Stefanie Brook Trout

Author Page with Resources for Writers

Fun in the Twin Cities: AWP Events

Are you attending AWP 2015 in Minneapolis?

Please stop by the Ice Cube Press booth at the book fair,  Exhibit Space 119. Also, consider checking out the following featured events.

Wednesday, April 8

AWP Festival of Language 2015
Brit’s Pub Vault, 1110 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis

The seventh annual celebration of language and literary arts will feature established and emerging writers in three sets of rapid-fire readings with over 60 participants reading for a maximum of five minutes each.

The festival starts at 4:00 and ends at 11:00. I’ll be reading in the 8:30-10:30 set.

Event details

My Festival Writer publications

ThursdayPG

Prairie Gold Contributor Signings
Ice Cube Press Exhibit Space 119

Two Prairie Gold contributors, Matthew Fogarty and Sarah Turner, will sign books at the Ice Cube Press booth, Exhibit Space 119.

Catch Fogarty from 12:00-1:30 and Turner from 4:30-6:00.

Prairie Gold Reading and Celebration of Midwestern Writing
Subtext Books, 165 Western Ave N, St. Paul

Readings from contributors to Prairie Gold, a collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that delves into the nuances of Midwestern identity. The event starts at 6:30 and ends at 9:00. Here’s the line-up:

  1. Lindsay Tigue (poetry)
  2. Matthew Fogarty (fiction)
  3. Sandy Marchetti (poetry)
  4. John Linstrom (nonfiction)
  5. Nancy Cook (poetry)
  6. Stephanie Schultz (poetry)
  7. Sarah Turner (nonfiction)
  8. Michelle Menting (poetry)
  9. Molly Rideout (fiction)

(H/T to John Linstrom for finding links to everyone’s author pages.)

Friday

Prairie Gold Editor Signings
Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment Exhibit Space 1314

All three Prairie Gold contributors, Lance M. Sacknoff, Xavier Cavazos, and I, Stefanie Brook Trout, will sign books from 10:00-11:00 a.m. at the Flyway/Iowa State MFA program table, Exhibit Space 1314.

More about Prairie Gold.

More about ISU’s MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment

Fracture Poster *

Also, Taylor Brorby and I will be spreading the word throughout the conference:

We are still taking submissions for Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America. The deadline for submissions is June 1.

Read our submission guidelines and our call for visual art.

Download a larger version of our flier.

Happy Aldo Leopold Week!

ALWThere are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.

Though Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac was written in and about Wisconsin, Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa, and that’s where his love of nature first began to emerge. Last fall, the State of Iowa proclaimed the first full week of March as Aldo Leopold Week, a time to celebrate and pay tribute to Leopold’s legacy as a leader in conservation.

As a writer, I also see Aldo Leopold Week as a time to celebrate and reflect on nature writing, a genre that influences my own writing deeply. I don’t define myself primarily as a nature writer because the term is limited, and I don’t build fences between what I do and don’t do, but my experiences writing about nature were certainly what inspired me to pursue writing seriously and remains a passion of mine.

(Those interested in beginning nature writing should check out this excellent resource: “Henry Thoreau as a Model for Nature Writing” by Ron Harton.)

Great Reads

I wanted to take this opportunity to call out some amazing nature writing texts. There are hundreds of books shelved under the category of “Nature Writing” on Goodreads, and there are a lot that I haven’t read. I’m not including any books on this list that I haven’t read in their entirety, and while I’m ashamed to admit it, there are some really important books that I’ve only read in excerpts.

It’s worth acknowledging that this list is more than 75% white men. For a long time, the genre was largely dominated by white men, but there are now plenty of excellent nature writing texts by women and people of color. I just haven’t read them all yet, and a lot of the ones to which I’ve been exposed, I haven’t had the chance to enjoy in their entirety yet. Don’t worry. It is a priority of mine. Many are sitting on my bookshelf right now, just waiting for their turn.

