Claire Datnow Blog Posts

Climate change

The Art and Craft of Eco Fiction

By Claire Datnow

Claire and Butterfy mural

Eco-fiction and climate fiction include environmental and nature themes, which can be written in a wide variety of styles and span all genres including mystery, romance, thriller, coming-of-age, dystopian, utopian, magical realism, and realist fiction. This sub-genre can be as diverse as our natural world. It is multicultural, global—and may include animals too. Environmental fiction explicitly explores humanity’s impact on the natural world.
How do you frame an environmental crisis as a satisfying mystery for young readers? An ecological mystery is a scientific investigation and a mystery combined into an exciting adventure story. In an eco-mystery the role of villain is played by an ecological problem that is harming a species. The characters are affected by the problem, and like good detectives they must carry out an investigation that will identify the causes of the problem and then help to solve it. The characters are the emotional engine of the stories. They include victims who are hurt. Villains who are responsible for the hurt. And heroes that bring promise of reprieve for the victims.
To solve the problem the characters must gather scientific data, theories, facts, policies, and possible solutions related to the issue. Environmental fiction depends on researching the scientific information crucial to solving the mystery. Research includes reading relevant books, scientific papers, interviews with wildlife biologists, specialists in fields related to the topic, and field trips. Although the time spent on research is extensive it is a rewarding an intriguing part of the process, modeled by the characters in the story.
It is critical to balance the nonfiction science elements with an entertaining plot. Writers must avoid hitting the pause button by dumping large blocks of information that halts the flow of the narrative. Do not hit the pause button with information dumps. Compelling environmental fiction weaves scientific, economic, environmental facts and issues beyond statistics, charts, and political ideologies into storytelling by entering the experience the characters’ feelings and the struggles they must overcome. Powerful storytelling techniques are the keys to touching readers' hearts, igniting their imagination, and inspiring them to build a bridge to tomorrow. This is an example excerpted from The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries. Mrs. Mariposa describes what happened to the butterflies overwintering in Mexico, after a big snowstorm:

“Tomas only found out what happened to the butterflies after the snow melted enough to make it possible to take tourists up to the sanctuary. As he guided them up the steep path, Tomas got a very bad feeling. There were no butterflies to be seen along the way. When they were almost at the sanctuary, the wind shifted a strange smell hit them. It was sickly sweet, like rotten pumpkins mixed with stale food.”
“That’s disgusting,” Crystal McCall whispers to her sidekick, Wanda.
“Tomas wondered where the awful smell could be coming from,” Mrs. M says.” When he looked more closely, he couldn’t believe his eyes. What he thought were fallen leaves, turned out to be millions of monarchs. They were all dead their delicate wings covered in ice.”
A gasp runs through the classroom. “Millions!” someone exclaims.
. . . “Is there anything the scientists can do to help the monarchs? Is there anything we can do to help? “Jose swallows so hard I can see his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. I like that he cares so much he wants to do something. . . .
I’m practically squirming in my seat and blurt out, “There is something we can do!”

Generally, bookstores and libraries do not provide a section labeled environmental fiction or climate fiction, often shelving these books under traditional genre labels, which creates a challenge for marketers. Marketing environmental fiction involves similar steps to marketing any book, including finding agents, publishers, building a web site, posting on social media, book launches, and school visits. It is also helpful to join groups that promote environmental fiction including, The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), Ashland Creek Press, Writers Rebel, The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), and the Climate Fiction Writers League.

This article was published in the February, 2023 edition of
XR Writers Rebel

Natsilane's Lament

By Alysie Muckpa


We are ancient. We are weathered. We appeared 50 million years ago, long before the first humans. We live in the world’s oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropical seas around the equator. We are many times larger than any human. They call us mammals, like them. To them we are also monsters of the deep. A few of us have lived for 200 hundred years. Our bodies are scared with messages for humans to decipher. We conserve life on this planet by capturing carbon from the atmosphere. We are beacons of hope for the future.
But something has gone wrong. Dead whales have begun washing ashore. I, Natsilane, one of the dead, will speak on their behalf. We mourn the deaths of each member of our family struck by ships, tangled in fishing nets, suffocated by oil and chemical spills, chocked by plastic pollution, and starved because of climate change. Some humans enjoy whale watching. They take photos of whales, ignoring our scars, our thinning sides, the spine bones sticking out on our backs. When humans do pause to look at us—really look at us—it is with wonder or pity.
Humans are ignoring the wisdom of their ancestors. There are fewer of us now, but we will keep singing to them, begging them to listen. To see the warning signs. Do not be misled by our gigantic strength. We do not have the power to fight the damage humans have caused. The grief of the world touches us. The blazing sun, the wild storms, the frigid air, the roaring gales, the rising seas. We have felt the ice melting, seen the plankton and the krill dying, leaving us starving.
It is hard to talk about what is happening or what could happen next. Though it is frightening to see humans destroy themselves and the planet without mercy, it is heartening to know some humans are fighting to save whales, to save life in the oceans and on land.
We are have many obstacles to overcome, but will keep on striving. It’s great to be an ancient species, to be alive, to feel hope.