Wednesday, March 20, 2019

An interview with Arizona writer Gabriel Schivone, conducted by Dan Bloom for The Cli-Fi Report

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Schivone

A brief introduction to the author:

Gabriel Schivone is a writer from Tucson, Arizona. He’s currently a 2018-
2019 Literary Fellow in the Haury program at the University of Arizona.
The first 10 pages of Schivone’s graphic novel, ''Into the Sun,'' (currently under
construction) were published in ''The Florida Review'' in October 2018.

Dan Bloom: ''How did the book come about?''

Gabriel Schivone: ''The idea for the book really came from an existential crisis I
had after reading the findings of a study in the journal, Nature
Climate Change
that found that, if global warming continues
unabated, wet-bulb temperatures in areas around the Arabian Gulf,
by the year 2100 C.E. [Common Era], will exceed our bodies’ biological cooling and
venting capacities.''

''It was a devastating, depressing thing for me to read. I remember
slumping around for a whole week afterward, deeply disturbed.
The constant thought plaguing my mind was, “What will become
of my home—what will my beloved birthplace in the Sonoran
Desert—be like?''

DB: Was the book commissioned? If so, explain the
commissioning process. Did it come with a stipend or
honorarium payment for your time and work — and also with funds to
pay the illustrator? [Who is she, by the way, and how did you
two meet up? Can you tell us the back story.]

GS: So many questions! I’ll try to answer them all at once. I’m thrilled
to write in multiple genres. In addition to literary fiction and now
graphic fiction, I had the honor of writing a forthcoming
nonfiction book, for which linguist and social critic Noam
wrote the forward, exploring how decades of belligerent
U.S. foreign policy in Central America created much of the
modern migration through tremendous violence and displacement.

Taking note, the University of Arizona’s Agnese Nelms Haury
Program for Environment and Social Justice
liked how I merge
nonfiction and graphic fiction, so they gave me a “Changemaker
Award”—amounting to a literary fellowship with an office on the
campus—which came with a large pot of funding to pay for both
research and living costs.

I’m blessed to have found illustrator Anna Wieszczyk on an online global art
community forum called We’ve never met in
person, or even over Skype. We communicate entirely over email; I
send her the script and she sends back full-color pages. An
amazing thing about Anna’s craft is that, in a creative industry with
intricate divisions of labor, she does the work of several people.
It’s unheard of in the comic book world each person or more does
the pencils, inking, coloring, and lettering—but Anna does
everything herself!

My funding allowed us to both get paid for our
work while we create.

DB: Why did you choose the title you did and did you have any
alternative titles in mind that you didn't use?

GS: For me, it was always ''Into the Sun.'' I don’t recall batting around
other possible titles.

I look at it this way: There’s lots of Sun-oriented symbolism in my
story. In our current world the Sun is the giver of life but in the
climate-destroyed world of my story, the Sun’s rays are poisonous
and deleterious. The Sun is to humans what sunlight is to vampires
in vampire lore. In my story, the Sun, like a wrathful God in the
Old Testament, taketh life away with a vengeance.

It’s also a double entendre because my teenage protagonist,
Scorius, is thought of by his matriarchal village elder, his mother,
as the family’s chance at a decent survival. On top of the
environmental cesspit the world has become, peasants like Scorius
and his community live in a ravaged land of warlords and their
roving private security gangs; and the wealthy landowners who
exploit poor villages like Scorius’s through debt peonage. There’s a
system dead-set against these wretched non-people, leaving little
chance at a decent survival. As a person with albinism (commonly
referred to as albinos), to his community Scorius resembles the
“pale northerners” at the tip of the world (modern Scandinavia),
which is Earth’s last patch of livable ecosystem. So, as the village
reasons, if he can survive the long, global journey, he can blend in
without suspicion, access the economic prosperity rumored to
exist there, and send home much-needed financial remittances.

So, the village elders put their faith into the son, Scorius. But it
comes at a price. Because to Scorius it seems his village is sending
him to his death, since plenty of young men leave the village for
the north lands but never return. Scorius can’t help feeling some
cynicism about his predicament, too, after some of his community
viewed him, through his rare skin pigment, as a bad omen or a

So, as I see it, there could be no other title. Remember
Shakespeare’s war-riling speech in Henry V includes the phrase
“into the breach”? I also think of an old magical realist film I saw
as a child called ''Into the West'' about two Irish boys from a broken
home who dream of being cowboys when they a magical white
horse. Or the film, ''Into the Wild'' comes to mind, about a young man
who trades in all his ties to civilization, including cutting off his
family, for a new life in the Alaskan wilderness.

There’s something adventurous of starting a title with
“into”—there’s a cadence of that title and the image provoked by
that key operative word or phrase that follows, isn’t there? There’s
forward movement, an implication of braving an unknown of
some sort. These are all thematic for what I was going for in my
story and why, for me, ''Into the Sun,'' captures it perfectly.

DB: You are describing your book as a graphic work of  ''Climate
and using the nickname of “Cli-Fa” or “Cli-Fan” as
a short nickname, and maybe as a hashtag, too. Is there
already a genre called ''Climate Fantasy'' or are you the first
do pursue this under this term?  There's SF or Sci-Fi, and
SFF (Sci-Fi-Fantasy) and Cli-Fi and other genres, so how do
you hope Climate Fantasy will be perceived and accepted in
the literary world?

