I am excited to host John Yunker today. John is the author of the novel The Tourist Trail, and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press, a publishing house devoted to eco-fiction.
Since I am an author of eco-fiction, I was excited to discover John and his work. While writing on environmental themes is hardly a new phenomenon, John is bringing greater attention to this particular niche of literature while increasing opportunities for eco-writers.
John, thanks for joining us.
To start, in your own words, could you explain what exactly eco-fiction includes?
Eco-fiction includes short stories and novels, and it uses the power of imagined narrative to raise awareness of environmental and animal rights issues and, ultimately, to inspire change.
Why did you decide to start Ashland Creek Press?
My wife Midge Raymond and I have experience in publishing, both as writers as well as in various roles within publishing houses. We’re also both passionate about animal rights and the environment.
A few years ago I had an agent for my novel – an eco-thriller called The Tourist Trail. The agent was unable to find a home for it at a major publisher, in part because it was a challenging book to sell. After all, there’s no “eco-fiction” category in bookstores or on Amazon. Not yet, at least.
So I decided to self-publish, and the process of publishing The Tourist Trail made both Midge and me realize that there had to be other writers facing similar challenges. So we started Ashland Creek Press. We aim to draw attention to this field of writing – which crosses many genres – and help writers find readers, and vice versa.
A hundred years ago, the heroes of literature were the explorers. Today, I believe the heroes are protectors – of animals and of the planet.
In our correspondence, you’ve described feeling “optimistic about literature’s role in helping us navigate and cope with the environmental issues we all face.” Can literature, and especially fiction, really make a difference?
Environmentally speaking, these are dark times we live in. Nonfiction books have a role to play in telling us what’s wrong and how to fix it. But novels have the power to inspire, to imagine a better world, and to redefine what it means to be a heroic character. A hundred years ago, the heroes of literature were the explorers. Today, I believe the heroes are protectors – of animals and of the planet. It’s often said that fiction reflects culture, but it also can influence culture.
My own book is eco-themed but heavy on humor. Given the current state of environmental affairs, and the many challenges facing our planet, are you focused on serious eco-fiction or do you see a role for lighter works as well?
Humor has an essential role in eco-literature. That’s not say these issues are inherently funny but that humor, used effectively, can open people’s eyes to more serious issues. The Monkey Wrench Gang, one of the great early eco-thrillers, used humor to great effect. We published JoeAnn Hart’s novel Float earlier this year – it deals with plastics in the oceans with a satirical eye. Satire is an excellent device for delivering sober themes without losing your readers.
Does Ashland Creek Press have any exciting releases you’d like to tell my readers about?
We have two forthcoming books that I’d love to mention. The first is Among Animals, an anthology of contemporary short fiction. Coming in February 2014, this is a very unique collection of works that reflect and redefine the relationships between humans and animals.
In the summer of 2014 we’ll be publishing a novel about an unlikely romance between a carnivore and a vegetarian. It’s called The Green and the Red and is by the French author Armand Chauvel and translated by Elisabeth Lyman. French publishers have not (yet) embraced this book so we are thrilled to be introducing it to the world first in English.
Name some of your favorite eco-fiction classics.
Not surprisingly, the eco-fiction books we’ve published make onto my favorites list.
Also at the top of my list would be Moby-Dick. This book has been interpreted to mean many different things, but I feel the book portended the collapse of not only of the whaling industry but of fishing stocks in general. It signaled an alarm about our habit of treating our oceans as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I’m particularly drawn to works that connect animal rights with the environment, and I have to admit there are few books that do this. I used to prioritize one animal species over others – wanting to save the bald eagle, for example, while still eating meat. Today, I view all animals equally. And I believe the way we treat our animals is intrinsically related to the health of our planet.
The writer J.M. Coetzee deals with animal rights issues in a number of his books, such as Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello. And the first third of The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy is heartbreaking portrayal of our dysfunctional relationship with wolves.
As a child, the books that most stuck with me were Watership Down, The Rats of NIMH, and My Side of the Mountain. So perhaps I was destined to be doing what I’m doing now.
There is also a growing Goodreads list of eco-fiction works here: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/582.Eco_Fiction
Thank you, John. We look forward to seeing what comes next for Ashland Creek Press and from your own pen!