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In the seventh installment of Writing While Disabled, Kristy Anne Cox interviews Sumiko Saulson.


KAC:  Hello and welcome to Writing While Disabled, readers! I'm here with the multitalented Sumiko Saulson for an interview via Zoom, which means you are reading a lightly edited transcript this time. So, Sumiko, welcome to Writing While Disabled! 

SS:  Oh, thanks for having me here! 

KAC:  Thank you for coming. Readers, Sumiko lives in Oakland, California, and uses either they/them or ze/hir pronouns. They are a fictionist, a poet, and a comic artist. They write Afro-surrealist and multicultural horror. Their most recent book is The Rat King: A Book of Dark Poetry. You can look for their work on their website, including the novel Happiness and Other Diseases, various short story collections, and audiobook versions of Sumiko’s work. We'll put links for you at the end of the interview.

Sumiko, would you mind telling our readers more about yourself and your work? 

SS: Yeah, sure. I'm Sumiko Saulson. My last name, Saulson, is an Ellis Island Jewish name. My great-grandfather Charles Saulson was asked to change his last name because a better-known relative with the same name had come into the country before him. He said: “If my first name isn't good enough for you, then I guess my last name isn't either.”

My first name is Japanese, but I'm not: my mother is African American, and she had a best friend named Sumiko. Her other best friend was named Diane or something like that—so I am glad that I got this name and not the other one! They used to hang out on Hollywood Boulevard with a tambourine, and they would panhandle for money to get into clubs—people called them ‘the Mod Squad.’ 

KAC:  What is the ‘Mod Squad’? 

SS:  The Mod Squad was a television program back in the late Sixties, when I was born. It was about a young, hip, multicultural police squad—they have copaganda for every generation. That's why they called them that: one of them was Asian, one of them was white, and the one that was Black was my mom. 

KAC:  So, ‘mod’ means ‘modern’ in that context? 

SS:  Yeah, ‘mod’ is short for ‘modern.’ In England, Mods were young, hip people who rode around on Vespas and stuff. I was born in 1968, so I wasn't actively involved in any of those things. I know my mom went to a Deep Purple concert, though, so I got to hear Deep Purple when I was in the womb. I guess that counts as participating in the Sixties! But my earliest memories are…

KAC:  ...the Seventies, right?

SS:  I mean, my earliest memory is of trying to walk up some stairs as a toddler, which may have been in the Sixties, but I don't think that's relevant!

The earliest political memory I have is the end of the Vietnam War. I remember people in my neighborhood, some young men in bell bottoms, high-fiving each other and talking about the end of the war. I think that happened when I was six, in 1974.

KAC:  I was born in 1978. One of my earliest political memories is the Mount St. Helens eruption. We used to live right by it, in Idaho, and we could see the ash raining from the sky.

SS:  I remember that, yeah.

KAC:  Let’s go back to your work. What exactly do you mean by the term ‘Afro-surrealism’?

SS:  Well, if Afrofuturism is futuristic stuff, Afro-surrealism has to do with things like the landscape of the mind, similar to magical realism. The most famous author associated with it—who I am a massive fan of—is Toni Morrison. When you read Toni Morrison, she uses a lot of magical realism while verging upon the horrific. In Sula, it's never said that Sula is a witch—but when she returns to town, the birds begin to die and crash into windows…

KAC:  Since Surrealism is a more psychological genre, not everything is meant to be interpreted literally. Is that the same in Afro-surrealism? 

SS:  Yes, but in Afro-surrealism you also have folklore elements woven into the stories. Many writers from the African diaspora come to magical realism by merging folklore with realism.

KAC:  Would you place that in SFF? Or halfway between literary fiction and SFF?

SS:  Well, there's this idea that things are either speculative fiction or literary fiction. But stories can exist simultaneously in both spaces.

Look at Toni Morrison's Beloved, for example: it's a ghost story, specifically in the Southern Gothic tradition. One trope of Gothic horror is that of architecture as character, and the house in Beloved is a character—established right at the beginning. 

Southern Gothic horror traditionally dealt with the oppression of people in the Americas. People who were indigenous to the Americas or who were brought here in slavery were frightening to their oppressors. There were stories about being cursed or haunted by African Americans and Native Americans. And in this story… well, you can't really spoil Beloved, but… 

KAC:  Yeah, we're gonna spoil Beloved.

SS:  Spoiler alert! Beloved is based on a real story. An African American woman murdered her daughter, but she was charged with destruction of property and not with murder, because back then African Americans were valued as ‘three-fifths’ of a human. In Toni Morrison’s story, the woman killed her daughter to prevent her from being returned to slavery, and now she is haunted by the daughter's ghost. It is Southern Gothic horror, but that does not mean that it's not literary fiction. It exists simultaneously in both spaces. People want to distance themselves from speculative fiction, though. 

KAC:  Yeah. And even if they write it, they're like: “It wasn't SFF! It was literary!” And I'm like: “Well, can't it be both?”

SS:  Yeah, people don't want to be associated with it. Wuthering Heights is a ghost story, but we still treat it as literary fiction because literary fiction is considered to be a serious genre. It's ridiculous because many things that are seen as literary fiction were considered popular fiction when they first came out. 

KAC:  Yeah. In grad school, I wanted to work on Poe for my MFA. Poe is one of the old white guys within the Western canon, but he's at the very edge because he wrote horror and speculative fiction. To the rest of the world, Poe is one of our literary geniuses. He is one of the most widely translated authors of all time; more people have written papers on Poe than on almost any other literary figure. But I would get a lot of pushback: “Why don't you pick one of the more reputable, more serious authors?” Do you think it's an American thing? 

SS:  I can’t answer that, but I am glad that you brought out Poe. He was one of my first favorite writers. When I was in seventh grade, I used to hang around in the library, reading tons of Poe. He is also the father of speculative poetry.

KAC:  Yeah. Did you read “Al Aaraaf,” in that library? 

SS:  No!

KAC:  It's a poem about two fallen angels who are cast out of heaven because they fell in love. They fall down to earth, and it's not clear if they become demons or not, but it's very much like a paranormal romance story. 

SS:  That's beautiful. 

KAC:  It is. And then he wrote so many pieces that are straight up like nightmares he had. And I love them. The way they speak to truth is unique to the supernatural lens. 

SS:  Yeah, and as a person with a mental illness, writing something as a horror story or as horror poetry is an easier way to connect with readers. There are many things that I have experienced because of my mental illnesses that are tough to talk to people about—such as tactile hallucinations, which are scary. 

