Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka (Interview)

Today my guest is Erica Satifka, whose debut novel, Stay Crazy comes out in one week!(The publisher is having a preorder price break for it right now, so if you’re interested, the link is below.)

SCfrontcover150_largeBlurb: After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.

An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.

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So now we get to talk with Erica about the book!

What is your new book about?
Stay Crazy is about an alien invasion at a big-box store in Western Pennsylvania. The only witness (well, at first) to the coming cataclysm is Emmeline Kalberg, a 19-year-old woman recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who goes to work at the store after taking a medical leave from college. When she hears a voice called Escodex through the RFID chips in frozen food containers, she has to figure out whether it’s real or a hallucination. As the book takes place in contemporary times, there’s also a lot of mundane-world stuff about coping with stigma and having a dysfunctional family.

As you can likely tell from the description, this isn’t an easy book to slot into genre categories. It’s not scientific enough to be science fiction, it’s a few shades too light for horror, but “weird fiction” seems to describe it the least well of all. My spouse says it’s urban fantasy, but if it’s that, it’s a really strange example.

How well do you relate to you main character in this book, Em?
In most ways, really well. We’re both working class, from Western Pennsylvania, and had the same job in a big-box store. We also both like riding our bikes and complaining about people. I also gave her my taste in music. But unlike Em, I don’t have schizophrenia, and that’s where the mountains of research came in. I’d like to think we’d be friends, at least in small-town PA, where the weird kids have to stick together.

Although I don’t have schizophrenia, I do have attention deficit disorder. And even though these two things are totally different, I feel like it gives me some perspective on what it’s like to be in a slightly different headspace from most people.

The title of the book is “Stay Crazy”….how did that title come about?
I literally changed the name of the book moments before submitting it! The novel was originally called Entity after the evil alien force in the book, but that was a really boring placeholder title that I always knew I’d replace. I wanted the title to have something to do with mental illness, but also not be a very serious or “heavy”-sounding title, because Em is no mere emo chick. I was waffling on the title, hand hovering over the keyboard when Stay Crazy popped into my head and I asked my spouse about it and they gave me the thumbs-up. It’s definitely not meant to be derogatory toward people with mental illness, but is instead used as a form of reappropriation.

What is one thing you would want to tell the readers of this novel before they start? (Or after they finish?)
I think readers need to set aside any pre-conceived notions or prejudices they have about people with schizophrenia: that they’re violent, that they’re hopeless, that they should be locked away. Em has a lot of problems, but not all of them are caused by her schizophrenia, and the disorder itself isn’t anything like it is in books or movies. (For one thing, it has absolutely nothing to do with multiple personalities.)

I’ll be honest: when I first started writing Stay Crazy (and by “writing” I mean “thinking about” since my stories always have a really long incubation time) I didn’t know the first thing about schizophrenia, only that it caused the lines between reality and fantasy to blur and would thus make an excellent plot device for this novel. But as I read through memoirs and blog posts by people with it, I began to realize just how damaging and untrue the stereotypes are. I felt I owed it to those people to make Em’s portrayal as accurate as it could be. I spent so much time researching the schizophrenia aspect of the book that I didn’t even bother to make the rest of it scientifically accurate! But that’s no great loss.

What advice would you give to other writers who are coming up on their first book debut?
Accept that you might not be writing anything new for a while. I haven’t written anything new in months, and a huge part of it is that I’m so keyed up for this release. How can I even think about the next book when I can worry about this one instead? I’ve never had problems working on multiple writing projects at a time, but for whatever reason, the process of publishing this book stopped me dead. I’m looking forward to getting back to… well, the next book, plus short stories again. I haven’t written a single short story this year!

But yeah, you only get one debut novel, so if you gotta be sidetracked for a few months over it then let yourself be sidetracked.

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Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld , Shimmer, Lightspeed , and  Intergalactic Medicine Show , and her debut novel  Stay Crazy  will be released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.

