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The LCRW 33 Interviews: D. K. McCutchen: Star Stuff & Worm Meat

September 2nd, 2015

D. K. McCutchen is a Senior Lecturer for the UMass College of Natural Sciences. Lack of poetic DNA led to tale of low adventure & high science titled The Whale Road (Random House, NZ; Blake, UK), which earned a Pushcart nomination & a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book award. In a literary attempt to save the world, she’s now writing mostly scientifically accurate, sometimes erotic, gender-bender-post-apocalyptic speculative-fiction. The series begins with Jellyfish Dreaming—finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship. She lives on the Deerfield River with two brilliant daughters and a Kiwi, who isn’t green, but is fuzzy.

“Jellyfish Dreaming”, an excerpt from the above-mentioned novel of the same name, vies with Giselle Leeb’s “Ape Songs” for the weirdest dystopian future depicted in LCRW 33— a world of deserts and acidic oceans where humans and jellyfish are among the only things left alive, humans live off the jellyfish and are starting to become jellyfish themselves–it is also, disturbingly, the most plausible. For that reason I think this makes an excellent capstone in my series of contributor interviews (read them all here)

Settle in, friends. This one’s good.

Artwork © Tim Paulson

Artwork © Tim Paulson

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The LCRW 33 Interviews: Alena McNamara

August 26th, 2015

Alena McNamara lives in Boston and works in a library near a river. Her stories have appeared in Kaleidoscope and Crossed Genres Magazine. She is a graduate of the 2008 Odyssey Workshop and Viable Paradise XV, and can be found online via alenamcnamara.com.

“Starling Road” is a story about imperialism, resistance and an inevitable, unintended consequence of both: people falling in love across cultures.

Via Munita

What inspired you to write this piece?

“Starling Road” rushed out of me after a six-month post-college gap of not writing fiction. Looking back I can see the roots of it in two classes I took my last semesters in undergrad: one on human geography and the other on post-colonial theory. Each only scratched the surface of its subject, but there’s a lot of thoughts from those classes tangled up underneath the surface of “Starling Road”—thoughts about the nation-state, the concept of sovereignty over a piece of land, and how that’s harming the humans who live on this planet. Chiefly the harm rolls down onto those who aren’t “citizens” or who get caught between borders, but we are all limited by these boundaries. Thoughts, too, about the center – periphery model so many of us have of society and the earth. I don’t have any answers but I have a lot of questions, and I thought someone should ask them of epic secondary-world fantasy.

And then Starling and Nisima turned up, and suddenly I was writing the most solely romantic story I’ve composed in my life.

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Guest Post by Deborah Walker: Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?

August 19th, 2015

Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com. Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into a dozen languages.

In the guest post below, she discusses the inspiration for her story “Medea” and poem “Child Without Summer”, both of which appear in LCRW 33.

Humanity’s a frog being slowly boiled in a saucepan. Most of us in the developed world are too busy to feel the water heating up, to notice that we’re being gradually boiled alive. ‘Medea’ and ‘Child Without Summer’ (written by my alter ego, Kelda Crich) explore this near-sighted tendency, this blindness to events that don’t impact immediately on our stressful day-to-day lives.

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The LCRW 33 Interviews: M. E. Garber

August 12th, 2015

M. E. Garber grew up reading about hobbits, space-travel, and dragons, so it’s no wonder that she now enjoys writing speculative fiction and dreams of traveling the world(s). She used to live near the home of Duck Tape, then near the home of Nylabone. Now she lives near the home of Gatorade. You can find her blog at: megarber.wordpress.com

M. E. Garber

“Putting Down Roots” is a story-in-emails about a woman turning into a tree. It’s both sad and beautiful, and taken as an Alzheimer’s parable I find it pretty profound. It was also only the tip of the iceberg in terms of stories about women turning into trees that came into the submission pile. I spent quite awhile puzzling over this trend, trying to figure out what it meant, if anything, about our collective unconscious. I didn’t get very far. So I’m really looking forward to finding out from the author how this story came to be.

What inspired you to write this piece?

