Apocalypse Week: Interview: Timid Pirate Publications

Today, in honor of Apocalypse Week, we have an interview with Timid Pirate Publications regarding their upcoming apocalypse-themed anthology. In this interview, Editor Caroline Dombrowski and staff member Michaela Hutfles (idea generator, slush reader and podcast director) discuss their anthology with Innsmouth Free Press contributor Mae Empson.

Finding Home: Communities in Apocalyptic Worlds will be coming out in December 2011. This collection of speculative fiction short stories presents tales of communities rebuilding in the wake of an apocalypse. Tales include a masked populace preventing superficial judgments, dolphin surrogate mothers, cave-dwellers chiseling out committee resolutions, and bloggers traveling across deserted roads to meet up with like-minded individuals. Finding Home offers glimpses of human ingenuity, fortitude and love in barely imaginable worlds. You can follow Timid Pirate on Facebook, Twitter or at www.timidpirate.com to preorder, listen to free audio and read free stories.

IFP: What initially led you to the focus on community and a positive post apocalyptic theme?

MDH: Eventually, as a species, we’ll either die off or move on. I really wanted to read what happens when people move on, so I floated the idea to the rest of the TPP crew, to see if they were interested in reading the same; the idea grew from there.

CD: At Timid Pirate, we’re firm believers in the notion that we’re all superheroes. And how would superheroes face the Apocalypse? With a glint of hard optimism, with almost-feral pack bonding, and lots and lots of new endeavours. Since we haven’t seen too many of those stories, we decided to try to motivate people to write them. Plus, we’re part of a community of canners, fermenters, cob-builders, knife-makers, and farmers, which perhaps made it easier for us to envision.

IFP: Did the submissions match your vision? Did anything surprise you about the kinds of stories that you received?

CD: Most of the submissions matched our vision quite well. In fact, I was surprised by how many ways people interpreted community and rebuilding – not to mention, apocalypse! One story, “Forgetfulness”, by Dean Kisling, took such an unexpected view of an apocalypse that, as soon as I finished it, I started over. Another story, “Midwife” by Jon Michael Emory, presented a vision of dolphin surrogate mothers that I would never have dreamed up. The ingenuity I suspect would help us survive an apocalypse was definitely present in these stories.

MDH: As a slush reader, most of what I had to thumbs-down were stories with apocalypse but missing the community and rebuilding elements. I was delighted and surprised by how many stories left me grinning from ear to ear and troubled at the same time. Also, the breadth of submitters we had for this anthology, we really heard from all over the world and everyone from first-time writers to folks who’ve been writing since the 60s. I was truly surprised by the author who submitted a delightful and perfectly logical ‘sequel’ to her story in the Growing Dread anthology. Made it impossible to blind review it, but it was such a surprising and hysterical connection to the preceding anthology.

IFP: Why do you think much of postapocalyptic fiction has focused on, in your words, “solitary, angry, lonely, desperate, fearful figures in a bleak or desolate landscape”?

CD: Well, the Apocalypse is scary. But we really wanted to see the human ingenuity side – the carpetbaggers, the committees, the ethics that would be passed on, even after the infrastructure we take for granted vanishes. Imagining a whole new world, populating it and writing an interesting story with interpersonal relationships, can be a lot harder than writing about a solitary person grappling with angst; it’s certainly more complex. Of course, our authors are superheroes, so….

MDH: With so many of the First-World-problems seemingly out of individual control, those stories seem very empowering, “One person can make a difference,” and dis-empowering at the same time: “If you’re not the chosen one, you don’t matter at all.” Also, from a Hollywood perspective, it’s hard to sell an ensemble cast, so it’s, in part, economic. I think, at one point or another, we all feel that if we just didn’t care so much about so many people and things, and were just untethered and “free”, it would be so much easier. These solitary stories are that kind of guilt-free wish fulfillment.

IFP: Have you found that a focus on community also encouraged less-traditional “Western” storytelling modes? This summer, when the anthology was accepting submissions, Aliette de Bodard sparked a Twitter conversation on this topic (See http://aliettedebodard.com/2011/08/31/on-the-prevalence-of-us-tropes-in-storytelling). How does the anthology intersect with an audience “tired of plots that value individualism and egotism above all else; of heroes that always have to be the masters of their own fates….”

MDH: I believe it is what we were trying to encourage, but I think you’ll have to read the anthology and judge for yourself how well we succeeded.

CD: That was definitely our vision. We wanted to buck the norm of Indiana Jones stopping the Apocalypse, that’s for sure! We really wanted to see, in Aliette’s words, “a mosaic of people all interacting together,” and not for violent ends. But we were actually charmed by how traditional, almost-folktale, many of the stories ended up. There’s definitely an international bent to this anthology – we have authors from all over the U.S., as well as England and Singapore, and submissions as far afield as India. Even the edgy stories have a very rhythmic feel to them and this may yet be the best Timid Pirate anthology for reading aloud.

IFP: This has been quite a year for disasters with earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados…Did that impact your thinking about a call for stories focused on “the survivors finding a way to move on”? How do you see speculative fiction, as a genre, being shaped by the time/place/moment in which it is published?

MDH: I was influenced a lot by the dinner party conversation that I call the “Let’s plan the Apocalypse” game. There seems to be some profound deep sense that, if we could all just start over, we would somehow do better. That, if only the entrenched structures of our societies were to disappear, generally as a result of some sort of die-off of population, that it could be a better world. Even if the world “ended”, we’d still be stuck with ourselves.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, it took about a century for people to realise that the Empire had fallen; the Romans weren’t returning to the places they’d left. Perhaps, in the Western World, at least, we’re getting the first inklings that perhaps the Empire has already fallen and that, with information technology what it is, we’re going to notice it sooner than, say, the ancient Gauls. We want to connect to the zeitgeist that says we, as humans, are smart enough and have enough knowledge to survive and even thrive.

CD: Timid Pirate is a very small, niche publisher and that gives us the leeway to publish exactly what we want, when we want. I often joke about the skills I have from my previous incarnation as an Amish farmer and that practical, hands-on attitude is reflected in our whole team. This led almost naturally into the desire to transform the fear that tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other disasters have generated in the media. It takes work to be an optimist, especially with the way that the media preferentially reports disasters and violence. So, one goal of this anthology was to temper and transform those negative cultural and personal experiences, in whatever small way we could. Speculative fiction has the opportunity to create worlds that give us profound truths about this one. We hope that Timid Pirate’s Finding Home: Communities in Apocalyptic Worlds provides a lens with which to find and sustain hope in human endeavour.

Timid Pirate Publishing is a Seattle-based team sharing extraordinary tales. From superhero tales set in Cobalt City to biopunk and post-apocalypse visions, we bring inspired stories to print, electronic and audio formats. Want to bring the Timid Pirates to your business? Contact us at .