Follow Erica at: Website / Twitter / Facebook 

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Things an Author Doesn’t Actually Control

It’s interesting (and sometimes infuriating) to see some of the things that fans blame on authors. Authors who are traditionally published often have little control over their published properties. That’s simply part of the way that the business runs.

But authors still take heat for some of these things. Recently an author had a book released, and for some reason, Amazon didn’t release the ebook on time.

And fans sent hate mail to the author.

Can you really call those fans?

So I’m going to put down here a list of Things that Traditionally Published Authors Generally Don’t Control.*

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The Release Date

Yes, we don’t have much say over when our next book is coming out. Our publisher sets up a scheduled date and everyone races toward getting things done on time, but if we miss a crucial part in the publication process (say, for example, edits just take too darn long or surgery kept the author from getting a manuscript turned in on time) then the book might get bumped. Not to the next month, but to the next open slot in the publisher’s schedule….which might be 18 months away.

(That’s a simplification, but essentially, moving the publication date is difficult.)

((An author’s writing speed is another factor, although that’s not usually controlled by the publisher. Some authors can put out 4 books per year. Others put out one book every 7 years. It’s art, people, and not all artists move at the same pace. Be patient, please.))

 

Releasing ON the Release Date

This happens all the time. Books don’t get put out on their release date. Snags happen in Amazon’s or B&Ns ebook delivery, and the ebook doesn’t appear in the device on time.

This is INCREDIBLY frustrating to authors, too.

An author I know had a book come out in early February, and the nearby B&N still doesn’t have it on the shelf. They have 6 on order. I’ve asked. Those six are supposedly sitting in the warehouse, but for some reason, they’re simply not being shipped to the physical store. The customer service people don’t know why. I’ve been in to ask about it twice, and they’re supposed to call me when it comes in, but not having the books there two months later doesn’t help an author with first week/month sales.

Sadly, there’s little the author can do about it. We can email Amazon. We can contact our agent or our editor, who can contact someone else, but sometimes things just don’t get done.

Please don’t be angry at the author. I guarantee they want that book on the shelf, in the mail, or on your device.

 

The Price

If we’re talking about a traditionally published book, then no, the author has almost no say over the price. Currently, my older trade paperbacks are hovering near $15. I would LOVE to see them at $9.99. But it’s not going to happen.

I would love to have my ebooks go on sale. It’s not going to happen. I can ask, my agent can ask, but we don’t make that decision. Amazon points out on its page that these are the publisher’s prices, publishers have negotiated with Amazon, and the rest of us are stuck with the results.

So why not just give everything away for free?

Seriously? This is our job, and we should be paid for our work. Yes, we’ll post an occasional free thing. Yes, we like making things available to new readers. But we need to earn money, too. We have to pay our rent, and for genre fiction, at least, the best way to do that is via a traditional publisher right now.

 

Availability

This is related to all of the above. See where I  talked about the book that’s still not on shelves after almost 2 months? It happens a lot when a book comes out.

It also happens when a book is older. We cannot force Amazon to carry a book in stock. We can’t force B&N to carry all the books in our series. And we certainly don’t control used book sales.

(Martha Wells once told me an angry fan suggested that she was making The Element of Fire hard to find  so that she could drive up the price of the used books.  This is a ridiculous claim, first because an author doesn’t control the number of used books floating around and secondly because the author doesn’t get a penny from the sale of a used book. Ugh!–This was years ago, of course, before ebooks made out of print books easier to find.)

But there’s also a problem with that book that’s out of print. Being out of print doesn’t mean that the author can just put a copy up in their website. Since we’re talking about traditional publishing here, the author has a contract with the publisher for each book, and that contract determines who has the right to put the book out (in any form). Because publishers invested money in those books, they like to hold on to the right to reprint a book for….well, a long time. It varies.

But it often takes the author years to get the right to publish their book back. Sometimes it never happens (if it’s a particularly draconian contract–this is why we need agents).

