Giselle Leeb interviews Michel J. de Luca about guest editing Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 33. The theme is humanity’s relationship with the earth.
About the issue
“LCRW #33 approaches its theme of humanity’s relationship with the earth with a little humor, a touch of horror, and seventeen different kinds of understanding. Includes multiple award winner Sofia Samatar, Nebula and Shirley Jackson award nominee Carmen Maria Machado, and World Fantasy Award nominee Christopher Brown among others.”
About Michael J. DeLuca
Michael was born in Boston and now lives in Southeast Michigan, where he spends too much time permaculturing over his lawn. His fiction has appeared in Interfictions, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Apex and is forthcoming from Mythic Delirium and Escape Pod. He also co-operates Weightless Books, an indie ebook site, with Gavin J. Grant. LCRW #33 is his first try at editing. Read more about Michael and his publications on his blog, The Mossy Skull
When you asked for submissions on the theme of humanity’s relationship with the earth, you said, “I hope we can squeeze some optimism in there, a little practicality.” Did you get what you hoped for and did the submissions change your opinions?
What I expected and what I got were completely divergent in a lot of ways, which was great. I was a little afraid I wouldn’t get enough to fill the issue, that people just weren’t thinking along these lines, at least beyond the few writers I knew of. So that certainly changed my opinion about the breadth and diversity of perspectives on the issue. I did get some wish-fulfilment, some escapism–things like benevolent aliens showing up to take over government of the earth and fix our problems for us–but I was able to steer away from those. I also got a surprising number of stories about women turning into trees; I don’t know what that says, something bubbling up in our collective unconscious, or just a theme waiting for an editor?
I asked specifically for optimism because I expected the opposite: I perceive a surplus of dystopianism not just on this theme but in the field in general. It’s easy to look at the world and be bitter about how thoughtlessly we’ve treated each other and our home for so long. It’s harder to find and focus on the promising threads. But the experience of reading for this issue has convinced me it can and should be done, and whether it is or not has nothing to do with what makes a great story.
Practicality–I could have wished for a little more of that in terms of nuts-and-bolts, near-future solutions. But that’s hard; it requires technical knowledge and experience as well as a way to integrate that into the story you’re telling. What I did get, and something I think we all need to learn just as much, is practicality on a personal level, the ability to cope and survive with the challenges you’ve been given.
As a writer, what was it like being on ‘the other side’, selecting and editing stories?
I had read submissions for LCRW in the past and also for Strange Horizons, so I’d had that part of the experience before–and it’s enlightening. Your eye gets very much more discerning. I found it crystallized for me certain tools of storytelling I really like and others I don’t, and also to a degree changed what I like, after seeing certain things so much I burned out on them. And it does burn you out, make you jaded. I wouldn’t recommend reading submissions in too much volume over too much time.
Reading for this particular issue, with a theme dear to my heart, was eye-opening in a different way because it exposed me to all these people trying to do something with fiction I had been trying hard to do, and it helped me see what worked and what didn’t. Didacticism isn’t easy in fiction; some would say it shouldn’t be done at all. I still wouldn’t go that far, but this experience has pushed me more in that direction. Story has to come first: character and emotion. Otherwise nobody is going to care.
I was surprised how personal the selection process felt. I have absolutely no call to take any credit for any of the work I accepted for the issue, yet I want to. In many ways, picking these 17 pieces out of the more than 200 that came in, arranging them and getting them ready for print carried all the emotional weight and reward of the creative act, of how it feels to work on my own writing. And now I root for these writers almost like they’re my children.
Is the environment a recurring theme in your own writing?
I think it always has been, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the story. I’ve loved and cared about every living thing that isn’t human since I was a kid. Stories, of course, are about people. Even if your main characters are an ant and a grasshopper, it’s a story about people. Narrative is a human institution, maybe the quintessential human institution: it’s how we all operate, moment to moment. Because of that, I think, there’s a degree to which we can’t look at nature–at what isn’t human–and not see ourselves. But we’re a product of nature. It made us, it sustains us. So if narrative is about people, it’s about nature too. I think about that a lot as I’m writing.
What is your opinion on humanity’s relationship with the earth? Are you optimistic about the future?
After reading all those submissions, my view of humanity’s relationship with the earth is anything but monolithic. There are people with practically no relationship to the earth whatsoever; they forget it’s there, too busy looking at their phones, too privileged, too distanced from want, for it to occur to them to be grateful. And there are people on the exact opposite end of the spectrum: there’s an island in the Indian Sea whose residents live the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of 40,000 years ago and kill any modern humans who approach. And there’s every single imaginable lifestyle in between. The question is one of balance; which way are we tipping, and how fast?
I can’t say I’m optimistic, but I’m not despairing either. I see ways I can improve my own relationship with the earth and influence others to do the same, I try to come up with more. And I pay attention to the world around me, not just social media and TV and the guy across the street with his gas-powered leafblower, but the bees in the flowers, the birds, the way the wind blows.