Therefore, please don’t see this list as my nature writing canon–far from it. I can only recommend that which I know, and unfortunately, my formal literary education focused primarily on white men, and I’m still in the process of making up for lost time. Check out that Goodreads shelf I mentioned, and you’ll see a more diverse array of nature writing texts.

One more thing worth noting is that I don’t actually use the category of “nature writing” to organize my own books on Goodreads. It’s too hard for me to define. I use the much broader “environment.” I didn’t want to overthink what is or isn’t nature writing for this blog post, so the following list is based on the Goodreads hive mind. If people are shelving it under “nature writing,” then I counted it. If they aren’t, then I didn’t. I expect controversy.

Without further ado, here are just a few great nature writing books besides A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold. They appear in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference.

  1. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  2. The Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass
  3. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  4. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon
  5. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  6. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway
  7. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
  9. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  10. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  11. The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson
  12. The Wilding by Benjamin Percy
  13. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
  14. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  15. Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment by Sandra Steingraber
  16. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  17. Words from the Land: Encounters with Natural History by Stephen Trimble (editor)
  18. Biophilia by Edward O. Wilson
  19. The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson
  20. The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson

Lots of omissions here, I know, and probably plenty of books that would be better classified elsewhere. The point is not to for me to establish the nature writing canon but to spark discussion, so discuss!

What are your favorite nature writing books? What are the most offensive omissions (which may be either because I haven’t read a critical nature writing text yet or because the Goodreads community hasn’t yet shelved the work as “nature writing”)? What doesn’t belong on this list? Often we think of nature writing as nonfiction, yet a few fiction texts made the list–but no poetry. Does nature writing have to be nonfiction? Within nonfiction, do research (rather than observation) based texts count? Does any of this even matter? 

Ames Reads Leopold

ARLThough this is the first annual Aldo Leopold Week, communities nationwide have been celebrating Aldo Leopold Weekend on the first weekend of March since 2004. And Saturday, March 7, will be the eighth annual Ames Reads Leopold event.

I had the pleasure of reading “Axe-in-Hand” at last year’s Ames Reads Leopold, and this year, I am thrilled to be reading “January Thaw.”

The event is free and open to the public. You can expect readings from Leopold’s work, a screening of the Emmy award winning documentary Green Fire, and an overall good time. It’s also a great opportunity to check out the newly renovated Ames Public Library if you haven’t had the chance to do that yet. Check out this news release for more information.

Another Review for the Review Review

Rock and SlingMy work as a reviewer for the Review Review continues with a review of Rock & Sling.

Read “Faith-Oriented Lit Mag Explores ‘Boundaries of What We Know to Be True'” here.

Readings in Cedar Falls and Iowa City: January 29-30

IMG_0026Cedar Falls

Thursday, January 29, 2015, at 7:00 pm
Hearst Center for the Arts, 304 W Seerley Boulevard

Fellow Prairie Gold editor Lance M. Sacknoff and I will be traveling up to Cedar Falls on Thursday to discuss writing and publishing with the Craft of Fiction students at University of Northern Iowa.

That evening, we will read as part of the Final Thursday Reading Series at the Hearst Center for the Arts, followed by a Q&A and book signing.

For more details, visit the Hearst Center’s website or download their Winter 2015 brochure [PDF].

B8FktEnCMAInnGkIowa City

Friday, January 30, 2015, at 5:00 pm
Englert Theatre, 221 E Washington Street

Fellow Fracture editor Taylor Brorby and I will be joining other artists for Beyond the Anthropocene, an exhibit and opening reception exploring “the illusory boundary between what is ‘natural’ and what is ‘man-made.'” Showcasing the work of three photographers, one musician, and five writers, the exhibit is part of the University of Iowa’s Obermann Humanities Symposium, “Energy Cultures in the Age of the Anthropocene,” March 5-7, 2015.

More details on our January reading here.

