Chatting with Erica L. Satifka about Stay Crazy
Posted August 14, 2016on:
Erica L. Satifka has been steadily writing short fiction for over ten years, with stories appearing in Clarkesworld, Fireside, Lightspeed, Ember Journal, Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, Nature, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Stay Crazy, comes out this week from Apex Publications. You can learn more about Erica at her website ericasatikfa.com, and be sure to say hi over on twitter, where she is @ericasatifka. If you find yourself in Portland Oregon, you can sign up for her SciFi/Fantasy writing classes!
Working in a big box store, and just home from an institution, is Emmeline just going crazy all over again when the frozen food starts talking to her? Are her friends dying from natural causes, or is something darker happening? How can Em save her friends and family, and save her sanity at the same time?
“Had Philip K. Dick lived through riot grrrl and the collapse of the America’s industrial economy, STAY CRAZY would be his memoir. Erica Satifka is a prophet.”
—Nick Mamatas, author of SENSATION and I AM PROVIDENCE.
“Stay Crazy is dark and intense sci-fi with a twist, in turns disturbing, amusing, and enlightening. It’s not a book that fits into tidy genre boxes, so kudos to Apex for publishing a book that is that complicated—and good.”
—Beth Cato, Nebula Award-nominated author of DEEP ROOTS
(and can I just say how much I dig this cover art? it’s got a neat graphic novel feel, and Emmeline looks like a normal human woman!)
Erica was kind enough to let me pick her brain on this novel’s creation, binge reading Philip K. Dick, writing neuro-atypical characters, fiction that defies categorization, teaching speculative fiction writing, and more.
Little Red Reviewer: Em is a unique heroine. Just out of an institution, she’s got her own mental health issues to deal with, but she’s also got to save her friends and co-workers from an evil entity. What can you tell us about how you developed Emmeline’s character?
Erika Satifka: Em didn’t have schizophrenia in the first imagining of the book, I don’t think. Her base personality is loosely based on me: angry, bitter, sarcastic as hell. The idea to give her schizophrenia came when I realized that it would add another layer of unreality to the story, which was already dealing with multiple layers of reality. After that, the story clicked in a way it didn’t before, and I started reading a lot of memoirs written by people with schizophrenia to get into the character’s voice (I had still not written a word of the novel at this point).
One thing I noticed when I wrote the first version of the book is that there really aren’t very many positive portrayals in the media of people with schizophrenia. In 2016, there still aren’t that many. So while I hate calling my own writing unique because I’m not a special snowflake, at least when it comes to this one thing, it kind of is. If Stay Crazy can fight against stigma in some small way, then it will have been worth writing.
LRR: Where did your ideas for Stay Crazy stem from?
ES: After college graduation, I was working in a well-known big-box store that shall not be named, bored out of my mind. And when my mind wanders (which it does on a more or less constant basis) I make up stories. I’d also discovered the writing of Philip K. Dick a few months before that and was tearing through at least two of his books per week, because rationing is for chumps. All of this combined into one giant mega-story that I worked on in my mind over the few months I worked there and for quite a while after.
(A note on my “process”: I was up until recently a pure mental outliner. I’d think about a book or story for months or years, turning it over in my head until I felt like I was ready to write it down. Of course, I also have kind of a bad memory, so I lost a lot of those ideas to the void. That’s okay because they were probably terrible. Or maybe they weren’t! I write down my outlines now. But Stay Crazy was never outlined and was just this story I told myself for a year or so, adding and deleting until it felt right.)
LRR: You’re most well-known for your short fiction, Stay Crazy is your first novel. How was the experience of writing a novel different than writing short stories? Does Stay Crazy have anything in common with your short stories?