And once the author gets those rights back, it may not be worth their while financially (or in stress) to try to self-publish a novel. Life may interfere and make a book unavailable.

 

Continuing/Finishing a Series

Yeah….this is problematic. If a publisher bails on a series, the author’s caught in a conundrum. We have limited options at that point.

A) We can convince another publisher to purchase the remaining parts of the series. This is MUCH harder than it sounds, because any publisher will know that they can’t control the books that are already published by another publisher.  (It would stink if they published books 4-7, but no one could get their hands on books 1-3 because the original publisher decided to let them go out of print.)

B) We can self-publish the remaining books. The downside here is that we’re never guaranteed that we’ll make a profit on this. The novella I published back in October is still not quite in the black. After a couple of tries at that, selfpublishing becomes a daunting prospect fraught with snowballing expenses and vast amounts of time sucked in. Not everyone wants to chase that rabbit.

Authors are in a Catch 22 situation here: people get upset if they never publish the next book, and yet the author may never see a payoff equal to the amount of money and time they put into it. (Essentially the publisher decided that readers weren’t willing to pay enough to read the author’s word to make it worth their while to publish more…and sometimes that’s proven out by the lack of response to a self-published book.)

 

What Can an Author Do?

These are just some of the situations where an author has limited control, but basically, all an author can do is ask people to buy their books.  Even if those books arrive a day late. Or are hard to find. Or are slow coming out.

We can ask people to buy, to review, to recommend.

 

What Can a Reader Do?

A reader can play the other end of the line. Buy the book, leave a review, recommend it to a friend. You can ask your bookstore to carry a book. You can suggest it to the library where you borrow books. You can suggest it for your reading group.

But please don’t write an angry email/blog post/review because of a factor that the author can’t control. Don’t write and tells us we suck because your kindle book cost more than $7.99.

That’s the sort of thing that makes writers want to quit publishing.

Publishing is hard. Be nice to your authors.

 

 

*Here are some other, excellent posts on the same subject:

Cherie Priest

Nicole Peeler (especially in regards to piracy)

Elizabeth Eulberg

Jeff Cohen

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Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk

Today my guest is Lawrence M. Schoen, author of a new book just out from Tor, Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard.  

It’s an exciting new series (and getting a lot of amazing press), and I’ll be able to chat with Lawrence in person about his book when he comes to Texas in February for ConDFW!  (And you should come see him there, too!)

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The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

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I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Lawrence before the book came out (and he got too busy!), so I ran a few questions by him about this book (and a few of his earlier ones as well.) So without ado, here’s Lawrence:

Tell us a little about your upcoming book, Barsk, something that’s not in the blurb.

People are finding all sorts of subtext in the novel that I don’t remember putting into it. I suppose at some level, all books are a projective test and readers will discover something of themselves within the pages. For me, one of the most important ideas that I did include is that some friendships can transcend even death.

How long has this book been in your head? What led to it coming out in it’s final form?

I started writing this book more than twenty-five years ago. It’s actually the first novel I ever completed. Which is probably why it was so bad. I hadn’t learned enough to know just how badly written it was. Thankfully, despite my attempts to sell it, no publisher bought it, and I eventually stuck it in a drawer. I just didn’t have enough skill to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Fast forward a couple decades and when I had an opportunity to pitch it to an interested editor I’d grown enough as an author to do the story justice, keeping the awesome ideas and rewriting everything else.

Which was your favorite character to write? Why?

That is such a cruel question. I don’t tend to think in terms of favorites in any aspect of my life. That said, I’m more fond of some characters than others. There’s a lot of me in Jorl (or a lot of Jorl in me?). He has an amazing life and so do I.

Pizlo is the obvious underdog (under-elephant?) in the book. How can you not love him? He’s so damaged and he doesn’t know it, and he’s overflowing with potential. Keep an eye on him; he’s only six, and he’s destined for greatness, if he survives.

