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.)
Blurb: 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.
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.
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.