Author to Author with Sarena Ulibarri (Another Life)

Happy release day to Another Life by Sareena Ulibarri, a piece of solarpunk climate fiction about Otra Vida, a post-capitalist society that offers a way of life and governance that’s more egalitarian than the previous version of the world. It’s a novella grappling with past lives and offers a compassionate and forgiving approach to working through the sins of humanity’s past and how personal mistakes don’t necessarily doom the present.

I’m excited to have Sarena on the blog to talk about how this novel turned into a novella, what she’s working on next, and how slush reading influenced her approach to her own work.

Buy Link: Stelliform Press

Arriving at Another Life

What came to you first: the characters, the concept, or something else entirely?

First was the concept of the reincarnation results. What if you could know, with scientific proof, who you were in a previous life? And what if you found out your previous self had done terrible things? This is a premise that could have large-scale impacts, but I wanted to tell a more personal story, exploring the implications of this discovery in a microcosm. So next came the idea of Otra Vida, an isolated solarpunk city. From there, I reverse engineered the characters of Galacia and Ramsey: Who started this community and why does everyone revere her? And what reincarnation result would create the most turmoil for a character and community like that? 

How much did the story change between drafts/revision rounds, if it did at all?

Originally, it was an 88,000-ish word novel. I queried it to agents in 2019, but only a few—I think I knew the story wasn’t working, but I was too close to it to understand why. I shelved it for a few years, until a friend encouraged me to submit to Stelliform Press. Looking at the book again after that break, I realized what a hot mess it was! There were poorly drawn villains, big logic leaps, and superfluous subplots, including a pandemic conspiracy that came across as super cringe in a post-2020 world. So I stripped it down to the core of the story I wanted to tell, and discarded all the rest. Even after that, parts of it changed quite a lot. I lost track of how many drafts this story went through between 2017 and 2023.

What was your favorite scene or moment to write?

In Chapter Two, a new potential resident arrives in Otra Vida and Galacia gives him a tour of the city. I had a lot of fun imagining the structure and aesthetic of a sustainable desert city, describing the vertical farm and solar cooking stations, the art projects and makerspace. The city surrounds an artificial lake, so I learned what I could about the history of places like Lake Havasu and the Salton Sea, which led me to discover an anarchist community called Slab City in southern California. A few details of Otra Vida were influenced by Slab City, though mostly this research helped me think through ways to make my lawless desert city safer and more supportive than that one. Galacia is impatient during the tour scene because she’s eager to collect her reincarnation results, but as the writer, I would have been happy to spend even more time wandering around this fictional town.

How does being an editor and story reviewer inform your process, if it does at all?

Reading literally thousands of climate fiction short stories in the Imagine 2200 and World Weaver Press slush piles has given me a decent sense of the way authors are approaching this topic, as well as what works to create a compelling climate story, and what doesn’t. That certainly influences the way I write and the ideas I choose to spend my time on. Beyond that, writing and editing occupy pretty different parts of my brain. I’ve always considered myself a writer first and foremost. I like to think that I have more empathy for the editors of my work, having been on the other side myself, but I’m also perhaps braver than some writers when it comes to saying no to suggested changes when they don’t fit my intention.

On Publishing

Is Another Life your first novella?

It is! Quite a few of my short stories have been published, but this is the longest work anyone outside of my critique group has seen from me. I’m happy to report it won’t be my last: in December 2023, Android Press will publish another of my novellas, titled Steel Tree. It’s a science fiction retelling of The Nutcracker, in which the Nutcracker is an agricultural droid and the Sugar Plum Fairy is an alien who communicates through dance.

What has been your experience with Stelliform Press been like, especially being an editor yourself?

Selena Middleton is a fantastic editor, and the final version of the book is a thousand times better than I could have managed without her pushing me to make it better. The initial acceptance was conditional: she liked the story, but had an issue with an important scene near the end, and asked if I was willing to do a major rewrite. It actually took several rewrites before we got that scene to a place we were both happy with. I’m so grateful she was able to see the potential in the unpolished draft.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a new climate fiction/science fiction novel that I’m hoping to start querying soon. It’s set in a near-future Denver, which is actually my hometown, so that’s been fun to imagine—and easier, in a way, than imagining a fictional city in Death Valley, like in Another Life!

What works are you looking forward to that are out now or forthcoming?

I love everything I’ve ever read by Octavia Cade, so I’m very much looking forward to her collection You Are My Sunshine and Other Stories, which will be published by Stelliform Press in September 2023.

Sometime this summer, the Solar Flare anthology from Zombies Need Brains will be available. I have a story in there, but I can’t wait to read the rest of it!

Sarena Ulibarri is a speculative fiction author and editor from the American Southwest. Her short stories have appeared in LightspeedDreamForgeGigaNotoSaurus, Solarpunk Magazine, and elsewhere, and nonfiction essays have appeared in Strange Horizons and Grist. Her novella, Another Life, was published by Stelliform Press in 2023. As an anthologist, she has curated and published several international volumes of optimistic climate fiction: Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers (2018), Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters (2020), and Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures (2021). 

Photo by Halo Stone Photography


One thought on “Author to Author with Sarena Ulibarri (Another Life)

  1. Pingback: May 2023 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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