This story is part of Fix’s Climate Fiction Issue, which explores how fiction can create a better reality. Check out the full issue here, including the short stories in Fix’s first-ever climate-fiction contest, Imagine 2200.
Spoiler alert: This interview discusses Ailbhe Pascal’s short story Canvas – Wax – Moon. If you haven’t read it yet, go do that now.
It’s not immediately obvious that Ailbhe Pascal is a witch. They don’t wear a pointy hat or scoot around on a broomstick. If you catch them around West Philadelphia, you’re far more likely to see them on a bench in Malcolm X Park, dutifully masked, draped in a paisley shawl and scribbling in their notebook.
To Pascal, magic comes in many forms, very few of which resemble Hollywood’s tropes. And as a trained cook, herbalist, and writer, Pascal is almost always making magic. Growing up, relatives of various cultural backgrounds taught them to write poetry, read tarot cards, and practice rituals that honored nature and the seasons. But Pascal’s brand of witchcraft is more of a philosophy than a set of actions. “The practice I was raised with has to do with honoring what feels true to you and seeking that,” they say.
Canvas – Wax – Moon, the short story that made them a finalist for Imagine 2200, Fix’s first climate-fiction contest, provides another glimpse of their craft. As someone who is queer, non-binary, and disabled due to a degenerative bone disease, Pascal turns to writing to imagine a world in which they and their loved ones are celebrated. That yearning is woven throughout Canvas – Wax – Moon, which tells the story of a character remarkably similar to Pascal: Ashix, a non-binary young adult who walks with a cane and is supported by their family and neighbors as they prepare to get an abortion.
Not expecting to see abortion in a cli-fi story? To Pascal, it makes perfect sense. In their fictional world, all living beings, from humans to trees, are respected, cherished and granted bodily autonomy. Reproductive rights are part of the package. Embracing the messiness of life — “mundane human nonsense,” as they call it — is an essential part of Pascal’s writing. A future without injustice isn’t one without conflict. And to Pascal, conflict is when the magic happens.
Fix talked to Pascal about how witchcraft intersects with climate justice, what attracted them to speculative fiction, and why they chose to write about a subject that’s still considered taboo by a sizable portion of the population. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How long have you been interested in climate fiction? What drew you to the genre and to this contest?
A. To me, climate fiction isn’t just about how we imagine place and environment changing in the future, but also about how we relate to each other, relate to place, and relate to the more-than-human, and how those relationships can change in the future. That’s the juicy stuff about being an imaginative writer: imagining changing our relationships for the better and moving toward that with hope.
That’s been a throughline for me personally and for my writing for as long as I’ve been writing. But fiction specifically is newer for me. I came to fiction because I love reading fiction. And I kept having dreams about a story that I wanted to tell and wanted to be reading. So I started writing for myself.
Q. What makes Canvas – Wax – Moon a cli-fi story?
A. Canvas – Wax – Moon is first and foremost, for me, a story where the city has fundamentally changed its relationship to infrastructure — “infrastructure” meaning, on a local level, how are homes related to each other? And on a bigger scale, what do we do with government buildings? What is government? And recognizing that reparations and Indigenous sovereignty are imperatives. All of those things are just part of the world. To me, those are building blocks for a climate story.
Within that, you have a story about a young adult who’s relating to healing. The main character, Ashix, is held by this world in a way that represents a community’s commitment to each other, in a way that I see today and in a way that I believe will be our future.
Q. I feel like that implies that healing is a climate solution of sorts.
A. Climate fiction, for me, is an opportunity to imagine the people I know now being elders and being celebrated and imagining what we get to see in our children’s children or children’s children’s children. That in and of itself is like healing for us now, because we really need to believe that we’re going to be elders. And by “we,” I mean folks of color, sick folks, and neurodivergent folks. I mean folks who are targeted by violences and who are surviving right now. And when I think about climate, place, environment, who do I want in that place and environment? What [survivors] do I want in that future? I want my people, my community.
Healing is literal in this story: Two siblings are on a search for medicine. And there’s also real trust in disabled people, in neurodivergent people, and in plants to be healers. That’s part of a wider shift that needs to happen as we fight the climate crisis and capitalism, and work toward something new and healed.
Q. How do you go about creating and detailing an imaginary, immersive world?
A. I listen to my dreams. I record them, and I pay attention to them. There was a stretch of time where all I dreamed about was the future where this story was taking place. At first it wasn’t even about Ashix. It was just like, “What do I hope for as someone who is inheriting a wildly changing world? And what changes do I see happening now that I believe in — the changes that community organizers, urban farmers, and everyday neighbors are working together for?”
That expressed itself every time I would go to sleep. It was vivid and urgent to me to develop that. I’m lucky in that I have been able to talk to people and say, “I have this wild visioning thing happening right now. Where are you in this future? How can I love up on you by visioning you also?” There’s community in that building process.