ES: Most of my fiction, short and long, is hard to categorize. I don’t mean that in an “I’m a cool interstitial author who breaks down genres and fights the man” way, but in a “this is really frustrating that I can’t stick to a category, but it’s what feels good, so I’d better run with it” way. Is Stay Crazy science fiction because there are (possibly!) aliens? Or is it fantasy because there’s zero hard science behind it? Or is it horror because it’s dark? (One of my beta readers asked if the entity was meant to be Lovecraftian. Uh, sure, why not!) Many of my short stories have similar problems, especially the ones I haven’t sold. The one constant is that most of my writing tends toward the dark and the paranoid, although Stay Crazy is actually one of the lighter things I’ve written.
Other than that, it’s different mostly because it’s so much longer, and thus took a lot longer to edit, and there’s so many more places where things can go wrong. You can write a short story that’s almost perfect (although I haven’t written any of these yet), but not so much a novel.
LRR: How long did it take you to write Stay Crazy? Did the story or characters change as you went through progressive drafts?
ES: I originally wrote Stay Crazy in 2005 over a frenzied three months. I ran it through a critique group and sent it to a few friends, but didn’t really revise it. And then I quit writing for a few years! So obviously I wasn’t working on it then. In 2011 I started writing again, but I focused only on short stories. In 2014 I moved to Portland and I wanted to start writing novels but I already had a novel that I’d never done anything with, so I figured I’d start there. Lo and behold, it needed a total rewrite, which I did off and on over the next couple of months.
While the main goal of the line-by-line rewrite was to level up the writing itself, the story also underwent several radical changes on account of knowing more about how to plot and stuff. No spoilers, but there’s a plot point about two-thirds of the way through that was completely different in the original draft. I don’t use many beta readers because I get really bad analysis paralysis, but one of the two people I did use made a comment about that plot point that utterly turned the book upside down.
So yeah, this book either took ten years or a little under a year to write, it all depends on how you’re counting!
LRR: What themes do you most enjoy bringing into your fiction? Why are they so satisfying to explore through fiction?
ES: A lot of my fiction, not so much Stay Crazy but the short stories, is generated through thinking about hypothetical situations and taking common ideas to their natural conclusion. For instance, I wrote a short story called “Loving Grace” about what happens when automation is taken to its logical extreme but people still maintain a capitalistic outlook. A lot of my fiction, as stated, deals with the dark and the paranoid, and I write them down on paper because most of the time, protesting doesn’t work.
Another thing is that most of my characters are neuro-atypical in some way, even if that’s never stated directly in the text. I am, myself, so autobiography strikes again. I enjoy writing characters whose outlook is a little or maybe a lot off-center. My left-wing politics also play a big part in my fiction, especially in Stay Crazy.
LRR: Who are some of your favorite writers? What is it about their fiction that you find so compelling?
ES: Philip K. Dick still influences me years later. The paranoia, the brain-twisting plots, the shades of gray morality, the fact that most of his characters are working class… it all really speaks to me even as I’m frustrated sometimes with the quality of his prose and the lack of diversity of his characters. I’m also a fan of a lot of the New Wave writers, especially Tiptree, Ballard, Delany, all those people. Novels were so short back then, it was awesome! Of course I also read a lot of newer writers, including Daryl Gregory, Lavie Tidhar, Kelly Link, and Jeff Noon. Things that are weird, things that are to some extent uncategorizable.
LRR: You teach speculative fiction ongoing education classes at the local community college. Deciding to teach a class is a huge commitment. What got you interested in teaching creative writing, and what’s been your best experience with the class so far?
ES: At first it was just a way to make money. I’d just moved to Portland and was gig-hunting, and a friend of mine said that I could probably teach based on my degree and my publications. So I applied, and I got a class, and I was terrified that I’d bomb out because I had absolutely no teaching experience. But it actually went really well! I have a day job now, but I still teach because I like it, and I think the students like the class too. A few of my students have gone on to form their own critique groups with other people from their class, and I’m now friends with some of them too, so that’s been amazing. I keep thinking about turning it into an online class, but I also really like the in-person element, so that’s not happening any time soon.
LRR: Thanks Erica!