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.

Born and Dying: My First Book’s First Year

cvrIt’s not like I had no idea what to expect. As a bookseller I assisted with author events both swanky and huge (Pat Conroy at a Connecticut yacht-club brunch) and tiny and spare (local writers at my used bookstore in Kingston, New York). As a book buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor, I bought everything from small press titles to kids books to some of the largest adult trade lines (all of which have since folded into Random Penguin–yes, I know they prefer the names reversed.) Book promotion is an enormous challenge at every level. Even backed by a corporate publisher’s PR machine, many books struggle to attract interest. Every year, thousands of excellent books are published and ignored. It’s an honor to reach any readers. And if you hear from a few who loved your book and got what you were trying to say–well, let that wash over you, because that connection is everything. You get used to the non-responses from places you’d hoped to appear. You get used to leaving readings with unsold books. To empty seats in the audience. To other books getting more attention and praise. You stay grateful throughout.

So, to celebrate Not On Fire, Only Dying‘s first year, a multimedia look back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for hearing me.

Pics or it didn’t happen: proof it wasn’t a strange, beautiful dream with too much public speaking:

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Original music composed by Naomi Hamby for Not On Fire, Only Dying:

“Marko’s Theme” was used for the book trailer. Here it is accompanied by the previously unreleased “Lola’s Theme.”

Speaking of the trailer:

Maybe you’d like another listen to Marko’s mixtape?

Select blog posts written through acceptance, publication, and promotion. Short and honest:

Thank you for hearing me. (12/31/14)
Cats get in the way. (1/23/15)
No big deal, but…MY BOOK HAS A COVER. *swoon* (3/26/15)
Blurbs and Preorders and THANK YOU. (5/4/15)
Presenting my book trailer! And insecurities… (7/3/15)
Brooklyn, beginning. (9/5/15)
Have I mentioned I have a new book out? (9/29/15)
But is it art? On book reviews. (10/18/15)
More than chocolate? (2/4/16)`
What do you want? (5/11/16)

Thank you to everyone who read this book (and to those who have a copy and might yet get around to reading it–no worries. Trust me, I know how that goes. Maybe once in a while something small and unrelated will remind you of Not On Fire, Only Dying.

Happens to me all the time:

Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.

Marko mix-tapeI received this old mixtape in the mail shortly after completing Not On Fire, Only Dying (my debut novel, out Sept 15). It appears to have been made by one Marko Holomek, my book’s protagonist. Marko is a chivalrous, drug-dealing ex-con and a product of my imagination. So it was weird, getting this tape. cvr

For years (yup, years) Marko lived in my head and in stacks of unpublished pages. For years he lived with me. When the book was finished, he left. I don’t know where he is now. There was no note enclosed with the tape. No return address.

Marko is easy to love, I truly believe it — as damaged and dangerous as he is. Maybe because he himself loves so easily. There is nothing he won’t risk for Lola.

Marko loved the woman he made this mix-tape for, too. She does not appear in Not On Fire, Only Dying. She was part of Marko’s life before this novel, before his twenty years in prison, before Lola. My guess is he made the tape around 1990, when he was worried about this woman’s safety and knew she didn’t love him back. I can see Marko, a young man back then, selecting each song carefully, considering the lyrics and how the music felt. I see him hunched over a dual-cassette boom box. He has a finger poised above the Pause button because pausing before hitting Stop means a less noisy transition. He has a stack of his favorite cassettes and a pack of 90 minute blanks because 60 minutes aren’t enough to say what he needs to say.

But he only finished one side. What happened? Some interruption. Marko doesn’t quit, not ever.

I like these songs, it turns out. I’ve always liked them. I guess Marko knows me well, too. He sent the tape because he knows I will continue to tell every part of his story, even now that he and I are no longer in touch.

The old cassette came unspooled en route, I’m afraid. Luckily I found another way to share with you the songs Marko chose, once, a long time ago, for a woman who did not love him: