Asserting Our Humanity While Navigating Accusations of Intimidation. By Danielle Stevens

•November 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Sumiko Saulson:

An interesting read.

Originally posted on This Bridge Called Our Health: Re(imagine)ing Our Minds, Bodies, and Spirits:


I saw these beautiful multicolored leaves this week as I was leaving a Queer Woman of Color intentional breathing space that I was recently involved in forming. This was the first collective meditation space I had been in several months after relocating from sunny California to (really) chilly Ohio . As we held this tender and compassionate space for one another to share truths and shed tears, I thought about the intimate ways our tenderness as women & femmes of color of all genders is consistently unrecognized. I thought about the damage done as we inherit intergenerational trauma that inflicts wounds on our hearts and spirits. I thought about the institutionalized forms of violence that we continue to be subject to both systematically and interpersonally; reoccurring patterns of the same violence that our foremothers and femme ancestors endured. I thought about how effortless it seems for people to refuse to…

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Live Appearance in Northridge, CA Jan 9, 2015

•November 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Live Appearance in Northridge, CA Jan 9, 2015.

Live Appearance in Northridge, CA Jan 9, 2015

•November 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Sumiko Saulson:

I hope my Southern Cali people can make it!

Originally posted on Happiness and Other Diseases:

I will be reading from “Happiness and Other Diseases” and signing books at:

$10 or Less Bookstore
9054 Tampa Avenue in Northridge, California.
Phone Number is (818) 701-0047

Friday, January 9, 2015 – 7pm to 9pm

I am working on getting the book shelved at a couple of Los Angeles area bookstores, and will let you all know where when that happens.

In the meantime, here’s a review of the book (by Josh Bisher):

Happiness 11Happiness and Other Diseases touched my heart, then ripped it out through my chest, but I was begging for it, and I’m ready for more.

Flynn, a troubled young man is plagued with nightmares. As with most things, help doesn’t come cheap, and things are usually more complicated than they appear. When Gods play chess, we are their pawns. Limited and weak, but still capable of taking the king. Happiness and other diseases is Sumiko’s…

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Dead Horse Summer (Short Story)

•October 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Introductory Note: Today (October 26, 2014) Kilauea’s latest eruption threatens the town of Pahoa, which has been evacuated. I went to Junior High School in Pahoa, when I lived there and when I lived in Kalapana from 1980 to 1982. Dead Horse Summer is an autobiographical short story about the time I lived in Kalapana and a subsequent return to the lava-covered landscape a decade later. This is creative autobiography: the events are actual, but since I wrote about them in 2012, thirty years after they happened, they may be out of sequence or creatively embellished.

Dead Horse Summer

The things that frighten us most are those that remind us of our fragile existence and the terrible ways we can die; like the frozen grimaces on the face of a peat bog man or the ashen screams on the faces of a child found under Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii. Kilauea is the most dangerous volcano in the country according to the US Geological Service – yet thousands of tourists walk on it every day, as though nothing bad is ever going to happen there again. My father didn’t think anything bad would happen there in the summer of my twelfth year. We moved to Hawaii from Los Angeles, and after a brief stay with his mother on Kaneohe, on the island of Oahu, we moved to the Big Island, where he’d found cheap land for sale. He took us on a tour of the subdivision, driving us down the pitted and dusty, unpaved and rust colored roads made up of ground down red volcanic rock. The weight of his car bore down onto the already grooved dirt road, deepening the pair of tire tracks left by the vehicles that traveled this way before us.

It was during our first summer when I came across a pathetic festering corpse of a dead horse in Kalapana, on Black Sands Beach. It was lodged within the rough, onyx-colored sands made of lava rock. The sand had only arrived on these shores mere hundreds of years earlier; they were still sharp and rocky, not smoothed by erosion. My toes poked from rubber-heeled plastic thong sandals called zoris. Hard rocks protruded from the sands, and I smashed my heel painfully against one, causing me to shrink back away from it in pain, blood oozing out against hot skin.

I stumbled away from the rock and landed almost directly on the dead horse, partially hidden beneath a palm tree – the kind that grew out of the tide pools, and were bent sharply inland through some natural force. The crook of the low, bent palm hid the corpse until the last moment, and then I saw it. The water had come up over this dead horse several times, and receded, and what the low tide revealed now was skeletal, with a few places where the hide covered partially protruding bone. It didn’t smell. I had the sense that sea creatures had torn away at most of the flesh, leaving bone with flaps of leathery skin waving over it.

