The LCRW 33 Interviews: Giselle Leeb

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

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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LCRW 33 Contents

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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.

The Cairn War

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.

Progressive Fiction

(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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