Writing, Frenzy.

In 2017, I moved home to the Mojave, although I grew up in Connecticut. I’ve been in a writing frenzy ever since, trying new things, playing with form, opening up to everything I might want (need) to write. Lately, it seems my words are landing with enthusiastic publishers, and that is so good I almost don’t want to say it out loud lest I jinx it.

Today, Pine Hills Review published my little story-as-answering-machine-message Neighborhood Watch, circa 2009. Just last week, The Weeklings posted my short, satirical and all-too-timely piece What’s Your Problem with Joe Biden? Last month, my contemplative, desert-y flash I Was a Pink Bath Bomb went up at Mojave He[art] Review.

I even tried my hand at sci-fi and wrote From The Angels to Snakes, which was performed with a full cast and original music on the Simultaneous Times podcast.

As always, a full list of my publications can be found HERE.

I am (forever) grateful to all those who publish, produce, read, and share my words.

 

 

 

Susan Does Sci-Fi

Okay, I admit it: I was a snob, when it came to sci-fi. Isn’t that for boys? Isn’t that lighter, pulpier stuff, nerd fantasy, spaceships, oversexed aliens? It doesn’t tackle the Big Questions like Lit’ry Fiction. Okay, I was ignorant. But I smartened up!

Jean-Paul Garnier, publisher of Space Cowboy Books, which last year released my chapbook of tiny stories Swap / Meet, suggested I try my hand at science fiction. He produces a monthly science fiction and speculative podcast called Simultaneous Times (available on itunes, spotify, googleplay etc.), which is beautifully produced with full-cast recordings, custom music, sound effects. Each episode is like an old radio play, but the stories are of this moment and far beyond. Writing “From The Angels to Snakes,” the story that appears in Episode 14, I learned so much about what sci-fi can do, in terms of storytelling. Researching as much female-driven sci-fi as I could, and thinking deeply about what might be possible in a story unconstrained by the factual reality of present or past, I found myself quite inspired. “From The Angels to Snakes” is a dystopian, feminist story that I’m proud of and can’t wait to share. I’m grateful to everyone who worked on it: Music by loopool & RedBlueBlackSilver; Read by Susan Rukeyser, Zara Kand, Danu Heatherly & Jean-Paul Garnier. This was truly a community effort. If you’re so moved, please give it a listen. And subscribe to this terrific podcast.

Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of Rage

Huge thanks to Read Her Like an Open Book for allowing me to explain how Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology came to be. As Editor Bill Wolfe said on Twitter: “When enough is enough, it’s time to take out the bullhorn.

From Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of RageI became a publisher impulsively, in this moment of rage. My own words failed. But I knew there were writers who still had theirs, who could articulate their fury, indignation, sorrow. That’s how it works, in this resistance marathon: we take turns. We share, and our collective words carry us. … I had no idea how to publish a book. I figured I would learn.

 

 


 

 

 

C U N T

I get it. Some of you are uncomfortable with the word “cunt.” You certainly don’t want to hear it said aloud. You don’t even want to see it written, each letter just sitting there, brazen, unashamed, like a naked body sprawled across the floor you have to step over and can’t avoid:

C U N T.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sorry. I won’t apologize for Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Never. I will not tiptoe around your discomfort. I will not even soften it by inserting asterisks where letters belong. Although, of course, I realize that some people and publications will require asterisks, I will never use them. Words are powerful, yes. If a word makes you uncomfortable, look at it harder. Your discomfort is the point. If you’re not a member of a marginalized group that has had “cunt” used to oppress you: YOU DON’T GET A SAY. If it has been used against you, I’m sorry. And, also: I think you’re going to want to read this book. These 36 fierce contributors have the guts to confront this word, and—more importantly—the sexist culture that defined and weaponized it. These contributors take back “cunt.” They take control of the narrative of our own lives.