KAC:  I get some of those, too—when you feel like someone's tapping on your shoulder. 

SS:  Someone’s touching you, but they're not there.

KAC:  Breathing on the back of your neck.

SS:  Yeah, exactly. When that Kevin Bacon movie came out—Hollow Man—I had some creepy tactile hallucinations! I thought that there was an Invisible Man with me.

KAC:  That would freak me out too!

SS:  Yeah, it was terrifying. Sometimes, writing fiction is the only way to get your experiences across to other people—and these experiences are caused by your own mind.

KAC:  I mean, that's something Poe wrote about, too. He believed madness was genius and genius was madness, right? He was an incredibly gifted poet. But we're supposed to feel ashamed if we write the kind of poetry he wrote.

SS:  You mean, the kind that rhymes? 

KAC:  Well, not even that, because he wrote formal poems too! But I mean, if you wrote a poem about a ghost, for example…

SS:  Oh, a poem about a ghost!

KAC:  If he were shopping that poem around today, he would get rejection letters telling him: “You might want to limit that to genre magazines.” 

SS:  It's almost like there's this world of poetry and this world of speculative fiction, and speculative poetry is just a little Venn diagram slice in the middle of it. And you know, I don't think anyone's gonna be making as much money as Stephen King writing horror poetry, but when you think about it, Edgar Allan Poe did not make that much money in his life. He worked as a journalist. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  Most poets—poets in general—self-published, or they published on small presses. Poe published his poetry in newspapers. Poetry has never been connected with getting rich and famous. It’s always been associated with being broke. Maybe someone reads you after you're dead. So why wouldn't you write horror poetry when you think about that?

KAC:  This works well as a segue into talking about Disability. For our readers, could you tell us what Disabled and neurodiverse communities you identify with? 

SS:  So, I have bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Psychosis refers to things like hallucinations: audio hallucinations, visual hallucinations, and tactile hallucinations. At one difficult period in my life, my hands started writing notes to me, and I did not feel like I was the one writing them. I felt like another person was writing notes to me with my hand. 

KAC:  That must have been terrifying. 

SS:  Yeah, it was scary. Back then, my father had died of cancer, and my mother was not going into remission after nine and a half years. Then, I had a long-term relationship come to an end. There were just a lot of stressors, and that started happening.

I also have post-traumatic stress disorder—which is connected to traumatic things that happened to me in childhood—and a history of chronic pain related to endometriosis, which is when your ovaries decide to be evil. During your periods, instead of all of the uterine lining going out of your body as it should, some of it goes back up into your fallopian tubes, comes out of them, and sticks to different organs inside of your body, creating these little clumps of tissue called endometrium. These clumps that have stuck to your materials start bleeding inside of you, which is painful, like ulcers. It hurts a lot. 

KAC:  It’s unbearable. 

SS:  Yeah, it is. I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis at 19 years old, which is early. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  When I was 21, I had laparoscopic surgery. I had an ovarian cyst three times as large as my ovary removed. And I had to have another one the size of a softball removed right after I turned 40. 

KAC:  It's essential for readers to understand that endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, adenomyosis—these issues that deal with the uterus or ovaries haven't historically been taken seriously by the medical establishment. For example, I have endometriosis, adenomyosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it took me twenty years before someone would even do laparoscopic to confirm it. People won't take it seriously. 

SS:  You know, I was born in 1968, and I had my first period in 1980, when I was 12. At that time, they had just started to acknowledge that menstrual cramps were real and not psychosomatic. What happened was that Advil was approved for over-the-counter use for menstrual periods. It had been used by medical doctors to treat people with heart conditions because it dealt with the muscle tissues, and the heart is a big muscle.

So cisgender men dominated the medical field for years and years, and just gaslit people who had menstrual cramps, telling them that it was all in their heads. Endometriosis also got acknowledged because of in vitro fertilization, which became a thing around that time. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  People with endometriosis usually can’t get pregnant because of the issues with their fallopian tubes, but they respond well generally to in vitro fertilization. That was the economic incentive for admitting that endometriosis was a real thing. It sucks that endometriosis had to become something that made a lot of money before being acknowledged as a real thing—yet they still do not acknowledge it as a disability. In my case, I ended up out on disability for mental illness.

KAC:  Yeah, me too. And you know, I think it's important to talk about this in the context of this series because we're talking about writing while Disabled. We're talking about who is Disabled, and the umbrella is big. Most of us are likely—if we're not already disabled—to become disabled at some point in our lives as we age. But there are still Disabled people who can't find a community because no one will acknowledge their disability.

I got fired from my job because I couldn't be at work for two or three days a month consistently. I had all the paperwork from my doctor, I had all the history of surgeries on my uterus and ovaries, but they fired me anyway. These situations are not in the past. It's still going on now. 

SS:  Exactly. It's still taboo to talk about periods. I mean, they have cute commercials on TV with Charmin bears talking about poop on your butt. But you can't talk about a period! For some reason, you have to use a euphemism. 

KAC:  And you can have all those ads for erectile dysfunction, but you can’t talk about menstruation. Slightly more than half the planet has had a period at some point in life. But for some reason, we can't talk about period pain, endometriosis, or PCOS. You know in the past a lot of these issues used to be categorized as hysteria, right? Women’s hysteria.

SS:  Yeah, that’s true.

KAC:  It’s the same attitude, and you’re not just getting that from cis, male doctors: I would run into it with female doctors whose periods weren't that bad. So why was I complaining? I must be exaggerating.

The point I'm getting at here, readers, is that your identity as a Disabled person doesn't necessarily look the same as someone else's. Some people get assigned to that disability at birth: it was evident from birth that they were disabled in a particular way. Some people are injured later in life, other become ill. But many people can never get a diagnosis because society gaslights them into thinking they're not Disabled. 

SS:  Yeah. When I was 19, I had this doctor who said I was being uncooperative because she wanted to give me a vaginal exam, and I was in extreme pain and could not tolerate it. She was like: “Well, we’re gonna have to give you a sonogram because you're being uncooperative.” And that's how I got diagnosed—because they looked and saw the ovarian cyst.

KAC:  In my case, it was both endometriosis and PCOS. But again, I didn't get that diagnosis until they had to do surgery on my uterus for adenomyosis. They were in there taking care of uterus stuff, and suddenly, they were like: “Oh! Your ovaries have been decorating!”

