Interview with Sumiko Saulson, by George L. Cooks III
This interview is being included in the 2013 Women in Horror Interview Series. Every February, Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. You can find out more about WiHM here:
Today I was casually perusing through the interview links on my page, which include interviews I’ve done with other people, and interviews others have done with me. I noticed that one of the links had expired. You can find my interviews here, by the way:
I still have the text of the interview in a word file, though… because we did the interview via email. So I decided to repost it here. Hope you enjoy it!
About the Interviewer:
I was interviewed by George L. Cook III, author of “The Dead War Series” earlier this year, back in summer. Every month he featured an interview with an author of a zombie-themed book called “Zombie Author Of The Month”. Here is a little about Mr. Cook’s book:
“The US Army doesn’t run from any enemy, living……or dead!
In the year 2053 the dead walked. Mankind was caught off guard at first but within six years mounted a massive military assault on the dead.
These are the stories of some of those men and women that fought back. These are the stories of some trying to find a “cure”. These are the stories of those that are just trying to survive the nightmare of the walking dead. These are the stories of those that caused The Dead War.”
His website can be found here:
About the Author:
Sumiko Saulson is a horror novelist, published poet and writer of short stories and editorials. Her novels include “Solitude,” “Warmth”, and “The Moon Cried Blood”. A native Californian, she was born and spent her early childhood in Los Angeles, moving to Hawaii, where she spent her teen years, at the age of 12. She has spent most of her adult life living in the San Francisco Bay Area. An early interest in writing and advanced reading skills eventually lead to her becoming a staff writer for her high school paper, the Daily Bugle (McKinley High, Honolulu, HI) one of the nation’s only four such daily High School papers at the time. By the time she moved to San Francisco at age 19, she had two self-published books of poetry and was a frequently published poet in local community newspapers and reading poetry around town. She was even profiled in a San Francisco Chronicle article about up-and-coming poets in the beatnik tradition. Over the years she’s written numerous articles for local and community papers, non-profit and corporate newsletters, poetry and lyrics and novels.
About the Book:
Warmth: “I hate the dead. They have no self-control” – Sera. She is ghula – one of the extremely long-lived though not immortal flesh eaters whose lives can end in only one way – in resurrection as a hungry, ambulatory corpse who will spend the short days of its unlife rotting, eating, and infecting as many as possible. Sera compares her life to a dark comedy – trapped with an unwanted pregnancy for the past 600 years, constantly afraid that the fetus will die and go zombie in-utero, always cold and constantly running a fever like every other ghoul on the planet. Luckily, two things in life sustain her: her joy in hunting and destroying the Dead, and the constant seeking of comfort in warmth.
Interview of Sumiko Saulson by Interviewer George L. Cook III
Q. Tell us a little about you. Hobbies, schooling, favorite teams, etc.
A. I was born in Los Angeles, California and raised there until I was eleven. Both of my parents were also raised in Los Angeles, although neither was born there. A lot of people wonder if I’m Japanese because of my first name: I am not. My mother is African American, and my father is an American of Russian-Jewish heritage. I am named after one of my mom’s two best friends from Dorsey High (in Los Angeles, where she grew up). Her friend happened to be Japanese. We moved to Hawaii just before I turned twelve. I lived there until I turned nineteen, at which time I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I currently reside. I graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu, HI, where I spent two years working on the daily paper: one of only four daily high school papers in the USA at the time. I think I was lucky to go to a high school with such a strong journalism program. My higher education includes technical certifications including ACMT, A+ and Network+, among others. I am currently working on an AA in English Writing and Composition at Berkeley Community College as a re-entry student. I’ve all of my adult life working in computers: either as a computer repair technician or as a computer graphic designer. My design experience really comes in handy when it comes to making book covers.
Q. What inspired you to become a writer?
A. I’ve always wanted to write. When I was five years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I said, “an artist, a writer, or a veterinarian.” When I was a teenager I was writing for the school paper, self-publishing a local fanzine and a couple of booklets of poetry back in the days when self-publishing meant running off copies at Krishna Copy, and hanging out at the local poetry readings. When I came to San Francisco at 19, I would up in the local newspaper in a piece profiling up and coming beatnik poets, but I truthfully never came up. I was paid to write, certainly, but for the most part I was writing technical articles for newsletters at large companies, or record review columns for the neighborhood paper. I wanted to write creatively: not journalistically.