These 55 lean, feminist pieces (poems and very short prose) don’t back away from controversy. They run headlong toward what we’ve been told not to say, think, be. They reject the patriarchal idea that we’re forbidden to speak the words used against us. I invite you to join us.

It’s okay if you’re not ready. But do not ask me to spend time and energy explaining or excusing myself. The time for that sort of endless, unpaid, emotional labor by women is over. Read Feckless Cunt to understand why I think it is not only okay but necessary to write and say

C U N T

as many times as it takes to change the world, a little. You do not have to listen. You do not have to stay in this room where C U N T is sprawled across the floor. I just ask that you let us speak and write and confront what needs confronting. I am not afraid of words or your disapproval. I am afraid of losing my freedom of speech—an understandable fear, I think, considering how the current administration makes daily noise against the free press and dissent. Speak now or forever…better yet, listen: Feckless Cunt will be available for order in the next couple of weeks. I will let her have the final say, without asterisks or apologies.

 

 

15 Minutes for My 2 Cents

In Joshua Tree, California, we have a community lecture series called “Teddy” Talks, a take on the famous TED talks. They’re held at Beatnik Lounge, an art space and JT’s unofficial community center. This month I appeared with two other authors, Rose Baldwin and Gabriel Hart. We had a blast. The crowd was kind and interested, the conversation stimulating. My talk was titled: Rejecting the Rules and Criticism that Derail Writers. The subject is dear to me. I also discussed both my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying and my brand-new, flash fiction chapbook, Swap / Meet.

So if you have fifteen minutes for my two cents, click below.

Thanks,
Susan

Listen for what I don’t say.

Sometimes I wonder if I have the face of a woman who needs help. I am frequently offered advice. I do ask lots of questions, and I can see how that might seem, to some, like I want answers. Probably I’m just being polite. Or I’m after your stories. I want to get you talking so I can watch. I want to hear what you don’t tell me. Keep talking. I’m not listening, but I am.

Now, days before my 50th birthday, I look in the mirror and see a face with deepening lines, silver hair, and eyes that have seen love and marriages and travel and motherhood and shitty jobs and rescued animals and exhilarating art and my own writing published and grief and failure and a second, solo, cross-country move that finally convinced me I might be kind of a badass. I see the face of a woman who has a word or two of advice to GIVE, in fact.

Not that you asked. So go ahead and ignore me. Or listen for what I don’t say.

Lighten Up, Francis. Humor is a survival skill, especially in dark times like these we’ve lived since November 2016. Some of us can’t stay afloat without it. Humorlessness is tiresome. It does not prove your commitment to the resistance. In fact, since humor disarms and draws others in, it can be a useful tool. Not everything is a fight to prove your position is the correct one. Life is hard and brief, so maybe just crack a smile. It’s good for you, and the rest of us, too.

I Would Prefer Not To. It’s okay to say NO, and you don’t even have to come up with an excuse. NO to going to that thing you dread. NO to small talk with that acquaintance you don’t trust. NO to gatherings where you’re expected to play an old role. NO to staying where it’s safe but not happy. You deserve joy in every shade of the spectrum: comfort, safety, friendship, support, bonding, duty, desire, lust. And everything in between. Move towards joy, always. Move away from anything less.

It’s Going To Be A Beautiful Wall. You’re the architect of your life. Get your hands on those blueprints ASAP. Construct your present, add on, renovate, tear it down to sticks and start over. Point yourself in the direction of a future you’d like, but understand it’s like a note added to a dinner reservation: “Quiet table by the window, please.” We regret to inform you that requests are not guaranteed. However old you are, you’ve been hearing it all your life—how things should be done. What you ought to do, and in what order. How you must behave. Has it occurred to you that it might be bullshit? You have one chance to experience life. Take a big bite, a wide view. Be a good enough friend to yourself to build and fortify your boundaries. Make them beautifulopaque, if not transparent. Sturdy.