Info about the March symposium here.

Great Reads 2014

Inspired by the lovely blog Pints And Cupcakes, I wanted to look back at the books I read in 2014 and call out a few of my favorites. P&C‘s Chloe Clark listed her top 15, but I’m just going to pick five because I don’t think I read nearly as many books as she did in 2014.

To be clear, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2014. Only a few of them were actually published in 2014.

  1. TTTCThe Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I know what you’re thinking. “This is the first time you’re reading this?” The answer is yes, and it shames me to say as much. First published in 1990, TTTC is one of the finest works of fiction I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading my words right now and get on it. I promise this post will still be here when you get back.
  2. CTTAHYOPColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I love Murakami, and I try to read at least one of his books each year, though I’ll have to read more than that if I’m ever going to keep pace with his new work while getting caught up on some of his older stuff. I’ve encountered several negative reviews of CTTAHYOP (published in 2014), but they were mostly from people who are either just starting to read Murakami or else have tried him before and didn’t like it but maybe wanted to so were trying him again. So I strongly recommend it to Murakami fans, but I realize it’s not for everyone.
  3. HTBAWHow to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I’d been wanting to read this one since I first heard Caitlin Moran on NPR in 2012. I actually surprised myself when HTBAW ended up the only nonfiction book that rose to the Top Five. I’m working on a novel for my thesis, so I guess I’ve been in fiction mode lately. But let’s not let that diminish how much I enjoyed reading Moran’s 2011 memoir. I read some great nonfiction books this year, but I devoured this one.
  4. PushcartThe Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses 2014 Edition – Edited by Bill Henderson. (Here’s my short Goodreads review, where I rank my favorite pieces in each genre.) The quality of the nonfiction alone got this book on my Top Five list. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of good fiction and poetry here too. But the nonfiction seemed of another class entirely. It inspired me to step my own essay-writing game up considerably.
  5. PGPrairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland – Edited by Lance M. Sacknoff, Xavier Cavazos, and me, Stefanie Brook Trout. So I know it’s tacky to list your own book – I’d say it’s an unwritten rule, but I’m sure it is in fact written somewhere – and yet I’m going to do it anyway because as hard as I worked on this thing, I can’t take credit for the quality of writing our contributors brought to the table. I’ve read this book more times than I’ve read any other text, and it never fails to fill me with joy, pride, and excitement. (More about Prairie Gold on the publisher’s website.)

Several wonderful books almost made the Top Five, but these were the ones that made me feel the most.

I’m looking forward to doing this again next year, maybe even with a longer list, though for the first time in several years I won’t be setting an annual goal.

Tangent about Annual Reading Goals

I love Goodreads – absolutely adore it – and I’ve participated in their annual reading challenge since 2011. It’s a fun way to hold myself accountable for spending as much time reading as I both should and want to without making it feel like work. It’s always so much easier to find a new show to binge watch on Netflix, but you have to rein that in somehow.

Inevitably, at the end of the year, I was always scrambling to get my hands on shorter reads – novellas, poetry collections, graphic novels, chapbooks, you get the idea – or else finishing books I’ve partially read for some reason or another in order to meet my goal, which is fine because that stuff is good to read too, but this past year I really didn’t want to do that again. I just didn’t feel like it, and I’m a strong believer in doing what you feel like when it comes to reading.

I wonder if there isn’t another way to do a reading challenge that goes beyond books. I love books – I really can’t overstate that enough. But this year, I’ve been trying to read more literary journals, magazines, news, blogs, etc., and I’ve also been doing a lot of editing – reading other people’s work over and over again (and I guess reading my own work over and over again as well) – and this type of reading matters too, even though I can’t log it into my Goodreads.

