Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Marybeth Holleman

Marybeth Holleman’s essay “Other Nations” appears in Writing for Animals.

 

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: It’s become more challenging, and more interesting. The more I learn and experience the more-than-human world, the more I see the need, as a writer, to be a conduit for them — for my writing to speak for them, in some way. This became very clear to me following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. This was a terrible industrial disaster that took thousands of wild lives, threatened generations more, and permanently degraded a huge swath of coastal wilderness. I witnessed the way humanity considered this disaster as compared to a disaster in which it was human lives that were lost. I realized then that the best I could do was try to give voice to these nonhuman lives, as best I can and in full awareness of the filters I carry as a human.

It’s very challenging, for they’re not like us, and yet, in ways, they are…how to write that? Not by being overly anthropomorphic, which is a disservice to other animals’ true selves, but also not by being anthropocentric, which is also a disservice and a lie. They are not, regardless of the unfortunate legacy of Descartian thinking, mere machines. And it’s fascinating, as a writer, to lean in on that, to step beyond the convenience of either/or thinking, to question pat answers, and to really witness the truths of their lives. In early June on the Kenai River, my husband and I watched salmon jump. Why, I asked my biologist husband, do salmon jump out of the water? He starting to recite theories – to loosen the eggs, to rid of parasites…Well, we don’t really know. And I love that; I love that we don’t always have some clear and constant explanation for what another being is doing. The salmon jumping: What if it’s just for fun, or just for the rush? What if there’s no reason at all, except joy?

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Balance. Standing in the middle. Embracing both/and rather than seeing things as either/or. We wield great power when we write about nonhuman lives; it’s easy for stories about animals to be dismissed as overly romantic or anthropomorphic or complete fantasy. If we want our stories to reach as many people as possible, we must be prepared to straddle beauty and terror, loss and life, differences and similarities. We have to balance our own humility and authority.

Humility. We must remember that our human knowledge will always be limited, regardless of how deeply we try to understand other lives. They are, as Henry Beston wrote, “not brethren, not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” For example, just because I’ve published a book about wolves doesn’t mean I know wolves. Even if I spent years living with wolves, even then, I would not claim to know what it’s like to be a wolf. In fact, what I’ve found to be true in writing about the more-than-human world is that the more I learn, the more I see how little I know. How little all humans know.

Authority. We must root our writing in unmediated experience. Spend time with the animals we’re writing about; write about what we actually see, hear, smell, feel. Do tons of research, read all the scientific information we can, but be sure to root our words in direct, actual experience. Then embrace the authority of our own experience and knowledge. In The Heart of the Sound, I described watching a mountain goat swim from Culross Island to the mainland. Scientists later told me there were no goats on Culross Island, and goats do not swim in saltwater. But I know what I saw. And I know, from that, that as much as science can teach us about the world, it is always —always — an incomplete picture.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: Ursula LeGuin’s short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds.” Yes, it’s science fiction, and fantastical, but it makes you think about language among nonhumans in a different light. It translates to reality. Then there’s Gretchen Primack’s poetry collection Kind, and Lisa Courturier’s amazing essay collection The Hopes of Snakes and lovely poetry collection Animals/Bodies. Nancy Lord has a great short story on a wolf-dog called “Recall of the Wild.” And there’s Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels,” which is a brilliant description of one of those brief moments of unmediated connection with the nonhuman world.

 

Q: You rerouted your career from environmental policy work to creative writing. In what ways do you feel this is more effective and/or rewarding?

A: Oh, so much more rewarding! Effective in a longer-lasting way. Policy can be undone quickly, as we’re seeing right now with many regulations that took decades to put in place. We’d like to think policy is done with a rational, reasoned, careful approach, but it’s just not. When I began work in environmental policy, I learned fast that the problem wasn’t, as I’d naively assumed as a college student, some lack of information transmittal, some failure of communication between scientists and politicians. No, it’s a fundamental difference in intention and values and process. The political realm, in its present form, is fraught with poor decisions with no basis in scientific knowledge or rational thinking…much less the kind of both/and openness that I spoke of above. For example, here in Alaska, the state put in place a no-kill buffer for wolf protection along the boundary of Denali National Park…and then took it away simply out of spite over an unrelated political spat.

Writing, on the other hand, lasts. We still read stories — unabridged, unmediated — that are hundreds of years old. Writing can reach people on a deeper level, a subtle plane, one they may not even consciously recognize. Story bypasses the analytical mind and aims straight for memory and imagination. Story has power; it makes people more empathetic, more able to enter the world of the Other. It is transcendent in its potential to effect change.

