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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Reflections on first person…

I’ve been working on cleaning up my mss of Whatever Else (for some reason, a lot of periods were deleted) and that led me to think about writing first person rather than third.

I have a limited number of stories in which I used first person, and for most of those, I was trying to portray a specific ‘voice’.

For example, A Hand for Each was written to sound similar to the writing of Richard Dana (Two Years Before the Mast).  I wanted the narrator to sound like an English seaman.

After five long years of herding freighters about the Indian peninsula, we had finally been given orders to return home. How I longed to see England again. My family wrote to me but their letters often went astray, likely arriving in a port we had just left. I knew that I missed many of them.

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The Stains of the Past was meant to sound more like a young woman with a past: 

I believe in redemption. Every week when I go to confession, the priest tells me my sins are forgiven. I am a new person now, he has explained, and my penitence has created in me a clean heart. Unfortunately, my sins haven’t been forgotten. My past will always be with me, at least as far as Kiya is concerned.

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In The Nature of Demons, I wanted the hapless narrator to sound a bit like Dr. Watson. I was thrilled when one of the critiquers actually mentioned that my Dr. Antris sounded like…Dr. Watson!

A more educated man would have recognized the signs, I thought.  Only a week before, the king had forced Menhas’ company on me, naming him a shaman among his tribe — a storyteller and healer.  As such, I expected him to have at least a passing familiarity with the hundred forms of demons.  “Do your people not have stories of these creatures?”

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In Fleurs du Mal, I wanted the protagonist to be disdainful and cold.

I looked at Anne instead. She clung to Jeremy’s arm with one hand as we walked, her hips swaying as if she still heard a tango in the night air. I couldn’t decide what to make of her attachment to him. He is far out of his league, I thought, my trusting little brother.

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And in Whatever Else, I wanted my main character to sound…a bit helpless. She’s in a society where women are chattel, and has never been trained to do more than be a wife. So it was a difficult voice for me to write, but I hope I cam up with the right one:

His sudden claim baffled me. Arras had been my husband nearly four years. Three years older than my nineteen, Seyvas was of an age with him; even through the worst of our peoples’ squabbling, he and Arras had remained friends. Since our wedding, though, Seyvas hadn’t come to the manor at all. Not until now.

I turned back to him and whispered, “What are you talking about? You’ve known Arras all your life.”

“Arras is dead,” my brother answered in a flat voice, his eyes gone bleak

I stared at him, mouth agape.

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So for me, the choice of first person is usually tied to the fact that I want the POV character to sound different than me. I want them to have a very distinctive personality.

What’s your reasoning behind the times that you chose to write in first person?

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Writing Advice: Should I Plot? Or Pants?

This is one of those strange areas in which the answer seems perfectly obvious: whatever works.

The problem that most people have isn’t grasping the fact that while plotting works for some authors, it doesn’t work for others. Most people get that.

The problem is, they don’t know which option will work for them.

For me, it’s a mixed bag.

I’ll give you two examples:

  1. I woke up one morning with a story idea in my head. I outlined it, and started typing. (My outline for it was only a couple of pages, but it was a novella). I typed and followed my outline and 26K words later, I was done.  That story was Iron Shoes, and went on to be a Nebula finalist in 2010.  IronShoes_Draft2DigitalFinal (2)

2. I had an idea  for a long time, and finally put together an outline for the story. It was a few pages long (again, a novella), and I sat down and began typing.  Within three paragraphs, one of the throw-away characters who didn’t even have a name suddenly took on a personality…and then I had to give him a name, and a story, and a reason for even being in scene 1. (That would be Duilio). And I tossed away my outlline, then sat there and wrote in a fever until 15K later, I had a novella, “Of Ambergris, Blood, and Brandy”.  That novella was later rewritten as a novel, The Golden City (a Locus Award finalist for 2013)

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My point being that both things worked for me. Yes, I prefer to outline, but…sometimes the outline just can’t contain what’s going on with the story. Could I have written The Golden City without having Duilio Ferreira suddenly appear in it? Could I have simply followed my outline? Yes.

It would have been a different story. It might have been a better story…or a horrible one.

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Here’s what I do:

I generally start out with a halfhearted outline-usually only a few pages long. Then I start writing.  I’ve learned that for me, the outline -usually- loses contact with the story somewhere about the 2/3 mark.  (The Golden City was an aberration, with the breakaway coming on page 1. Iron Shoes, on the other hand, never broke away.)

That’s when I do my REAL outlining–at the 2/3 point. I sit down and figure out where all my plot points need to fall, how long I have, and what loose ends I still need to tie up. It’s one of the least fun parts of my writing process, because I really want to stop and get back to writing words. But I make an effort.

Then I start writing again.  And once I get to end of a novel, I check in with my outline and tweak it a bit, and start my edit pass.

So generally, I’m using a hybrid form of pantsing and plotting. It’s what works for me.

Therefore, I’m not going to come down on either side, the plotting or pantsing side. The trick is to know that one tactic isn’t necessarily better than the other.