The Matriarch is an intense character. She’s so sure she’s right that most of the time she can’t even make room in her reality for the possibility that she might be mistaken.

I really like Druz because she makes the Sloths proud, and of all the other races of the Alliance her people seem to have the least dislike of the Fant. Maybe their slower metabolism makes them more sensible.

And I adore Lirlowil, my sybaritic Otter. She really deserves the chance to be the hero of her own story for all the grief I put her through in this book. Maybe some day…

Can we expect  to see more in this setting after this book?

I hope so! I’ve written proposals for two sequels and they are sitting on my editor’s desk. I’d also like to write some side stories — maybe even a novella — from the perspective of one or more of the other races of the Alliance. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What about your previous series? Will you be adding more tales to the Buffalito Saga?

There are five more novels in my head to complete the story arc that I set up with the end of the second book. There’s a galactic war coming that almost no one in the galaxy knows about, and Conroy is being maneuvered to be a general. Whether or not I get to write those five books may well depend on how well Barsk does, and if I can use it to leverage a deal with a publisher.

At a minimum though, I have a fourth novella already outlined and waiting to be written. It includes a popular supporting character, LeftJohn Mocker, and features the return of a previous character. It’s also intended as backstory for a possible spin-off series.

And what’s one thing about you that every reader needs to know?

It’s taken me a long time to reach this realization, but I no longer engage in any kind of “zero sum” games. My success or happiness should never be dependent on beating someone else, or taking anything from anyone. Every situation I encounter nowadays, I ask myself how I can reframe it into a win-win scenario. I believe this above all else is why my life is so blessed.

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Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. This background provides a principal metaphor for his fiction. He currently works as the director of research and analytics for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia.

He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and since 1992 has championed the exploration and use of this constructed tongue throughout the world. In addition, he’s the publisher behind a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem, aimed at showcasing up-and-coming new writers as well as providing a market for novellas. And too, he performs occasionally as a hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

In 2007, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and Nebula Award nominations for Best Novella in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015. Some of his most popular writing deals with the ongoing adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist named the Amazing Conroy and his animal companion Reggie, an alien buffalito that can eat anything and farts oxygen. His latest work is a very different kind of book, an anthropomorphic SF novel that explores prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and a drug that lets you talk to the dead.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia with his wife, Valerie, who is neither a psychologist nor a Klingon speaker.

 

Where to find him:

Website: http://www.lawrencemschoen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lawrencemschoen

Twitter: @klingonguy

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Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author Arianne “Tex” Thompson

You know, lately it feels like I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again:  “Tex, that’s disgusting!

No, wait, the other thing:

Tex, where did you get such a kickass cover?”

And if you’re like me (a writer with an eye on the traditional publishing path), one of the things you hear over and over again is that you will get exactly zero say in your cover.  That’s decided by the publisher’s art and marketing departments, and it really is a visual science: how to communicate – in the space of a single image! – what kind of book this is, and entice the right readers to pick it up.

Needless to say, I was floored when my Benevolent Editorial Overlord emailed me to say “so what do you want on the cover?”

And then “all right, what do you think about this?”

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And then “sure, we can make those changes – how do you like this one?”

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And after a few more drafts, we ended up with this:

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Is that not awesome?  Is that not just excruciatingly rad?  Of course it is! So I did what any writer would: printed it off, tucked it under my pillow, and slept with it until it was yellow and wrinkly.  Like you do.

Then one day, I emailed Solaris to ask for a higher-res version I could use for printing postcards.  “Sure!” the Master Art-Conjurer said, and sent me a couple of samples:

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Uh…thanks bunches!” I replied.  “But what about that original version?”

Oh,” he replied.  “Well, that’s not actually your cover, you see…”

Wait, what?

“What had happened was, we needed to get some title art on there in a big hurry, because we had to have something to put in the summer catalogue, so we ganked some title art from another book to use as a stop-gap.  We’ll re-do your title art later, before the book goes to print.”