SS:  Yeah, I didn't get diagnosed until they went to operate on the cyst. They put me under, looked in my belly with a lap, found something they didn't like, and then gave me surgery. I woke up with a bikini line incision with staples in it. It was rough. I was in the hospital for three days, I think. When they made me walk down the hall, it hurt so bad. And you know, I wasn’t young, because when I woke up, I saw Tiananmen Square on the news. 

KAC:  You know, I remember once reading the submission requirements for a magazine. One of the things they wrote on there is that they didn't want any more pregnancy horror, or miscarriage stories, or uterine-bleeding type stories. I remember being furious. Maybe those editors were overwhelmed with that, but that is such a part of my Disabled life experience. To be told that my story isn't worthy of even sending in. It hit hard for me. Do you ever think about these things? 

SS:  Well, it’s hard not to write about that stuff when it is your lived experience. You're processing it, so you're writing about it. If that magazine got so many of those stories, it goes to show that as an experience, it's very common. 

KAC:  Yeah. And if you're reading this and have any of these conditions we're talking about, you’re welcome in my Disabled communities. 

SS:  Yeah, you're not alone. 

KAC:  So, both Sumiko and I have some more stigmatized disabilities that usually qualify as ‘invisible.’ Since my brain injury, I do have sporadic episodes of cognitive impairment—for me, it's kind of like being drunk or being high. Sometimes I get facial blindness, where I can't recognize my family members or myself in the mirror, and sometimes I forget my name. I get disoriented, and there's always this devastating moment when someone realizes what’s happening to me and I see their face falling: “Oh, I thought you were smart, I thought you were witty and clever, but now I don't think of you as my peer anymore.” Which is super frustrating because it's sporadic. You wouldn't feel that way about someone just because they got drunk and said some things in a slurred voice once, right? But there's a stigma around certain mental illnesses and cognitive impairment, even within Disabled communities. 

SS:  That's for sure. When people saw me talk to myself, it did change how they thought about me. 

KAC:  They don't treat you the same, afterward. 

SS:  That's true. And you know, because I'm African American, there are additional problems. There's a lot of stigma about mental health treatment in the Black community, so many people are not getting help. But there’s also a bunch of stigma from the macro culture which assumes that if you see a Black person talking to themselves, they're high on crack. Yeah, I'm on drugs—the drugs that they're prescribing me for my medical condition.

I mean, look at Sandra Bland. If you’re a mentally ill person who’s Black, your chances of being viewed as potentially dangerous… 

KAC:  …are higher. And that's for every interaction with first responders. That's for every interaction with doctors who have power over you. You know, like how quickly you're seen in the emergency room. 

SS:  Yeah, exactly. I've had friends worried about doing a wellness call because someone might get shot by the police. That’s a problem for Black folks. 

KAC:  Yeah. It's a big issue.

So, I think that many Disabled, science fiction, and fantasy communities want to include more Disabled people, but then they look around and realize that everybody who came to be in their Disabled safe space is white. They assume that they’re the only ones who want to come when the truth is that brown and Black people are more likely to become disabled in our society because of systemic racism.

SS:  Right. 

KAC:  So don’t blame the people that are missing. Think about what you are doing to make that space safer for them. Do you have advice for people on that?

SS:  I'm just gonna say this: if they don't know any gay people that are Disabled, and they don't know any Black people that are Disabled… then they don't know enough Black people or gay people, because just as many of us are Disabled as any other group. The real problem is that they only know two Black people. 

I'm not trying to be harsh here, but if you only know a small number of people from a particular community, that's the real issue. 

KAC:  People need to outreach. 

SS:  Yeah. When you do something to make people know that they're welcome in a space, then you will see more of those people in that space. 

KAC:  Your organization must communicate to the participants at your convention that they will be safe.

SS:  That's true. When people who are genderqueer come in, and they see pronoun badges there, then they know that they’re welcome. If there’s a bathroom with a gender-neutral sign, and you're a non-binary person, that will make you feel safer. And as far as being a member of the African American community goes, there's a vast legacy of people to acknowledge. Big names like Octavia Butler, you know?

KAC:  What about a code of conduct?

SS:  Yeah, if they have a DEI Committee, that will help. At DisCon, in Washington, D.C., they had monitors that people could report to if they had any issues.

When there’s a convention in a diverse area, but the convention's not diverse at all—that really makes me raise my eyebrow. Like, don’t you talk to people in your community? If you don't have enough people from a marginalized community, why don't you go to schools and invite educators and students? 

KAC:  You can go to the local universities, local bookstores… 

SS:  What about librarians? 

KAC:  Libraries, community colleges, high schools… there's a lot of untapped resources. People assume there's no one there who likes science fiction and fantasy because they're not showing up at the con. Well, maybe they didn't hear about the con! 

SS:  Yeah. With the pandemic, many things have gone online. There are lots of hybrid conventions now, so there’s no reason you can't have people from different parts of the country. But if you're trying to get more diverse members of communities from other locations, then you should let them know that they can apply to appear from online, as well. 

KAC:  So, we're talking about recruiting multiply marginalized Disabled people into SFF communities. For example this year, at WorldCon in Chicago, the elevator situation was problematic.

SS:  Yeah. 

KAC:  When looking at a hotel space, organizers need to think about those who are going to struggle the most getting from floor to floor. What’s the traffic going to be like? Where are the scheduling panels? A more considerable percentage of the fanbase is Disabled than I think people realize. 

SS:  Once, at a convention, they had me on a panel about disabilities. One of the guests was someone who was hard of hearing, and there were no microphones! Luckily, she did have an interpreter that showed up later. There have been complaints about accessibility with online and hybrid conventions as well—that’s another thing that people need to be aware of. 

KAC:  I think they're accessible to a different group of Disabled people who don't get invited to in-person cons. A lot of neurodiverse fans and authors got to go to WisCon for the first time through the virtual con interface. But at the same time, there were many old-time con-goers for whom the technology was too inaccessible. So, it's like balancing both of their needs. 

SS:  It also makes it more accessible for people who can't gather in person because they're immunocompromised. And Covid is still actually a thing. 

KAC:  Yeah, very much so. Anyway, I’m excited about these virtual and hybrid cons. I hope they get better! 

SS:  For example, at one convention, they gave us transparent masks, so people could read your lips. That's a fair approach to ensure that people can be masked and still have their lips read. 

KAC:  Yeah, when people are planning conventions or workshops, they have to plan for twice or three times as many Disabled people as they think are gonna come. A lot of the people that need those accommodations don't identify as Disabled, but maybe they still have a mobility device, and can't go up and down the stairs. They may not check a form that says ‘I need mobility assistance,’ but there will be a big queue at the elevator. 

