I’m sitting on my porch in the summer warmth, working on my writing outside until the sunlight and warmth makes it uncomfortable to be outside any longer. Not that much writing has been going on until now, because I’ve been digesting and organizing my notes from this summer’s Fishtrap Gathering of Writers.
Fishtrap is just that kind of writer’s conference. The organization’s overarching theme is “promoting clear thinking and good writing in and about the West.” To that end there are workshops—the good writing portion—and then keynotes and addresses and afternoon discussions—the promoting clear thinking portion. It’s not a Fishtrap without both elements—and this year, the two portions came together quite smoothly—even for, or perhaps, this year, especially for, a science fiction and fantasy writer.
This year’s theme was “Living Upstream,” and the particular workshop I chose was “Write for Change, Live Upstream,” taught by Laura Pritchett. The “Living Upstream” theme ended up focusing not only on environmental issues but the intersection of environmental issues and social justice. The thematic portion flowed into daily discussions with other attendees simply because of issues they were struggling with in the themes they chose to write about—whether it was the current cli-fi apocalypse I’m rewriting to other writers’ subjects, including novels about white supremacists and racism in Oregon.
Not that the whole thing was full of doom, gloom, and despair. If anything, the focus was on empowerment, whether we heard about Tim Z. Hernandez’s search for the names of 28 Mexican deportees killed in a plane crash in 1948 while being sent back to Mexico in All They Will Call You, to Kathleen Dean Moore, Kim Stafford, and Gary Ferguson exhorting writers to think about the interdependence of systems, how we celebrate a dying world, realizing the connection between environmental degradation and social injustice, the blindness of privilege and how to repair it, and accepting our role as word warriors.
Speaking of word warriors, let me tell you about Tim Z. Hernandez, because if you’ve not read him yet, you should be. He initially resisted the lure of All They Will Call You, because he had already written about the 40s and didn’t want to be known as someone who only writes about that period. But as time passed, he realized that he was the one to do the work, to find those names so they could be placed on the mass grave for the deportees (while the white people killed were found and bodies sent to their homes). He tried to talk to the families, but only found three (or was it four?) by publication, then a few more to bring the total to seven. At the end of his kick-ass presentation, he brought us all to tears by reading the names of the deportees killed in the crash and having the audience repeat “Presente” for each name. I bought the book and devoured it, and I tell you, you need to read it. Even though it is set in the 1948s, his account of how some of those people killed in the crash made the decision to come to the US for bracero work is heart-rending—and still relevant today. The search for the names, the histories of those who died—it’s all that and more.
I’m still processing what I learned and discussed there. I left the workshop with poems, essays, and story ideas—and a deeper understanding of what I need to do with Beating the Apocalypse. Sometimes we need to look beyond genre to focus on that clear thinking and good writing…and this year was one of those moments when it all came together.
Even for this speculative fiction writer.