Abby Geni’s credentials are impressive enough to catch any editor’s eye: graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, winner of the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, and was listed in 2010 Best American Short Stories—and her work comes with a raving endorsement from Dan Chaon.

But when Dan Smetanka received Geni’s short story collection, The Last Animal, from Laura Langlie—who, as he says, “seems to discover literary gems sitting by her koi pond in Brooklyn”—what caught his eye wasn’t her pedigree, but the distinct worlds her stories create: “[We see] a young boy watching the dissolution of his parents’ marriage on an ostrich farm in the desert; a scientist confronting the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; a young man grieving over his wife’s miscarriage who finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things,” says the Counterpoint editor-at-large. “The writer’s eye was both clear and tender, strong and empathetic.”

With her debut, Geni hopes to remind literary fiction fans of the ways in which nature is central to our lives. She says, “One of the great illusions of the human experience is that we are somehow outside of nature—beyond the food chain—that we are not animals ourselves. I hope to both explore and challenge that illusion.”

Geni’s live-and-let-live approach also extends to her writing routine, which ebbs and flows depending on her level of inspiration: “I only write when I know I’ve got juice. I know many authors who are able to sit down at the computer for a certain number of hours every day, rain or shine, but I’m not one of them. If the instinct isn’t there, I don’t push it.”