The downside is that, with policy work, you can see the effects of your work — whether success or failure — very clearly and sometimes quickly. When they put the wildlife buffer in place, wolves stopped being killed, and more wolves were seen in the park. With writing, you can’t, for the most part, see the effects. There are exceptions, of course: consider Silent Spring. But mostly we writers, and really, all artists, rarely witness any far-reaching effects from our work. Every now and then I’ll get a note from some reader that confirms what I’ve hoped — that my work is reaching people, is having an effect on their view of the world. But mostly I just have to have faith in what I cannot, and likely will never, see—in the ripple effect of my words as they find their way out into the world.

Marybeth Holleman is the author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North. A Pushcart-Prize nominee, her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies, among them Orion, Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Literary Mama, North American Review, AQR, and The Future of Nature, as well as on National Public Radio. Holleman has taught creative writing and women’s studies at the University of Alaska and has written for nonprofits on environmental issues from polar bears to oil spills. A North Carolina transplant, she has lived in Alaska for more than twenty-five years.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Hunter Liguore

Hunter Ligoure’s essay “Writing Animals Where You Are” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: Compassion. With knowledge comes the awareness that there is no separation between animals and humans, nor is there a hierarchy of animals that are more important, or are more deserving of our love and compassion. (E.g., many are saddened by the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a squirrel or housefly). If we’re still long enough, we can recognize our sameness — the need for food, water, shelter, love, play, rest, and harmony, rather than suffering. Animals and humans want these things equally, and through awareness, not only in my writing, but in my way of life, I’m creating a world that realizes these actions as integral opportunities, available to be carried in every moment, everywhere. There isn’t a separate time for animals; our relationship is a seamless day.

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Change the image of “watching” animals to “participating with” animals. When we watch, we’re actively creating a separation. We’re partners, living and wanting those same necessities I mentioned above. When we participate, we will go from being a false, stagnant observer, to a constant participant that is nurturing the world to ensure safety, love, compassion, food/water, play, shelter, for all animals. It will carry into the writing — it will foster a generation of environmental/nature writing aimed at solutions and actions, as opposed to despair, because the writer is now active and participating, too.

I would encourage writers to relearning perceptions and old mindsets created by the mass-mind … we all have them, a teaching or experience we cling to that causes a habitual reaction rather than a conscious action. I’ve had close encounters with bears and skunks — close, as in a handful of feet — where the very initial reaction is one of purity and presentness, not fear. The moment is often confounded with the mass-mind, the experiences of others. So while I’m not advocating petting a bear, I’m suggesting to acknowledge and consider how much one’s perception is based on habit, reaction/response, rather than being in the moment. Nature/animals allow us to be “here” and “present,” to fully experience life with them, not apart from them. It’s the same when you’re outside and feel a mosquito digging into your skin — the mass-response is to kill and swat, rather than gently disengage. Ticks, too. Houseflies … Who taught you to kill as the first response? My family taught me to eat animals, and I unlearned it. How could I spend years as an “animal advocate” and eat animals? But the mass-mind said that it was okay because some animals need preservation; others don’t. I unlearn the old responses every day by being open to the animals here and now and loving them equally — if fear arises, I ask why. There is nothing more beautiful than the pink nose of a skunk, who will not spray if you’re attentive and compassionate enough to allow it.

Focus on where you are writing right now. The office plant, the spider in the bathroom at the restaurant, the windowsill bird feeder, the parks that can use all your love to keep the litter at bay, to promote habitats. Cemeteries are open to visit and have a plethora of wildlife; walk your neighborhoods and cultivate a reciprocal relationship right now with whatever animal is there — the spider, gnat, birds, rabbits … when you do, the whole world opens and harmony floods in.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: It’s very important where our mind rests all day. If it rests on a terrible, hopeless future, then collectively, we’re creating that day tomorrow. When we send out books, social media posts, videos that show despair, terror, violence, and so on, done to animals and the environment, then we’re triggering helplessness in the viewer, and restricting the possibility of the future that we do want to share together. How, as authors, can we offer a conversation that allows participation, not terror?

Books that offer a view out the window of harmony, which is here right now for us, are the ones I’m most interested in. Show us that our small effort matters; show us what change is occurring, so that we will be inspired to believe in ourselves and in creating a harmonious world. Two that come to mind are:

1. A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion by Matthieu Ricard

Ricard shows us that the world is changing for animal, and he rallies us to get on board. In his book we see meat factories closing; he calls us to be responsible for our daily actions, and we want to join in, since we’re given permission to be accountable, and let go of our old habits.

