This interview was conducted and edited by Ashland Creek Press intern Rachel Harris.
Q: What inspired you to write this story? Were the crow’s gifts inspired by a true incident?
A: I often write about the lives of animals, and I’m especially interested in writing stories in which animals are portrayed as themselves, not as metaphors or representations of humans, but as unique, complex, and authentic individuals, just like the human characters we find in stories.
For every story I write, my inspiration seems to arrive unexpectedly. I have a rich imagination, and I often have great ideas for stories, but I need something more to begin writing, some creative spark that seems to light up the part of my brain that sees in story. Once that spark ignites, the start of a story will emerge, either as an event, or a character, or even perhaps a bit of dialogue. This particular story was inspired by my imagining of a mysterious and fascinating but unknowable woman, based on someone I saw one day when I was riding the subway. This character was the doorway into the story for me.
The story was also inspired by a true incident, based on a young girl in Seattle who received and saved small treasures from a gift-giving crow. I was fascinated when I read about all the items she had received, and honestly, a bit jealous. I have had many times in my life when I have been profoundly touched by a moment of connection with another creature, and I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have this type of relationship with a crow.
A final bit of inspiration was an unfinished short story that I started to write many years ago, about a woman who wakes up after a surgery to discover that she has received a heart transplant from a pig against her wishes, and who begins to feel the consciousness of that animal within her.
Q: What was your writing process?
A: My writing process for both short stories and novels is quite similar. I don’t ever start writing until I have a starting point, some idea or image or thought that has triggered my imagination. I tend to write in a flow state, letting my creativity take over, rather than with any structured or plot-driven method of writing. I don’t really have a clear idea of where the story is going. I tend to write in short bursts, and then when I’m away from my writing desk, I can’t help thinking about the story, and imagining the next place that it will go, so when I do sit down to write again, I’m already spilling over with inspiration.
Q: What research did you do for this story?
A: I do a lot of research as I write, usually as a question comes up. I like to write in a very detailed way, so I am often looking for really concise and factual information about people, places, and animals, but sometimes my research might simply be looking for images that inspire me, or the meaning of a name that I’m considering for a character, or a synonym to freshen up my writing. For this particular story, I spent time reading several news articles about Gabi Mann, the young girl who collected her crow-gifts; I also spent time reading about crows in general, about their complex behaviors and intelligence. They are such fascinating creatures.
Q: The idea of humans surviving by relying on animal parts is powerful. What ideas do you hope the story conveys about such procedures and medicine in general?
A: In this particular story, one character has a bioprosthetic heart valve from a pig. The use of animals in research and medicine is something that has had a tremendous impact on me. During my time at veterinary school, I was exposed to the use of animals as teaching tools for procedures and surgery, and as disposable commodities for medical research. It was horrific, but it also inspired me to become an activist, to think deeply about medical ethics, to learn more, and to speak out about these atrocities.
Our capabilities and ingenuity when it comes to medical interventions have moved into a place that appears limitless, and it seems to me that some essential questions that should have been answered have been overlooked. Just because we, as a species, can do something, doesn’t mean we should do it. The essential problem that I return to, again and again, is the oppression of those who are less valued, or less powerful, in our society, whether that be animals, or women, or children, or people of color. In regard to the use of animal parts in medical procedures, a wider lens is needed. We already know that animals have few or no rights, and that we, as a society, have endorsed the use of their bodies for whatever needs and wants we desire, with little or no regard to the suffering or loss of life of those animals, whether eating their body parts, wearing their body parts, or using their body parts to treat human disease and illness. To address this issue, we need to go deeper. Consider Michele Goodwin’s book Black Markets: The Supply and Demand of Body Parts for a glimpse into the unethical and corrupt global underworld that exists in relationship to the use of human body parts, and we see the privileged benefiting at the expense of those who are poor, racialized, incarcerated, disadvantaged, vulnerable. The system is corrupt, not just when it comes to animals.
