“When the Snowshoe Hare Turns White” is free to read at Nightmare

My flash fiction story “When the Snowshoe Hare Turns White” is now up and free to read at Nightmare Magazine. I’m thrilled to have a story in such an exciting venue that has published so many stories I love.

When I was asked to write a little background to this story, I wrote about my personal connection to the story’s contents, about childhood fears of the ice, having grown up with the incredible privilege to have a lake in my backyard, but also with the responsibility to be a witness as that ecosystem changed over the decades I called that place my home. I wrote:

I grew up at the southern edge of Ontario’s “near north,” and as winters got warmer and shorter, we’d hear stories of people going through the ice. As a kid, I worried about losing family members that way. This story is a response to the loss of northern ecosystems to climate change and how that loss is reshaping families who live in and love the cold.

My experience with northern ecosystem loss is really quite limited — I know only one specific near-north lake ecosystem intimately. I moved away from the edge of the north to go to university and never returned. But northern Ontario remains a fascination and a place that still sits deep in my heart. When some North Americans talk about how “we’ll be okay,” how we’ll be shielded from the worst effects of climate change because our cold climate can heat up without causing too much discomfort, I want to scream. This statement demonstrates such incredible ignorance and short-sightedness. This perspective discounts how we are all connected, how others will suffer and die and our lives will be irrevocably changed by the suffering of others around us. It also discounts the importance of snow and ice to northern cultures who have every right to preserve and practice those cultures. I encourage everyone to read Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s The Right to be Cold to learn more about life in the north and the changes already experienced there due to climate change.

“You Cannot Return to the Burning Glade” is out at Reckoning

My short story about love, loss, and learning to live in a climate changed world is now free to read on the Reckoning website.

I wrote this story for a Codex flash fiction contest last year, but it really was a matter of several obsessions coming together at once. I’d been reading a lot about the Australian wildfires and the efforts of wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators to save those creatures that could be saved, and of course always thinking about Canada’s own wildfire season (in the west and the north and increasingly closer to places I know and love). Living in a woods halfway up the Niagara escarpment, I do sometimes think about the abundance of dead ash trees (all of them dead now due to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation) and how my house is at least partially made of wood.

Then, one day, I was walking a little used trail near my house and found a dismembered deer leg in a tree. After that so many of the tree branches around me looked like bones and the forest took on a different tone. But it was still the forest that I loved.

I’ve been delighted with the reception this story has gotten so far. Reviewer extraordinaire, Maria Haskins, reviewed it in her Short Fiction Treasures Quarterly Short Fiction Roundup at Strange Horizons. I thought she cut to the core of the story (as well as the other lovely stories she mentions) when she, referring to the Death theme of the roundup, wrote “stories about death are also, usually, very much about life.”

“In a Village Without Dogs” Out in Fusion Fragment 4

Cover of Fusion Fragment 4

My first story published in 2021 is “In a Village Without Dogs,” a story I wrote shortly after I wrote “Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo” when I was researching family history, the history of discrimination against Romany people living in the UK, and experiences of Romany diaspora.

Cavan Terrill, the Publisher and EiC of Fusion Fragment, put some insightful interview questions to me, to be printed after the story in the issue. Because I am forever long-winded about writing, I went on too long and some of my answers were not ultimately printed in the issue. As such, I’m going to publish them here by way of talking about this story, which features a generation ship on which members of the Romany diaspora come together to try to decide whether they should answer a distress call from Earth.

Fusion Fragment Interview with Eileen Gunnell Lee

1. The question Erosabel asks—how do you go forward?—when she’s referencing the saying you used for the title, that seems to be the central question of the story. If you could dream for your characters for a moment, how do you imagine they move forward?

I did leave my characters in quite a fraught situation: Erosabel has lived through a harrowing ancestral-dream-experience in stasis and has woken after having her children taken from her to find that her partner Vashti has gone a bit mad from guilt and solitude. On top of that, Earth’s ecosystems have totally collapsed. I think the realization that Erosabel makes in the final line of the story is the beginning of regrowth for them. For generations the vitsas have been (rightly, to a degree) focused on Earth-side cultures as the enemy, and there has been strength for them in positioning themselves as completely separate from those cultures. But to avoid thinking about how each vitsa has taken their traumas onboard the exile ship, and how that has shaped them beyond anger results in some short-sightedness. When Erosabel realizes that Earth and its people are gone and that the fear remains, I have to believe that is the beginning of rehabilitation for her, for Vashti, and the others. They are truly on their own now. And confronting the fear and trauma that remains without further outside influence from Earth will revolutionize their social structures and their focus as a space-faring society. That act of confrontation will result in a catharsis that will become a turning toward, a movement of individual and collective solidarity. Erosabel’s deep love of Vashti, of her fellow Romanichal, of the ecosystem she has painstakingly maintained aboard the Chakra, will be an opening for her and will be nourishment for a great Romani flourishing.