2. Ecotopia 2121: A Vision for Our Future Green Utopia in 100 Cities by Alan Marshall

A book, mostly in pictures, that offers a view of the future that is harmonious, hopeful, and green; Marshall shows us that we can be active today to create these cities now. Like the concept behind the butterfly affect — that one housefly you catch and release can make a difference; or the mosquitoes you deter with garlic, over an electric zapper; or that night garden you cultivate for moths — all those things matter and add up to a harmonious world.

Q: Your essay points out that all animals, not only exotic ones, deserve our attention. What “ordinary” animal is most important to you?

A: My day begins with animals and ends with them, and no “one” animal could be separated as being more important. They come seasonally, so at times, I become aware that certain animals will show themselves more than others. For instance, fireflies have appeared at night, and with that comes a sense of awareness that “the whole” has extended another ripple of harmony to allow this to happen. Blackberries have finally come freely, allowed to be welcomed, and now create natural food for wildlife. A mother deer came with two spotted fawns — again, it says there is support for her to do so. Three hundred grackles have descended, with their fledglings, having felt the ripple to come and be part of the harmony. I live in an urban area, sandwiched within supermarkets, houses, and busy roads, and yet it is absolute paradise here for thousands of birds and animals, right down to the smallest of small. We’re in a constant, seamless interaction, and the most “important” thing is supporting harmony, and the opportunities to heighten our reciprocal relationship with the whole. When that happens, the discord that others believe in cannot exist — those busy roads and the paved, hard cities become part of the whole and harmony, no longer the enemy but part of the cohesion.

 

Hunter Liguore’s life motto is “respect for differences.” Her writing seeks to create a dialogue that promotes understanding our shared humanity as an alternative to discrimination and hate. She holds degrees in history and writing, and she teaches writing in New England. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in over a hundred publications internationally, including Spirituality & Health, Orion, Great Plains Quarterly, and Anthropology & Humanism. She has several screenplays optioned, including Everylife, which is currently in pre-production. Her eco-fiction teen novel, Silent Winter, is forthcoming and already being compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. www.hunterliguore.org

An inspiring visit to Farm Sanctuary

I was so glad to be able to join Love Rhymes with Everything authors Dana Feagin (a Sanctuary One board member) and Kat von Cupcake (a Sanctuary One former board member and adopter) for a visit to Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, for the sanctuary’s Twilight Tour (followed by the best vegan happy hour ever).

It was a wonderful opportunity to visit with the sanctuary animals (who loved the additional affection from visitors) and to learn more about how their lives have turned around thanks to those who do the important work of rescue and providing a safe home.

It was a broiling-hot day in Orland, but all of the animals were cool and happy; the barns had misting fans, and staff and volunteers made sure to keep the animals comfortable…such a contrast to their former lives on factory farms. The Orland sanctuary is on 300 acres, with more than 300 rescued farm animals, including pigs, sheep, goats, cows, chickens, turkeys, chickens, and waterfowl.

Because this was a Twilight Tour, one of the topics was bedtime for the animals, most of whom are only able to sleep for the very first time once they arrive at the sanctuary. Due to the horrible conditions at factory farms, animals from pigs to chickens don’t ever get to fall sleep (to lower one’s guard even for a moment means getting trampled or suffocated), which means they live their entire short lives under unbearable stress.

National Shelter Director Susie Coston talked about how the animals’ lives change so much when they arrive at the sanctuary; they can finally sleep in peace, for the first time in their lives, in addition to being able to enjoy other natural behaviors, like snuggling with others and being able to stay with their families. The animals also tend to sleep very deeply; Susie says that the sanctuary staff often receive concerned calls and emails from people watching the Farm Sanctuary Live Cam: the animals sleep so soundly that viewers worry they may be sick or injured. (Visit explore.org to virtually visit the sheep and turkey barns, the pig and cow pastures, the cattle pond, and more. And don’t panic if the animals don’t move for a while! When we visited the pig barns in person, the pigs were so happy and relaxed they didn’t even look up; they enjoyed belly rubs and ear scritches with their eyes closed.)

During our visit we also got a chance to chat with President and Co-Founder Gene Baur, who gave an inspiring talk about reaching out with kindness to educate those who don’t realize how much these animals suffer, and how making compassionate choices leads to a better world for animals, humans, and the planet.