My older sister, who is a middle school teacher and uses this strategy with her students, suggested (several years ago, in fact, when I first mentioned my impulse to read shorter novels rather than undertake weighty tomes because of the impending Goodreads deadline) that I go by a page count goal instead, which is a smart and perfectly reasonable suggestion, but I don’t want to have to add tally marks to a scrap of paper every time I read something. (Is there an app for this? Or can someone please develop one? Thanks!)

Maybe I’ll set a 2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge in a few months, but for now my goal for 2015 is simply to read a lot and not just books.

Speaking of Goodreads

Are you on Goodreads too? Do you want to connect on Goodreads? Add me as a friend or follow me as a fan here.

2014 Retrospective and 2015 Resolutions

I started this website in late 2013 because Mary Swander, the Poet Laureate of Iowa, told me that “As writers, we need to be hustling everyday.” The purpose of the site is to build a fan base by publicly sharing and archiving my professional accomplishments.

I’ve never been wholly comfortable with the level of self-promotion being an artist requires, but it’s part of the territory, and in 2015, so is blogging and social media. I know I am not the only writer who feels this way – it’s something I’ve discussed with my writer friends and colleagues extensively – but I think it’s important to mention every now and then. Because I’m not posting updates about all of my failures. Rejections don’t get a blog post. Nor do the awards I didn’t get. You won’t see me tweeting about not meeting my 2014 Goodreads goal or winning NaNoWriMo.

So as I celebrate some awesome things that have happened over the past year, it isn’t to brag or, worse, #humblebrag but to remind myself and others that, despite the setbacks that are perhaps more readily apparent in the day-to-day, 2014 was actually a pretty rocking year.

With out further ado, here are a bunch of things I’m looking back and feeling good about, a few things I want to work on, and a few things I’m just really excited about. I wish everyone a very happy 2015!

14 Awesome Things that Happened in 2014*

  1. I met Bill Bryson.
  2. As the nonfiction editor for Flyway, I published some amazing environmental writing.
  3. I went to my first AWP and presented on two panels.
  4. I did three public readings of my nonfiction work.
  5. My essay “The Drawing” was picked up by Cardinal Sins and received an honorable mention in their “translation”-themed nonfiction contest.
  6. My poem “White Squirrel” won a campus prize for National Poetry Month.
  7. I received a Teaching Excellence Award for my undergraduate English instruction.
  8. Lance and Xav brought me on as an editor of Prairie Gold, which was published in July. There were several readings, including one I did as part of a radio interview with Lance and the Voice of Fairfield. We did a Goodreads giveaway and just got a great review in the Wapsi.
  9. After my one-year term at Flyway was up, I started interning at Ice Cube Press.
  10. I started a new job as the communications assistant for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, where I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of news writing, produce short films, and design publications.
  11. I had three short pieces picked up by Festival Writer.
  12. My Prairie Gold essay “Letters After Achilles” was excerpted on the Winged: New Writing on Bees blog.
  13. Ice Cube Press nominated “Letters After Achilles” for a Pushcart.
  14. I became a reviewer for the Review Review and had my first review published.

*More details about each of these highlights can be found in past News & Events posts or on either the Bio or Publications, Etc. pages.

4 Resolutions for 2015

  1. Read more.
  2. Write more.
  3. Polish and submit more.
  4. Hustle more, which includes actually posting on this blog (and more non-me content, like the mini-interview I did earlier this year) as well as sharing updates on my Twitter and Tumblr accounts on a semi-regular basis.

4 Things I’m Also Looking Forward To

  1. Lance and I are going to be speaking at the University of Northern Iowa and then reading as part of the Hearst Center’s Final Thursday Reading Series. (Details in the Public Events section of this publication.)
  2. AWP 2015! I’ll be helping out at the Ice Cube Press table, where several authors – including Prairie Gold contributors – will be doing book signings. And I’ll be joining Lance and Xav for a Prairie Gold editors book signing at the Flyway table.
  3. Reviewing submissions with Taylor Brorby for our Ice Cube Press anthology, Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America. (Submissions currently open! Guidelines here.)
  4. Finishing my novel and my MFA in Creative Writing and Environment. After that, I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll be doing, but I’m excited to find out.