2. You’ve mentioned to me that you come, distantly, from a Romani background. What was important to you about telling a Romani story?

My background is complicated, as many people’s backgrounds are. But my family is linked to South Asian diaspora, even on the side of my family that identifies as white. I started investigating the Romani link after the death of a beloved aunt, my last connection to my father who passed almost two decades ago. This story, as well as another of mine that was published by Escape Pod in 2017, is the result of researching Romani culture in the UK. My great-grandmother was a Romani woman who married a gadjo (that is, a non-Romani man) and left her vitsa in London. I never met her, nor my grandmother. But my grandmother was such a character; we have a lot of family stories about her tremendous strength, her quirky humour, and her deep and lasting love for my grandfather. I’ve flattened several generations into single characters in this story, but that was what I wanted to capture: the strength and ingenuity of Romani women and their descendents in the face of instability and oppression. Romani women are much maligned, experiencing the double oppression of race and gender, often even by their own people. But a strong feminist movement emerged among the Roma in Spain in the 1990s and has gained popularity, working toward gender equality while upholding the right to preserve cultural traditions, the right to be different, to refuse assimilation. As someone from a South Asian family that took up British traditions, assimilations of various kinds is something I’m preoccupied with and revisit often in my stories. Writing a story that is about resisting assimilation and confronting the pressures of assimilation and its individual and systemic effects was an intensely personal exploration.

3. What are you working on next?

Since the first pandemic lockdown I’ve been working from home and spending a lot of time exploring my neighbourhood, which is a semi-rural development between the city, conservation areas, and naturalized pipeline corridors. This focus has influenced my writing as I increasingly take inspiration from the ecological encroachments of invasive species, and the brutality of nature in these squeezed spaces. Along those lines, I’m picking away at an eco-horror novel which explores how climate change could influence my immediate escarpment ecosystem and how that might affect people’s relationships within those spaces. I’m also working on a short story collection. As for Stelliform Press, we have exciting climate fiction releases planned for 2021: a science fiction novella called The Impossible Resurrection of Grief by Octavia Cade, and our first novel, After the Dragons, from debut author Cynthia Zhang. I can promise you adorable and fierce dragons and resurrected thylacines and I’m very excited about that.

Check out Fusion Fragment 4 and buy and/or download the issue here.

Eileen Gunnell Lee’s Awards Eligibility 2020

My list of publications this year includes only two short stories, but they’re stories that I’m proud of, stories that I think signify further development as writer. These stories are admittedly dark and preoccupied with injustice. But they also show a fascination with moments of tenderness and how those moments buoy us through the otherwise drowning darkness.

June 2020
“A Dry River Runs with Blood” in Selene Quarterly 3.1
Category: Short Story
Genre: Dark Fantasy

Published in a speculative romance mag, this dark fantasy story focuses on a relationship between a woman and a river god during a time of drought. Both parties take solace in the other in their vulnerability, but also they also take advantage. Survival demands it.

In this story I expand upon the idea of seduction, widening the concept beyond the bounds of love or sex to include moral seduction. The human woman protagonist must decide what she will accept of the gifts the river god offers and whether these gifts that ensure her survival in the drought are proffering another kind of death.

Download an ebook of Selene Quarterly 3.1, which includes “A Dry River Runs with Blood” and many other great stories.

November 2020
“The Wolf Boys of Wide River County” at
Little Blue Marble
Category: Short Story
Genre: Science Fiction

“The Wolf Boys of Wide River County” is another drought story. This one draws some ecological concepts from the Lamar Valley wolf experiment in Yellowstone National Park. In this experiment, it was discovered that the presence of wolves, who control the movement of the area’s herbivores through predation, can alter the shape and strength of rivers and wetlands and thus the presence of certain kinds of plants.

In “Wolf Boys” the mayor of a drought-stricken border town — and a hybrid tree woman — reluctantly invites a raucous gang of motorcycle-riding genetically spliced wolves to take care of her herbivore problem, though she knows re-establishing balance in this way will sully her reputation.

Read “The Wolf Boys of Wide River County” here.

2020 Publications as Selena Middleton, Publisher and Editor of Stelliform Press

Stelliform Press released its first two titles in 2020, and I had the honour of helping to bring two amazing novellas into the world. I hope you will also consider these books for award nomination. Small press climate fiction is increasingly needed in both publishing and cultural environments.