An interview with Among Animals contributor J. Bowers

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor J. Bowers (“Shooting a Mule”) 

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: An old college friend knows I like both horses and strange 19th-century ephemera, so she sent me an article about the exploding mule through social media. I think it may have been Scientific American‘s own blog. Everything about the idea haunted me, especially the 19th-century version of the magazine’s cold, clinical tone when discussing the event, like the photography experiment was the part that mattered, not the animal’s life. I needed to write that mule a friend.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: This is the rare story that was drafted in one sitting. As soon as I read the original articles about the incident (using C19: The Nineteenth Century Index, a historical fiction writer’s best friend), I was off to the races. The narrator’s voice came really easily because I’d been reading a lot of period novels for my grad school exams. I liked the idea of a bystander feeling this tension between military authority and empathy for a fellow creature.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?

A: I love women who write weird short fiction about animals: Lydia Millet, Karen Russell, and Hannah Tinti are all heroes in constant rotation. John Haskell and Steven Millhauser are also fascinating to me in terms of form and spectacle, and how to write about the past without losing sight of plot. I also read a lot of cultural histories about the 19th century — the more obscure and bizarre, the better.

Q: Your story is set in the late nineteenth century. How has our treatment of animals evolved since then?

A: Readers of Scientific American in the late 19th century viewed this event as a curiosity, the product of industrial ingenuity. The mule’s life meant nothing, because a mule was by definition a tool, a thing to be used, not a sentient being, as we might view it now. By contrast, in the 21st-century blog about the photograph that I initially read, the tragic nature of the event was front and center. With the public megaphone of the Internet, I find it hard to imagine that the kind of “animal testing” that occurs in “Shooting A Mule” would go unprotested if it happened today. Now when an animal is hurt in a high-profile way, as this mule was, the story goes viral. Still, despite greater awareness of abuse, real legal protections for animals (especially domestic ones) in the United States have a long, long way to go.

Q: How does photography affect our view of animals? When you think of graphic photos like the one in your story, do you think it leads to greater empathy, or desensitization?

A: Human ideas about other animals are wholly informed by representation. Photos, films, and cartoons do so much to influence our thoughts about what animals are or should be. When it comes to graphic portrayals of violence against animals, seeing a barrage of images of animal abuse can be desensitizing. I think about how my composition students always laugh uncomfortably at the ASPCA’s Sarah McLachlan-soundtracked PSAs when I show them as an example of pathos in advertising. They do feel empathy watching the commercials. They care that animals are suffering. But there’s something about seeing those images so many times that has dulled the commercials’ impact, and turned it into this nervous joke. Save The Children ads have the same problem. I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to include such a shocking image in “Shooting A Mule,” but felt readers needed to see what these men were aiming for in the name of science: what the mule’s life amounted to in the end. Its power is in its singularity. It’s not something you see every day.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

A: When people think about animals suffering for human inventions, they think of medical applications, mostly, wonder drugs and the like. I hope this story reminds them just how capricious humans can be about animal lives when science (any science) is used as an excuse. The victim being a mule just adds to that; it’s a creature that wouldn’t exist without human intervention.

Q: Is the mule based on anyone?

A: Yes, Wylie, a mare mule who was a beloved herd fixture at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center in Columbia, MO, where I worked as barn manager for eight years. I borrowed a lot of her mannerisms and behavior, trying to do the animal justice through observation instead of relying on stereotypes. Miss Wylie taught me that mules get a bum rap.

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An interview with Among Animals contributor C.S. Malerich

Charlotte Malerich, whose story “Meat” appeared in the first edition of AMONG ANIMALS, is back with another amazing story, “Phoenix Cross,” in AMONG ANIMALS 2And join Charlotte in person at The Potter’s House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 14, at 7 p.m., for a reading and a discussion about the relationships among humans and animals.   

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Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: The life of food animals is a constant source of inspiration and horror. I went vegetarian and finally vegan in my teens, after I became aware that literally billions of animals are living out short, miserable, crowded lives in the meat and dairy industry every moment. It’s an awareness that sits in the back of my mind constantly, and writing about that, fictionalizing it, is like an exorcism. It’s a way to handle the despair I’d feel otherwise, and I suppose it’s also a way to force my readers to take on that awareness. Perhaps that’s a nasty thing to do, from the readers’ perspective. But from the animals’ perspective, the more awareness the better.

