I’m cynical, I assume this is an act of malice. I assume the hunters who spend all winter filling my woods with shotgun casings and beer cans for me to clean up look at my (our) cairns and see paganism, see some kind of threat. I have no evidence for this. But because I spend so much time spoiling for a fight about how yes, climate change is real and no, god didn’t give us dominion over nature so we could pave it, that’s what I see. And for a little while, it makes me sad.

Then I remember that building and rebuilding the cairns is part of the point. It’s a process, an interaction. Nothing lasts forever. We tend our gardens, they tend us. And we tend each other. As steph says:

We have created physical evidence of passing this way; and less tangibly we have left our marks upon each other – bits of spirit inspiring compelling turning and calling us on, always with the invitation to return.

So I rebuild them.

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Happy May Day.

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Progressive Fiction

April 3rd, 2015

(what is it good for? pissing people off
making pissed off people feel better)

I have an idea for a journal of environmental justice fiction. Will I follow through with it? Time will tell, wiser heads will tell against it. Tentative title, Reckoning: a word that means variously figuring out where one is, charting a course ahead, and settling accounts for decisions made in getting here. Also a Grateful Dead reference.

When I awoke, the Dire Wolf
Six hundred pounds of sin
Was grinning at my window
All I said was “come on in”

Environmental justice? It’s where social justice and climate/environmental activism intersect. Indigenous peoples comprise only 6% of the world’s population and contribute basically not at all to climate change but suffer its effects in absurd disproportion; they also do an absurd disproportion of the work to try to stop it. Among industrialized peoples, meanwhile, access to natural resources tends to be a privilege of the rich, polarizing the demographics of climate activism over the long term–another devastating effect of institutional oppression. I grew up hiking, camping, traveling to national parks; I love nature and want to protect it. I grew up with limited access to people of other cultures and backgrounds; I had trouble understanding everything that meant, and I have to work at it constantly.

Indigenous protesters at Iximche on the eve of 13 Baktun
Indigenous protesters at Iximche on the eve of 13 Baktun

More and more, environmental justice seems to me the best way to come at climate activism, because it’s about people. People are part of nature, it’s meaningless without them, people will make or break it.

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LCRW 33 Submissions Open

March 1st, 2015

I hereby declare submissions for my special guest-edited issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet officially open, now through 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 31st.

Submission Guidelines are as follows:

  1. Read an issue of LCRW. Any issue.
  2. Pay attention to the world around you.
  3. Write a story (not to exceed 10,000 words), a poem (not to exceed 2000 lines), an essay (not to exceed 10,000 words) or a comic (black and white only please) addressing humanity’s relationship with nature.
  4. Format it in standard manuscript format (unless it’s a comic), save it as an RTF or Word DOC (JPEG if it’s a comic), and send it to me as an email attachment at lcrw33submissions@gmail.com.

Response time will be less than two months. Payment will be on publication, $25 per story, essay or comic, $5 per poem. No reprints, please.

The issue will be out in July 2015.

If there’s anything I haven’t covered, please ask questions in the comments.

Thank you!

   LCRW 33 | 1 Comment »

In the Deep Snow

February 12th, 2015

In the deep snow, deer can sink in past their bellies. So rather than walking, sometimes it’s easier for them to get around by a series of leaps. After more snow falls and fills in the marks of the deer’s hooves, the tracks of these leaps–impressions of the deer’s body stretching through the woods in a line–look almost exactly like the footprints of an enormous, snow-shoed man running across the frozen landscape with a twelve-foot stride.

Then, in places where the snow hasn’t drifted quite so deep, the deer switch back to walking, and it looks like the enormous, snow-shoed man has shapeshifted into deer form.

Wendigo?

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Hav of the Myrmidons

February 9th, 2015

I did what Tolstoy did, and jumped out of the train when it stopped in the evening at the old frontier.

When I first read Last Letters from Hav ten years ago, its sequel, Hav of the Myrmidons, had already come out, but I had no idea because I was reading the original edition with the badass expressionist cover from 1985.

hav006

I loved it for the setting, for the incredibly complex worldbuilding, for the conceit of a fantastic city disguised as a real one. Hav itself was the product of thousands of years of real history; Last Letters from Hav was the product of decades Morris spent traveling and writing about real places, real people. And my god, the prose.

At the time I was desperate to find examples of a literary tradition that didn’t conform to “the rules”; I knew that was the kind of fiction I wanted to write, but hadn’t a clue yet what I’d gotten myself into. Last Letters from Hav was everything I’d been looking for: a novel drenched in character and setting, profound in a way I could appreciate but failed to fully grasp, all hanging on the barest implication of plot, an unspoken question to which the text forms only a part of an answer, the balance of which the reader only slowly becomes able to discern by the shape of the holes.