September 2020
Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern
Category: Novella
Genre: Horror

Sim Kern’s novella, Depart, Depart!, is a climate change ghost story with a trans protagonist and a cast of queer characters. More than that, it’s climate fiction with depth and heart. It’s climate fiction that draws focus from crisis to community.

October 2020
Night Roll by Michael J. DeLuca
Category: Novella
Genre: Fantasy

Michael J. DeLuca’s novella, Night Roll, is a story that seamlessly blends fairy tale magic with the real, human, ground-level work involved in bringing a city back to life. The novellas characters care for each other and their city as they contend with the legacies of capitalism and colonization, and tend to their dreams for the future of their community.

Read more about these novellas on the Stelliform Press blog.

“The Wolf Boys of Wide River County” at Little Blue Marble

wolf wearing motorcycle helmet and goggles

A fantastic Canadian online magazine focusing on speculative climate fiction yesterday published my short story, “The Wolf Boys of Wide River County.” Like a lot of my shorts lately, this started off as a writing group flash contest story. Before I wrote this story, I’d never tried to write flash using a list structure.

As you can see from the story posted up on Little Blue Marble, I still have not successfully written a list story. The story is not a list. I ended up removing all the list elements and rewriting this one as a straight narrative because the list — a pub inventory — was just getting in the way.

Regardless of my initial failure to land an experimental structure, I really love this story. It’s got a Weird West kind of vibe, it’s furry, and queer, and it’s got characters with conflicting desires that make them confront each other in different ways. Most of all, it’s about the ways that restoring a balanced ecosystem might not seem entirely balanced and how restoration requires sacrifices of all kinds.

Finally, the aesthetics of this story were heavily influenced by the work of Meike Hakkaart (Art of Maquenda). Apart from the obvious wolf people, Hakkaart’s art is inspiring to me in the way it juxtaposes sex and death impulses the combination of which, I think, are especially relevant now at the beginning of the climate emergency. Plus, her art expresses a visceral connection between human, animal, and environment that feels incredibly powerful.

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments here or on Twitter.

“A Dry River Runs with Blood” in Selene Quarterly 3.1

Image

My first story published in some time is finally out in the world. Published by Aurelia Leo in the speculative romance magazine Selene Quarterly, “A Dry River Runs with Blood” is part horror, part fantasy, part climate fiction. It’s the story of a woman who makes a deal with a river god in order to survive a drought. Gods do not always understand the ways of mortal humans and my protagonist grapples with the consequences of the gifts he bestows upon her.

I was interviewed for this issue of Selene Quarterly, and publisher and editor Zelda Knight asked me what makes this story great. For me, one of the most compelling elements of this story is that it is a romance, a seduction — but not only in the most obvious way. The seduction is not only in the way that the protagonist interacts with the river god, but also in how she becomes accustomed to comfort and safety while the others around her bear the brunt of drought and food insecurity. That feeling of comfort shapes her. I won’t give more specifics about that lest I spoil the story, but I hope that readers will think about their own comforts and securities within the context of increasing climate change destabilizations.

It’s 2020 and the Site Finally Gets an Update

It’s been a rough few years story sales-wise. The few stories that I sold have yet to be published. I have learned that a sale sometimes doesn’t mean that readers will see the story any time soon.

But — but — I did finish and successfully defend my dissertation since I updated this site. It’s more obvious to me now that in my fallow fiction years I was busy getting that huge project done. It’s been over a year since I defended and I still can’t say for sure whether it was worth it. I went into the degree acknowledging my love of learning, my love of writing, and thinking that would be enough to get me through it. I don’t know now if that’s true — if that was enough. I don’t even know if I really did get through it. I certainly left a lot of myself behind and the dismemberment (if I can be a little dramatic here) was violent. The brutality of it was at least 90% the lack of communication between those who were supposed to be communicating with me and each other. The disappointed expectation that people functioning at such a high intellectual level would be clear and forthright.

It is my goal now, as I work with writers and their projects through Stelliform Press, that I am as clear as I can be, that I am open about both my timeline and my understanding of their work, that I am open to correction from those I’m working with, and that I honour their work with my best editorial eye at all times.

The Cicada Year

I’m pleased to announce that my short story, “The Cicada Year,” has been published by Bundoran Press in their anthology 49th Parallels: Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures.