This story in particular came about because chickens get so little empathy and respect. In the culture I live in, people seem to have an easier time feeling for mammals than for birds. Birds are even exempt from the federal U.S. regulations for humane slaughter — so legally you can kill a duck without desensitizing them, but not a pig. And I think most vegans can relate to the experience I’ve had, of people telling you that they don’t eat “red meat,” only chicken(s), as if this is somehow progressive. In reality, Americans kill more animals than ever because of this trend, so where’s the progress? I grew up in the suburbs, but my neighbors kept chickens; as an adult, I’ve visited sanctuaries and met rescued chickens. They aren’t any less interesting or alive or individual than a rabbit or a horse. They aren’t less deserving of full lives. So with this story, I really wanted to push that button and give birds their due.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: I had this idea that an immortal creature would make the perfect object of exploitation, because it keeps regenerating itself, no matter what you do to it. I love taking elements of mythology and folklore and putting them in a mundane context–like how would a phoenix fit into a modern capitalist society? So I started writing from the perspective of a phoenix in a factory farm, more as an exercise for myself than anything else. Trying to capture that very non-human perspective forced me to figure out what it is that I, as a human, share with a bird, i.e., what really makes this creature relatable to me? It came down to very basic, physical experiences: hunger, thirst, heat and cold, desire for space and freedom of movement. Then the cycle of this mythological creature’s life — birth, life, death — became a natural metaphor for the fact that in the real world, it isn’t just a single animal who is confined, maimed, and killed; it’s billions, over and over again. The suffering doesn’t end with the individual animal’s death, because it’s repeated and multiplied, so long as the industry continues and grows.

But that wasn’t a story; it was just a cycle of experiences. So I put it aside for a long time, and it wasn’t until years later that I picked it up again, after I’d read a short story by Nalo Hopkinson which also involved an egg and the magical bird (which was very, very different from mine). This time, I tried writing the experience of the creatures on the other side: the human farmers who were maintaining the system that’s oppressing the birds — humans who are also being oppressed by the same system. Then I had a story! There was conflict, but more importantly there was also hope for intervention and change. I went through a lot of revisions, partly because I had very specific ideas about including the human and avian perspectives, and a lot of it just didn’t work for my readers — who are all human, after all. I had to trim the story down and find ways to lead human readers into the bird’s experience.

I was also doing a lot of research to make sure I got the details right. I looked at the investigations of groups like Mercy for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, and United Poultry Concerns; but most importantly for my human protagonist Joe and his family’s predicament, I read The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard. Leonard’s a free-market, anti-regulation guy, yet his observations about life for these farmers who contract with the big agriculture companies like Tyson match what you’d find in more liberal sources like Food Inc. or Michael Pollan. I’m not a farmer myself. I don’t claim to speak for farmers. But, without minimizing the suffering that non-human animals’ experience, I tried to tell a story that was honest about the stresses and the changes in the industry that human farmers are coping with.

Q: Many farms are family businesses, and in this story Joe begins to empathize with the animals, while the rest of his family continues to see them as a commodity. Do you feel it’s possible for empathy to grow even when one’s livelihood depends on raising animals for food?

A: It’s definitely possible. There’s Howard Lyman, for example, who was a fourth-generation rancher and ultimately became a vigorous animal rights and environmental activist. He may be the most prominent, but he’s not unique. I’ve heard other vegans’ stories that began when they encountered animals with whom they connected on a farm — sometimes their family’s. It’s very natural to feel empathy for another sentient creature, and horror when they are treated as nothing more than a commodity. Farm workers absolutely experience it.

In most cases, though, I do think this empathy gets stifled by the immediate demands of the job, and the consequences for the workers and their families if they don’t do it. The threat of bankruptcy, of losing homes, of not being able to pay medical bills — these are very real. I don’t want to ignore them. There’s also a social and cultural cost to changing a way of life that might have been in your family for generations, and tied up in ideas about heritage and independence (even though you may be completely beholden to a vast corporation now). Under that kind of stress, I don’t expect human beings to be compassionate and far-sighted. I’m not. Often the most we can do is slack off and surreptitiously look for a way out — but that just removes us personally from the process, it doesn’t put an end to the exploitation as a whole. If one farmer decides they don’t want to kill chickens anymore, the industry can hire another. And that’s a recipe to feeling powerless.