Although the horse’s life was gone, the bones were nonetheless reanimated with teeming life of the tidal pool: green slimy mold-like seaweed, plump brown seaweed, happy little hermit crabs in stolen shells with ambitions of making a new home here in the reclaimed corpse of this horse. The creatures were cranking away, creating this whole new aquatic ecosystem.
But I was only twelve, and unconcerned with the joys of the under denizens of this dead horse suburbia. My pre-teen mind would not absorb the entire ecological gestalt of this thing – in my mind, it was gross, disgusting, nastier than stepping in a pile of dookie. I was just a kid, not some teenager in the throes of an experimental philosophical phase where I was interested in examining the brevity of a jaunt with a livid life condescending into a sleepy death in a fantastic realm of either amazing or horrific possibility where even a horse might sleep with the fishes.

I threw death out the window, and instead turned and ran – screaming! Screaming, running, far, far away from the death of horses into the life of a safe public restroom with its comforting public showers.

I left behind pomegranate waving colors of sea stalks taking root in wet spots on yellowing bones in the red rocks covered in rusty blood into the cold concrete square encasings of cubicles, stalls, with closing casket doors but water… hot and cold water, descending in rainy rivulets from the faucet. Warm water and lily-scented shampoo poured over me, enveloping me, caressing me like love. They washed away hard little black pebbles stuck to my heel by hot gushes of blood, and terrible memories of a dead horse, all down the shower drain and back out to sea.

It is a motion the earth itself would repeat over the years, as the lava eventually poured over the beach, the showers, the streets and the houses, destroying them all. Five years later, the angry volcano came to wash it all away, burying the dead horse beach under fifty feet of lava.

A dead horse wouldn’t have angered Pele, for her battle was with Kamapua’a, the wind god, who looked like a man-pig. He was in love with her, and wouldn’t leave her alone. My aunt told me once when we were traveling from Hilo to Kailua-Kona over Saddle Road never to cross Saddle Road with any pork in the car, because it would anger Pele and she would cause the car to stall. We were to throw any ham sandwiches off to the side of the road as an offering to Pele.

My aunt by marriage is Hawaiian and Portuguese, and she was the one who told me about Ka wahine ‘ai honua, Pele, the earth-eating woman. She taught reverence of her heritage and her ancestors. Not all who lived in Kalapana in the time of my Dead Horse respected Pele. My dad is haole. That means stranger but is used for Caucasian. He and his friends grew marijuana, or pakalo. Back then the high quality weed of the area was known as “Puna Butter” because it tasted so smooth. My brother and I were called hapa – meaning half. We were called hapa-haole or hapa-papolo. Papolo, meaning purple, is the name of a plum – we had a tree of these small, very dark purple plums in our yard in Kalapana – they always splattered down on the hood of my daddy’s Lincoln Continential. Papolo was also the name for the color of the plum, and for African American people.

Sumiko, Robert, and Scott Saulson (1979)

Sumiko, Robert, and Scott Saulson (1979)

I don’t think that my dad’s friends growing the marijuana awakened Pele, but I could be wrong. The marijuana plants attracted many loud helicopters that were part of the police drug enforcement program called “Green Harvest”. Maybe it was these copters, swarming over the top of the hillside like flies over a rotting guava that disturbed her? They were generating wind against the hillsides. Hawaii legend says that a huge battle over control of this area took place between Pele and Kamapua’a,. Maybe the helicopters made Pele think Kamapua’a was back to sexually harass her or try to pressure his way back into her favorite home?
Or maybe she was awakened by another thing: My dad and his friends hunted wild boars in the forests but they never left any pork for Pele. Maybe if they had, she wouldn’t have grown angry and taken back her land.

I remember a family that painted the lava rocks gold and sold them to tourists, knowing it was considered unlucky to remove them from the island. They lived high on Kilauea, much closer to Halema`uma`u crater, which was supposed to be Pele’s favorite home. Maybe they were the ones who made her angry. They lived in Royal Gardens Subdivision, which was one of the first places to be hit by the volcano in 1982, the same year we moved away to Hilo.