SS:  People assume that anyone who has mobility issues is gonna be in a wheelchair, but you know, some people have canes and walkers—my mom was in a walker for several years. 

KAC:  And there's a limited number of wheelchairs, canes, and walkers that can fit into an elevator. 

SS:  That’s true.

KAC:  So, these are all issues that we have a lot of room for improvement in.

You know, I did want to ask you about how other people treat your specific disabilities in SFF and in writing communities. What questions do you get? Is there anything that you find yourself wishing that people knew about bipolar disorder? Or your other disabilities?

SS:  First of all, people need to be careful with infantilizing people and crossing boundaries they shouldn't. One time, I showed up someplace, and I was looking a little out of it. Suddenly, someone started touching and trying to fix my hair! You don't get to touch Black people's hair just because you feel like they're having a bipolar day!

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  I think people with mental illnesses are infantilized, and Black people are infantilized, and the two things come together. It's like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. 

KAC:  But you could not sell that in a store. 

SS:  Yeah, no one’s gonna buy that.

KAC:  And then you have non-binary bodies, AFAB bodies, where if people perceive your gender presentation in a certain way, they're going to treat you very differently, right? 

SS:  I think people need to understand—and I tell this a lot to my partner, who is a white non-binary person—that presenting in a masculine way for a Black person means that you could get shot like Tony McDade. They'll treat you differently, but you’ll still have to deal with systemic racism.

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  People will treat you like you're dangerous. It's a lose-lose situation. 

KAC:  Yeah, it truly is.

Do you have a question you're tired of being asked about your disabilities? Like any pet-peeve questions that people ask you? 

SS:  One thing that gets on my nerves is that people believe that if you get on medication, you're cured. That's bullshit. It does not work that way. But people are like: “Did you take your meds?” And you took your meds, but you’re also dealing with a zillion stressors making you sick.

KAC:  Yeah. And they can't understand that if you're on your meds, and bad things happen, your meds are not gonna work as effectively. People can relapse while they're on the meds that they've been taking for years. They have to change their meds, get them adjusted, and deal with things that would make even someone without a mental illness have a nervous breakdown.

SS:  It's not like meds make it so that things like death don't affect you anymore. 

KAC:  Yeah, you can still have grief and all these other problems in life that cause people to have emotional responses. 

SS:  Exactly.

KAC:  The other side of that coin is people who are like: “Well, don't take your meds!” They say: “If you want to write, you can’t take your meds because your mental illness is your superpower,” or, “I read in an article that the part of the brain that causes depression is the part that we write with. So that's why I went off my medications!” And I'm like: “Honey, no.” 

SS:  Let me put it this way. If people go off their meds, and that's their life choice, I don't need them preaching that at me. But I'm not down for that cause. When I wasn't on my meds, it was hard to meet deadlines. Sitting around talking to yourself, missing a bunch of deadlines, to me, is not an ideal life.

KAC:  Yeah. I have OCD, and one of the things I'm worried about is that I'm secretly a serial killer, but I'm so good at being a serial killer that even I don't know about it. It’s patently ridiculous, but I will still lose hours in my preventative rituals. Without my meds, I could write something unforgettable. Or I could just spend two weeks trying to make sure that I never murdered anybody.

SS:  Yeah, exactly. I'm not diagnosed with OCD, but I have had paranoias where I was sitting there writing a book, thinking that I could kill people by writing. When you get paranoid, you start randomly associating things in ways that make sense to your mind.

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  And I hate to say this, but when I was in the middle of psychosis, and I had voices in my head, I sat there and predicted a whole bunch of things that ended up happening. I started thinking that I was telepathic, or that I was reading minds. 

KAC:  Yeah. 

SS:  When you're really psychotic, and you're dispersed, you’re still receiving information, so the thing that you think you understood telepathically is just something that entered your consciousness on some other level.

KAC:  And that can be dangerous. So, if you're reading this, I want you to know that it takes time to find the right medication mix. 

SS:  If your medication isn't working, you should discuss it with your psychiatrist. See if your psychiatrist can find something that will work better for you. 

KAC:  What I want to say to our readers, is that you can indeed have challenges and gifts you wouldn't have had otherwise with your disability. But Writing While Disabled is about learning to include those things in your life without being embarrassed to talk about them.

So, we've talked a little bit about how multiple marginalizations and disabilities interact with each other in complicated ways. Could you talk about how that works for you in writing spaces? Do you have trouble sometimes parsing what's going on in terms of which thing is the problem, or do you know what it is, and it's just complicated? 

SS:  No, it's usually pretty obvious what's going on. For example, if somebody says that being non-binary is a sign that I'm mentally ill, while that is both sanist and transphobic, the central problem is the transphobia. And if a trans person is also saying something ableist, they're obviously not cool about being an ally to people with mental health issues.

KAC:  Does it change the way you respond? 

SS:  Well, advocacy for myself and others is very ingrained in me. My mother was Black and had a disability; her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia after returning from the Korean War, and she worked with him and other Disabled people in her family. So, I will advocate for myself as a Disabled person. However, as a Disabled person, I feel it's sometimes easier for people to gaslight me because I have a mental health condition. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  You know, when people are treating you in a way that is really ableist and sanist, but they're gaslighting you about it, it's hard to know whether or not you're being paranoid. It's difficult, because my disabilities have to do with my emotional functioning. 

KAC:  Yeah. I've noticed that the more marginalized someone is, the more they get pushback. Like, if you're navigating a convention and you're Disabled, but you don't have any other marginalization, you still have a lot of privileges. You will have a different experience than someone who is there with a bunch of different marginalizations. 

SS:  I know what you mean, and it does make sense. Let's take fatphobia, for example. I have to deal with people's fatphobia and how it's used toward me as a person who is non-binary. But also, if people perceive me as a woman, then I have to deal with sexism and with how that affects me. There's also a lot of racial associations having to do with size, many of them rooted in classism. You know, the idea that we're all on welfare, eating junk food. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  One time, I was at work, and this guy started trying to have a conversation with me about how I shouldn't eat fried chicken because it has trans fats. And I'm like, “Why are you trying to start a conversation with me at my job about my diet—which is none of your business—and talking about fried chicken—which is stereotypically associated with African Americans?”

KAC:  Yeah. And that happens in SFF communities, too.

Well, what do you want to be asked about on panels? What panel do you wish they would ask you to be on? 

