Erica Satifka’s short fiction has also appeared or is forthcoming in Shimmer, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and Ideomancer. She lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon with her writer husband Rob and too many cats. A bike rider, sporadic blogger, sometimes zinester, and former Pittsburgher, Erica delights in telling stories about terrible worlds and the slightly-less-terrible characters that inhabit them. She is currently working on a novel about the evil that lurks inside big-box megastores and a zine about her cross-country move.
Iulian: Tell us something about Erica Satifka. How/where did you grow up, what was your upbringing and were there any particular influences in your life?
Erica: I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh, in an area already gutted by the loss of the coal and steel industries years before I was born. This is clearly reflected by how many of my stories, including “Hand of God,” take place in isolated crappy towns. (Or dilapidated exoplanet colonies. Or broken spaceships. Ruins everywhere!) My parents aren’t really readers and sometimes I think they’re baffled by my choice of career, but I was not to be swayed. I sought out what books I could, wrote all kinds of stuff, and was basically drawn to reading/writing like a moth to flame. I wanted to leave my small town ever since I could remember, and that shows up in my stories too, in characters yearning to escape their circumstances.
My other main influence is my politics. Outside Pittsburgh, Western PA is really conservative. In my first year of college, I started getting into zines, which opened up my eyes to feminism, socialism/anarchism, etc., things I’d never encountered in my working-class, 95% white, Appalachian town. This doesn’t often come out in my stories explicitly, but I like to think it’s there bubbling beneath the surface.
How did you get involved into writing? Give us a summary of your path.
I’ve always written stories, even in elementary school. Even though I had almost no exposure to SF as a child outside of a few TV shows (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits), almost everything I wrote was speculative in nature, including the first story I ever wrote, which was about a sad uplifted ape. Until I got to college I was limited to the poor selection of books available at my high school library, which included only a few SF short fiction anthologies in between the classics and “teens in crisis” books. I was still writing weird SFish stories, but had no idea that getting them published was even possible (this was in the nineties, before online magazines but after the paper SF magazines had ceased being available in drugstores and whatnot). Late in college I discovered Dick and Le Guin, plus the new online magazines coming out like Strange Horizons and Ideomancer, and I knew there had to be a place for the kinds of things that I wrote. But even after I moved to the “big city” of Pittsburgh, I wasn’t writing consistently: maybe one short story every six or seven months, plus the first iteration of my novel. I eventually sold everything I wrote back then except the novel, but I wasn’t truly serious about it in those days. It was a hobby, not a passion.
Between 2008-2011 I barely wrote anything at all (one single finished short story, which will soon be reprinted in Escape Pod!), for a number of reasons I won’t get into. But I felt a hole in my life that nothing else seemed to fill quite right, so I started again, and turned up the productivity dial from two to maybe seven or eight. Seriously, I wrote more stories in 2013 than in all other years combined, and my 2015 production will hopefully be higher than that. I’ve sold almost twenty stories and reprints since the “break,” and at this point I won’t stop until I’m dead.
I need to also mention that the Codex Writers Group (which I discovered post-break) has been an invaluable resource to me. I’ve learned so much about being a working writer from the people there, and there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie.
You also teach writing, specifically science fiction/fantasy writing. How did you get involved in that and how do you enjoy it? What is your general approach to teaching these difficult subjects?
When I moved to Portland, I immediately started hitting the ground looking for work: part-time work, “gig” work, something to supplement the writing. One of my friends here teaches writing classes at Portland Community College and said I should look into it, so I did! I finished the first four-week cycle of adult education classes in February, and I think it went well. Each of the classes has a specific focus: plotting, worldbuilding, character/voice, and a class critique session. The class exercises are all geared toward writing potentially publishable finished stories, which the students really seemed to appreciate. I also give a short talk about how to submit your work. It’s a fun class, and hopefully an enlightening one.
What do you consider to be the defining moment in your writing career? Was there an epiphany and if so, how did you feel?
Probably my first “pro” acceptance from Clarkesworld, in 2006. I didn’t know much about publishing short fiction back then. My undergraduate classes didn’t really cover submitting to markets, maybe because they were more literary-focused. I only found out about the submission call by chance. So when I got in, and later learned in retrospect how difficult it was to get into that magazine, especially with the then-current assistant editor, it was like some kind of sign that maybe I’m good at this.
Everyone in my writing group hated this story, by the way. Always trust your instincts!
You also provide editing services for authors. Tell us a bit about your process and what makes you different from other editors.
I provide comprehensive edits, looking at not just grammar and spelling mistakes but also pacing, point-of-view shifts, and continuity errors. I think self-publishing is great (although I don’t do it myself, yet) but so much of what gets released doesn’t go through even one round of editing. Even if you have confidence in yourself as a storyteller, you always need another pair of eyes, and I’m happy to be that pair of eyes and give an unbiased take on your story or novel.
You’ve published several stories in professional magazines, including Clarkesworld and Daily Science Fiction. Describe your writing and submission process. Do you write for a magazine specifically?
Never. For one, you never know what somebody will like, so “writing for the magazine” doesn’t work. I placed a futuristic SF story in a magazine that’s primarily fantasy, and had other stories rejected that I thought would be “perfect” for the markets I sent them to (but they were rejected, so clearly I was wrong!). So I usually submit to the fastest responders (among the professional markets) first, then on down the line, only skipping a certain market when I know for surer that a particular story won’t be a fit.
Secondly, if you’re not writing what you want, then it’s not going to be any fun and you’ll hate what you write. And what’s the point of that? I mean, I could obviously make more money and build a bigger “brand” if I wrote an epic fantasy series about damsels in distress, or zombies in spaaaace!!, but it would be like pulling teeth to write something like that. Little weird stories about reality bending are something I really like to write, and although it’s work it’s also play. If you’re not jazzed about what you’re writing it’s going to show.
In our issue #6, we’ve included your story “Hand of God,” previously released in audio format by PodCastle. Tell us a bit about it. How did it come to be? What does it mean to you?
This was the first story I wrote after I restarted writing. It has my basic “small crappy town” setting, evil forces beyond the characters’ comprehension, and of course drugs. It took a long time to get this one into shape because I was so out of writing practice, but then the next one was easier, and the next one after that was easier still. I think “Hand of God” will always be special to me because of where it fits in my writing journey, the first link in the second (and better) part.
Do you have any works in progress? If so, can you tell us something about it?
I always have multiple short stories in progress and I try to finish at least one a month. I’m also wrapping up the final edits on my novel, which has taken quite a lot longer than I thought it would (I keep getting distracted by short stories!). Eventually I also want to dip a toe into self-publishing, but right now I’m pretty committed to the short story world.
What is your advice for today’s young writers who are trying to break through this ever more difficult market?
Start at the top. For a long time I didn’t even know what a “professional” market was and that was a problem. Don’t worry about writing every day or doing “morning pages” (ha! I never get up before nine unless I have to). Beware of jealousy, either of others or jealousy directed at you, because it will kill you. Many hours have been lost to “building brands” that are better spent writing stories. Write them. Send them out. Repeat. Everything else is optional.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have some stories coming out later this year, some of which have been announced, others not. I’ll be teaching at least two more cycles of classes at Portland Community College and probably more after that, including a class for teens. Please visit my website to find out more! I’m also really looking forward to attending WorldCon in Spokane this year.
Erica, thank you for this interview. Good luck with everything and hope to see your works again in our magazine!
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