An interview with John Yunker, author of WHERE OCEANS HIDE THEIR DEAD

Finally, the long-awaited sequel to The Tourist Trail is here. Where Oceans Hide Their Dead, which can be read as a stand-alone novel as well, picks up where The Tourist Trail left off (which is all we can say here, in case you haven’t yet read The Tourist Trail). Hailed as “an epic, gripping, charming novel” by Jasmin Singer of VegNews and Our Hen House, this passionate, adventurous novel about living on the edge of society and love in all its myriad forms is available now from Ashland Creek Press.

Q: What made you decide to write a sequel to The Tourist Trail?

A: My millions of readers demanded it. (Kidding.) Actually, readers of The Tourist Trail will know that this first novel ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. And I was just as curious to know what happened next. So here we are, eight years later, following Robert as he travels to another country.

Q: What inspired the characters you chose for Where Oceans Hide Their Dead?

A: I’m continually inspired by animal-rights activists. The work they do is heroic. But unlike those who risk their lives for their fellow humans, those who risk their lives for animals are treated as criminals and terrorists. I want to show what they’re up against, as well as the emotional toll of what they deal with. It’s not easy living on the fringes of society.

Q: Was the process of writing different this time around?

A: The second book was more difficult than the first. Partly because the issues hit closer to home, literally and figuratively. And partly because the characters themselves face difficult journeys.

Q: Who are some of your favorite environmental writers?

A: My favorite environmental writers aren’t often referred to as “environmental,” but they very much are. I greatly admire writers such as Annie Proulx (Barkskins) and Carol Adams (The Sexual Politics of Meat). Lately I’ve been reading quite a bit of Tim Winton; there is an environmental streak in much of his writing as well, such as in Eyrie. Other writers that are as relevant now as they were when they first published are Rachel Carson, Brigid Brophy, Upton Sinclair. And I have to call out Midge Raymond’s novel My Last Continent, as well as the writers we’ve published at Ashland Creek Press. There are many amazing short story authors featured in our two Among Animals anthologies that are deserving of huge audiences. I’m most attracted to writing that places human and non-human animals on equal footing, or dares to place non-human animals on higher footing.

Q: What do you hope readers will take with them after reading Oceans?

A: I hope they are energized to help take up the fight for animals and the planet — a fight that concerns us all now more than ever.

Q: Is there another book featuring FBI agent Robert Porter in the works?

A: I’m afraid so. But, like Oceans, it might take some time.

Author John Yunker

Learn more about The Tourist Trail here; check out Where Oceans Hide Their Dead here. Both are available at the Ashland Creek Press bookstore, at an indie bookstore near you, and via online retailers.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Beth Lyons

Beth Lyons’s essay “Real Advocacy within Fantasy Worlds” appears in Writing for Animals.

 

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

A: I am primarily a genre writer — fantasy and science fiction — and my early work was pre-vegan. I didn’t always include meat eating or animal use in those stories; I didn’t  really think about it one way or another. As my understanding of veganism and its impact grew, I was able to use that knowledge to shape stories, and now I find it difficult to include meat-eating, hunting, and animal usage in my writing.

Genre lends itself splendidly to exploring all aspects of veganism, from the impact on the environment and on the human slaughterhouse workers to the sentience of animals, the physical impact to the body from eating animals, and the unsustainability of raising animals for food. My fantasy writing tends to focus more on the physical and emotional damage to humans and animals, my science fiction on the damage to the environment and impracticality of the current meat-based food system.

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

A: “Tell a good story.” If you don’t write a compelling tale with memorable characters, no one will want to read it anyway, and your message and insights will be lost to the audience. This doesn’t mean that vegan values and information have to take a backseat, but the story and characters need room to become what they must. Character motivation, tension, and desire drive the story; all the vegan information you want to give your reader will come, and that illumination is the inevitable result of these characters and situations that you’ve created playing out in their own time and pace.