SS:  I've never heard of a good panel about the complexities of mental illness. If you are mentally ill, and you're someone like me who's been having tactile, visual, and audio hallucinations, and you decide to write horror, you’re gonna be writing some things that are really convincing because you experienced them. But at the same time, if you're actively hallucinating all the time, you're not gonna be able to function very well as a writer—in my personal experience. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  I have to be mentally stable enough to write. Sometimes, I get to a good place where my meds are working well and I am functioning on all cylinders. I sit there and just pour out novels and stuff, and everything is working great. I might have ideas and thoughts in there that occurred during a time when I was sick, but I don't think that I could have written them then. So, I feel like you have to be stable to do things like organizing your writing and meeting deadlines.

KAC:  I have many different mental health diagnoses, so depending on which one is kind of in ascendance that day, I have to switch genres: today I can write poetry, but I can't follow a plot line. 

SS:  Yeah, I experience that as well. 

KAC:  Yeah, you write many different genres—nonfiction, fiction, poetry, comics. Are any of those genres particularly conducive to certain brain states for you? 

SS:  Writing comics is something that I do a lot when I'm grieving. I have done little comic books right after someone died. Because people die, and I get writer's block, and I can't concentrate, and I'll just be sitting there drawing. So I do a lot of drawing. Sometimes, I take stories that I've already written and I illustrate them. 

KAC:  Yeah, that can be a productive way to engage your creativity with a different part of your brain.

SS:  Yeah. For sure!

KAC:  And poetry is something that I do when I experience anxiety. So, leaning into the brain state you're in can be really helpful for many people. 

SS:  For sure. 

KAC:  Do you tend to go through phases with your genres, then? Or is it kind of different day by day? 

SS:  No, I don't go through phases. It is different day by day. I am always writing poetry, though, even when I'm in the middle of doing other stuff. I have created a file where I just put all the poems I write.

When it comes to short stories, usually, if I see a call for submissions that interests me, then I'll write a short story for that call. If it gets rejected, then I'll take it, and I'll rewrite it, and submit it a couple other times, until hopefully, it finds a home. You know, the thing about writing something tailored to a call for submissions is that it increases the chance of you getting an acceptance letter because you're actually giving them the story that they asked for. But the downside is that sometimes it's hard to find a home for it because you have written it for a specific project. Usually, you have to do rewrites. 

The thing that is most difficult for me to do, no matter what mood I’m in, is novels. Right now, I'm working on the fourth novel in a series where I've already got the first three books in the can. That's giving me plenty of time to get it done well. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  I think poetry is close to my heart because it's something I've been doing for so long. I was writing and selling poems when I was in third grade, and I got my poetry published professionally when I was 19. It's like when you're into a certain genre of music or something like that—it becomes part of your identity. 

I've done a lot of spoken word poetry, so part of my writing process for poetry is to read it out loud and hear how it sounds. That's a comforting process for me. 

KAC:  I love that, too—that’s also part of my process.

You know, I wanted to ask you about some of the poems in this collection. So, The Rat King—this is a poetry collection, but a lot of these poems have strong narrative threads. Was there a point when some of them might have been short stories instead of poems? 

SS:  For the most part, no. The only one that was gonna be a short story at one point is the title story, “The Rat King.” If you read it, it's a ghost story about some homeless people who froze to death out in the cold—and they're stuck together like a rat king. ‘Rat kings’ are rats stuck together by their tails, which is a rare occurrence. In medieval times, people were afraid of them—they thought they were monsters. 

KAC:  But they’re just animals in distress. 

SS:  Yeah, animals in distress. I decided to use that as an analogy for how homeless people are treated and vilified. I have been homeless, like many other people with bipolar disorder. It's actually not at all uncommon, and so that's the story I wrote. 

KAC:  I thought it was a powerful exploration of those themes. And while I was reading it, I was thinking: “Wow, how did you decide?” Did you write it both as a poem and as a short story, to see which one worked better? Or did you just feel it had to be a poem, and then it worked?

SS:  Well, let me put it this way. When I was in third grade, I would sit around and tell scary stories to my brother, who’s one year younger than me, and other kids. The stories were about the ‘smelletons,’ which were skeletons, but they still had organs and stuff on them.

KAC:  Ooh! Creepy! 

SS:  So I had this whole series of stories that I made up as I told them. And it’s the same when I’m writing a poem now—like telling a campfire story. 

KAC:  Yeah, I love that. 

SS:  But when you do a short story, then things start to become more complicated, and sometimes, it can weigh you down. With “The Rat King,” I was just taking notes on things I wanted to write about, and I thought I would make them into a short story. But then, I decided to have a book with just poetry—so I wrote that as a poem. 

KAC:  The Rat King is a self-published collection, correct? 

SS:  Yeah, it's on my imprint, Dooky Zines. 

I'm a comic zine maker. Zines are a very punk rock thing that I have been doing since high school. They're similar to poetry chapbooks, where people hand-stitch them by hand. 

KAC:  Yeah. We had to do that in my undergrad poetry class.

SS:  My first two books of poetry were like that. I had a punk rock fanzine in high school called Sex Kitten, and I was so proud of myself. My dad was proud of me, too, because I went and got a fictitious business license for my zine! I was getting ads for it and stuff.

KAC:  I was doing something along those lines, too, at that age.

SS:  I used to go down to the copy shop and xerox my fanzine, writing the columns on a computer, printing it with a dot matrix printer, and then gluing it down, on the table, by hand. I had a matrix of dots that I put over the photos so that they would print like newsprint. I would copy a bunch of them and cross-staple them. This was the punk rock zine scene: you had these little crafty things made by hand. 

KAC:  But they're online now, so where can our readers go if they want to read one?

SS:  If they want to read a fanzine? Well, here in the Bay Area, there's the San Francisco Zine Fest and the East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest. So they're not just online. I make mini zines—about as big as maybe two postage stamps—and sell them at conventions for a quarter. Anyway, if you go to the East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest website, they have an online library of zines. 

KAC:  Yeah. Sounds like a road trip, everybody!

SS:  Yeah! Zines are a whole culture. It's not just in the Bay Area.

My comic zines are online on the Dooky Zines website, so if you go there, it'll show you how you can purchase one. 

KAC:  You've also traditionally published some of your collections. Can you tell us the difference between those processes and what it was like negotiating contracts as a Disabled person? 

SS:  Yeah, sure. I have an anthology that's traditionally published, Black Magic Women. It’s an anthology of stories by Black women, all related to magic. The year before, Linda D. Addison, Kinitra Brooks, and Susana Morris had just come out with Sycorax’s Daughters, so I pitched my book as a less academic version of that. 