For me, the situation appears to be this:

  1. Outlining will work for one writer, but not another.
  2. Outlining can work for one writer for one story, and yet not the next.
  3. Outlining can work in tandem with pantsing on the same story.
  4. The situation can change. Plotters become pantsers and vice versa.

So try them both out. See which fits better. Be reckless and combine them! There’s no rule that says you have to pick one method and stick with it for the rest of your life. (Unless you get a tattoo. Then you’re stuck.)

#SFWAPro

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Bonus story: At a workshop, I had to write a story in 24 hours. I plotted the snot out of that thing, researching and setting up the small world where a clockwork-type factory functioned under the streets of Paris, doling out life and death. I slept for about three hours that night, and when I got up, started writing….a TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY. I actually managed to get that 7K monstrosity typed out before the deadline that afternoon, but it was a close shave.

That story was “Fleurs du Mal”, which was later published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And other than being set in Paris, it has NOTHING in common with the story I outlined.

Why this happens, I don’t know.

 

 

Writing Advice: Choose your advisors carefully

I don’t often dispense writing advice. In a lot of ways, I don’t think I’ve yet earned that right.  I’m not a million seller. There’s not a movie to be based on my works. And I’m not an industry insider. The only source from which I can draw my advice is my own admittedly-limited experience (and that of my friends).

But I’m going to dish some out anyway.

This weekend on my Tumblr feed, I ran across this quote:

“The difference between good writers and bad writers has little to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance. Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.”

Jeff Goins

I found this an objectionable statement, equating perseverance with ‘good writing’. I suspect that the author meant something more like “perseverance is required for successful publication“, but that’s not what he said.*

He -said- that people who quit writing aren’t good writers.

And that’s wrong. There are plenty of brilliant writers out there who are no longer publishing. This industry is brutal, and navigating its vagaries can be exhausting for an able-bodied young person with ample spare time.  For someone who’s ill; for someone whose finances barely allow them time to sleep,much less write; for someone who has 12 other projects in the work or 3 kids at home….sometimes pursuit of publication just isn’t in the cards. Not at the moment. Perhaps not ever.

That doesn’t make them a BAD writer.

For me, it was hard to balance work with writing. I was a teacher, and every moment that I spent writing was time taken away from my students’ possible futures. (This is a guilt thing). It was hard for me to work on writing when I needed to make lesson plans and grade and write grants and scholarships. So when I was teaching, I wrote very little save for during those 8 weeks of summer. That didn’t make me a BAD writer.

So my main advice here is to look at the person who’s giving you advice. In the case of the guy above, he seems to be a self-help guru with 4 books published (the most recent by his own press). Yes, he’s a big seller (on Amazon), but has he ever tried to pitch a fantasy novel to one of the Big 5?  Has he ever submitted to Clarkesworld? Has he ever tried to publish in your market?

Perhaps his advice isn’t the best match, then.

For me, the pithy statement above was simply miss-aimed. Equating talent and skill with persistence doesn’t work for me, no matter how good a little soundbite it makes.

#SFWAPro

 

 

*And yes, I’m aware that this might be out of context. I haven’t read the book. However, alone and with no context is how I encountered it being touted on Tumblr…

 

 

 

One WIP? Or many?

One of the interesting things about authors is how we’re all different. Some of us are plotters, some pantsers, and a large percentage are in between. Some write every day. Some don’t. Some have rituals or a special place to write, while others can write anywhere, anywhen.

And some of us can only work on one project at a time.

I’ve never been one of those writers. I’ve always been able to have three or four WIPs going, save when I was under a real deadline crush. In fact, for me that makes it easier.  If I’m having trouble working on WIP1, then I open WIP2 and tinker with that for a while. A lot of the time, that shakes loose whatever was bothering me about WIP1.

Recently I’ve had 3 WIPs going: After the War, The Horn, and The Sins of the Fathers. 

(I actually have opened a few other files in this time, mostly on weekends, just for fun. Sometimes we need to do ‘fun’ writing just to remind ourselves why we do this.)

But my point is that this strange way of working is what works for me.

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After the War is due to be out later this summer, which means I need to get that last section finished, and then get it out to my editor. I’ve even got a cover commissioned for it, due to me about June 15th.  Now, this is a Portugal story involving Serafina Palmeira and Alejandro Ferreira.point_of_no_return3_by_faestock

(This is the -likely- picture we’ll be using–via Faestock on DeviantArt–for the cover…the rights belong to that artist.)

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But it’s recently been The Horn and The Sins of the Fathers that have taken up most of my time.

The Sins of the Fathers (name may change) is the sequel to Dreaming Death, starting only a month later than the end of that novel. Now, this was primarily concerned with the problems caused by Shironne’s father, Mikael’s father, and to a lesser extent, Deborah’s. Hence the name.

However, the edits on the first book killed off Shironne’s father before the first book happened. He was supposed to die slowly and painfully in the first half of Book 2. Removing him also removed a lot of the issues with Mikael’s father, so…I’m having to rewrite Book 2.  This happens sometimes.

On balance, I’m okay with the changes, but it means that as I was rewriting the sequel, the murder in it seemed to work less and less, making the plot weaker and weaker. Unfortunately, how to fix that problem has eluded me for for quite a while. I’ve been spinning my wheels writing it because it just seemed…wrong.

