Andrea Pawley interviews Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet guest editor Michael J. DeLuca:
Q: The theme of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue 33 is humanity’s relationship with the earth. When you became the issue’s guest editor, did you anticipate you’d get story submissions from the likes of Sofia Samatar and Carmen Maria Machado?
DeLuca: As a matter of fact, I asked them specifically! Along with a handful of others, though those are the only two I solicited whose work appears in the issue. Which is a bit of a cheat, I admit. One of the reasons I love LCRW is how it has been a showcase for new writers. But I felt an imperative to hedge my bets a little, given that it’s a theme issue, and I am not a known brilliant editor like Gavin and Kelly.
Q: LCRW 33 is filled with female perspectives and a strong undercurrent of feminism. What connections do you see between the two and the future in the age of the anthropocene?
DeLuca: Insofar as there is feminism in the issue — and there absolutely is, and I’m very happy that’s the case — I take no credit for it. I’m as feminist as I think any financially solvent white cis American male can reasonably be expected to be, which is to say not as much as I’d like to be or should be. Women’s voices have been and are institutionally tuned out and devalued as much by the literary establishment as everywhere else. But I really didn’t have to make much conscious effort in that direction for the issue to come out the way it did. I solicited work from some amazing women, and I tried to make clear in the submission call that I was interested in points of view other than my own. But for whatever reason, an overwhelming proportion of the submissions came from women. And I don’t really have an explanation for it. Do women have a stronger relationship with the earth than men? Creative women in particular? I could speculate fancifully about Gaea and the sacred feminine, but I fear I’d be wading in too deep.
I’m not a feminist scholar; I’m married to one, but I only manage to osmose so much. What I think I can say is that the future of the anthropocene has to involve a reevaluating and breaking down of traditional narratives of all stripes. And that absolutely must depend upon empowering women to reshape those narratives. The massive, deleterious effect humanity’s trajectory is having on the earth is the direct result of established, patriarchal modes of thought: the capitalist notion of progress, just to name one. And the people best situated to recognize and question those modes of thought are not the people currently situated to benefit from them, but rather the people they hurt: women, minorities, the disenfranchised, the poor.
Q: If you could make the majority of the world do one thing to benefit the future of the planet, what would it be?
I’m a little wary of wish-fulfillment: anything I say is going to be something that could never really happen in a million years. But okay, in the name of speculative fiction, I’ll speculate.
What if everybody, everywhere, tomorrow, stopped using fossil fuels? There’d be enormous fallout. Economic collapse. Just in terms of food distribution — everything’s globalized, my fruit comes from Chile, my walnuts from California. We’d be forced into an incredibly rapid, drastic period of readjustment. Communities would change overnight. A lot of people would starve. A lot of people would have to relearn how to grow their own food. But in the long run — and I don’t think it would be that long, really, a generation let’s say — I think we’d bounce back, and the world would be so much better for it. We’d have learned a lesson. And meanwhile, the whole rest of the world would have bounced back too: forests, watersheds, animal populations, even the ocean.
But can I actually wish for that, knowing the hardship it would cause? Only in fiction.
Q: What do you see as the future of Solarpunk?
I’m curious about that. It’s a very new idea, new enough I hesitate to even call it a movement. Applied broadly, I think it’s a great idea and I really hope it catches on. In other words, if it’s not really so heavily solar-focused, but is used more as a blanket term for all kinds of speculation, technological and otherwise, about where we could go, all taken in a spirit of optimism and play, that could really be amazing. If you think about it as an answer to cyberpunk rather than or not quite so much as steampunk: cyberpunk actually spawned a lot of real advances; it changed the world more rapidly than maybe any other movement in fiction ever has. But it was, for the most part, cynical. And with good reason. Those advances are all pretty amazing: cryptography, mobile technology, virtual currency, social networking. But they’ve led us to some dark places. If solarpunk starts and grows from a place of progressivism and hope — who knows.
Q: What/who are some of your environmental influences?
How about this? In chronological order by how I encountered them:
1. My family. Camping, hiking, hunting, biking, berry picking, swimming, canoeing, fishing, gardening. Predictable, but it’s how we all learn, or don’t learn, to value the natural world.
2. Thornton W. Burgess, a children’s writer of animal stories from Cape Cod. His animals are anthropomorphized to a great degree, but they also keep to their natural routines and in so doing taught me a lot.
3. Ms. Howland, my middle school English teacher. She introduced me to the greenhouse effect, global warming, extinction, pollution, habitat loss, suburban sprawl, all these concepts of modern conservationism. She also taught me how to edit a story.
4. Henry David Thoreau. “Thoreau” was one of my nicknames in high school. He’s blindly optimistic about some things, very narrow in his views about others — he’s a privileged, classically educated white guy from 19th-century New England, after all. But his prose never fails to blow me away, and his observations of the natural world and human nature and the relationship between them are incredibly perceptive and eye-opening even today.
5. . . . Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, John Muir, Carlos Castaneda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ray Bradbury, John Crowley, Robert Frost, Kurt Vonnegut, Jon Krakauer, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Paul Stamets, Benjamin Parzybok, Paolo Bacigalupi, Rachel Carson, Mircea Eliade, Werner Herzog, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Dodd, Karen Russell, Karen Joy Fowler. . . .
Note the absurd overbalance of white men. This is my fault, and not because men have or deserve any kind of monopoly on ecological writing or thought. And it’s something I’m trying to correct.
Q: You’re a writer, too. How did that influence what stories you selected for this issue?
Being a writer probably makes me harder to please. Purely idea-based SF doesn’t do it for me anymore, I’ve seen too much of it. Plot-driven fiction has gotten old for me. Likewise, writing that relies on prose fireworks to get away with lack of depth. Because it’s LCRW, there was a certain amount of stylistic consideration that went into my choices — it’s very easy for me at this point, having read many submissions for Gavin and Kelly over many years and also having been a big fan of the final product, to identify an LCRW story. But really, the biggest deciding factor wasn’t about whether it was weird enough or LCRW enough, but just whether it was a good story, whether I got caught up in it, cared about the people in it and felt like it all meant something at the end. To a certain degree, someone who knows how to write and understands the tools of storytelling will be affected in a different way by a story than someone who isn’t in it for the craft. But I think, I hope, a lot of it is universal: the tools for appreciating a good story are written in our bones, right next to the instructions for how to eat and sleep and die and procreate.
Michael J. DeLuca is a fernlike, woody perennial native to the Eastern US, found on hilltops and in woodland clearings from Massachusetts to Michigan. Leaves astringent; strongly tannic; used in teas, to flavor ales and as an aromatic smudge. Flowers late summer in cylindrical catkins. Recent fiction in Ideomancer, Phobos, Betwixt. Tweets @michaeljdeluca.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet is An Occasional Outburst, an arrow shot into the future, a harbinger. Edited since 1996 by Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link. LCRW contributors include many writers whose names you may know and many more whose name you may not — and that there finding and reading unfamiliar voices is one of the joys of existence. Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet is available DRM-free in single issues or in a wide range of subscription options, which may or may not include chocolate.