CCS Math Alumnus Earns Grand-Prize in 2016 Climate Fiction Contest
2016 CCS Mathematics graduate Taom Sakal was recently named one of two grand-prize winners of the Climate Futures: This Changes Everything’s Fall 2016 Climate Fiction Contest for his short story titled, “The Last Flower.” Sakal, currently studying Network Science in UCSB’s Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology Department as a graduate student, would seem an unlikely recipient of this prize. However, while his academic career is full of science research and he only took one writing class during his time as an undergraduate at UCSB, Sakal is much more than his CV.
This was not Sakal’s first piece of fiction. He started teaching himself creative and fiction writing as a freshman in high school after, as he describes it, he was “one of the worst creative writers in elementary and middle school.” He did this by reading as many stories as he could and by studying a wide range of books about how to write.
Although Sakal has been writing creatively for about a decade, his entrance into the Climate Fiction Contest was a fluke. “I was still on the CCS email list, even though I am not supposed to be,” he explained. “I saw the contest and it had a nice, big fat prize of an iPad mini so I thought, 'Yeah I can enter this.’" He did not think he would win so his story “wasn’t really serious,” saying he wrote it as “more of an exercise for practicing a few writing techniques.”
Sakal’s main focus was on the technique of micro tension, in which an author uses conflicting emotions or subtle questions to propel the reader through the boring section of a story. He recounted, “I got the most boring plot that I could think of and just tried to make it work using these techniques.” After winning the Climate Fiction Prize, Sakal can cross off micro tension as a technique in which he is proficient.
Sakal tried to keep his personal opinions and biases out of the piece to give both sides of the climate change issue equal time. He believes that when an author fairly represents both sides as best as possible, it “creates a dialogue and empathy between the two sides.” He doesn’t avoid the fact that this may just entrench both sides deeper, but he is optimistic and believes, “whether it is public discourse, fiction writing or academic writing, when each side is fairly represented it leads to greater communication and understanding.”
Sakal has a passion for creative writing and would like to pursue it full time, but sees the challenges in making it a career. He thinks many of his creative writing techniques “can be transferred to academic and scientific writing to better communicate to the public and other scientists.” So, for now, he is happy to continue his studies and research as a scientist while writing creatively in his free time.
Check out Sakal’s full piece here.