Welcome to a new series on my blog, where I interview various writers I have met recently. The first is Sumiko Saulson, horror writer.
Sumiko Saulson is the author of three sci-fi/horror novels, “Solitude,” “Warmth”, and “The Moon Cried Blood, and short story anthology “Things That Go Bump In My Head.” Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian, and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area.
Welcome to my blog Sumiko!
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like-interests, background
My name is Sumiko Saulson. I’m a writer of horror, science-fiction, and poetry. I am an American of African and Russian-Jewish heritage. My “day job” for over the decade has been a combination of graphic design and computer repair work. In addition to my love of writing, I also enjoy painting, and I have designed all of the cover artwork for my books, each of which uses acrylic paintings or digitally created artwork as its centerpiece. I created a comic book or graphic novel, if you will, called “Agrippa.”
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
I am in the middle of writing a sequel to “Solitude,” my first book. “Solitude” is the story of various individual people who find themselves isolated in a San Francisco that seems to be void of all other human life. None of these people knows if they are the last person on earth, so this is a sort of mystery each has to unravel. As the book has elements of both science fiction and horror, each individual posits his or her own theories as to what has happened, while coping with the problems of an increasingly uncivilized world where both natural and supernatural threats proliferate and it becomes a struggle just to survive. Fans of “Solitude” actually asked me to write a sequel, which deals with what happens to the people who manage to survive the first book, and I won’t say much more because it would give spoilers with regards to the first book, but let’s just say that they haven’t exactly managed to contain the evil that threatens all mankind, so there is a sort of Pandora’s Box situation they’re facing at the beginning of “Disillusionment,” the second book in the Solitude Saga.
What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
I actually tried as hard as I possibly could to write in some genre other than horror, but for whatever reason, it is what I am best at writing, and the frightening and horrific tend to sprout out of my mind even when I’m not consciously trying to write it. When I wrote “Solitude” I thought I was going to write some great literary fiction and be the next Toni Morrison, but that clearly is not going to happen. When multiple readers compare your writing to the more epic works of Stephen King, you’ve just got to face facts and say, “I see. So it looks like I am a horror writer.”
When I was growing up, my parents were huge fans of horror, science-fiction, and dark fantasy films and my father read a ton of science-fiction novels. I myself became a fan of science-fiction and horror, but the darker science-fiction elements always stuck with me. When I read Frank Herbert’s Dune and Dune Messiah, I was only twelve years old. All of the frightening details of Paul Muad’dib blinding, and the seeming inevitability of certain futures, the hard choices he had to make stuck had an impact on me. I think the first grown-up novel I read was Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” when I was eleven. I could read ahead of my grade level and I guess I got my hands on a lot of spooky stuff at a formative age. Even the at-age level stories I enjoyed seemed to be shadowy epic battles of good and evil, like Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” and C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and I was a huge fan of Poe. I’m sure that what I read deeply affected what I write.
**Note from Lily: I read the Dune books when I was twelve as well! They nearly blew my mind!
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
When it comes to genre fiction, the chief and overriding ambition of the writer is to keep the reader entertained, but all of my stories seem to have a subtext. “Solitude” has underlying ecological themes and more obvious themes of psychological terror; it deals with how we, as human beings, are social animals, and our innate fear of being isolated. The characters are all different types of people, and different personality types handle isolation differently, but even the very introverted tend to enjoy human companionship: it is a part of human nature. The book deals with that.
I think that my other books have different core themes. “The Moon Cried Blood” is a coming-of-age story, but it is also about being a woman, and the power and the danger of entering womanhood. It taps into ancient ideas about the power of women and our connection to nature.
“Warmth,” I think, is about pregnancy. I am infertile and never have been able to get pregnant, and this story is about a certain duality of fear of pregnancy where the heroine is stuck being pregnant with a monster baby for six hundred years, fear of the loss of pregnancy, fear of fertility, and fear of infertility. It’s all a bit complicated when you consider that the story itself is a fast paced dark comedy and highly, perversely entertaining. I think it’s easy to overlook these deeper themes, but they are present. I am from a multi-ethnic background, and I tend to be aware of and try to forge stories involving very diverse of characters.
What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
I do a lot of research, and a lot comes from my imagination as well. For example, when I am writing about a character from a certain background or time period, I research baby names from that place or era. In “Warmth” several characters, including the central protagonist, were born in Spain in the late 1400s, but some were Spaniards and others were Spanish Moors. I named them accordingly.
In “The Moon Cried Blood,” the story takes place in 1975. I was seven years old in 1975, so I can remember a lot of things from that time and period, but I still had to research things like the moon cycles for that year, what year and month specific pop songs and novels came out in. The book involves genetic memory, which is also a theme in Dune although it is handled very differently there: I had to research when paperback and hard back editions of those books came out.
When I wrote “Solitude” I had to research when earthquakes occurred and where their epicenters were because that’s a part of the plot.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
In the book “Warmth,” the ghouls have been infected with some kind of prehistoric gut flora, and one of the symptoms is that they are constantly running a fever. I waited until I had a cold with fever and the sweats, and then I started writing everything I could about how it felt to experience having a fever.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
No, not really. Sometimes people ask me to write them into a book and I’m like, “Uhm… no, I don’t do that.” I base characters on types of people I know: for example, when I wrote the character Gerry, I knew a lot of guys who were bouncers, and a lot of guys who were homeless, and bouncers are usually big guys Gerry’s age. He had various traits of real homeless men and nightclub staff employees I knew, but he wasn’t based on a single person – he had various traits that were a combination of traits from about a dozen different people I actually know, in addition to certain imaginary ones.
Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I write character sketches, so that I know who the players are, I decide where we will start and where we will end up. The journey there – the center, is usually my interpretation of how these particular characters would act in a given circumstance. Take Gerry from “Solitude,” above. He is an atheist, and a science-fiction fan, like my father was, but he is also a homeless guy, who has a drinking problem, and likes to walk around the city. His first reaction to finding out that there is no one in the city is to walk two and a half miles from where woke up at the San Francisco Main Public library up to the Marina, theorizing the whole way. It is not until he is faced with actual danger in the form of a pack of possessed dogs that he decides that he should do anything illegal. That’s because Gerry is law abiding. It’s not exactly like coming up with characters for a role playing game and then having them act according to their nature, but it is similar: once I know who the characters are, it is easy to write them into situations and have them react believably.
Which of your own books/ characters is your favorite and why?
I think my short story book “Things That Go Bump in My Head” is my favorite, because I was able to get the most editing assistance with it because they were short stories. Most of these were written in college classes, and have been reviewed by teachers and peer groups and perfected. As a self-published author, this type of editorial assistance is invaluable, and I wish I had that for my novels. Although people say they enjoy the stories, and I get good reviews, I cringe very time someone finds a typo. One of the reviews I got basically said the book was great even though it had some grammatical errors. I feel more confident about the better quality of editing “Bump” enjoys.
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
Write your first draft first, edit it later. Trying to edit in the middle of writing is a good way to get a major case of writer’s block.
What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
I am working on “Disillusionment,” a sequel to “Solitude” – I am actually involved in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)’s “Camp NaNoWriMo” for this. You can find out more about “Disillusionment”, NaNoWriMo, and my ongoing progress on the first draft here:
The final draft should be completed and released sometime this fall.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
Yes! I have a blog, where I frequently interview other speculative fiction writers (horror, sci-fi and fantasy) here: http://sumikosaulson.com/
Thank you Sumiko, nice to meet you and thank you for visiting my blog today 🙂
You can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/sumikoska (@sumikoska)
On Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/authorsumikosaulson
On Goodreads here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5785702.Sumiko_Saulson