Burning Worlds is Amy Brady’s monthly column dedicated to examining trends in climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” in partnership with Yale Climate Connections. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter to get “Burning Worlds” and other writing about art and climate change delivered straight to your inbox.
On October 30th, media giant Amazon released a story collection from its own imprint, Amazon Original Stories, titled Warmer. This isn’t an anthology of little-known writers, however. It features literary giants such as Edan Lepucki (California), Lauren Groff (Florida), Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres), and others, all writing about one of the world’s most pressing issues–climate change.
Marketed as “cli-fi,” this collection spans a range of styles, which together bring to light just how varied the cli-fi genre has become. Some stories are set in the near future, others in the present. All of them brim with compassion, wit, and thoughtful musings on how climate change will alter our planet forever.
Edan Lepucki, who you might remember as having won big in the Amazon-Hatchett dispute in 2014, spoke to me about what drew her to this collection, her contribution “There’s No Place Like Home,” how she defines “cli-fi,” and why climate change has become one of the most important topics writers can tackle.
What drew you to this fascinating and timely project?
After California came out, I was often asked if I would write more speculative fiction–especially a sequel to that book. I never intended to write a sequel–or to have readers expect one!–and, honestly, after living in that novel’s post-apocalyptic world for three years, I didn’t want to go back in. It was cathartic to write California, but it was also a very dark place to be, and I needed a break. But since 2014, when that novel came out, the world has gotten even scarier, not only our political landscape, but our environmental one as well, and fictional responses to this reality have started to churn in my head once more. When Yael Goldstein Love, who edited Warmer, approached me about writing a story for the anthology, I knew I had to participate. As I wrote, fires were raging throughout California, and now they’re raging again. Communities still haven’t recovered from all the recent hurricanes, and not long before the collection was published, the UN’s climate change report was released. It’s dire, and the things it predicts are also becoming a mundane part of life; for my children, climate change will be a daily burden that can, at any moment, turn into tragedy. I wanted to express that feeling and explore how young people might navigate the world we’re leaving them.
The short story you wrote for this collection, “There’s No Place Like Home,” is also set in California. What about the state inspires you as a writer, and why is it such a rich setting for a work of climate fiction?
I’m from LA and except for stints in the Midwest for college and graduate school I’ve always lived in California. Los Angeles in particular speaks to my soul (which seems like a rightly LA kooky thing to say)! It’s a beautiful and strange city, at once wild and primped, with so much mystery that is just perfect for fiction. We’ve also got an ungodly stupid amount of sprawl. That makes for these little secret pockets of communities and neighborhoods that are a total delight to discover… but also put a real strain on the landscape and the environment. We run this city on lots of borrowed water and I can’t think about it too much or I will have a panic attack! So, yes, it’s a magical place, a paradise with a dark side, a glitter of mystery, and also danger. It doesn’t feel like this tightrope act can persist. It is getting warmer here, and the air feels apocalyptic on days like today, with fires everywhere. What else to write but climate fiction?
Climate fiction often draws from the tropes of sci-fi. But this collection features more realism, what some might call “literary” fiction. Given the genre’s many writing styles, how would you define climate fiction?
I don’t read much straight science fiction, so I’ll leave it to those who read it, and write it beautifully, to comment. I generally write realism because it’s what I’m most drawn to, as a reader. I think climate fiction isn’t exactly science fiction (or it isn’t anymore) because it’s the reality that we’re living today, and we can easily propel ourselves into a future where it’s the central problem of our existence. I’m not sure what my ‘official’ definition would be, though I’d venture to say it’s where the ravages to the environment affect the plot of the story, as well as its themes and characters. That, then, can be any genre!
What do you hope audiences take away from your story?
As with California, one thing I want people to remember is that our actions today will have consequences for future generations. I mean, of course, yes. But when we read about young people struggling in a desiccated future, it can hit closer; in “There’s No Place Like Home” Vic will never grow up. She literally cannot become a woman. That’s been stolen from her, because the world is dying.
I loved your protagonist Vic. Where did she come from?
Thank you! I enjoyed writing her and having her voice for a while. The story’s first line, “Daddy died in the sauna,” popped in my head when I was in a sauna in Iceland. I liked how it sounded, and I also wondered: who calls their dad, “Daddy?” And why did he die in the sauna? I can’t really tell you how else she appeared, but I can tell you that I wanted her to be tender but tough, smart but naïve, and to have longing in her, even now.
Do you think about climate change beyond what you write about in your fiction?
All the time. I think about it every time I eat beef, which I’m trying very hard to eat a whole lot less of. I think about my two kids and what their lives will be like as adults, if they will decide not to have children because of climate change, if they will move somewhere because of climate change, if they will…I can’t go there. I think about having a third child and wondering if that’s madness because, hey, things are not looking good on Earth! I think about the wars that will inevitably start when whole regions become inhospitable to humans. I can just spiral!
I will say that I also think about how a few key people will figure out how to make real money, big money, from solving the crisis. Because that’s what changes people’s minds, right? Money. I want to say I think about our government seeing the light and fighting for the planet, but I’ve grown pretty damn pessimistic on that front.
Any forthcoming projects you’d like our readers to know about?
Yes! When I’m not spiraling about climate change, I’m working!
I’m working on editing a book called Mothers Before, based on the Instagram I started; the book, like the Instagram, will be comprised of photos of women’s mothers before they became mothers, and there will be micro-essays to accompany the images. That’ll be out in 2020. I’m excited!
I am also co-host of a podcast called “Mom Rage,” which is dedicated to expanding the conversation about motherhood. Fellow writer Amelia Morris and I talk about our own struggles with parenthood and then we interview authors, experts, and fellow parents trying their best.
And…I’m working on a new novel, a family saga that takes place in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California. It’s also about…time travel!
FICTION – SHORT STORIES
Edited by Yael Goldstein Love
Amazon Original Stories
Published October 30, 2018
Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and the novels California and Woman No. 17. She created the popular Instagram “Mothers Before” and will edit a book inspired by the project, to be published by Abrams Press in 2020. She is also the co-host, with fellow writer Amelia Morris, of the podcast “Mom Rage.”
Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.
Fantastic interview, loved it