Pele consumed our old home in Kalapana Gardens in 1986, just six months after the last time we came over from Oahu to visit it. By the time I was back again in 1991, so many landmarks of my childhood were gone. I would never go back to visit the Queen’s Bath in Kalapana, a fresh water spring in a collapsed lava tube surrounded by high cliffs from which we used to jump. I remembered it being as big as an Olympic swimming pool and about eight feet deep, but I would never be able to go back there and dive in. I would never find out it would seem smaller because I grew four inches between the age of fourteen when I last swam there, and adulthood.

The half-dozen neighbors we visited in homes that dotted the sparsely spotted Kalapana Gardens subdivision live

Robert Saulson (in blue shorts), his girlfriend Shari (front, blond) and niece Crystal Lewis (little girl in front) (1982)

Robert Saulson (in blue shorts), his girlfriend Shari (front, blond) and niece Crystal Lewis (little girl in front) (1982)

somewhere else now. The Star of the Sea Painted Church, where I once attended Catholic services with my friend Stacy, had been moved somewhere else to prevent its being swallowed by lava. It is far away from the long-gone beach, where people used to worship amongst the paintings of the famous and sainted father Damien of Molokai doing his work with the lepers. Two girls giggling outside of the church about the number of times the pastor had them stand up and sit back down again, are long grown. The past has been swept away from Kalapana, along with the landmarks of its remembrances.

The beach of my Dead Horse summer is gone. Pele gave us all an eviction notice. The thick jungle smells of wetland underbrush along the ten mile trip between Pahoa High School – where I attended seventh and eighth grade – and Kalapana Gardens continued for the first eight miles as we headed in. All of the lush greenery ended two miles from my old house on Duff Street now, and the lush smells of sunshine and overripe papaya disappeared giving way to lifeless odors of dust and tar. The ground itself was singed and blackened, and within the coal tar colored surface were rifts and breaks, like the top of an overcooked brownie. The whole area looked like it had been left in the oven too long. I knew then I would never again experience the smell of fresh banana nut bread in the little store at Kaimu.

Where I used to live, there is new coastline stretching out a mile and a half into the sea. We walked out on the rocky surface built of the stuff I once cut my heel on. From here on the roads were destroyed. Our car could not pass, so we walked. Pele’s scorched-earth policy removed all of the palm trees, killed all of the sand crabs, and replaced whatever I remembered with this rugged, uneven surface that cracked like a bleeding skin. The colors were all shades of dark gray and black. Only the clear blue sky with its all-too-high clouds far and away in the distance remained the same. We approached the higher elevations from another angle after we returned to the car: there, we would see hot lava still bursting forth from tubes like fireworks in the night sky, thick and red as blood, blood from the heel of a frightened little girl running.

It is a testimony to the lesson of the Dead Horse of my twelfth summer: the uncomfortable knowledge that old things have to die to make way for the new, even if we don’t want them to. The consumption of Kalapana by Pele continues to this day; and during the month of my fortieth birthday, in 2008 there was an explosion at Halema`uma`u crater. Pele finally completely decimated the Royal Gardens subdivision by taking its last house. She covered what remained of my early adolescence in her hair and her tears – balls and strings of lava – which were flung from Halema`uma`u for the first time since 1982. There are five volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island. There are five, but Kilauea is a favorite of Pele and tourists alike.

But by 2009, the US Geological Survey would know that America’s most active volcano was a lot more dangerous than she looked. While there was never a great city the likes of Pompeii to be covered with ash, there was evidence of giant rocks the size of baseballs flung in the air all the way to the shore. The things that frighten us most remind us of our fragile existence and the terrible ways we can die. They make us understand our insignificance.

The Vines (Christopher Rice) brings allegorical horror to the modern age

•October 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

THE-VINES-Final-CoverSpring House is built upon mysteries and secrets, blood and lies, and Caitlin Chaisson is its mistress. Betrayed and scorned by her duplicitous, cheating husband Troy, she accidentally unleashes something evil by spilling her rage-tainted blood on the ground. It is blood magic that compel flora and fauna rise up and exact retribution upon her enemies, but like most supernatural allies, the vines have a tortured past and minds of their own.  Perhaps her enemies will not be enough. Perhaps the corrupted nature she has unleashed will not be satisfied until it punishes all of the members of the mankind that desecrated it.

