After years of riding the C train downtown to work and sneaking peeks of other commuters' copies of the New York Post over their shoulders, it's surreal to see South Pole Station named as one of the paper's "29 Best Books of the Summer." I'm outclassed by the likes of Tom Perotta, Ruth Ware, W. Kamau Bell, and other luminaries, but man if I'm not grateful to be the canape-serving waiter at the same party.
Not all novels, especially debut novels, are guaranteed trade reviews, so I consider it a privilege to have garnered reviews for South Pole Station in Library Journal (starred review) and Publishers Weekly. Both summarize the book quite well. Only the Publishers Weekly review is online at this time, but here's a pull quote from the Library Journal review:
"Shelby's first novel, based on a short story that won the Third Coast Fiction Prize, skillfully weaves science, climate change, politics, sociology, and art. All readers of fiction, particularly those interested in life in extreme climates, will find [South Pole Station] appealing."
I am stoked and surprised to have been named a finalist for the 2017 Al-Simak Award for Fiction, a prize given out by Arcturus, a publication of the Chicago Review of Books. "Honeymoon in Temporary Locations" is a short story set in a post-climate impact America and is an homage to Nabokov's "That in Aleppo Once."
In addition, here is winner Amanda Kabak's "The Republic of Kansas." In case you didn't know, Amanda is also published by Midwestern Gothic, which is quietly publishing some of the most talented writers working right now, including Eric Shonkwiler. It is more than worth your while to check them out.
I was lucky enough to have been named winner of the KYSO Flash "One Life, One World" writing contest, with a strange work of hybrid climate fiction ("cli-fi" to the uninitiated) titled "Ersatz Cafe Post-Climate Impact Menu."
It's a short read--around 700 words--and, like several of my other recently published pieces, it imagines a somewhat quotidian public communication set in a post-climate impact America.
The Twin Cities were recently taken over by some of the most vigorous defenders of our democracy: independent booksellers. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) held its Winter Institute in Minneapolis this year, and I was lucky enough to be part of an affiliated event at Milkweed Books. Reading Group Choices recommends books to book clubs across the country, providing information and even discussion guides. South Pole Station was recently chosen as a featured RGC title, despite the fact that it doesn't come out until early July, and so I had the privilege of being part of RGC's Winter Institute event at the Open Book Center this past weekend. Though it sounds like an introvert's nightmare, the "author speed-dating" event was lots of fun. I was able to pitch my book to a number of book clubs and practice delivering lines like: "MASH set in Antarctica--but more deranged" and "The Nest...with beards."
But more important. I learned about some other excellent books that are soon to be released or have recently been released and I wanted to share a few of those titles with you, because they sound excellent.
I happen to live in a state--Minnesota--that deeply values its artists, writers, and other creative types. A handful of years ago, we actually voted to add an amendment to our state constitution, called the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. Basically, this amendment ensures that our natural resources, as well as our creative resources, are protected, via taxpayer funds. Bear in mind that taxpayers voted for this amendment--an act of generosity and community that has become astonishingly rare. I pay into this pool as a Minnesota taxpayer, but I've also been the recipient of my fellow citizens' largesse. In 2010, I received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to work on a book. Five years later, South Pole Station was sold to Picador.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that the book for which I received the 2010 grant was the exact same book I ended up with in 2015, but without that grant, I would never have had a chance to write it. I was the mother of two very young children (3 and 1 years old) and had a full-time freelance editing career. Writing, if I could manage it, took place well after midnight. The grant I received allowed me to pay for preschool for my older son so I could write while my baby daughter slept. I've always been intensely grateful for the support I received from the State Arts Board and it was incredibly gratifying to be able to acknowledge my fellow Minnesotans in the acknowledgments of my book. Even more so, actually, because last week--six years after applying for my first grant--I received another grant, this time to bring my book (and myself--package deal) to bookstores and libraries in greater Minnesota. In addition, I am planning a free workshop on agents and publishing (a seminar I have taught for Loft Literary Center) for low-income writers. Again, this is all made possible by the good people of Minnesota.
I share all this because perhaps it may serve as a reminder that financial support for working artists is absolutely crucial to productivity. This is especially true of working parent-writers. I feel pretty confident in saying that South Pole Station would not have been finished if I hadn't received that first Minnesota State Arts Board grant--not just because the money enabled me to decline a few freelance projects in order to write, but because it was a vote of confidence in me. Someone thought I was worth taking a risk on. And, like the other grant recipients, I imagine, I considered this grant a sacred trust between myself and my fellow citizens.