You know, I do something called the Black Women in Horror list. I had put one out in 2013, then a new version in 2017. The idea was to put another one out in 2018 and to release a companion-like anthology, so I pitched that to Mocha Memoirs Press.

I had been in a contest called ‘The Next Great Horror Writer Contest’ through Horror Addicts, a small press publisher that puts out horror anthologies. The contest had fifteen horror writers competing for a contract at Crystal Lake Publishing—that was the grand prize. 

KAC:  Cool!

SS:  Yes, it was. But at one particular point in that contest, unfortunately—trigger warning—my ex-boyfriend died. That weekend, I turned in the wrong manuscript for a short story. I had been in fourth place, dropped down to ninth, and finished in sixth. However, I was producing work throughout the contest, including a new and improved version of that particular piece that I had turned in the wrong version of.

Anyway, I thought: “I didn't win, but I bet that I could pitch this book to Mocha Memoirs Press.” So I went and did that. I was like: “What if we did a book with Black women from my list of 100 Black Women in Horror?” That was my first editing work—and I was red-marking the crap out of stuff. I was serious about doing a good job. Not everyone was impressed by my editing, but that was the first anthology I edited, and it’s something that I will always be proud of. 

KAC:  Yeah.

SS:  Many writers highlighted in that book are doing very well now, and I feel partly responsible for that. They’re talented people, and I wanted to make sure that they were getting some exposure by including them.

So, Anne Rice was friendly with a lot of budding horror writers, and I was one of them. I told her about the book, and I took a picture of her while I was signing a copy and giving it to her. She promoted it on her page, and it ended up being number one in the horror anthologies category on Amazon. Everybody was so excited and happy, and every day, all of these authors from the book were posting about it on social media. It was a great experience for everyone involved. 

KAC:  And you got to make that happen. 

SS:  Yeah, with my wonderful publisher, Nicole Givens Kurtz. Later, I pitched Happiness and Other Diseases—it’s the first novel in a series. 

KAC:  Oh, it’s a novel!

SS:  It's a horror romance. The protagonist, Flynn, is a young man with bipolar disorder. He’s been having disturbing dreams that are starting to manifest in reality in various ways—he’s waking up with cuts and bruises from his nightmares. But no one believes him, because he's mentally ill.

KAC:  The first one is out?

SS:  Yeah, the first one’s out on Mocha Memoirs Press. 

KAC:  Well, readers, if you're looking to read that story, I'm going to put the link to the website at the end so you can go there and find it.

I wanted to ask you about how Disability intersects with science fiction. Do you think about Disabled themes when writing, or do they come up because you're writing from your own experiences? 

SS:  That's a very complex question. I had to stop and think for a while there, because I'm predominantly a horror writer, and you asked me about science fiction. However, I wrote a story that first appeared in Scierogenous II—an anthology of sci-fi erotica—which was inspired by my experiences with alters, or alternate personalities. I wrote “The Mysterious State of We-Ness” because of my personal dealings with my mental health situation. I'm very proud of that piece. It's also super queer.

The protagonist is Sheila, a secretary in a near-future San Francisco, where after the tech boom people are living very modular lives. She picks up a Weebot, which is an implant that rewires your brain to create an alternate personality. People started treating these things as pets, then as assistants, and finally as companions—you know, having sex with them.

Sheila decides to get a companion, she implants the chip, and it matures in her brain. She names the chip Angelo. Angelo can exist as a hologram that she sees, and he eventually gets a silicon suit that he can wear and run around in—but he predominantly exists in her body. So he's a trans man, sharing her same body. One of the fun things about science fiction erotica is that you can lean into a lot of character development because it is about relationships and how people interact.

With Happiness and Other Diseases, I was processing things about my mental health. Having a bipolar protagonist was intentional. The title is a reference to bipolar disorder, specifically to the attitude that a person who's bipolar is only experiencing emotions as a result of a chemical imbalance. People don't usually have to think about it if they don't have a mental health issue. 

KAC:  Yeah. You ask yourself things like: “Are these my emotions? Is this a chemical thing going on in my brain? Are my feelings real? Is it me, or is this my disease?” 

SS:  That's what the title Happiness and Other Diseases refers to: this angst over asking yourself if you're really happy or if it's a disease symptom. In the story, Flynn becomes involved with a demi-goddess—and as is often the case in these paranormal romance stories, there's a whole bunch of things that are super toxic about the relationship! He's happy because he's in the relationship, but the relationship is dangerous. In the beginning, he has a succubus trying to suck up all of his emotional energy and drain him dry, and the person he is dating is the half-sister of the other character trying to kill him. But then, he's got a whole bunch of self-esteem issues that are related to how the world treats him because he's got bipolar disorder, and this makes him co-dependent and open to being in this kind of dangerous relationship.

KAC:  Do you feel like the genre you're writing in lets you reach that human story in a deeper way? 

SS:  I definitely feel like that! I mean, one of the reasons that I love Wuthering Heights is because it is about human nature. And even though, over time, it has come down to us as a love story, it’s actually about all the things that are wrong with the human condition. 

Wuthering Heights is a love story about a man of color. His adoptive father did not think him good enough to be with his biological daughter, so now this guy enacts revenge on them all because he's angry. There's a lot of stuff going on, and I wanted to write something similar.

In Happiness and Other Diseases, I talk about mental illness and how your self-esteem is eroded when you're told that you're only valuable if you can work. That's part of the narrative that the protagonist is dealing with. It also deals with psych drugs, and how they can negatively impact your libido and ability to perform sexually.

KAC:  When you're writing a story, it sounds to me like you're thinking intertextually. Where does your writing process start?

SS:  You mean, how do I get inspired? 

KAC:  Let me rephrase. Could you walk me through what you do when you sit down to write? 

SS:  God, my writing process starts with a lot of daydreaming. It's not as structured as what you're suggesting. With my first novel, Solitude, I just started getting ideas. It was way back in 2011, and I was in vocational rehab, getting training to return to the workforce as a computer tech. I was in my car, listening to music, and I started to daydream about this story in my head. The music contributed to the writing process, and it was a Disturbed album—what is it called? Oh my God, Indestructible or something.

In the story that I ended up writing, everybody disappeared from San Francisco except for a few people; they were all trying to figure out what the hell happened and where everyone else was. I started coming up with the characters for the story, and I wrote down their descriptions in a notebook the way you would if you were playing Dungeons & Dragons. 

