Chana Porter celebrated the release of her novel The Seep at Powerhouse in Brooklyn. Porter, a playwright and teacher, has also co-founded the Octavia Project, an organization that uses science fiction to encourage and empower young women and nonbinary youth. She was joined at Powerhouse by Amy Brady, Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Book sand Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine.
The Seep explores the story of 50-year-old Trina, a trans artist and doctor dealing with the invasion by a benevolent and powerful alien force that has created a global utopia. The seep connects and binds everything in the world providing humans a sense of empathy and connection with animals and plants. Porter read briefly from the novel before Brady began interviewing her.
Porter explains she is fascinated by fraught utopias. They are more complex than a dystopia which is easy and clear cut, and more closely matches the world we live in now. She wanted to focus on how people relate to each other. What if we had everything we needed provided, and there was no stress about health, money or time? That doesn’t mean there isn’t tension. The characters are left to spend time with themselves and with each other. They end up forced to confront different choices and internalized thoughts, but this still creates struggles and conflict.
“I think there is so much beauty and value in struggle,” Porter says. Trina feels a great deal of pain because her spouse no longer wants to be her spouse. “Ending things and change is always really tough.” Loving someone means allowing them change, and sometimes that means allowing them to leave.
When writers start long-term projects like a novel, Porter advises creating characters that you want to spend time with. The Seep took her a decade to write, and it was essential for her to like spending time with Trina. She also wanted to show someone who was comfortable in their body.
Porter started writing the book while she was part of the Goddard College low residency MFA. She wanted to study under Rachel Pollack, a science fiction writer, tarot scholar, and “trans pioneer.” Porter calls it a blessing to write her character, Trina, under Pollack’s mentorship, and although Pollack and Trina share some characteristics, their experiences with society are quite different because The Seep is set in the near future, meaning Trina came of age under very different cultural norms than Pollack. Pollack blazed the trail, Porter says.
As a character, Trina believes identity as a meaningful thing, but living with the Seep means anything is possible. But there is a danger; pain and trauma can whitewashed by the benevolence of the Seep. Trina begins to see people stepping in and out of identities like they are slipping on coats — and just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.
“The main ethos of the book that I’m trying to get across is that we’re all connected,” Porter says. In the novel, the Seep has connected humanity with all living things. Porter explains that the choices that are made now are going to affect every living being on the planet, and she ponders why nobody really thinks about that today.
The example she uses to explain her philosophy is her clothing. What if, she posits, by wearing an article of clothing, we could feel the pain and suffering endured to produce it, or the chemicals leaching it out of it. We would as a result, all feel more connected to each other and have a much better understanding of how everything is connected. Considering these connections might lead us to change our consumption. For instance, opting out of cow milk because of the environmental impact and choosing almond milk may have a profound impact on something else, like bees. There is of course, the potential of paralysis if we think too much about these connections.
Novels are written at a glacial pace, Porter explains. She began writing The Seep back in 2013, and at one point began re-writing totally from scratch. However, Porter is also a playwright. That process is different, though, because it’s more collaborative.
“When I write plays, nobody expects me to talk about them.”