So ultimately, I think we need an analysis that doesn’t pit human interests against the interests of other species, but sees us all (chicken, human, fish, whatever) as victims of the same oppressive system. What makes Joe the protagonist of the story and not another member of the family is his consistent animosity toward the company: in other words, his enemy is the same as the birds’, even if the nature of the relationship differs. He’s also unique in his family in that he never made a choice about his profession, but has this role laid out for him from childhood. Even if we’re vegan today, most of us grew up eating meat (and sometimes killing animals for other people to eat) simply because it’s what our parents did and what they expected us to do. As Joe is growing more aware of the birds’ situation, he’s also growing more aware — and more angry — about his own.

Analogies like this are always a little crass, but I’m going to go ahead, and I’ll take the criticism if it comes: Let’s compare this to the national movement against mass incarceration. More and more people understand that the American justice system is biased against black, brown, and working-class people. We incarcerate far too many people, for too long. Yet attempts to end this always meet opposition, and not just from private prison corporations or the industries that use prison labor. It comes from prison guard unions, too, and it’s pretty clear why. It isn’t as if the average corrections officer is making six figures, living high, but they are able to provide for their family, get health insurance, and save for retirement. They have stability, and they’re going to fight to keep it. So if we really care about humans or any other animals locked up in cages, we have to fight for the kind of economy that’s going to give workers — en masse — an option to walk away from the slaughterhouse or the detention center. I’m encouraged by the transitional approach that’s happening in parts of the renewable energy movement, like the agreement made around the closing of Diablo Canyon, the last nuclear power plant in California. Friends of the Earth was able to organize with the utility workers, so that the ultimate agreement with the company includes retraining and retention for those workers, so they can move on to other jobs and aren’t going to just get laid off.

Q: In your story, technology helps corporations make more money from animals. What role do you think technology can play in favor of the rights of animals?

A: I view science and the expansion of human knowledge generally as a force for good — or at least not a force for bad. And technology is just the application of knowledge to solve a practical problem. Once something new is invented, or new areas of knowledge are open, there are a whole range of possible applications. Drones can be used for dropping bombs or expanding a corporate delivery empire, or drones can be used to investigate factory farms and show people what is really going on there, as Will Potter is doing. Lots of other people are using their ingenuity to answer questions other than how to increase profits. The fact that we can grow human tissues and actually simulate whole body systems now makes the animal testing industry look pretty backward. I’d also include green technologies as a net gain for animals: if we are serious about the rights of other species, we have to preserve the planet that we are all living on, and a major overhaul of our energy sources has to be part of that. (So does changing our diet.)

Overall though, I’m not too optimistic that technology itself is the answer to animal exploitation because in many areas, it isn’t as if animal industries are just waiting around to be shown a better way. In movies, of course, I’m pleased when a director uses CGI animals on screen instead of live animals, but the ability to tell stories about animals without animals has been around for generations — in clay or hand-drawn animation, in puppets, in costumes, in other media like music or text. Bambi came out in 1942, and the book was published in 1923. I haven’t seen it, but I find it hard to believe that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a better piece of environmental fiction — though, yes, good for him for using only CGI animals. I’m also leery of turning animal rights into a marketing tool, the way Wayne Pacelle of HSUS suggests. His appeal is really to corporate capitalists: “Hey! Be animal friendly and you’ll make more money!” I’m skeptical that that approach is going to pay off in the larger scheme of things.

What I’d really like to challenge people who care about animals to do is to be part of a larger movement for social justice, so that we all can focus our time, energy, and skills on solving problems where the bottom line isn’t what kind of profit we’re going to get, but how we are going to insure a basic, decent standard of living for all human beings that also puts us in an ecological balance with other species and with the planet. The major deficit in that struggle isn’t cool new technologies; I think it’s political and economic freedom.

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Q: What are you writing now?

A: Thank you for asking! My main project is an urban fantasy novel, that is currently morphing into something closer to New Weird. I also have shorter pieces that I am polishing: a novelette about witchcraft and a group of striking textile workers in the 1830s and several different short stories. One of my co-workers and I have an ongoing zine project about life in a public library. I have more ideas for stories than I have time to write, which I suppose is a better problem to have than the opposite.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

A: Lots of love for chickens, a little compassion for farmers, and burning hatred for capitalism.

Less flippantly: I’m very curious where readers’ sympathies will lie at the end of this story. First, the story draws us into Joe and his family’s situation, and then, along with Joe, we’re drawn even further out of our own experience, into the birds’ situation. It’s like a nesting box. And I hope we identify with and ultimately respect how these creatures — the birds as well the human beings — endure and struggle to control their own bodies and live decent lives. If readers come away with multiple levels of awareness and solidarity, then I’ve accomplished my goal.