But working on The Horn provided an answer in a very different way.

I’ve been working on that, a series of novellas set elsewhere in Larossa shortly before the events of Dreaming Death (early summer-fall).  The events of the two story lines eventually tie together.So it was of direct benefit to me to have parts of The Horn solid in my head and written down.

But while I was hunting and pecking through my old files for a spare bit of text (I really need to get in there and rename all those old files because their current names are gibberish) I ran across an old Mikael/Shironne story about a murder that…

Well, I’d never finished that 2005 story. I probably got busy with something else and never got back to it. But suddenly I had in my hands the answer to my problem with TSotF.  I could swap out the short story’s murder for the problematic one in the book. A bunch of names had changed, but  the short story was set right after the book, so there wasn’t much time or age difference.

And suddenly I knew how to fix the broken part of TSotF. I am in the process of stripping out the old murder and working in the new. I’m re-outlining the book, as much as I do outlining. And everything is moving again.

Such a relief.

The point to all of that being: For me, working on more than one project at a time is helpful.  Not true for everyone, but for me, it pays.

 

Does that work for you? Or are you a ‘one project at a time’ writer?

 

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Blind in Your Mind

Recently I ran across an article that discussed being “Blind in your Mind” here. 

It was fascinating to me to read it because I could relate to almost everything the writer said. In fact, several other writers I know said the same thing. Many of us don’t picture things in our heads, and it’s rather bizarre to us that other people do.

Now I want to be clear…I am not as “mind-blind’ as the writer of this article. I dream in color all the time and often can recall snatches of those dreams.  And I do, when I think about things I’ve seen in the past, sometimes get a split-second image in my head. It fades away so quickly that I don’t get any details out of it, like an afterimage instead of a true image.

I am far more likely to recall how something moved or words related to something I’ve seen.  I cannot close my eyes and picture anyone. Not even myself–like the Bible verse, I walk away from the mirror and forget what I look like.

This does not interfere, as the article specifies, with my ability to recognize people. I can recognize people’s faces both in real life and in photographs (as some other people cannot). But if I close my eyes and try to picture them, I only see blackness.

In fact, the harder I try, the less I get. If I’m trying, I won’t even get the split-second image that I mentioned before. I suspect that my ability to recall visual images is subconscious rather than conscious.

There is probably a continuum at work here, where some people are extreme, like the man in the article. And other people picture everything in their mind’s eye, rather like an internal movie.

Some authors who mentioned having a mind’s eye said they often struggle with descriptions because they can’t get the details right enough to match what they see. For my own part, I struggle with making sure I have enough description to get across the basics for the reader.

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One of the ways I deal with this is to use photographs of characters. I often keep those on bulletin boards so I can look at my characters as I’m writing them. That way I know what they look like.

Many of these photographs are from an old stash in tubs that I’ve been collecting since college…a long time ago. I’ve recently started using Pinterest to track my pictures as well. For example, here’s my set of photos that I’m using for The Horn. I can look at the pictures any time to remind myself who my characters are.  (Although I also print them out so I can access them when I’m not online.)

 

So if you’re a writer, do you have this issue? Do you see things in your mind or not? And if not, how do you learn to describe for the reader?

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Reminders…

I will be presenting a session on Historical Research this weekend at the DFW Writer’s Conference (as well as participating on a couple of other panels.)

I have a Goodreads Giveaway ending tomorrow for 2 paperback copies of The Seer’s Choice, and I’ll have a giveaway starting tomorrow for 2 paperback copies of Iron Shoes.

And I also have a Giveaway running over on Amazon for Kindle copies of Iron Shoes. So if you’re a Kindle person, you can try there.

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For Patreon supporters, I’m almost to the end of the rough draft of After the War, so you’ll probably see the penultimate chapter on the 1st, and then the final on 6/1.  (And my cover artist is working toward a cover on 6/15.)

Finally, I’m still working on The Horn in my spare time. I’ll post a little more from this weekend’s work in a while (I’ve got roofing issues that have kept me busy, so there’s not much.)

For anyone who’s following The Horn, it’s a novella series that I’m working on, set in the Dreaming Death world, but taking place in the months before the events of that story. It entails a mystery that’s unfolding in front of the Horn Family and the House of Horn–which aren’t actually separate–involving a stranger they find on their land who claims to be hunting for the abandoned Fortress (Salonen.)

If all goes as planned, I may end up with 2 or 3 novellas, tentatively titled The Horn: Oathbreaker; The Horn: Original, and The Horn: Something Else that Starts with O. 

If you’re reading The Horn as I add bits, then you’re actually seeing what I call a Zero Draft, because I usually show that draft to 0 people. This is truly an experiment for me.

I can already foresee problems, since I have a character named Nora and one named Nohr.  So there are likely to be name changes ahead.  And there definitely needs to be more description. And I need to get someone to check some technical aspects (I can research glaciers, but I’ve never been on one.)

So that’s what’s going on in my sphere….I hope you’re having fun visiting.

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