GS: First of all, of course, you won’t praise yourself, so I’ll do it, by
pointing out your influential role in developing Climate Fiction or

I recently started using “climate fantasy” because it seemed like the
only thing I could think of to accurately fit my story into genre
form. To me, using current climate science to imagine a climate-
destroyed world that we can still work to prevent, for the benefit
of the species — indeed to avoid extinction — is the conceit that
drives my work.

Since most climate fiction (or cli-fi) stories are set in the present
day or near future, I see an opening for urgent kind of stories that
look far into the future. This cautionary Sci-Fi/Fantasy tradition
goes back to H.G. Wells — and even before with Jules Verne, Mary
Shelley, and others. I think the same kind of framework is urgently
needed with regard to climate change because current climate
science reports that have been coming out now for years often use
their scientific models projected to the year 2100, like the Nature
Climate Change
study that used a climate simulation model. The
doomful scenarios they project are horrifying. I think our job, as
artists and writers, is to weave stories for popular audiences that
depict a number of dystopic, post-apocalyptic settings of a climate-
destroyed Earth to show humanity — indeed remind and challenge
humanity — a possible future of wreck and ruin that we can still

For me, that requires a whole new genre, or at least a subgenre that
will need a new name. I don’t know if I invented the term ''Climate
Fantasy'' or not; all I know is that it works precisely to describe
what I’m going for in my writing.

To be clear, I recognize that cli-fi, as a genre, welcomes these types
of stories also, but the conventions to emerge perhaps have
hampered the development of this particular direction of far-off
stories set in a climate-destroyed world.

Notable exceptions at the forefront of this new genre include novels in the last few years like New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2017), The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2015), Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead, 2016), American War by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, 2017), Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco, 2018), and The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Holiday House, 2010).

I’m thankful for your guidance that has inspired a dialectical
creativity, bending and shaping “cli-fa” or “cli-fan” to coin a
literary direction that hasn’t emerged but, in my view, is sorely

DB: Talk about the story! How did you pin down the story and
how did it come to you? In a dream? from your earlier
reading? from chats with friends? from chats with your
academic advisors?

GS: I got the setting first by asking a series of “what if” questions.
“What if, because of global warming, 100 years in the future (or
less) the sun’s rays were a noxious poison? What would people do?
How would they survive?

What if, due to rising sea tides, there was no more California
(certainly no more Florida) and, now, Arizona was the coastal
United States? Two thirds of the country’s population are densely
packed just 100 miles or less around the U.S. borders. With rising
sea tides, that all will be gone. So what then? We’re going to see
massive inland migration, relocation, eventual abandonment of
whole cities.

Then from that universe, I crafted layers of and elements to the
plot. The story became a rolling stone from there, grabbing up
ideas as I rolled with it, adding dramatic situation and narrative

DB: How did the genesis of the story, and this day and age of the
Anthropocene, fit in with all the news now in the media
about the IPCC report [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, created by the United Nations] and the global kids' school strike
for climAte and their many rallies and marches on climate led
by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg?

GS: Young people as are the heroes of my story fits well with youth
being the heroes right now, spearheading efforts to save the
species from extinction—because, make no mistake, without
exaggeration, the survival of humanity is what’s at stake. There’s
no other time in human history that is as important, and perilous,
as this.

First, kids are the future. The Sunrise Movement is a breath of
fresh air in increasingly noxious times. You mentioned news in the
media. I’m relieved every time I see more coverage, but I’m
concerned about what we don’t see in the media. Remember, in
2016, major U.S. broadcast networks devoted all of 50 minutes to
climate change over the entire year! In 2018, those broadcast
networks mentioned climate change only once in their two-week
span of 127 news segments covering the devastating heatwave in
the U.S. that summer (ranked the fourth-hottest on record).

In recent years, some 19 percent of Americans were hearing
climate change discussed by someone they know even just once
per month. 28 percent never even hear climate change discussed at
all by anyone they know.

But, as magazine journalist David Wallace-Wells, author of a new important
book, The Inhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, points out, things
are changing. Despite the major media’s longstanding failure to
cover climate change and the lack of discussion, a Yale study finds
that 70 percent of Americans not only believe climate change is
real, the same percentage of people are concerned about it. It’s not
enough to know and be concerned, however. Action is needed.

Movement on the issue is where these kids are far ahead of so
many adults who are complacent with equanimity in face of the
problem—indeed, they are part of the problem. Kids are taking
climate science to whole new levels that are now reaching policy
discussion for the first time, with the Green New Deal.

In the nonfiction world, author Todd Miller is doing cutting edge
work connecting borders and homeland security to climate change
(which some people justly refer to as a misnomer—insisting,
rightly, that we should be talking about “climate chaos” or “climate
breakdown,” as British climate columnist George Monbiot frames it).

DB: And anything else you want to say about where you hope this
new genre will go and get talked about in literary magazines
and academic papers, etc.?

GS: Just that I hope other writers will join me more and more to reach
younger audiences and future ones whose lives are in our hands.
This month (March 2019), Goodreads just released 2019 “Spring’s
Big Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books” and none of them even approaches
taking up a climate scenario. Look for the word “climate” and it’s
not there. This is the most important, fateful question in human
history: the survival of the species. There’s no other issue that
comes close. It’s impossible to overstate.

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