Thirteen stories, thirteen authors, and we have interviews with each and every one! Let’s continue the fun today with Elizabeth Hinckley as she answers our questions about her story “Butterflies” which can be found in Issue 036.
LSQ: Your story contains beautiful but tragic descriptions about the demise of our pollinators and the impact that has on the ecology and, ultimately, on us. Do you have a background or interest in entomology or climate change? Did you have to do research in order to write this piece?
Elizabeth: I’m actually a naturalist and environmental educator, so the environmental and science stuff is already part of my knowledge base. But I always like to do research on even the smallest factual aspects of my fiction because, aside from the imaginative or speculative aspects of a story, I feel a responsibility to represent things accurately. For example, we might take for granted that roads are always driveable, but if you consider that in a forest, a dead tree falls down from time to time, then you must consider that they sometimes fall on a road and there must be someone there to clear it. If you never think about trees, and you never think about road workers, then the apocalypse is going to be extra hard on you. So I researched strange things like what happens to infrastructure, pandemics, and the tech we might be likely to have a few decades from now, as well as just fact-checking my ecological details.
LSQ: The topic of technology is touched on early in your story, as the narrator grows up and her parents impart a limited allowance of its use. How does this translate into your own view of the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, etc., in our current daily lives?
Elizabeth: I accept technology as part of our lives and am grateful for the many ways it has helped society. Thanks to technology, I didn’t die from a disease I never got because of a vaccine, and I can watch eagles raise a brood on a webcam. But like many advances before our current ones, technologies are only as good or bad as the intentions behind them. It raises questions about our reliance on things we don’t need, but that’s an old story, the same as TV or conveniences people have invented in the past, and people adapt and eventually make their choices on it. What really concerns me is social media and too much interconnectivity—it’s very addictive, it erodes privacy and civil discourse, and puts a lot of power in the hands of, well, anyone who wants to exploit people’s desires and tendencies. There are lots of people with vested interests in your attention and consumer dollars working very hard to make sure you keep clicking. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy, especially in a world where people have more knowledge at their fingertips than at any other time, but can’t tell a squirrel from a chipmunk and are afraid to go outside. (Those are real life examples.) For myself, I don’t use social media and since I started drastically limiting my time spent online, I feel like my life opened up so much more.
LSQ: There’s a moment in the story where the narrator remarks on the unexpectedly non-violent meetings of Others compared to what is typically portrayed in other post-apocalyptic stories. I found this refreshing and unique as a reader (and a bit meta!). What made you choose this “friendlier” version?
Elizabeth: I’m so glad you liked that—I really wanted to do something different there that rang true and wasn’t just wishful thinking. Part of fiction’s job is to examine the human condition, and stories that deal with violent or depressing reactions of people to terrible situations reflect possibilities that can and do happen. Those explorations are valid. But I also feel that there’s a possibility that people who are frightened, humbled, or suffering can go the opposite way. Tragedy can uncover the best in people. I saw it with my own eyes in Hurricane Sandy. There are individuals and even entire cultures who can and do make a choice to come together and protect each other when times are tough.
LSQ: How closely do you identify with Lucy? What was it like to narrate the story from her eyes?
Elizabeth: It was important for me that Lucy was a good scientist—rational, intelligent, and self sufficient—to endow her with credibility. Passion inspires devotion, but credibility inspires respect. Compared to Lucy, I am more openly heart-centered and intuitive, where she is pragmatic and reserved. I mean, I’ve earned my own intellectual chops and achievements too, which is how I’m able to understand her, but I think that she is definitely more introverted. Like a lot of bright people, she has less patience for people in general, who don’t see things as quickly as she does. She also has passion that bubbles up, and uncovering the depths of her emotions rounded her into a more whole and balanced person. There’s a worthwhile journey in revealing those things, rather than just displaying them outright. I feel almost like I could see her heart better than she would be able to herself, at least in her younger and middle years. She embodies the things I cultivate in myself—credibility as well as passion—just in different recipes.
LSQ: Have you written other post-apocalyptic or “cli-fi” stories? What made you choose this sub-genre? Were there any authors or books in these sub-genres that you used for inspiration?
Elizabeth: I’m a little embarrassed to say I had to find out what Cli-Fi is, but now that I know, I’m glad that there are other people writing on these kinds of themes. So I didn’t choose this sub-genre so much as I chose the story I had to tell right now. The inspiration came on me powerfully and and I had to put it down—which is usually why I write about a particular idea in the first place. This story came to me as an exploration of love and grief at what I know about things happening to the natural world—and to us.
LSQ: Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about your other projects?
Elizabeth: I’ve been working on my second novel for a while. It’s inspired by anthropology, spirit, and the otherness of the outsider. I really loved my first novel, David, A Rat, because it flowed out of my heart so easily. This one scares me a bit because sometimes I don’t know my new characters yet the way I knew David—I knew him as well as a real person. That tells me to wait and learn about who they are, what they want, and what they need to say and do, so it’s probably going to take a while. I’m also working on a natural reference book that combines scientific and spiritual study of the natural world—animals, plants, habitats, and the like. I’m a STEM advocate interested in science and critical thinking, as well as a person who values the intuitive and spiritual connection with the natural world. Science and spirit are often seen as opposites, but I think they are just different ways of exploring the world. And short stories and essays tend to pop up and feverishly push my larger projects out of the way—”Butterflies” was one of those.