The Vines is a modern horror story.  It is a finely crafted parable about the difference between vengeance and justice, and how things can go terribly wrong when one confuses the two. The novel combines the non-stop action roller coaster ride pace and mystery of the suspense thriller with the allegorical nature of traditional horror such as seen in W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, or those old episodes of Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt.

Like this author’s previous entry into the horror genre, The Heavens Rise, elements of horror in The Vines are not confined to the supernatural. Often, the most frightening thing in the story is the human factor. The vines remain dormant until human rage and revenge awaken them. What makes it so scary is that the motivations characters have for doing so are so common and relatable readers are left wondering if we have enough moral or intestinal fortitude to resist the temptation that Caitlin gives into.

In a jealous fury, Caitlin Chaisson opens the Pandora’s Box of mythological-proportioned perpetrating plant-life. The promotional materials put Caitlin Chaisson first and foremost, but in fact Blake Henderson is the primary point of view character the hero of this piece and its reluctant hero. Nova Thomas is equally obviously its heroine. The only reason they aren’t headlining is that we really and truly do not live in a world that can easily accept the idea of a gay man and a black woman being in these roles in a mainstream fiction work, and rest assured that this is indeed, mainstream horror.  The same situation occurred with Niquette Delongpre in The Heavens Rise, and as some other reviewers noted, she wasn’t in fact, a very present character in the narrative.  Caitlin is considerably more present here, but she is also primarily a catalyst or a conduit for these otherworldly events.  She is also the crux around which these relationships are woven.

Caitlin makes a deal – a trade, the blood of the wronged for the blood, flesh and bone of the wrongdoer – not a taste of it, but a human being hungrily devoured in his or her entirety.  The novel leverages the ever popular revenge fantasy against the moral compasses of not only the characters, but the readers. What crimes are deserving of supernatural vigilante vengeance? Are any? What is the cost? And if Caitlin, the poor little rich white privileged orphan with a hang-up about her ordinary looks, gives into temptation, then how will her tragically wronged gay best friend and the newly political daughter of her black gardener deal with it? Won’t they want revenge? And is that really justice?

Blake and Nova are both people who have spent much of their lives shoring Caitlin up in one way or another. Now, they find themselves reluctant allies in cleaning up her mess. They don’t know each other well, and they’re in culture clash. It soon becomes very evident that they’ve both suffered greater injustices than a cheating spouse. Blake lost his high school sweetheart to a hate crime. Nova is constantly faced with her father’s kowtowing to Caitlin, and is stuck living on a former plantation built on the backs of slaves because of her father’s codependent servile relationship with Caitlin.

This novel rife with both obvious and subtextual daddy issues, Caitlin’s lost both her parents and her daddy made her feel ugly. We don’t see Blake’s daddy, but his murdered lover John’s flesh and blood daddy issue keeps stalking him. Nova is angry because her daddy Willie keeps acting like Caitlin’s daddy instead of hers.

Willie Thomas and Blake Henderson are disenfranchised men who do not have the money and power of Caitlin’s jackass father or the swagger and bravado of her unfaithful cop husband. These are the kind of men whose sexuality is deemed somehow threatening, so they keep it cloaked. Their sexual existence comprised of lost loves and secret trysts. But they are men, trying to figure out who they are as men in a society that offers them few options.

Unable to protect his first love, Blake is in hyper-cranked up rescue mode.  Willie barters away his personal agency to provide for his motherless daughter, and loses her respect for doing so. Both of these men overcompensate by hitting the gym and blanketing the women in their lives with protective, paternal affection. But it is always there, bristling under the surface with frustrated, stifled virility.  At some point in the book, when Blake surmises that the only thing he has to give Nova is a hug, you really feel for him and for every other kind of disenfranchised man.  As quiet as it’s kept, the masculine urge to protect is as natural as its feminine adjunct in maternally nurturing behavior. Stripped of all of the other things a society associates with masculinity, and taken under Caitlin’s wealthy wing, these men are still men. They project their masculinity by instinctively assuming the mantle of protector.

Nova Thomas resents her father’s coddling attitude towards Caitlin and his general tendency to kowtow towards white people. Her relationship to both Caitlin and her father underscores something very essential that is missing from the mainstream feminist understanding of how black women relate to men. While white women are currently up in arms over the occasionally obnoxious nature of men who want to rescue women, black women are suffering from a history of not being considered sufficiently womanly to warrant that kind of male intervention.  She wants her daddy back, and doesn’t take issue with Blake’s sometimes protective attitude towards her either.  However, her resentment towards Caitlin borders on sibling rivalry.