“Anthology Delivers Fine Offerings”: A Review of Prairie Gold in the Wapsipinicon Almanac

IMG_0015 2This volume was no doubt a massive undertaking, and the effort has paid off. It will interest anyone who sees who they are as a product of where they are, and will especially appeal to those who sometimes feel that, in the words of Bakopolous, it is “almost too beautiful to bear that rolling countryside without a notebook and pen in hand.”

Pick up a copy of the latest Wapsipinicon Almanac (No. 21) to read more of what Tad Boehmer had to say in his review of Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

Also in that issue, check out Robert Leonard’s essay, “Iowa: ‘Land of Enchantment’ – A Literary Manifesto,” in which he discusses Iowa’s cultural narratives and how Ice Cube Press “has done more than any in the past couple of decades in publishing books about Iowa, many of them by Iowans.”

Reading in Ames

Thursday, December 11, 2014, at 7:00 pm
Design on Main, 203 Main Street, Ames, Iowa

Bid a fond farewell to fall semester and celebrate our community of writers at Iowa State with the final Emerging Writers Series event of 2014, hosted by Adam Wright. I will be reading nonfiction about my experiences teaching before coming to ISU. Camille Luera-De-Meyers will read poetry, and Audrey McCombs with special guest Michelle Donahue will read fiction.

Bring a cup of something warm, check out the new artwork in the gallery and settle in for a cozy winter evening of storytelling. Free and open to the public.

A Review for the Review Review

I am excited to say that I am now a reviewer for the Review Review, and my first review, of First Stop Fiction, was just published today.

Read “New Online Lit Mag is a First Stop for Flash Fiction” here.

Excerpts from “Letters After Achilles”

Winged: New Writing on Bees was kind enough to reprint some excerpts from my Prairie Gold nonfiction piece, “Letters After Achilles,” on their blog.

Winged: New Writing on Bees

I.

May 2, 2013

Dear Bees,

I feel I must apologize. I’m new to this apian life, and I regret not thinking of you first when Achilles came to Iowa. The cold air settled on my exposed back this morning, and I awoke from the chill. Snow shrouded the world outside my window, colonizing the tree branches like arctic lichen. Today, the snow didn’t fall simply down. It fell east and west, north and south. It blew up, buoyed by the wind.

Yesterday they warned us this storm was coming. They, who attempt to prophesy these kinds of events. They, who termed this record-breaking storm Achilles. I wonder how deeply they who selected the name understood its history. I wonder if they knew the word’s etymological origin—akhos laos, “the grief of the people.” I wonder if the name made them think of Homer or Brad Pitt. And I wonder if…

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Fracture: A Forthcoming Anthology on Fracking

I am beyond thrilled to announce that I am working with Taylor Brorby on a new Ice Cube Press anthology, Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America.

Taylor and I are currently seeking new writing that considers the implications of fracking. Submissions are open until June 1, 2015.

Guidelines on the publisher’s website.

You can follow Fracture on Facebook and Twitter.

Live from Prairie Lights

Pushcart Nom

I am honored to say that Ice Cube Press has nominated my essay “Letters After Achilles” for a Pushcart Prize. I have nothing but gratitude for Steve Semken, not just for the nomination but for the opportunity to help produce Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland and for establishing a press with such a fierce commitment to Midwestern literature.

New Pubs, Upcoming PG Readings, & More

It’s October now. Leaves are changing, the temperature is cooling, my wind chime is getting noisier. At the same time, there have been developments in my personal and professional life. Here are some updates from the latter:

New Pubs

I’m honored to have had not just one, not even two, but three pieces published in the October 2014 issue of Festival Writer. Check out the issue here and then click on my name to view all three of my contributions. These pieces tend to resist easy genre classification. This is how I would describe them:

“Baconer” is a prose poem (with formatting) about factory farming, from the perspective of a pig in a CAFO. Please note that this poem uses plenty of profanity and unpleasant imagery. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, but I think it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

“First Beard” is a nonfiction vignette about my dad, and “Performance Review” is micro fiction. They are so short, I better not say anything else about them (Spoilers!) except that I hope you enjoy reading them.

