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Take a free online class at the University of Iowa: The Story of Place

You can’t find a better deal than this — a free online class from the International Writing Program (the IWP) at the University of Iowa: Stories of Place: Writing and the Natural World.

You as participants will work with some of the many possible types of creative non-fiction, ranging from essays, science journalism, travel narratives, and speculative portrayals of the natural future. And as writers you will work with ways to portray truth and fact, whether it involves telling stories about the local, the global, the invisible, the beautiful, or the uncertain.

The course content includes writers who are both native and non-native English speakers, and we welcome those of you who are working on your own English language skills. Reading and listening to writers from a variety of backgrounds, and locating your own voice and experience through the writing of stories are strong language practice techniques.

Learn more and register.

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Looking for a new ecolit book to read? Here are 20 from which to choose…

I’m happy to be participating on a unique promotion, organized by Margi Prideaux, that showcases 20 environmentally themed eBooks on Instafreebie.

And, yes, these book are free to download. All you have to do is sign up for the author’s email list.

To see the full list of books, click here.

The promotion goes from today until June 15th.

And I think I speak for all authors by saying that if you enjoy the book we welcome your reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. These reviews really do matter — and not just to our egos.

 

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Upcoming writer and artist opportunities at PLAYA

PLAYA, a creative residency program in Summer Lake, Oregon, is organizing two exciting artist+scientist opportunities for next year:

Confluence of Creative Inquiry: Climate Change Communication Residency
July 3-4, 2017

Art + Science and the Cultural Terrain
July 17-August 11, 2017

For more information on how to participate, click here.

And, of course, PLAYA is also accepting general artist residency applications for 2017.

PS: PLAYA is a generous sponsor of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature.

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Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, readers!

Today, we’re celebrating the launch of Cassie Premo Steele’s book Earth Joy Writing, a wonderful guide for reconnecting with our planet through writing prompts, meditations, and other exercises in creativity.

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Click here to read an excerpt of Earth Joy Writing, and visit the Earth Joy Writing website to learn about Cassie’s book tour and to download audio recordings of the meditations and readings from the book.

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We hope you have a lovely Earth Day, in whatever way you’re celebrating the planet and its creatures today.

 

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The Greening of Literature

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A week ago I traveled to Seattle to participate at the AWP Conference and Bookfair — the world’s largest gathering of writers and writing programs. Ashland Creek Press hosted a booth, and a number of our authors attended for panels and book signings. We also met editors at the environmental journals Newfound, Flyway, Catamaran, and Terrain.

With more than 12,000 writers at the conference, it was a crazy few days. Perhaps in part due to its Seattle location, a strong environmental theme ran throughout the conference, and I was pleased to see so many people at the “Greening of Literature” panel that I moderated with writers Ann Pancake, JoeAnn Hart, Mindy Mejia, and Gretchen Primack.

I only wish I could have recorded this session because each writer offered outstanding advice and inspiration for any writer pursuing eco-fiction or eco-poetry. I frantically took notes during the presentations. Below are a few nuggets that I was able to capture.

JoeAnn Hart is the author of Float and Addled. She posted her AWP talk on her blog and I highly recommend reading it in full. Here are a few passages that stuck with me:

As John Clancy said, the difference between reality and fiction, is that fiction has to make sense. So when I started Float, I began reading about marine plastics, which turned out to be not just unsightly, immortal, and deadly to sea animals, but toxic to humans as well. As the writing continued, my interest in the health of the oceans expanded. I read about dead zones, overfishing, bottom-trawling, acidification, and the opportunistic appetite of the jellyfish. I learned a lot about the sea, but much of it was pretty dry. Pages and pages of one damn fact after another. No racy scenes, no humor. No plot, no narrative, no characters. No Pauline tied to the train tracks. It was informative, but not particularly engaging. Intellectually, I was concerned; emotionally, I was on the outside looking in. Cerebral writing has a cerebral effect. Academic papers and straight journalism cannot convey human suffering; they can only calculate or report it.

But most readers don’t want to hear about populations; they want a specific person. Not the planet, but a particular place in a moment of time.

