Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Adam Rakunas Delivers Action, Environmentalism and Union Organizing in Windswept

My interview with Adam Rakunas, which was posted on the New Books Network today, is my fifth with the nominees for this year's Philip K. Dick Award. His novel, Windswept, is a sprawling and funny adventure that focuses on a very stressful few days in the life of Padma Mehta, a labor organizer turned action hero on a planet far far away.

Mehta is basically part Philip Marlow, part Norma Rae, part Jessica Jones as she manages the day-to-day machinations of helping run a blue-collar planet and simultaneously battling an interstellar corporate conspiracy.

Windswept is full of action, plot twists and humor. But that doesn’t mean it shies away from grappling with important issues, including a looming environmental disaster—specifically a crop-killing plague that threatens to destroy the monoculture crop that the entire universe depends on.

Just as Mehta jumped through numerous hoops to save her world, so did Rakunas to get Windswept published. After working on the novel for several years, he sent the manuscript to 65 agents, and was rejected by 64 of them. The wisdom of the 65th to take him on was vindicated this past January, when Windswept was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. Although it didn’t win top honors (which went to Ramez Nam, who will be featured in the next New Books in Science Fiction podcast), Rakunas is well on his way to establishing himself as a science fiction writer with a unique voice and vision.

Windswept’s sequel, Like a Boss, will be published June 7.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Day at Puyallup GREAT Camp

I directed and edited this video about a very cool program created and run by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Of course, I had a lot of help putting it together. My colleagues at the Center for Court Innovation, especially Adelle Fontanet and Leah Russell, played invaluable roles as co-producers, and the team that runs the Tribal Justice Exchange provided crucial advice and feedback.

The video features the natural wonders of the Puyallup community's tribal land as well as the talents of cinematographer Juan Carlos Borrero. Composer and musician Dawn Avery gets credit for the fantastic soundtrack. But at the heart of the video are the folks who created the amazing GREAT Camp, both staff and students. They welcomed us into their lives and moved us with their stories. For their kindness, honesty and friendship, I will be forever grateful.

Below is a photo of Juan Carlos, me and Adelle interviewing a group of counselors during last summer's shoot .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Ramp Season & Responsible Harvesting

I'm not sure why I love ramps so much. Taste alone doesn't explain it (although they're delicious). I think it has something to do with the fact that it's unusual to find food that's grown and harvested in the wild which is edible from the tip of its roots to the end of its leaves--and that ends up in a farmers market, so I don't have to tramp around the wilderness myself to find it.

I've seen this particular man with a table full of ramps every spring for the last several years. He's in Union Squre most Saturdays, selling potatoes and homemade potato chips, but only in April and part of May is he hawking ramps. So the seasonality of ramps is also appealing--knowing that I only have a few weeks to enjoy them.

And now that I've said all that, I want to point out that it's important to collect ramps responsibly. As soon as I posted this photo on Instagram, I searched for other photos tagged #rampseason and found this photo by besupstate, which explains that "it takes a ramp plant 5-7 years to fully mature before it
drops its seeds" and urges ramp lovers to "consider cooking with the stems and greens only,
leaving the bulbs in the ground. Let's forage sustainably so we don't
deplete them." That led me to the ramp entry on Wikipedia, which has a section on conservation, which reads, in part:

Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act.

The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States.... Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.

So I hope this man, and anyone who makes a living from collecting and selling ramps, doesn't let them go the way of the dodo or passenger pigeon or any of these extinct plants. And I hope that my enjoyment of them--and my extolling them here--doesn't contribute to an unsustainable demand. I'd be happy to eat them without the bulbs, so I hope vendors start selling them that way.