Eco-Fiction and the Emerging Writer


As an educator, I work with a lot of students emerging as writers. Most of these students are moving through undergraduate and graduate courses and finding their path through storytelling. In the last few years I’ve worked with more and more writers in the genre of speculative fiction, particularly in the genre of fantasy. Students are emerging in a culture of immersion into video games, graphic novels, video games, books, role playing games, cosplay, and other elements. It makes sense that the concept of world building is an important vision for fantasy writers. With these trends, we see writers take on these genres because of their experience, passion, and ability to write alternative experience. A few weeks ago I read an article about fiction around nature, the concept of eco-fiction. And while I wasn’t surprised by this genre distinction, it related back to the emerging writers I work with and thought, why aren’t they writing about this. 
Eco-fiction is a branch of literature that is nature oriented (non-human) or environment-oriented where the impact of humans are the central tenet of the story. Not surprising that it emerged in the 1970’s environmentalist vision of the world that hearld in Earth Day and other important values around conservation and natural preservation. It makes sense that a book like Overstory by Richard Powers is a high profile title with the vision of eco-fiction at its core. 
This makes sense as a crossover genre for writers who have worked in the realms of fantasy, to move into the concept of eco-fiction. Typically, fantasy writers are really good at creating hybrid characters or concepts for their stories. Fantasy writers are really skilled at showing irony and societal change through a slightly different lens. In our time of environmental concern and activism, the emergence of eco-fiction as a speculative tool, a social activist tool, and a near future vision makes sense. I don’t think all fantasy writers should be writing eco-fiction, but it is clear that so many of the skills honed in fantasy could transfer into the world of eco-fiction. In the preface to Where the Wild Books Are: a field guide to eco-fiction, Jim Dwyer mentions, “Dana Stabenow, for example, is an Alaskan Inuit ecofeminist author who has written both mysteries and science fiction.” It is clear nature and ecology as a mode to represent storytelling is diverse. When you think about the poetry of Mary Oliver and her natural vision of the world, Annie Dillard’s vision of nature brings poetry and essay creativity and vision into the view of literary and the general reading public. He defines in his preface that eco-fiction covers the focus of Lawrence Buell — that “non-human environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history. The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest. Human accountability to the environment is part of the text’s ethical orientation. Some of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text” Some of the elements that we would think about in terms of an alternative universe is growing. Dystopian and natural cataclysm has been an emerging vision from a variety of writers, but because of the emerging prevalence in the studies of how we are affecting the environment, literature is moving along with those trends. While Overstory is a great example, the eco-muder mystery Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize in 2018. 
Being a storyteller or a novelist is about defining the world you write in. It is clear that the escape and visionary worlds of fantasy are important to emerging writers. Diversifying the skills of writers to work in a variety of themes, different modes (plays, poetry, novels), genres, and other professional writing opportunities. This gives writers a dynamic and visionary approach to their own work, their own ideas, and the possibility of having their work appear in a variety of different ways. That starts when we realize how valuable and skilled writers can be and make small adjustments and changes to the way they see the world.  
As we consider what we read and what we are interested in writing, it is important to trace the emergence of genres that are moving to the forefront of our bookstores, our bestseller lists, and into our conscious reading habits. In the end, it may not be what we thought we would write, but it is what is important now. Check out reading lists of eco-fiction and read a few. And then think about how those ideas fit into your vision of writing, thinking, and creating. 
 
Further Reading

Pride of Eden by Taylor Brown / Book Review

What happens when environmental activism and the passion of a group of outsiders come together? Taylor Brown explores this idea in his book Pride of Eden, as we move closer and closer to the cataclysm that is our natural disaster. It is clear that not only is this a political and social issue, but is now finding its way into fiction. And no one is better suited to take on this task then Taylor Brown and his visionary style that merges melodious prose with the stark reality of our natural calamity. This novel examines the extremes of protecting apex predators and the people who live on the edge to save them. Wrought in stunning vision of the natural world and the tainted reality that has oppressed the great animals that are now prey to poachers, land development, the black market, and hunting fanatics. 

Anse Caulfield is a retired racehorse jockey and Vietnam veteran who rescues exotic big cats, elephants, and other animals to bring them to his wildlife sanctuary Little Eden on the Georgia coast. When his prized lion escapes and meets a tragic end, Anse becomes obsessed with filling the void in his life. He is joined by other outcasts and animal activists. Malaya, a former solider who spent time in Africa hunting poachers, comes to the sanctuary with a vision of helping Anse fulfill his dream. A few others join the team, a veterinarian and a falcon expert spend time in this strangely idyllic and sometimes frightening world. Among the great lions, ancient crocodiles and other exotic animals, it is clear that the sanctuary is the only place for these souls to comprehend what is happening and what they can do for these animals. Each of these well developed characters has a primordial sense of the world that they are trying to restore. They see the world through the eyes of their rescued animals. For some it is means taking care of these rare and exotic creatures. For some, it is a more extreme vision. As this team begin to rescue animals, it is clear that they are moving into dangerous territory. 

Taylor Brown has created a visionary sense of a decaying natural world where the apex predators have been cast into sideshows and trinkets for collectors. This band of outsiders, with no place to go but to sanctuary are the vanguard of something lost in a culture that has turned its back on the natural world. Brown uses language to slip between the reality of teeth and claw – to a lost past where the natural apex creatures were mythical apparitions that are all but gone. Moving Brown’s tension filled prose to mythical vistas, this book is very hard to put down. As we herald in an era of environmental extremism, this novel speaks to the men and women who are on the front lines willing to save these beautiful and dangerous animals at any cost. To pull this off Brown has created memorable and deeply moving characters.
Brown’s previous novel, Gods of Howl Mountain remains one of my personal top picks last year. Pride of Eden is another epic novel that draws you into the fears and hopes of people living on the edge of the world. Once again Brown proves that this is a great place to tell compelling and visionary stories. 

Pride of Eden: A Novel
Taylor Brown
St. Martin’s Publishing Group
288 Pages
ISBN 9781250203816
Available March 2020

Review for Gods of Howl Mountain


Ron Samul is an award winning author and educator. His novel The Staff is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.