In the intervening years, I would discover Borges, Bulgakov, Calvino, Kelly Link, Angélica Gorodischer, Miguel Ángel Asturias and countless others unto reading bliss. Hav was a stepping stone on my way to all that. But because it was among the first stones, on first read, there were entire populations of subtexts that went right over my head. For example, it was only on second read–blasphemy of blasphemies–that I realized Last Letters from Hav may well be the purest exemplar of that chimera I raved about to such excess back around 2009, the Borgesian novel. Hav is a city built atop a labyrinth; Last Letters from Hav is the labyrinth the traversal of which provides our only means of comprehending that city. The only means, that is, until we find Hav of the Myrmidons.

Ten years later, I finally went out and got the omnibus edition titled Hav, the one with the cover featuring the almost photographic image of the burning House of the Chinese Master. I’d waited this long, and approached it now only with trepidation, because of the dread which accompanies my approach to all sequels: will it stand up to the original, or will its lesser joys only tarnish the memory of its predecessor? Was it written because the author really had something further to say, or because she’d caved under market pressures? I think of Harper Lee.

But even if the sequel’s terrible, I rationalized, it’ll give me an excuse to reread the original, and to give away my old copy and start someone else on this journey.

hav003

The sequel is by no means terrible. It is, heartbreakingly, a different book entirely, which of course is what all sequels must be. And yet, as it cruelly crosses out question after exquisite question left me by Last Letters, as it perfunctorily, exhaustively, mercilessly answers, and in answering destroys, each beautiful, hitherto unfathomable mystery of the old Hav, raising sterilized, Disnified corporate monuments from their ruins, it also raises new questions–darker questions, not so beautiful maybe but just as complex, more honest, more true to the world of which both the old Hav and its distorted modern reflection are themselves reflections, and therefore all the more pressing.

In fact, as I write this I’m realizing that Hav of the Myrmidons is an incredibly apt metaphor for that very process of engaging with sequels I described above, as it is for the process of aging, of losing the idealism of youth, gaining new perspective, nostalgia for that youth but also the recognition that it served its purpose and is irretrievably gone. Hav of the Myrmidons depicts a more cynical, more coldly practical, more efficient city, and the labyrinth that city describes leads to questions we would be irresponsible not to face.

If you’re like me, if you loved Last Letters from Hav and have hesitated, for fear of shattering the mirage it created, to seek out its sequel, let me encourage you to do so. It’s worth reading. In fact, I might even call it essential.

Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.

–Novalis

   Monumental Metaphor, Reading, Travel | No Comments »

ConFusion Schedule

January 9th, 2015

Here’s my panel schedule for ConFusion 2015.

Researching the Imaginary Saturday 11AM, Dearborn
Sarah Gibbons, Jen Talley, Michael DeLuca, Brigid Collins, Courtney Allison Moulton
How do we research things that don’t exist? Librarians and writers share their tips and tricks.

Storytelling Beyond the Novel Saturday 12PM, Rotunda
Tom Doyle, Michael DeLuca, Christine Purcell, James Frederick Leach, Bradley P. Beaulieu
Looking beyond the three-act structured novel, beyond standard English, and beyond the U.S., what are other forms and traditions of storytelling? How do they get adapted, incorporated, and added to the canon?

Beer, Brewing and Books Saturday 8PM, Rotunda
Steve Drew, Michael J. DeLuca, Scott H. Andrews, James Frederik Leach, Douglas Hulick
Beer in fiction. You read it. You want to drink it. Let’s talk about fictional brews, real brews, and why no one in science fiction/fantasy drinks Bud Light.

Rustbelt Dystopias Sunday 2PM, Southfield
Michael J. DeLuca, Christine Purcell, M.H. Mead, Cherie Priest
Dystopian novels seem to like our beloved rustbelt cities as settings. Perhaps it’s easier to imagine a future dystopia in Detroit than it is in San Diego, sure. The fall of the rustbelt industries may also be useful as a warning… this, too, could happen to you…

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I Guest Edit an LCRW

January 2nd, 2015

Not without butterflies, I have agreed to guest-edit a bonus issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

not this one

not this one

There will be a submission window: the month of March 2015. Submissions will be by email: (lcrw33submissions (at) gmail.com). Payment and terms will be as-normal for LCRW. There will be a theme: humanity’s relationship with the earth. I hope we can squeeze some optimism in there, a little practicality. Aesthetic and tone will otherwise cleave as closely to that of a regular LCRW issue as I know how to make them. There will be short fiction, there will be poetry, there will nonfiction. If I’m very lucky there may be black and white artwork or even a comic. When you’re done reading, maybe you’ll be able to bury it, add water and grow perennial vegetables. Or a magic beanstalk. Who knows.

Lady Churchill’s Roseate Weathervane, we’ll call it. Maybe. Further details to follow (or, feel encouraged to ask questions below). In the meantime, take a few months and try to come up with something, won’t you?

Need inspiration? Try one of these: Grist, Next Nature, Modern Farmer, Low Tech Magazine, Engine Summer, Swamplandia!, Changes in the Land, Sherwood Nation, Men of Maize, The Farmer’s Almanac, Silent Spring, Max D. Standley, Earth A New Wild, etc, etc, more tk.

   LCRW 33 | 27 Comments »