In a response to Canada 150 (the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, for any non-Canadians who might read this), Bundoran Press put together a collection of stories and poems from across the country comprised of visions of Canada’s past and future.

scientific cicada illustration
Cicada illustration from: ’A monograph of oriental Cicadidæ’ By W.L. Distant

“The Cicada Year” came together at the axis of two intersecting narrative lines. The first was a story told to me by a friend, like so many stories we are hearing lately, of an aggressive professor pursuing a student—and how the ways in which women are taught to respond to such aggression (with politeness and deference usually) can trap one in a timeline over which one often feels little control.

Similarly, the second story line—about the effects of climate change and how narratives around climate change are being talked about for various political aims—is one about how attempts to control a narrative often lead to unintended consequences.

This is an early story of mine and the first in which I tried to ratchet up the tension for a thriller-like pace. I’m pleased it’s found a home with so many other great Canadian stories.

Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo Reader Reactions

As “Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo” is my first story in a professional publication and, therefore, first to receive a fairly wide readership, it is also my first story to garner reactions from people who are not friends and family. It’s very exciting to have strangers react to one’s work. It’s especially exciting when the emotions elicited are the ones intended.

Here are some reader reactions to the story so far. First, from the Escape Pod forums:

I loved this story!
The world of the story felt very real, and certain details really stuck with me. The fact that the vardos were supposedly secondhand, for example. The romani people were so mistreated that even in a fantasy of the best-case scenario, the government still skimped on the vardos, getting them cheaper and second-hand.

This one had a delayed reaction for me, the true horror didn’t hit me until later. Still not sure what was up with the children. Loved it all the same.

I almost didn’t listen to this story, because I assumed the title referred to the historical, 20th century Holocaust. The story is disturbing as much for what it omits as for what it tells about this kinder, gentler, campaign of extermination. How long have they been in their Matrix-style suspended animation/virtual reality at the Static? How many of the characters are real, and how many exist only in virtual reality? Are the children real? How did Peter get into the Romani women’s “world”?

From post comments:

Truly beautiful and haunting story.

From Twitter:

From Email:

Wow, my friend, that story is intense! I really enjoyed it! I’m still wrapping my head around it – deserves a re-read/re-listen.
Thank you to everyone who has read the story so far. I’m so pleased that readers seem to be both captivated and horrified by it.

“Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo” is out!

Today, my first fiction publication went live.

This story is a result of me putting in some real effort to learn more about my Romani grandmother. Because of how my brain works, these efforts produced a near-future dystopia.*

In “Love in the Vardo,” I attempted to tap into what little I know of the Gunnell/Lee line, which I think comes out in the details included about Shuri’s father, Anya’s sardonic humour, and Edingel Lee’s gentle authority. There is a lot of my family in this piece, though it is perhaps fairly well hidden to all but me.

Many hours of research went into Romani language and religious customs for this piece. For this I got a lot of information from essays in the book Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture—specifically from Dr. Ian Hancock’s contributions.

There are a few tropes I play with in this story—tropes which any Romani person would immediately recognize, but someone outside of the culture would probably accept as rote. The first (and probably most offensive) is the idea of the “dirty gypsy”. In the book We Are the Romani People, Ian Hancock writes about this trope. Even though hygiene is extremely important in Romani culture, often poverty and outright persecution resulted in reduced access to running water and other resources:

Given equal access to the normal amenities, we are a people who are fastidious about personal cleanliness and hygiene. The time spent in the concentration camps during the Porrajmos was unbearable for our people, as it is today in refugee centres, where little or no provision is made for maintaining strict hygiene or for preparing food in a ritually clean way.

Shuri’s memories of her father are very much rooted in memories of my own father. I grew up in a working class family, which meant that my father worked outside the house and also did a lot of his own maintenance and construction at home. My sister especially helped him with home renovations. I remember him being very eager to try to fix anything, sometimes more successfully than others. But, of course, he always washed up afterwards, just as Shuri’s father does.

Another trope in the story is that of the wandering gypsy—a person who just cannot settle down, must keep travelling, whose “home is the open road”. It is true that travelling is a part of Romani history, but the other side of this coin is that much travelling is done because of local legislation which results in evictions or being forced to keep moving through towns and cities. Other travelling is done to find work. The romantic idea of the restless soul is, in reality, overshadowed by practicalities. In this story, Shuri’s people keep moving in response to their former captivity.

This story was never meant to be an accurate depiction of the lives of present-day Roma—rather an extrapolation of future Romani culture after continuous fracturing akin to what many communities have already experienced. I do try to be true to present realities in my future conjectures.

If you do listen to it, let me know what you think.

*In the midst of my research for this story, I also read Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (1972) for the first time. To say I was quite taken with this story would probably be an understatement. It is definitely peeking through “Love in the Vardo”.