MEG: As is usual for me, there were a number of things that came together in the creation of this story. First came a flash-fiction challenge to write a type of story that I’d never before written. I’d been wanting to try an epistolary form, and the 1,000 words or less requirement suggested that I’d get only one side of the conversation.

Next was some reading about current research on how trees communicate with one another. It was really fascinating to read about the chemical messages they send via roots and rootlets, communicating their stresses and stressors, so that other trees could prepare and survive the coming onslaught, as well as the ways the researchers conducted these studies. While reading, I got the little shivers of delight that told me I’d have to use this in a story sometime, somehow.

Of course, personal experience played a part in this, as well. I’ve moved more than the average person in my adult life, and wherever I go, I like to learn about my new home–the birds, the weather, the soil and trees and all that makes it unique. And yet, I’m always made keenly aware that I’m unusual in this. Even people who’ve lived their whole lives in one place seem unaware of where they actually live, of their natural world in any but the most vague sense. Those rare people who have lived long in one place and know it deeply–I’m envious of them, and I try to absorb all I can of their knowledge while I’m near. I sense the futility of it, of course–I’ll be gone from this amazing place before I amass any amount of knowledge, and there is little chance of it proving necessary to my survival–but I need the grounding that such understanding provides. I feel lost and aimless without it, and yet I know I’m barely scratching the surface.

Finally, sickness. The randomness of who gets sick, with what, and how we and modern medicine cope with that. Who hasn’t known someone who’s spent too many hours waiting in doctors’ offices, only to hear “We don’t know” over and over again?

And so, Anne came to be, writing to her best friend about this terrible thing–losing her mobility and her raging against the wait, her loss–as she gradually comes to accept it, and even enjoy her change. I suppose that makes me an optimist, in the end. Or perhaps, just someone who would like to put down some roots, deeply.

What’s your own relationship to the earth like?

MEG: Like I said, I’ve moved a lot. I’ve seen much of the northern hemisphere’s temperate zone, and I love cities, and how humans can live well there (especially European cities!). But I seem to need a close relationship to nature, as well. Parks–large, wandering, ungroomed and somewhat wild spaces where my mind can stretch out and my eye can see wildlife’s traces–heron prints along the river bank, fishes in the river waters, hawks calling high overhead, and rabbits darting off into tall grasses. Places where I can harvest wild blueberries, or pop open touch-me-not seed pods, startle frogs and deer. Some of my happiest hours are those sitting on a fallen log, watching golden leaves twirl earthward through a dappled lacework of branches against a brilliant blue sky. Or walking through a light misting rain listening to frogs creak and call.

I love walking through a physical space and knowing what birds are singing, what those blooming plants are called, if I can eat those berries or not. I like to know what the dangers are, what I should be wary of and how to avoid injury from those things, as well. So I suppose the earth and I have a pretty good relationship. I garden and gather and love the feelings of plenty those things bring me, while Mother Nature responds with copious growth and abundant wildlife.

And yet, I still hate mosquitos and no-see-ums, and their itching, forever-annoying bites. And I’m currently learning to dislike red ants just as much. Ouch! Not all the “abundance” is good.

What do you think is fiction’s (or poetry’s) role in changing minds, making people think and feel differently? Do writers have a responsibility to engage creatively with humanity’s problems or encourage their readers to do so?

MEG: I think this is one of the main reasons I love reading speculative fiction. It allows me to explore new ideas, to understand things differently without feeling lectured to. It shows consequences, actions and reactions. It asks “What if,” and those what if’s aren’t always answered happily. What if corporations colonize space instead of countries? What if we somehow derail climate change, but instead of reversal, we have to live with some part-way resolution? What if we were forced to slow down and examine our world in minute detail, the way a long-lived tree does?

Good speculative fiction can make me rethink history as well as the future. It allows me to envision other futures, even find good ones in a radically different environment. It allows for hope in situations I might otherwise think would be “hopeless.” Protagonists often find a way through, even if they have to compromise. Such scenarios can also be a warning: “Stop! Go Back! No Exit. Do Not Come This Way.”