People Are Strange When You’re A Stranger. It’s not wrong just because it’s unfamiliar to you. We all have a different way of being in the world. Notice your resistance—when you feel defensive, you’re bumping up against one of those “shoulds” you were taught and maybe believed. Breathe, listen. You, too, can live any damn way you please.

Some Small Good News.

The latest issue of Cholla Needles is out, and I’m thrilled to have 3 short pieces included. Buy it here for just 5 American dollars. Cholla Needles Press started earlier this year and has published books in addition to the magazine, which is now on Issue 12, so that gives you an idea of the literary energy here in Joshua Tree, CA. They hold monthly readings on an outdoor stage behind local bookstore Space Cowboy Books, drawing together a vibrant and welcoming crowd that includes many talented local writers and others who regularly come through to visit and read.

These are my first publications since moving out here. They were all written in this ecstatic creative flurry I’ve happily and gratefully surrendered to since I finally unpacked my boxes. There is something about this place: the expanse, the silence, the glorious sunshine.

My 3 pieces are: “About a Month In The Desert,” flash CNF about my experience moving to the desert from someplace very different; “HUMAN | NATURE,” micro prose inspired by the view from the mineral-encrusted “rainbow” terraces, or cliffs, of Thermopolis, WY; and a flash piece called “1 table, 2 chairs: ugly,” part of a series I’m working on called SWAP/MEET (virtual).

There is so much good work within these pages and I am honored to have mine included. And I’m thrilled to see my name against the brilliant blue sky that is making me a writer again, at last.

orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE

My novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying, has been out for two years this fall. It’s increasingly rare to hear from a reader encountering it for the first time, but because I recently moved and found a vibrant and supportive literary community, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to put it into new hands. Last weekend, as I settled in to watch some performance art among the rocks of Joshua Tree National Park (have I mentioned how much I love this place?), a reader told me she’d noticed a tiny detail in NOFOD that no one else has, at least as far as I know. When she told me, I shrieked in surprise and delight. (Apologies, I know how sound carries in the desert.)

What she found is a tiny “Easter egg” I planted in honor of the poet Muriel Rukeyser, who I happen to be related to but would revere for her words and example regardless. As a kid, I knew of her but didn’t spend time with her, and she was gone before I could express my appreciation. I reread her poems often, taking inspiration and reassurance from her wise, bold, precise language.

I nestled a reference to her poem “Ballad of Orange and Grape” (from Breaking Open, 1973) into Chapter Nine of NOFOD. Marko, the main character, is in New York City, stalking Daniel, a man who hurt his beloved Lola and may have answers Marko intends to demand. Marko and Lola are equally reviled in their mid-Hudson Valley hometown. They both have sketchy pasts, questionable appearance, bad habits. They are barely tolerated. How we judge and label others—how we consider them “others,” in fact—are questions that developed into themes for NOFOD, and which I find addressed in Muriel’s work.

So I sent her a tiny, belated thank you, knowing it might go unnoticed. I am so grateful to the reader who noticed my tribute and I remain grateful to every reader, especially those who have mentioned something, however small, that resonated with them. That is, of course, the best moment for a writer: making that connection.

Please take a couple of minutes to hear “Ballad of Orange and Grape,” read by the poet:

Unsettle that dust.

I move in 30 days. The house I’m moving to is quite small, less than half the size of this one. So far I’ve culled mountains of STUFF: donated most, tossed some. It is glorious, that unburdening. The more STUFF you shed, the more easily you see what might be shed next, and next! Space opens up and, as you move what hasn’t moved in years, you literally shift the air. You release swirls of dust and complacency you hadn’t noticed accumulating beneath furniture, behind books, in the crevices of knick-knacks that used to mean more. Suddenly, STUFF is hindrance: literal weight on a truck you will pay for. Ask: Does it serve me? Do I love it? It seems like a lot to ask STUFF to “spark joy,” but, sure, ask that too.