Upcoming Prairie Gold Readings

As mentioned in a previous post, our Midwestern book tour of Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland will include two October events: one at the Rozz-Tox in Rock Island, Illinois, (Quad Cites area) on October 9 and one at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on October 16. Details:

Thursday, October 9, 2014 – SPECTRA Reading

8:00 pm – Rozz-Tox – Rock Island, Illinois

Our Quad Cities reading will feature fiction by T.C. Jones and Barbara Harroun as well as poetry by Esteban Colon, Salvatore Marici, and Ryan Collins. Part of the Midwest Writing Center’s SPECTRA Reading Series, the event will also include readings by featured poets Lauren Haldeman and Erin Keane. Check out the Facebook event page for more details.

Thursday, October 16, 2014 – Reading

7:00 pm – Prairie Lights – Iowa City, Iowa

Our Iowa City reading will feature nonfiction by Will Jennings and Meghan Brown, fiction by Barbara Harroun, and poetry by Salvatore Marici. Check out the event page for more details.

Video Debut

Since I switched from teaching English 150/250 at Iowa State University to my current position as a communications research assistant at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (also at ISU), I have been involved in a lot of cool multimedia projects. My job includes writing news releases and articles, updating the Center’s website, managing our social media, publication design, and video production. That last piece is such new and exciting territory for me, and I’m thrilled to share the final version of “STRIPS the Movie” (not the official title), a 13-minute video on the conservation practice of prairie strips that was four months in the making. It premiered at the 2014 Extension Energy and Environment conference in Ames and was followed by a Q & A with the researchers. Now that the feature documentary is done, we are in the process of using the extra interview footage to make a series of video shorts that will, among other things, help introduce a broader audience to the STRIPS project.

Goodreads

Our Goodreads Giveaway is still going on. Five free copies of Prairie Gold are up for grabs! The contest closes October 31. Details here.

If you already own the book and are on Goodreads, please take a moment to add it to your shelf, which you can do here. It helps us out when, after reading the book, our fans take the time to rate it, review it, and vote for it on relevant lists. (Contributors: Goodreads recommends that authors write a brief note on the inspiration for the piece in lieu of a review.)

Also, as part of having a book out, I’ve converted my personal Goodreads page into an author profile. It’s the same as before but with a few extra features, like the ability to have “fans” in addition to friends. I only have two fans so far! If you are on Goodreads and a fan of my work, please visit my author profile to make it official. (Lance needs more fans too. Here’s his author profile.)


I have lots of other exciting news I’d love to share, but I’m going to keep my beak buttoned for just a little while longer until details are finalized. So that’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Mini-Interview: Two More Q’s with Tony Quick

Tony QuickLast week, Pints And Cupcakes posted a delightful interview with my good friend, fellow writer, and trusted reader Tony Quick. (Read it here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, let’s proceed.)

Tony said some brilliant things in that interview, right? (Especially that part where he calls me “a remarkable writer who [he’s] convinced will become a future favorite to scores of readers when she makes her debut”–that was especially insightful, no?)

Having worked with Tony on Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, presented on an AWP panel titled “Writing About Nature in an Unnatural World” with him, and exchanged countless pages back and forth with Mr. Quick, I figured that he would have a lot more to say about how the environment factors into his writing if I asked, and I was right!

So here’s a mini-interview for you. I call it “Two More Q’s with Tony Quick.”