Does it have to do these things? No, I suppose not. But if as a writer I can educate as I entertain my reader (even subconsciously), well, why wouldn’t I? Most people like learning things. It’s human nature to learn and grow throughout our lives. If I can make learning something fun, of course I’m going to do it. After all, I am my very first first-reader. If I’m not pleasing myself with my writing, I’m probably pleasing anyone.

Is humanity doomed?

MEG: “Doomed” is such a bleak term. Are we “doomed” if we have to live differently than we have in the past? If we have to adapt to radically changing situations? If many of us on the planet die, while others struggle onwards? I think not, and yet others would argue yes. Then again, as I said earlier, I’m a bit of a closet optimist. Much of human history has been filled with hate and war, anger and strife. And yet we have also amazing works of art that lift our minds and souls from despair, in every place and age. As long as humanity yearns towards beauty and knowledge, I think hope exists for a better future.

lcrw33cover

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 33, a theme issue about humanity’s relationship with the earth guest edited by me, is available in 30% recycled dead tree form from Small Beer Press and indie bookstores near you. The ebook version is at Weightless Books.

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The LCRW 33 Interviews: Nicole Kimberling

August 5th, 2015

Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. There they own and operate Blind Eye Books, an LGBT press specializing in genre fiction. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mystery Series.

Nicole Kimberling

Nikki has been contributing crazy-like-a-fox cooking columns to LCRW since issue #27, on such topics as making the most of your CSA, the seductive fennel bulb, and how to seduce a vegetarian. They are delightful. I advise you to collect them all. Because even if you don’t necessarily need to know how to cook for stray children, there’s always the off chance that, if you’re really nice to her, she’ll send you brownies in the mail.

What’s your own relationship to the earth like?

NK: I have really severe hay fever so for the first 30 years of my life my relationship with the Earth was somewhat frosty. She would use her tree, weed and grass minions to flood my sinus cavities with pollen and I would retaliate by sneezing all over as much of her as I could. But then the new antihistamines were invented and I started to go for walks in the woods and notice things like mushrooms and lichen and owls. After that I gradually came to the conclusion that just because something is tiny or silent or tries to swoop you occasionally doesn’t make it a less-valid organism. Plus I forgave the trees for their indiscriminate air-based sperm-cell distribution. After all, they can’t help it. They’re grown that way. So now the Earth and I have a nodding acquaintance that I’m looking forward into developing into a genuine friendship some day.

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The Poison Mushroom: A Cautionary Tale

July 31st, 2015

After eleven years hunting mushrooms, eight of those since I built up the confidence to actually eat some of what I found, yesterday I had my first bite of poison mushroom. It put me in the emergency room.

Boletus sensibilis

I was shown no revelations about how all life on earth is intimately connected in a profound but delicate web (though of course I knew this already). I did not see David Bowie. For four and a half hours I felt completely normal. Then, over three hours, my body voided the entire contents of my digestive system between brief stints of shivering on the bathroom floor. Then I sat in a hospital bed for three hours with a saline drip in my arm while a series of medical professionals asked me, “WHY?”

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The LCRW 33 Interviews: Giselle Leeb

July 29th, 2015

Giselle Leeb’s stories have appeared in Bare Fiction, Mslexia, Riptide, and other publications. She grew up in South Africa and now lives in Nottingham, UK, where she works as a web developer when she is not writing. giselleleeb.cielo.net @gisellekleeb.

Giselle Leeb

“Ape Songs” is a story about a buried girl and a mechanical ape. My mother, who does not generally read SF but is a smart lady, was savvy enough to call it a mix of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. I thought it was one of the weirder and more challenging stories I received; every time I read it I get something different out of it, and I’ve read it a lot. I find it blackly hilarious, though not without hope. But let’s find out what the author thinks.

What inspired you to write this piece?

GL: I was free writing about the environment and found myself writing, firstly, about the girl character in my story, and then, much later, about the Ape of the Earth. The Ape of the Earth had a certain momentum and I wove the stories together. I often write to themes, but only if they spark something off. Humanity’s relationship with the earth is something I think about every day and it naturally came out in the writing.

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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.

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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.

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