Here for the record is Exhibit D.  Devilishly handsome, isn’t it?

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And the denouement is that the Master Art-Conjurer did in fact re-do the title art, which is how we ended up with this gloriously spectacular finished product here.  (Ain’t she a beaut!)

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So at the end of the day, what I really want to emphasize is this: with both of these cover-related vignettes (being given a seat at the decision-making table in the beginning, and the unexpected do-over at the end), what I’ve really learned over the past year is that I am *definitely* flying with the Rebel Alliance, here.  And every now and again the hyperdrive doesn’t work and things don’t happen the way that popular wisdom said they would – but more often than not, that is actually a huge, huge plus, and I could not be more happy or more fortunate.

By the way, once you pop your eyeballs back into your skull, go treat yourself to some of the other amazing artworks by Tomasz Jedruszek (codename: Morano).  He is a digital wizard!


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Tex Thompson is a “rural fantasy” author and editor for the DFW Writers Conference. Look for ONE NIGHT IN SIXES, the first book in her epic fantasy Western series, on July 29th – and find her in the meantime at http://www.thetexfiles.com and on Twitter as @tex_maam!

 
One Night in Sixes available for pre-order here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s 

Locus Recommended Reading List 2013

I failed to mention here that my book The Golden City made this year’s Locus Recommended Reading List. (For those who aren’t familiar with Locus, it’s the top Specfic industry magazine, rather along the lines of RT magazine for Romance.)

As such, that means that my book is also up for the Locus Awards, and voting is done via webpage here.

If you’re inclined to vote for mine (under the category First Novels) I’d surely appreciate it…and please give the rest of the list a read through while you’re there. There are some awesome authors in those categories!

/selfpromotion

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Care and Feeding of the Debut Author + Thor

The book’s been out for a week now. We’ll just have to see how it fares.

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We went to see Thor yesterday, and I have to admit I wasn’t in a great moving watching mood.

Add to that my persistent wish that Chris Hemsworth would comb his hair (or cut it off), and I’m not the best person to judge this movie.

So it won’t appear in my ‘buy the DVD’ pile, I’m afraid. It was cute and better than the first one, but I just wasn’t sold on it. Also, I still find that I don’t like Jane too much.

On the other hand, if you’re going to see Tom Hiddleston or Kat Dennings, then you’ll be happy whenever they’re on the screen.

And now I’m considering what sort of movie it would make if it were just a straight-up Loki and Darcy movie….hmmmmm…..

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Popping Up all over Your Internet

I -did- warn you.

Today I’m interviewed over at Manga Maniac Cafe (where I admit that Duilio wasn’t supposed to have a name at all.)
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I’m a guest at Lucienne Diver’s Blog, where I talk about editing.

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I’m also guest on today’s SFSignal Mind Meld, where we discuss What Book Would You Like to Experience Again for the First Time?
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I ran across a rather lovely review from Kirkus:
An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to Lisbon in the early 1900s.

I don’t know if I could have gotten a better tag line if I’d paid them. Except that the book isn’t set in Lisbon. My writer friends have suggested a correction…

An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to [Portugal] in the early 1900s.

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And I will do my first Twitter Chat tonight at 8PM Central time. This will be an adventure, but I think I’m ready. Look for the tag #sffwrtcht (SFF Writer Chat).

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And finally, some notes on the first day of being a debut author.
1) Amazon is down to 7 copies. I kinda want them to sell out, but that wouldn’t be good business.
2) I climbed to 59 on the Historical Fantasy chart….which is good enough for me. Thanks, everyone!
3) In a related note, the ranking seems totally unrelated to how many books are left, so there’s a more complicated algorithm being used for that.
4) A couple of kind reviews have shown up on Amazon. Thanks so much for that!!!!

5) I feel no different than the day before, I’m afraid. Still trying to hit a deadline and have to go to the store and get dog food. Life goes on, much as before.

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