1. How does sense of place factor into your writing?

Beyond its role in establishing a backdrop for the story’s setting, place plays an integral part in my fiction because it inevitably feeds into character development. With all due respect to the idea of the self-made man (or woman), much of who we become as people happens to be influenced by where we’re from. So many factors: our values and assumptions, our careers, our hobbies, how we approach challenges, and so many other aspects of our personality are impacted by our reaction against or adherence to the standards of our surroundings. 

Here’s an extreme example that almost borders the absurd but happens to illustrate the point pretty well. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Christopher Nolan movie Inception are both reverse-heist stories where the characters have to sneak into a fortified space and plant an object rather than steal it. Frodo, as a character raised in the leisurely shire and naïve to the nuance of Middle Earth, has an entirely different approach to his mission than Dom Cobb, a man who lives and works in a world of corporate espionage, mistrust, and various stages of unreality.

Their missions are different, of course, but they have similar end goals and the choices Frodo makes on the way to Mordor (This Gollum guy seems trustworthy) are different from those that Cobb makes during his journey into Fischer’s mind (You think I should tell my teammates my subconscious might try to kill them? Psh). That’s due in large part to how they’ve been colored by the fictional worlds they inhabit.

Another example that comes to mind is the difference between Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and Luke Skywalker of Star Wars. Both stories concern the legacy that sons inherit from their fathers. Michael Corleone initially reacts against the criminal world of violence and vendettas his father Vito inhabits but he’s a man raised in an post-WWII Italian enclave taught to put family above all else. When the call comes, he takes on his father’s role as patriarch. Luke, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a great Jedi. That original goal is supplanted when he realizes his father is the Sith lord, Darth Vader, a high-ranking member of the empire that Luke has been raised to loathe and fear.

When I craft my own characters, I do my best to contemplate how their environment might color their perceptions and influence their course of action as they move through worlds I’ve created. More often than not, those details will never be explicitly mentioned in the text but actively thinking through those particulars before and during the writing process helps impact my understanding of how my characters operate and who these people actually are.

2. You grew up in the Baltimore area, which is also the primary setting of your novel-in-progress, Scarecrow and Locust. Besides the fact that it’s where you’re from, what is it about Baltimore that inspires you to explore the city through fiction?

Urban landscapes feature prominently in my fiction because they offer so many opportunities to bring diverse people into the same arena to clash and cooperate. Cities create crucibles where characters from various cultural, ethnic, and economic backdrops can rub elbows. People who might never interact otherwise are drawn into conversations and conflicts by virtue of inhabiting the same space and that’s an exciting prospect to me.

Baltimore was really the only place Scarecrow and Locust could have taken place. The Patapsco River’s presence for various plot reasons that I won’t delve into here and the proximity to the nation’s capital provided an important reason to have a private military corporation installed there but beyond all that, Baltimore’s economic situation lends itself towards the theme I was going for in the novel.

So many areas in Baltimore appear downright post-apocalyptic and much of that has to do with neglect. Just recently, there have been reports of “food deserts” in the city where grocery stores have moved to more lucrative locations, leaving those without vehicles and the elderly without access to food. That’s not science fiction.

Scarecrow and Locust required a great deal of research and I learned a great deal about the famines in Ireland, Bengal, and Ethiopia. I was surprised most at the part government corruption, outright malice, or inaction played in worsening the impact of starvation on these populations. That’s not science fiction, either. 

I’ve always been adamant that my fiction shouldn’t serve as a makeshift soapbox but when I’m writing I do consider how the arrangement of certain elements will impact the reader. The choice to write about Baltimore is an attempt to shine a slight light on real problems that exist in our world through a speculative filter. Maybe if I’m fortunate, my readers will lend a bit more thought to the people who often end up forgotten in the margins.


 

So there you have it, folks. Aren’t you glad I asked?

Make sure to visit Tony’s website at tonyquick.com, where you can read his bio and check out all the other cool things Tony’s been up to. Also, if you were following instructions, you would have already checked out Pints And Cupcakes, but if you haven’t yet, now is the time to make it right.