In the back of one closet I found a box of books and papers, mostly research for Not On Fire, Only Dying: the Ashokan Dam, New York State sentencing laws, missing child procedures, the Romani people, psychiatric meds and diagnoses, strains of marijuana. Bus schedules. A Hudson Valley street atlas. Poems and paintings that inspired NOFOD from its beginnings. I’m getting rid of more than you might think and holding onto more than I should.

The box also held a binder of stories and miscellaneous literary efforts I’d published in online journals, printed out as if I’d worried the internet might suddenly, permanently crash (not gonna lie—sometimes I do worry about that.) I came across a tiny list I wrote for Treehouse Magazine:I hadn’t known, but I’d needed to find and re-read this. I needed to be reminded of the Susan who wrote it. I needed to remember that I’ve found inspiration after long silence before and I will again. In the midst of this move, people sometimes ask, “Are you writing?” and I want to kill them (maybe not all the way dead) because NO—of course I’m not writing. I am cleaning and sorting and packing and getting my only child off to college and changing my whole life—but no, I’m afraid I am not writing. Some writers write through everything—storms much worse—and many more panic when they can’t. For me, occasional silence is expected and necessary. I still absorb material and dialogue and formulate ideas, but for now it’s a one-way process. Maybe I’m okay with breaking rules like “WRITE EVERY DAY” because I’m finally old enough to see how many rules are bullshit.

In any case, I’ve given myself permission to fall short.

“Five Paintings” accompanied a flash piece published by Treehouse Magazine: “Just Like Lily.” I went online and re-read it. I liked it, a few years on. That’s always a relief. It was a departure of sorts—something about the tone. It was also one of my most openly feminist pieces. I think I need to write more of those.

This got me thinking about Treehouse Magazine, which I hadn’t seen anything from in a while—years, it seemed. A quick search found a recent announcement of their relaunch this October! I am thrilled. Who doesn’t love a comeback? What’s better than a return to words? I look forward to mine. And if yours are also somewhat out of reach at present, please take a look at one or all of those five paintings. Anywhere is a good place to start. The words will come when you’re ready.

Proserpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

To Be Continued.

In a couple of months I’ll move from Georgia, where I’ve lived for 11 years and never belonged, to the California desert. This isn’t my first time moving across country. It’s not even my first time moving alone to California. At 22, fresh out of college in New York, I was fucking fearless. I remember my parents expressing concern about my plan—what plan? But I felt infinitely strong. I rented a studio apartment in San Francisco for about $400/month. It was small enough that I could lie diagonally and almost touch the walls. It was on a gritty block behind the opera house, before that neighborhood was transformed, for better or worse. There was often shouting from the street. I just took it all in. Inhaled sights and sounds and smells and people and experience, like I do.

I got a job working in a group home for profoundly troubled young kids, victims of the most horrific abuse, usually at the hands of their parents. Sometimes they were violent—of course they were. I was paid $7/hour. I didn’t have a car, just a bike. I rode it everywhere, including to the grocery store. I’d load up two saddlebags, then churn the pedals up and down San Francisco’s hills, my legs draining with the effort. Everything was hard. I was deliriously happy.

Now I’m 49. Lately my body hints at its inevitable deterioration with more frequency. Subtle changes with a whiff of more to come: stubbed toes that fracture, a sprained rotator cuff that never fully healed, a tricky knee, and a neck, stiff from the effort of holding still when I want to RUN. So now I’m running. While I can. I won’t get stuck here, frozen like my neck on a cold, rainy night. I’m fleeing to California, again. Older, maybe wiser. Still pretty fucking fearless. This time I’m moving to where it’s hot and dry and my bones feel good. My brain feels better out there, not bombarded by stimuli. I am strong but not as strong as I was: I will drive to the grocery store. I will take it easy on my toes, shoulder, knee, neck—but you’d better believe I’ll be out there hiking and scrambling around, inhaling that wide open blue-sky silence. I will resist deterioration, to a point, while also celebrating what aging brings, including the confidence to stand up sometimes and declare: Next Chapter, To Be Continued.