My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Leigh Anne Kranz, author of “Orca Culture” in the short story anthology City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales edited by Gigi Little, now out from Forest Avenue Press. Leigh Anne lives in Portland, Oregon, and is writing a novel. (If you’d like a copy of City of Weird, scroll to the bottom of this blog post for details on how to enter a special giveaway!)
My First Weird Story
The short story was published in an anthology of fantastical tales but was the truest thing I’d ever written.
It came about in a period of great unknowing, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, as the radioactive cloud floated on ocean currents toward the West Coast. The independent media prophesied the collapse of the North Pacific ecosystem; the mainstream media reassured it would dissipate long before it reached our shores. This human life on earth had taught me at least one thing: the more terrifying scenario was usually closer to reality.
The 1970s disaster movies my dad shared with his too-young children should have prepared me but did not. I lived with unnatural thoughts, This is it. This is really happening. The kind of thoughts unwelcome in civilized society.
The Oregon coast is where I go to write. The beach is shockingly beautiful: pristine, empty, the flight path of eagles. I stared at the curling waves, primeval rainforest, star-studded tidal pools and saw the end of us all. Life had become science fiction. I was the protagonist who must find a way to survive on a hostile planet.
The story began as a far-corner document on my desktop. I was working on other things but turned to it in moments of inspiration or barely contained hysteria. I wrote for no audience; the seats were already filled with skeletons.
The story was told from shifting points of view: a pod of orcas trying to survive in a changing ocean, and a human female who must find a way to live in a toxic culture. Writing the orca passages made me stop sometimes and sob. The woman’s perspective made me smile darkly from a place as deep as womankind.
The call for submissions wanted weird tales, reminiscent of the pulp era but with a modern slant. All stories had to be set in Portland, Oregon, or be connected to the city in a meaningful way. My story was an outlier in theme and geography, set on the coast, but that’s what made it feel, meaningful. Portland is its ocean. We are our oceans.
I sent the story out, small hope message in a bottle, to maybe reach another human being.
Gigi Little responded. It felt like a deep space transmission reaching through the void, a rescue.
Through the next year, Gigi drew out more of the story and made it so profoundly better I feel her name should appear next to mine. She is a born editor, gentle and kind. She referred to galling problems in my prose as “bumps.” Never once did she rouse that “artistic thing” (ego) in me. I knew of her circus past as a professional clown, but the way she handled the thirty writers in the collection, I’m surprised she wasn’t a lion tamer. Best thing, she’s a writer of moxie and wit and, always, heart. So, she gets it.
It was my first experience with publication and can’t imagine a better one. Forest Avenue Press is redefining the standard, with an authentic commitment to community building. The founder and publisher, Laura Stanfill, defies natural law with her energy and presence at literary events, and seems able to balance (and savor) the beauties of business, motherhood and art—she writes magical realism that is the real deal. I’ve watched her take the women-powered Portland press to national distribution, each act of business done with sterling quality and panache. It must be mentioned that Laura, one of the few women publishers in the industry, makes a point of providing opportunities for women to build publishing credits, as editors, graphic designers and writers, like me.
I’m writing this from the beach, at the same kitchen table where I wrote the story, looking out over the incoming waves. It’s the last weekend of the season, perhaps the last year of normal life on the Oregon coast. Because the way we’re headed, even if we dodge this disaster, another will surely follow, unless humans stop living this unearthly way.
The anthology rests beside my laptop: City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales. My story, “Orca Culture,” is in good company, no longer alone. Monica Drake’s blurb on the back cover describes it as “a surprising dark comedy of ecofeminist, post-Fukushima revenge.” I’m relieved the humor came through; we need it.
My first time was a lesson. The hidden truth must come out. What we write when we lose our ability to speak, or people to speak it to; what we write without thought of an audience, has the best chance of reaching another soul. I believe that writers, when faced with the prospect of human extinction—no one left to read their beautiful words—could be the ones to save the world.
I hope the story turns out to be fantastical fiction. I hope this era of human history becomes a weird tale from the past, one we’ve evolved far beyond. A story of survival.