And…

As writers, our most sustainable energy source is creativity, and we should use it freely. Literature teaches us to notice, to care, and to create meaning.

Gretchen Primack is a poet and author of Kind and Doris’ Red Spaces. Gretchen made clear that any writer aiming to write about the environment cannot overlook the animal industries. The pollution generated by these industries far outweigh the impact of cars — so we would make a much greater impact if we all simply stopped eating animal products.

Gretchen read Love This from Kind. Many of Gretchen’s poems take the perspective of the animals — and this is not pleasant place to be. It’s horrifying to see the world through a dairy cow’s eyes, to see your offspring yanked away from you immediately after giving birth, over and over again.

When asked how she could stay upbeat while writing such challenging poetry, Gretchen said that the writing process actually helped her, as she felt engaged and able to make a difference. And I think this is a key takeaway for any writer tackling difficult issues. It’s easy to get depressed when you see and learn horrible things, but by remembering that you’re putting your talents to work to help make a bad situation less bad, you can at least know you’re making an impact.

Gretchen also talked about a word that I find is too frequently used to distance us from animals — anthropomorphism. She asks: What if we, what the planet, erred on the side of having too much compassion for animals? Would that be a bad thing? And how much better would this planet be if we did just that?

Ann Pancake is the author of Strange as This Weather Has Been, a novel about mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Ann  told us about her extensive research, which included newspapers (there were no books out yet on this issue), interviews with residents of the regions, time spent living in the region, and research at the state archives. She then let all this information “compost” for a period of time before she began writing. I love her compost metaphor because it drives home how important research is but also how this information often doesn’t make it into the writing directly, if it all. That is, Ann was clear in emphasizing how she often had to leave out information she wanted to mention when she realized that it would have come across as didactic — something writers of eco-fiction must strive to avoid.

She also provided tips about how to get a message in more subtle ways, such as relying on a child narrator. But she emphasized that you must prioritize your art above politics. That is, the story and the characters are most important — that the message will emerge through them, and not vice versa.

Mindy Mejia is the author of The Dragon Keeper. Mindy said that she didn’t set out to write an environmental work initially. She was simply writing a love story — a story about a zoologist and her relationship with a Komodo dragon — and that everyone loves a good love story. I couldn’t agree more!

Mindy talked about how she spoke to a classroom of students about her book and how they responded to fiction vs. nonfiction. What was interesting was how they had trusted her to get the science right — and this is a key lesson to any writer: The reader is placing faith in you, the writer, to not only tell a great story but to get the science right.

A bright future for eco-fiction and eco-poetry

I didn’t expect to leave Seattle feeling more energized than when I arrived, but that’s exactly how I felt — because I realized there are so many writers out there who are passionate about eco-literature. Based on the conversations, the readings, the number of people who dropped by our booth, I am optimistic about the future.

PS: I have to mention a nearby restaurant that I frequented while we were in Seattle: Veggie Grill. This place is all vegan, and I challenge any omnivore to eat here and not come away impressed. It’s one of many plant-based restaurants that prove that adopting a vegan diet is not about deprivation but about delicious, sustainable,  environmentally friendly food.

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Happy New Year from EcoLit Books

Happy new year, readers and writers! We are looking forward to a new year of eco-literature and already have a great lineup of new reviews coming soon.

For all of you who live in the Seattle area or who are attending AWP, we’d love to see you at our eco-lit panel on Saturday, March 1, at 12 noon: The Greening of Literature: Eco-fiction and poetry to enlighten and inspire. The panel will be moderated by John Yunker, who will be joined by eco-minded authors, essayists, and poets: JoeAnn Hart, Mindy Mejia, Ann Pancake, and Gretchen Primack. Authors on this panel discuss how their ecologically themed fiction and poetry engages readers in powerful ways that nonfiction can’t. Panelists discuss writing in these emerging sub-genres as well as their readers’ responses, and offer tips for writing about the environment in ways that are galvanizing and instructive without sacrificing creativity to polemics. Click here for full conference details.

If you’d like to start 2014 with a sample of Ashland Creek Press eco-lit, check out our newly updated Eco-Fiction Sampler.

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Wishing you a happy new year of reading!

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