Would you consider an absurdly detailed, fictional LinkedIn job posting set in post-climate change impact America readable, let alone nomination-worthy? Me either, but for some reason the editors and fellow writers at Alternating Current's The Coil do. First, they kindly published "LinkedIn Thought You Might Be Interested in this Post-Climate Impact Job: Environmental Migrant Management and Soil-Free Solutions" this past spring. Then, I got my own personal October surprise when they announced that they had nominated my story, along with Seth Clabough's haunting "It Won't Always Be Like This," for a Best of the Net Award.
Sundress Publications' Best of the Net Awards aims to highlight work being published by some of the finest online literary publications, the idea being that fiction, poetry, and nonfiction published online does not receive the kind of attention it should. I have a more important question, however: listed among the fiction readers for this honor are: "Katie Bell" (Hogwarts?), "Kristen Chenoweth" (famous triple-threat), and "Courtney Cox" (actress, Bruce Springsteen fan). Doppelgangers or the real deal?
How do you relay to a reader that your book set on the world's most remote and desolate continent is actually about people, without putting people on the jacket? I'll leave that to minds subtler than mine. Some of those subtle minds work in New York's Flatiron Building, at the offices of Picador, and they've come up with the book design for my forthcoming novel, South Pole Station. Each place on this signpost is connected to one of the characters living at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
It's hard for any writer to get a read from someone who isn't related by blood or marriage. I think this is especially true of what is deemed "risk-taking" fiction--prose that doesn't utilize currently fashionable forms of narration or structure. So I was shocked when Change Seven literary magazine featured my flash-fiction "LinkedIn Thought You Might Be Interested in this Post-Climate Impact Job: Environmental Migrant Management and Soil-Free Solutions," in its "Seven Reads We Recommend" column. The piece was originally published in May by Alternating Current. (Incidentally, I was comforted to realize that I've adhered beautifully to the long-title-that-are-also-sentences trend Kelly Luce observed in her brilliant piece for Electric Literature, "12 Things I Noticed While Reading Every Short Story Published in 2015." It's also the only time in my life I've been on time to a trend, instead of humiliatingly late.)
Anyway, if you get a chance, read Change Seven's column, linked above. In addition to my piece, the authors, Laurel Dowswell and Emily Ramser, highlight six other works of prose and poetry.
A "random click" today brought me to Enizagam's website, only to discover that I had won the journal's short story prize. Quite a surprise. I am thrilled that short story writer Diane Cook liked my piece, which is certainly outside the traditional boundaries of "literary short story."
Here's what she had to say about the story, which will be published this fall.
"Even though I generally prefer traditional stories, I couldn’t resist the sharp and boundless imagination shown in the piece, “Emergent Norm Theory and Post-Climate Change Impact: Appendix A” by Ashley Shelby. For all the stories it hints at but doesn’t tell, it is full and rich. I laughed at the wit of it while wincing at a kind of future truth. The author is nailing something on the head while piercing something in us. Perhaps the world won’t look exactly like this, but it’s not going to look like it does now. The wonder of speculative fiction is that we can create an imagined future to both warn us of, and help us become comfortable with, the real future we can’t yet know. What is great and successful about this piece is how familiar the future looks even under the wreckage of catastrophes to come. The people of the future are still trying to connect with one another, and with the natural world. Still trying to find love, safety, comfort, success. Still trying to storify, make sense of, monetize the dreary future. The people of the future are environmental refugees and sightseers, beggars and investors; they give or they won’t give, they welcome or they keep out. We’re reminded that even though the world might become unrecognizable—with new rules, terms, regions, realities to learn—we people will carry on as we always have. Which, of course, is the root of the problem. But also, in a piece like this, it is a genuine small comfort. Shelby has built a brand new broken world. Any one of these asides I’d willingly follow. Drawn together, in broad strokes and carefully chosen details, they paint a compelling, funny, terrifying portrait of a possible future."
LinkedIn Thought You Would Be Interested in This Post-Climate Impact Job: Environmental Migrant Management and Soil-Free Solutions
Honored to have been longlisted for Alternating Current's Luminaire Award for Best Prose for this piece (which they were also kind enough to publish on Earth Day).