I just started writing these characters, their situation. I figured out what world they were in. And then they started to go on a quest to discover where everyone else was.  

KAC:  So, did you outline?

SS:  Not exactly? I had a notebook, and I had a page for each character. Then I turned it upside down and backwards, and I wrote plot points on the other side of it. So, first I decided who the characters were, and then I decided things about the environment. Finally, when I got a third of the way into the story, I decided who the villain was going to be—because I still didn't know!  

KAC:  That sounds to me like it's halfway between outlining and discovery writing. Does it sound right? 

SS:  If ‘discovery writing’ is ‘pantsing,’ yeah. 

KAC:  ‘Pantsing,’ yeah. I've heard it called ‘gardening,’ too. 

SS:  Yeah. The characters tend to drive the story, so the planned part is who the characters are. By the time I get to writing, it's like discovering something based on who those people are.  

KAC:  Yeah, you know what they want. 

SS:  Right. 

KAC:  At the start of the story, do you know what kind of ending you want? 

SS:  I usually don't figure out what kind of ending I want until much later. I use the three-act-play structure: I spend the first fourth of the book setting up the story, the middle half is where the plot happens, so by the time I’m three-fourths of the way in, I know for sure how I want it to end. But there have been times when I wrote myself into a corner—I looked at what I had written, and I knew that I had to do certain things… 

KAC:  …that you didn’t want to do.

SS:  Yeah, things that made me cry—but that was the only way I could write a good ending. That said, at a certain point writing gets to be just like an exciting adventure that I’m on, and if I'm having fun, then the story is better, too. 

KAC:  How about editing that story? How many rounds of editing did you have to put it through before it was the way you wanted it? 

SS:  The first story I wrote was the one that needed the most extensive editing. It was so hard. I enlisted the help of a friend who was an editor for a college newspaper. I was still learning about structure and pacing, so there were a whole bunch of rewrites that consisted of me writing additional material for the book because there was not enough action and too much infodumping. 

KAC:  What about your books now? What's your editing process like? 

SS:  By the time I wrote Happiness and Other Diseases, I had gotten used to working with beta readers. I had a team of twelve beta readers giving me feedback about it, so by the time it went to the editor it was clean. 

KAC:  But did you do your structural edits first? Is that like a separate round of editing? 

SS:  Structural edits?

KAC:  Like, where you're noticing if there's a plot problem, if there are missing scenes, if there's an incomplete character arc…

SS:  Let me put it this way. It took me three months to write my first book, and five months to edit it. Five painful months!

KAC:  Oh, no!

SS:  But by the time I wrote Happiness and Other Diseases, the editing process was no longer painful, and there were no structural problems at all.

There were continuity errors, though. For example, I ended up talking about the protagonist’s dad—but he did not grow up knowing his dad. I changed it to his grandfather so that the story could make sense again.

KAC:  So, as you progressed, as a writer and as an editor, you've gotten to the point where you don't make as many structural errors, and you don't need to do extensive structural work. 

SS:  Yeah, my first two novels were much more painful to write, to the point that in the middle of writing my second book, I just said, ‘fuck this,’ and I started writing a new, much more fun novel, which ended up being my third book: Warmth. By the time I finished writing that third book, I had gotten a better sense of how a plot should flow. I also made sure that the word count was the same as the word count for a traditionally published manuscript, even though at that time I was self-publishing.

So I worked extensively with beta readers, and it took a long time, but it was worth it. The process of doing all that made it so that going into book three, I knew a lot more about the process of writing. 

Honestly, I feel like writing is how you learn to be a better writer. It's one of those things that you learn from doing, and it's a shame when people tell beginning writers that they should give up because something they wrote wasn't that great: you get better by doing it. It’s how you improve.

KAC:  Do you write in an office? Do you have a specific room?

SS:  I sit right at this desk and write on this computer. 

KAC:  So, describe the room you're in for our readers. Is this your kitchen? 

SS:  No, my kitchen's back there. I live in a studio apartment. 

KAC:  So you’re writing in your living room.

SS:  Yeah. Living room-slash-bedroom. It's both those things in one.

KAC:   Are you using a laptop? 

SS:  I am using a laptop. 

KAC:  Do you ever write longhand? 

SS:  I do my outlines longhand, but the rest is all typing.

KAC:  Are there any specific apps or accommodations or tools that help you write—like dictation software or time management apps that you use regularly?

SS:  Well, there's some…

KAC:  That's an accommodation for many people, I would say! 

What about when you have to take a break from writing for medical reasons? Let's say you go for a time without writing. Is it hard to get back into a project, and is there something you do to get back on the horse? 

SS:  So, when I was in outpatient therapy treatment, I had to be in the hospital. I made a comic book called Dreamworlds, but it took me a long time to get back to writing novels again. One great thing that I discovered, though, since I do my writing on the computer, is that writing doesn’t have to be a linear process. You can write a scene, then write another scene before it—as long as you do a good job of editing afterward. I usually try to get into a mindset that allows the story to flow. But because of the time away from the story, I had to get back into it. I also read my books earlier in the same series to make sure that everything was consistent.

That hasn't been a challenge with short stories because I've been able to write them consistently, even when I've been sick. In an average year, I will probably write about one short story per month in the 5000-word range. I look for submission calls and end up answering about twelve submission calls in a year.

Usually, I’ll put out a collection every two or three years, with stories whose rights have returned to me as well as stories that I never ended up publishing in the first place.

KAC:  Earlier, we talked about how your identity gets so tied up in your writing, and then you get into this crisis of: “Who am I if I'm not a writer anymore?” I’m thinking specifically of many people struggling with writer's block. They start to feel like they've lost their gift, like maybe they'll never write again.  Do you have any advice for those tortured souls? 

SS:  So, personally, I'm always able to write—but I do have to start. If I haven't been writing for a long time, I have to do the same thing I did when I first decided to be a writer: give myself permission to write badly.

In other words, the part of me saying that everything I do has to be great is the part of me that gives me writer's block. Getting out of writer's block means getting the perfectionist out of my head.

I give myself permission to write things that are not great, because otherwise I get stuck editing in my brain, and nothing comes out. I have to tell myself: “Editing is a thing. You can have a crappy first draft and edit it, you know?” So, I think that giving yourself permission to write a rough draft—just absolute garbage—is the best way to get out of it.

But when you're not writing, it's easy for impostor syndrome to kick in, too. Impostor syndrome tells you that everything you do is terrible. It makes you feel like you shouldn't be writing. My solution is to read bad books or books that made a lot of money but are not that great.

