An interview with A.E. Copenhaver, author of MY DAYS OF DARK GREEN EUPHORIA

We are delighted to announce the publication of 2019 Siskiyou Prize winner A.E. Copenhaver’s novel My Days of Dark Green Euphoria. This satirical novel is “captivating” (Robin Raven), “ a madcap adventure” (Carol J. Adams) and “very funny” (Alex Lockwood). Click here for more about the book and for purchase options … and read on for more about the author!

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book, and how long did it take you to write it? 

A: I was in San Luis Obispo with friends and family, and the idea shot into my head so fast I had to walk outside to write the idea down as a note in my phone. 

As soon as the idea was written down—something like “thirtysomething woman struggles with eco-anxiety and seeks solace and comfort in her boyfriend’s mother”—I started writing (in the evenings after work and during lunch) what I thought would be a short story. 

I shared the short story with one of my best friends, fellow writer, poet, and editor-in-chief of Neon Mariposa Magazine, Marisa Silva-Dunbar. Marisa watched my short story draft balloon from 5,000 words to 10,000 to 20,000, and before I knew it, I was writing a novel. 

Once Marisa and I decided this was going to be a novel, I took two weeks to get an outline together. Once the outline was complete, I wrote 90,000 words in just under 90 days. 

My routine involved taking an hour lunch break from work to write about 500 words. I would get home from work and do my usual home routine, and then spend another hour to 90 minutes writing an additional 500-1,500 words. 

Q: What inspired the setting? 

A: The setting of the book was inspired by many weekends spent visiting and exploring San Francisco’s plant-based eateries and restaurants. Throughout those trips, I’d harvest details and ideas from people watching. Sometimes I would see someone walk by on the street and think, wow, that person could be Cara. Or Renée. Or Dan. There were a lot of Dans in San Francisco. 

Q: What are the tensions that Cara is experiencing that make this book so timely?

A: Cara is trying to balance the addictive lure of consumerism as a solution to all our problems with the ever-advancing destruction of the natural world. One the one hand, it’s very easy to participate in some “retail therapy,” as it has been called, but for someone like Cara, she can’t not see and feel all the greater externalities associated with that consumerism. She wants to participate in the human experience, but she wants to do so in a way that does not infringe on the existence of others—trouble is, nearly everything we do in this global capitalist society impacts and affects others, and often in profoundly damaging ways.

Q: What are some of the solutions that this novel explores for combating climate- and eco-anxiety?

A: Toward the end of the novel, Cara jokes about the magnitude of solutions we would need to put in place to survive and preserve humanity over the next 50 to100 years—dismantle the military industrial complex, abolish industrial animal agriculture, essentially halt any and all industries that commodify people, animals, and the living world. But Cara also realizes that we have to look within our own communities, build up and revitalize our own communities to become more connected, compassionate, and resilient. We see Cara coming to this conclusion toward the end of the novel when she happens upon a community children’s garden that she had never known existed. This moment in the novel is so important because it’s about looking around our own towns and asking ourselves: How can I get involved; how can I contribute in my own way? Cara is in no condition to contribute much, given her mental state at the end of the novel, but she’s getting around to it. And, importantly, Cara begins to realize that contributing to our communities in our own special way is exactly what the world needs right now, and if we choose to put ourselves out there and get involved, even if it’s helping kids learn how to water plants and care for vegetables in a community garden, we will begin to feel better within ourselves, and we might even find what we’ve been seeking all along, all while fortifying our communities against greater upset.

Q: Throughout the novel, Cara mentions, sees, hears, or learns about the plight of many different animals. Is there one moment with an animal that stands out as most significant?

A: Working at an animal rights and environmental nonprofit, Cara is exposed to some of the most graphic instances of violence perpetrated against animals. In one scene where she is learning how to interpret and catalog graphic undercover footage from a slaughterhouse investigation, Cara does have a chance to see how our society distinguishes types of abuse against animals, namely, the abuse that is seen as necessary to make more efficient the process of raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption. And that scene shows how these so-called “necessary” forms of abuse enable and perpetuate other types of abuse that the same industry would call egregious or even “violations” of animal welfare protocols. That’s an interesting distinction to make, and I hope that scene accomplishes that goal of showing that all abuse by humans, whether it’s considered legal or not, is a form of violence and is unacceptable from the animals’ point of view. 

One scene about two-thirds through the novel shows Cara witnessing someone eating a fish. Cara uses her grief for this individual fish in that moment to scale up this single fish’s suffering to invoke the trillions of fishes forcibly removed from the sea every year to meet global demand for seafood.

Q: This book tackles serious subjects—such as the climate crisis and the many other ways in which the planet is in peril—and yet its tone is lighter than these subjects imply, and it has so many hilarious moments. Why did you choose satire as a way to portray the issues in this novel, and how did you achieve the right balance? 

My first experience with satire was reading Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal in grade school and feeling totally thrilled—I thought, “Wow, is this even…allowed? How is he allowed to write this?” I was hooked from then on. I absolutely loved the concept of using absurdity to parody atrocity, which then places our actual behaviors into stark relief—so that what we believe to be normal (maybe it’s eating animals or using people as a means to create commodities, whatever)—suddenly seems outrageous. There’s something magical and satisfying in that formula.

I also grew up reading the satirical newspaper The Onion with my family. I remember one Onion headline in particular that has inspired me: “We raise all our beef humanely on open pasture and then we hang them upside down and slash their throats.” To me this headline (and the ensuing article) is pure poetry. The writers lay out all the horrific realities taking place in slaughterhouses right alongside all the humane-washed, green-washed, cruelty-free rhetoric that is pervasive in the meat industry—whether that’s a small family farm or a concentrated animal feeding operation killing thousands of animals every day. It’s up there as one of the most depraved spectacles I think we humans have ever allowed ourselves not only to tolerate but also to advocate for. As Dr. Melanie Joy explains in her book Carnism, we’re raised to see killing and eating animals by the billions as “natural, necessary, and normal.”

And I won’t know for sure if I achieved the right balance—I hope readers will tell me their thoughts!

Q: What do you hope readers come away with after reading this novel? 

A: First, I hope they enjoy it. I hope they close the book and think, I’m glad I spent this time with these characters, even if it wasn’t always to laugh with them but at them. That’s OK by me. And then I hope readers feel a tiny seed planted somewhere in their psyches. I hope they hear Cara sometimes, not complaining about the state of the world but talking quietly in her calmer moments about possibility, creativity, and what we can do when we work together. I hope it’s fairly obvious that Cara sees much of the healing our world needs coming from a dramatic shift in the way we treat each other, how we see animals, and how we exist within our living world. And readers making more compassionate, community-building choices in their own lives, taking good care of themselves and others, are results that both Cara and I would enjoy seeing.