These are very well crafted characters, and I was surprised that so much character development could occur in the middle of such a concisely-written and fast paced novel. My copy – an already well-worn Advanced Reader’s Copy – is only 232 pages long.

I found The Vines to be a brave novel in that it openly tackles the issues of societal injustice in a privilege system. Speculative fiction usually deals with such issues on a metaphorical level because the often confusing and painful reality of bias in America is just too hard to face.  Usually, we have to substitute blue aliens so that readers and audiences don’t cringe in horror.

I usually avoid reviewing books because I can’t help but approach them from the point of view of an English major.  I also avoid reviews because I am a slow, thoughtful reader who can’t help but dissect them. You will have to forgive me if at any point here I have started to sound like I’m formulating thesis paper on gender and race relations in the U.S.A.  No one ever wants to graft her own political agenda onto another writer, but we all have points of view and they seep into our reviews, our conversations, and everything else we touch.

That said Christopher Rice was recently quoted as saying that one of the reasons he liked the horror genre is that it is about underdogs. That being the cause, one can’t really believe that the political overtones and subtext in this novel are accidental. It is natural for me to admire anyone tilting at the same windmills I tilt at, or if not the same ones, related and somewhat adjacent ones.

This reminds me that, before I even had a chance to read this, someone else with a review copy who is white and male and shall remain nameless, private messaged me saying how excited he was about the idea of me reading this and having an opinion about >gasp< The Black People In This Book.  I had a wtf moment, because I am not, in any way, shape or form, the arbiter of all things black in horror fiction. I do realize that since I compiled 60 Black Women in Horror, some people may have that impression, but in fact I am a California girl who has never even been to the South, so you might as well be asking my opinion on Jamaican characters. By the way, other black people probably don’t want me being the Arbiter of all Things Black, I’m only half black. I’m also half Jewish American Princess. Ahem. Nuff said.

But since I was asked, I’m going to repeat what I said in private before reading this book. “Yes, I have noticed that there are often black people in Christopher Rice books. Unlike in mainstream horror fiction from the 70s and the 80s, they aren’t universally acting as stand-ins for Jesus who must sacrificially die to save the universe.”

If a black person not automatically dying in horror fiction is the start of new trend I’m totally in favor of that. If white people like Christopher Rice want to continue to write black characters as well developed as Nova Thomas, I’m very happy with that.  The way the character is written, you get the impression that >gasp< the author has actually known more than two black people in his life, and is able to write authentically human black people who are not stereotypically archetypical icons standing for persecution. Shocking, I know!

If you want to send me a shitty “colorblind” politic email message about using the terms “white people” and “black people” in this review,  then in the immortal words of Blake Henderson, “fuck off.”

Thank you, and have a nice day.

(You can buy The Vines here)

Trusted (poetry)

•October 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment



My sweet, soft, ripe, bruised


Touched and taken from your

wide and low




Your broken skin tenderly kissed

Your sticky, sweet juices

offered up

to hungry lips

This moment, this

perfect bliss

this delicate

kitchen tryst


Your fuzzy surface penetrated

by unrepentant teeth

The sinking in, the sucking skin

The violently released


It Is Dark Here and I Hold Horror In My Hands…

•October 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Sumiko Saulson:

Catching up with Paula D Ashe

Originally posted on dust and shadow:

…the above is from an earlier draft of a published story. I couldn’t think of a good subject title, so I tried to find something ‘evocative’.

Anyway, I’m having a good writing year so far. I’m hesitant to say that because despite my humanism I can’t help but feel a little superstitious about the creation, reception, and publication of my work. I don’t want to jinx anything. However, three of my stories were published in JWK Fiction Best of Horror 2013; “Because You Watched”, “Bereft”, and “The Mother of All Monsters”.  It’s a huge honor to be recognized in any ‘best of’ collection, but particularly this one since many of the writers included are personal friends and favorite writers; Chantal Noordeloos, Lily Childs, James Ward Kirk, KZ Morano, Roger Cowin, and James S. Dorr.

I also had “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven”…

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