Brenda Cooper

A Year Without a Winter

I’m really excited to share some news. If you read my newsletter, you heard this story.  If you don’t, and you want new stories about once a month, you can sign up here.

Here’s my news…..I finished my first-ever work as a fiction editor. This project, the anthology A Year Without a Winter, was full of adventure and lessons.

Back when I was working on my MFA, I had to do a big project.My choices were “do a fun project” or “write a paper.” Project sounded like more fun. I decided to edit an anthology.

I made some queries, lined up writers, found an experienced editor to work with, and then he and I tried to sell our idea to publishers.

Crickets.

So I gave up on that project, and started calling people I knew and asking for help. This worked. The writing business is peculiar  – it’s a rhythm of rejection and happiness. You do your work, and you occasionally get an unexpected reward.

Some of you may remember that I had a story in the optimistic science fiction anthology Hieroglyph, which was a Neal Stephenson project co-edited by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn. I’d only met Ed a few times, but I liked him. He runs the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, and he said he had a project for me.

I said great.

Little did I know that I would have a two-year journey that ended up doing me little good toward my MFA, but taught me life lessons.

Ed paired me with his able senior assistant Joey Eschrich, and we set off to find four writers who might like to visit ASU, chat with climate scientists, join a slumber party in a concrete relic in the desert, and then write stories about the experience.

This was not as easy as it sounds.

We managed to round up four utterly awesome writers: Tobias Buckell, Nancy Kress, Nnedi Okorafor, and Vandana Singh. I knew Toby and Nancy, but had barely met Nnedi or Vandana. I knew – and admired — all of their work.

The writers, editors, and friends at Arcosanti

We had four writers. We also had four editors. So the four editors spent months planning an event for the four writers.

When we all got together, Climate scientists regaled us with uncomfortable facts. I had no idea that the ocean could lose enough oxygen to do real damage. The move to clean power was doable if we abandoned fossil fuel fast. Etc.

Dehlia Hannah, the primary curator of this whole concept, linked the idea of a climate-change driven “Year without a Winter” to the “Year without a Summer” two hundred years ago, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

We drove for hours to Arcosanti, which is an elegantly weird community in the high desert in Arizona. There, we read to each other, met many more spiders than I felt like meeting, saw marvelous stars and views, broke into a kitchen for early coffee, and played a fun card game about the future.

All this to set up for the four stories.

Which are excellent.

I’m really proud that I had any part in them at all.

They are – or will be — available separately.

  • Nancy Kress’s “Cost of Doing Business” explores an unusual political and scientific solution to climate change, championed by a charismatic and ethically ambiguous billionaire. It will appear in Asimov’s Science Fictionin the next few months.
  • Tobias Buckell’s “A World to Die For” is a ripping yarn, a reality-bending thriller that uses real climate science to give us a new way to see how bad things really could become. It is out now, in the January 2018 issue of Clarkesworld.
  • Nnedi Okorafor’s “Mother of Invention” draws on folklore, botany research, and machine learning to consider the unique challenges posed by climate change in a rural community in Nigeria. It will be published digitally in February 2018, on Slate magazine’s Future Tense channel.
  • Vandana Singh’s “Widdam,” is in the January/February 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

But wait! There’s more. Joey and I edited the fiction, with help from Cynthia Selin, the Director of the Center for Study of Futures at ASU. There’s also non-fiction, art, and more collected together into a beautiful academic volume. The book will be out from Columbia Press in May of 2018. But you can pre-order it now. The fiction alone is worth it, but the whole package is even better.

If this all sounds more academic than my usual pursuits, well, remember that it was rooted in my MFA. And by the way, I did have to write a paper after all.

Things I learned:

    • Wrangling writers is tough. Wrangling academics is as bad.
    • There is weird money in academia. This can pay for cool things.
    • I am a good content editor. I kinda fail at line editing (Joey kept finding things I missed – and in fact, I sent this newsletter to him and he found things I missed).
    • Editing takes a long time.
    • Editing provides a bit of pride in ownership. I’m proud of all of the writers and their stories.

If you want to learn more, here’s a link to an interview with me and Joey and Vandana about the project.