But let me try to answer this question more directly, rather than so broadly and tangentially. When I first started writing about animals, over twenty years ago, I wrote a series of personal essays about my experience in veterinary school, and my experience as a lesbian, a feminist, and a mother, and about how those identities intersected with my animal rights politics and my veganism. The essays were very heartfelt, but too didactic. I was trying too hard. What a joy it has been for me to turn to writing fiction, and to let go of the idea of having to say something in particular. What I mean by that is that I don’t have any moral or message in mind as I sit down to write my stories; in this particular story, I didn’t have the hope that my story would convey any certain idea about the use of humans relying on animal parts, I was just interested in exploring some aspect of what that experience might be like for this particular character. Certainly, my ideas and beliefs about animals—my anger about how animals are viewed and treated in our society, my emotional affinity for animals, my passion for writing about animals authentically, my veganism, my animal rights politics—are infused in my stories, but that’s not what my stories are about. Often, the theme or essential message in my story is unclear to me as I write, and actually, sometimes hidden from me even afterwards.
Q: A patient with heart disease recently made the news after receiving the first ever transplanted pig heart. What is your reaction to this news, and how do you think this scientific breakthrough will affect how people relate to animals?
A: Humans are filled with complexities and contradictions. I’m sure this scientific breakthrough will be like any other—some will question it, some will be indifferent to it, some will celebrate it, some will abhor it. I was nineteen in 1984 when Baby Fae made the news. She was an infant, one of the first ever to receive a heart transplant. She received the heart of a baboon and died within a month of the procedure. I remember how horrified I was back then, thinking about Baby Fae, feeling like some essential wrongness had happened. I feel the same about this story, a deep distress about how we have ended up here, as a species. How can this be the answer to the suffering of illness, the suffering of aging, the suffering of dying that is an undeniable part of the human experience? I recently read about a survey of doctors, which indicated the majority of them would not choose the life-saving interventions they recommend and perform for their dying patients. This is just a small example of the disconnect between the systems we have created and our own humanity. I wish we could all stop, and really see what is happening in the world around us, how corrupt and harmful and unsustainable our civilization has become, how much trauma both individually and collectively is being inflicted, and ultimately, how each of us can find a way to refuse to participate in the exploitation and oppression of other living beings, in whatever small ways we can.
Q: Which writers inspire you the most?
A: Oh, there are so many writers who have inspired me! I will first say that I am inspired by all types of creativity, and am fascinated by how stories of all kinds, whether it is the story a sculpture tells or the story a comic strip tells, bring so much meaning to the human experience; we are a storytelling animal. But it is fiction that inspires me the most, novels especially, because I so admire the interplay between imagination and creativity required to write one, and I love how deep truths are revealed in a slantwise way through story. And, having written three novels, I appreciate and admire the commitment!
I am very drawn to works of fiction that create an authentic otherworld experience of the animals that share the world with us, and I love writers who break my heart wide open when it comes to animals. Barbara Gowdy’s novel The White Bone, which immerses the reader into an incredibly vivid and authentic world of elephants, written with such lyrical language, complexity, and depth, comes to mind as an artistic work that has inspired me immensely. Brooke Bolander’s novella, The Only Harmless Great Thing, was incredibly unique. It stretched me as a reader, and consequently as a writer; it was a novel that took risks and explored unique points of view; it inhabited uncharted territory for me. A few others: Eva Hornung, for her novel Dog Boy, which I just recently reread; Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Deb Olin Unferth for Barn 8.
I am also deeply inspired by several authors who write for children, including E. B. White, Astrid Lindgren, and Tove Jansson. I adore all of their stories, for their playfulness, their imagination, the rich themes they write about, the timelessness of their stories, the nonhuman creatures that inhabit their worlds, and the respect they have for young readers.
Finally, although I have only spoken about fiction authors I admire, I must name Carol J. Adams as a writer who has been an immense inspiration. I read her book The Sexual Politics of Meat many years ago, and it changed how I saw the world and informed my identity as a vegan and a feminist. I so admire her writing, her politics, and her activism.
Nadja Lubiw-Hazard’s story, “The Art of Dying,” appears in Among Animals 3. Nadja is a Toronto-based writer and veterinarian. She is the author of the novel The Nap-Away Motel; her short stories have been published in Understorey, Room, Canthius, The Dalhousie Review, Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and more. She is winner of the 2021 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. Nadja is a lifelong animal lover and longtime vegan. (www.nmlhazard.com)