KAC:  They can be so inspirational!

SS:  Yeah! You can be like: “Okay, this book got published, and it isn’t that great or whatever, so maybe it's okay for me to write a book that’s not great!” 

KAC:  Yeah, maybe this one doesn't have to be the next Great American Novel. 

SS:  Yeah, the part of me that wanted to write the Great American Novel—I had to get over it entirely. 

I decided to be a horror writer because horror is a genre that people talk crap about anyway. And the idea that with everything you write, you're competing with Toni Morrison? That's not true! Toni Morrison wrote wonderful, amazing stories, but I don't have to be as good as her to be a writer.

KAC:  There’s only one Toni Morrison, but there's also only one you. 

SS:  Yeah, exactly! And I should tell my stories—the stories that I want to write.

I'm happy to be friends with Anne Rice—I love her writing. But when I read The Witching Hour for the first time, I thought: “This has got more ‘begat’s in it than the Bible! What's up?”

KAC:  I'm always like: “Yeah, you're human, too! Look at this!” 

SS:  Well, her writing advice was: “Don't take writing advice, do what you wanna do.” 

KAC:  Have you ever heard writing advice and thought: “That's the worst writing advice I've ever heard,” or “That writing advice is not going to work with my disabilities”?

SS:  Yeah. Like, the writing advice that you have to write every day…

KAC:  Oh, no!

SS:  …that does not work with my disability. But it did force me to recognize that every time I write an essay-length response to a post on social media, that's writing. Bipolar people do that a lot, unfortunately. So yes, I’m writing every day, but it’s not a book—and maybe I don’t really need to.

KAC:  Oh my gosh, I do that too! 

SS:  Maybe it’s your day for writing a book. 

KAC:  I wrote 1000 words, but they were all on Facebook! Because a man was wrong on the Internet!

SS:  Writing a certain amount per day is not the best thing for me, because if I get depressed, I'm not going to be writing. If I can get to where I'm feeling good, I can write 5000 words. Some days, though, I will write 150 words, then spend four hours staring out into space. I sit there, trying to formulate a thought as time goes by—then suddenly it’s time for lunch.

KAC:  Okay, so what about the advice that does work for you? What's the best writing advice you've found that works with your disabilities and your writing style? 

SS:  “Write the book you want to read.” Toni Morrison said that. I should look up the exact quote…

KAC:  Yeah, I’ve got it here, on my wall. The quote is: “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” 

What advice would you give to readers with similar life experiences to you who want to be writers? They want to do what you're doing. What would you tell them? 

SS:  Well, when I was starting out as a writer, I thought often about 15-year-old me, and wanting to make that person happy. But I also thought about other people who exist at the same intersections of multiple marginalizations. I felt like I should stand up for them—like I would stand up for myself when I was younger. 

KAC:  That's powerful. Are there any last thoughts you want to share with anyone else reading? 

SS:  Well, Rappin' 4-Tay—a rapper that I know—often says: “Get in where you fit in.” Sometimes, I worry that the things I think and write are too disturbing, which is part of why I write horror—because I feel like in that genre I'm not going to be judged.

“Get in where you fit in.” If you find that you write in a certain way, and it makes sense to you, write that. Finding a market for your writing and getting in where you fit in is a good way to navigate the world as a Disabled writer. I have PTSD, and disturbing images are something that I experience personally, but in the horror genre, they make a lot of sense. 

And another thing: we all hate rejection letters. We all do—but try to remember that just because someone didn't pick your story, that doesn't mean it isn't good. People are looking for specific things, and sometimes your story doesn't fit what they have in mind. And also, you can edit it again. I have edited things and found nice homes for them—so don't give up. And if one of my stories doesn't get published, then in two years, when I get the other stories back, I'll just put them all in a collection, and then it'll get published, too. 

KAC:  Well, that's excellent advice. Thank you for letting me ask you all these questions. I appreciate it—and I know our readers are gonna get a lot out of this interview. 

SS:  That's good. I'm glad to hear it. 

KAC:  Readers, you can find more of Sumiko’s work at, at their comic zine imprint,, and at your local seller of fine books!

Disabled readers, how do you get your writing done? We’d love to hear from you! You can chat with us on Twitter with #WritingWhileDisabled and #StrangeHorizons! The other Writing While Disabled interviews are on the Strange Horizons website—please check them out, too!

Sumiko Saulson (they/them or ze/hir) is an award-winning author of Afro-surrealist and multicultural sci-fi and horror whose latest novel Happiness and Other Diseases is available on Mocha Memoirs Press.
Sumiko has an AA in English from Berkeley City College, writes a column called “Writing While Black” for a national Black Newspaper, the San Francisco Bay View, is the host of the SOMA Leather and LGBT Cultural District’s “Erotic Storytelling Hour,”  and teaches courses at the Speculative Fiction Academy.
Sumiko is a cartoonist, science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer; editor of Black Magic Women, Scry of Lust, and 100 Black Women in Horror Fiction; author of Solitude, Warmth, The Moon Cried Blood, Happiness and Other Diseases, Somnalia, Insatiable, Ashes and Coffee, and Things That Go Bump In My Head. They wrote and illustrated comics Mauskaveli, Dooky, and graphic novels Dreamworlds and Agrippa. They writes for SEARCH Magazine and the San Francisco Bay View column “Writing While Black.” The child of African American and Russian-Jewish parents, a native Californian and an Oakland resident who’s spent most of their adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Kristy is a disabled intersex author who writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She recently finished an MFA in fiction from Brigham Young University, but has since returned to the wild to rove Colorado as a feral academic, along with her husband, son, and a clutter of cats. You can read Kristy's short story “Elder Daughter” in Cicada Magazine. Her essay “Disabled at the Intersection” appears in WisCon Chronicles (Vol 12): Boundaries & Bridges from Aqueduct Press. Kristy's interviews are here at Strange Horizons, including the “Writing While Disabled” series. You can find more of her work at her website,
Current Issue
26 Feb 2024

I can’t say any of this to the man next to me because he is wearing a tie
Language blasts through the malicious intentions and blows them to ash. Language rises triumphant over fangs and claws. Language, in other words, is presented as something more than a medium for communication. Language, regardless of how it is purposed, must be recognized as a weapon.
verb 4 [C] to constantly be at war, spill your blood and drink. to faint and revive yourself. to brag of your scars.
Wednesday: The Body Problem by Margaret Wack 
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