Q. Your story is about an abortion. Some people may not expect to see that in a cli-fi story. Why did you feel it was important to write about that in such an unapologetic way?
A. Abortions are normal. People have them. Omitting normal experiences from the way we envision the future is counterproductive. I want to be a good elder, and I want to be the kind of elder who’s like, “Oh, do you need an abortion? Let’s make that happen for you. Let’s support you.” And I know that all of my loved ones want to be that kind of elder, too. So why not give us an opportunity to picture that?
When there’s a crisis, it’s easy to forget about the important mundane things that are happening in all of our lives. When we’re writing fiction about sea-level changes and how a community responds to that and that alone, we forget that people are having arguments. People are having bodily needs. That’s something I wanted to see in a climate story.
Q. In the world you’ve created, abortion is universally accepted and embraced. That is obviously not the world that we’re living in now. How do you see us getting to that point?
A. Reproductive justice is something we achieve by organizing for it. As an herbalist who has supported loved ones with their abortions, and as someone who is seeing how folks are fighting for that access right now by helping folks get to the clinic safely or make their appointments, I see real fatigue. We get to a place of normalness and ease when more of us are including reproductive care and justice as part of our worldview and doing that work.
I don’t believe that climate fiction needs to be utopic. I by no means meant for this story to be utopic. It’s totally possible in Ashix’s world that there are some folks who would teach their kids not to do the things that Pa Opelie [Ashix’s parent] is totally cool with happening, but I don’t need to focus on that.
Q. Let’s dig into that. What are the dangers, in your view, of striving for that perfect, idealized world in climate fiction?
A. Someone’s not going to like somebody for some reason, period. That has always been true. It always will be true. Conflict is important. It’s illuminating sometimes, if you let it be. Erasing conflict from stories is a slippery slope. Is conflict not happening for toxic reasons? That utopic worldview can mean that folks are afraid to talk about race or gender inequality or sex. Utopia comes from a white colonial vision of the world, and it’s nasty. Why would we want to perpetuate that?
At the same time, it’s exhausting to only read stories about the future where it’s all doom and gloom. There’s a balance. I tried to nod to the fact that the elder [Mellie] had been laughed at for sharing her ideas because people didn’t respect her for being a brown lady, for being disabled. And maybe some people still don’t, but we’re not talking about that in this story. In this story, we’re going to celebrate the heck out of her. She has so much to teach and share.
There’s this type of climate fiction where cars don’t exist, pharmacies don’t exist, and we’ve all gone off the grid. It’s this knee-jerk reaction: “Our current energy usage isn’t working; therefore, there’ll be no energy in the future.” That’s ableist and not helpful. It’s another utopic pitfall.
Q. Your story is populated with queer characters, including the protoganist. Why was that important to you?
A. It’s important to me to imagine a world where we have queer elders. Ashix has two grandmas, Jidda and Grams, who are head over heels for each other and have been together for a long time. They’re the support beams of their family. There’s so much trauma in not getting to see queer elders and celebrate them. We deserve to grow old and be seen and be loving to each other.
There’s this whole other aspect of Ash being non-binary. It’s not a thing that anyone has to ask questions about or have a label for, but they use they/them pronouns and they’re pregnant. Right now, that’s taboo and confusing for people. And then add on top of that the taboo of abortion. I just don’t see stories about trans folk needing abortions. That’s not the reality we live in. And if I’m going to tell a story about abortion that really resonates with me and feels like it’s speaking of truth, I want this character to be non-binary.
Queers at their best are innovators in mutual aid and are the epicenter of creativity in our world. Being queer right now means carving out a place to be and be vibrant and be loved. That divinity needs to be part of our plan to survive climate change. The visionaries that we need to look to are people who already are imbued in the work of taking better care and surviving.
Q. One of your characters, Mellie, is a witch — just like yourself. Can you explain what that means and how it relates to climate justice, if at all?
A. Witchcraft and climate fiction are related because both of them, for me, are about, “How do I be a good elder? What traditions am I carrying on? How am I taking care of the place that I’m in and the people who I’m around and all of the connections seen and unseen that I’m responsible for as a person on this planet?” There’s this sense of being in relationship with the world and all the beings in it, and imagining all of those relationships being well.
Witchcraft is also, for me, a spiritual practice of being consistently helpful. I have a loved one going into the hospital. I’m going to light a candle, and I’m going to make phone calls to all the relatives who need to know. Both of those are going to be my offerings. I’m going to believe that this is going to be OK and that we’re going to take care of each other. That is what I want to see in climate fiction.
Explore more from Fix’s Climate Fiction Issue:
- How a fictional innovation might become reality
- An interview with author Ada M. Patterson on the challenge of writing a hopeful future for her home country of Barbados
- Read the 12 winning stories of Fix’s climate-fiction contest