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

A: I was riveted by Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The narrator, Rosemary, is human but we feel the depth of her love and loss. In addition, I have to mention Richard Adams. His books Watership Down and The Plague Dogs touched me deeply. He was a master storyteller.

 

Q: Your essay addresses the very essential aspect of what fictional characters eat and how to portray this authentically. What authors/books do you most admire for their portrayals of vegan characters?

A: First, there are not enough vegan characters out there! Many novels have vegetarian characters — the Eargon series by Christopher Paolini is a popular example. I also love Ruth Ozeki’s work. But E.D.E Bell’s Spireseeker is a great example of fantasy novel with a true vegan character — main character, even! Beryl is an elf, and in Bell’s universe, elves are vegan. Animal agency and sentience are explored as the novel unfolds, and because veganism is a core part of the elven culture and identity, it comes up again and again as Beryl navigates the world around her.

Beth Lyons is a former English literature teacher, award-winning poet, and traveler who now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of three fantasy novels and three science fiction novellas, all available via Amazon Kindle. In addition, she is a fiction editor, teaches workshops on editing and creative writing, and currently moderates an online writing forum.

The Emergence of Eco-Fiction

The eco-literature (eco-lit) label has been largely associated with nonfiction environmental works, such as Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez or Silent Spring by Rachel Carlson.

But what about fiction that addresses environmental and animal rights themes?

We began using the eco-fiction label a year ago. And we’ve collected our relevant titles here.

(Amazon does not yet offer an eco-fiction category for books. Not yet.)

Label or not, category or not, eco-fiction has been around for many years.

I count Moby-Dick as one of the great works of ec0-fiction. Though some say the novel glorifies whaling, I feel it did just the opposite. The whales were disappearing and, one in particular, was fighting back.

And The Jungle did more to link human rights to animal rights than any book written since.

So while eco-fiction itself isn’t new, I do see signs of more authors writing books that fall under this umbrella. And, just as important, I see more and more readers seeking out these types of books — whether it’s for animal rights issues, global warming, or the battle to save endangered species.

People are curious.

People are concerned.

People want to connect with others who share their concerns.

And people want to be inspired by those who have devoted their lives to all these sometimes futile causes.

Here are a few works centered around animal rights that have inspired me over the years.

Let’s start with children’s books. For children, there is a lot of literature out there, from Black Beauty to Mrs. Frisby and The Nats of NIMH. I remember as a child being struck by the violence that animals often endured (or were forced to escape from) in these books. Looking back, I wonder how I was able to reconcile reading books that took the points of view of animals with the fact that I was also eating animals. But I quickly learned, as did others, to reserve empathy for those animals we consider pets.

A Report to An Academy
Franz Kafka
Though this story is only a few thousand words long, it left a mark on me. It is a speech given by an ape that was once wild but is now “civilized.”

Here is an excerpt:

I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through.

A Mother’s Tale
James Agee

A Mother’s Tale is a short story that deals head-on with animal slaughter. The story can be read in many ways; it is surely as much about humans as it is about animals.

Elizabeth Costello
J.M. Coetzee

I could have just as easily highlighted two other novels by Coetzee: Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. Animal rights is a recurring theme in Coetzee’s work and several of his protagonists are vegetarians. Elizabeth Costello is a vegetarian (or vegan) and her speech in a chapter of the book called The Lives of Animals has become a popular work on its own. What’s I most like about this book is the dynamic between Elizabeth and her son’s family (who are not vegetarians). It’s a tense relationship to be sure and one I think many vegetarians can relate to.

As Coetzee writes in FoeWe must cultivate, all of us, a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable.

It is clear to me that we as a society are just beginning to remove the blinders regarding the environment and the animals we share it with.

And while this post is focused on animal rights, there are so many other works out there about the oceans, the air, and the land. If you’ve written something along these lines, we are accepting submissions.

If you have any books to recommend, add them to the “best eco-fiction” list on GoodReads or contact me.