Further, while I was able to make a living as a commercial artist, and/or in IT, I never could make enough writing to support myself. Add to that the fact that one’s creativity must necessarily be limited to what a client desires when you are being hired to work for someone else. All of my life, I have been fortunate enough as to receive strong praise from teachers and employers with regards to my creative talents: but I am not someone who takes rejection very well. I craved the validation of being paid or being praised too much to face the rejection letters.
If it were not for the advent of self-publishing at the current level with eBooks and your Lulu and CreateSpace type online-self publishing companies, I might have never had the courage to attempt to develop a readership for purely creative writing. I have a great deal of respect for those with the courage to take things to the next level and submit repeatedly to publishers. Creative is one area where I am free to come at things from a completely personal approach. Speaking of personal: on a more personal level, I decided to begin writing novels specifically when both of my parents were diagnosed with different cancers in 2009 and 2011. I felt that if I didn’t finish the novel while my parents were still alive to read it, I would never be able to forgive myself.
Q. Why write a zombie book?
A. I’d already written one fairly serious sci-fi/horror book called “Solitude”, and was in the middle of writing a second one, “The Moon Cried Blood,” when I started writing “Warmth”, my zombie and ghoul book, almost as a method of depressurization or stress relief. I took a local approach to marketing, so the book “Solitude” is actually in half a dozen San Francisco Bay Area bookstores now, as well as being available online through Amazon.
As an African American woman, I felt a lot of pressure to write this very
serious literary fiction: to have a voice like Toni Morrison, or at the very least to be the next Octavia Butler, but as I went through the editing process for “Solitude”, I was getting all of this feedback that I sounded more like James Patterson, Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I write this very accessible mainstream horror, my writing has been described as highly entertaining, and I’m a good writer: I am not a “great” writer. I might even be formulaic. Yet, I was feeling I needed to represent by being as serious as possible. “Warmth” became my blowing-off-steam project, one where I was allowing myself to be funny, vulgar, and gory: everything “Solitude” and “The Moon Cried Blood” are not.
As a result, “Warmth” exudes a tremendous sense of dark humor that is not present with the dry-witted “Solitude”. Writing about ghouls and zombies was really a lot of fun. I learned that I have a real talent for grossing people out – but in a good way.
I’ve also written a zombie short story called “Frankenzombie”, which is for my next book, a compilation of short stories. I am sending that to you via email and people can purchase it as an eBook for iPod, Nook or Kindle in a three story promotional pack called “Frankenzombie and Other Stories”… it’s a little promo for the short story book “Things That Go Bump In My Head” which can be expected in November, just in time for Christmas shopping.
Q. What is the title of your most current book and what is it about?
A. “Warmth” takes place in a world where there are no immortals, but there are extremely long-lived formerly human creatures called ghouls, some of whom like to go around pretending they are vampires because it just seems more glamorous. The ghouls have a serious problem: when they die, they are guaranteed to become ambling, flesh eating reanimated corpses, better known to you and I as zombies. Further, the only way that a ghoul can be created is through zombie bite, as the ghouls and the zombies are created through the lifecycle of a prehistoric gut flora: a sort of pre-bacterial symbiotic or parasitic life form combined with specific other viruses and fungi. When the ghoul die, the creatures living in their intestines reanimate their flesh and proceed to try to infect as many as possible during their zombie phase. Unlike the ghoul phase, the zombie phase is quite short: the lack of embalming causes the zombies to eventually rot their way into non-existence. There aren’t that many ghouls because smallpox killed off most of them. The other reason for a limited ghoul population is the systematic elimination of all zombies by a small number of very effective zombie hunters.
In fact, the chief protagonist, Sera, is a legendary zombie hunter. Because
ghouls age very slowly, she’s coming to the end of her 600 year old pregnancy. She is also sick all the time: like every other ghoul on the planet, she is continually feverish, and always seeking warmth. She pops a lot of aspirin. She finds pretentious ghouls who refuse to acknowledge that they can survive off of dead human flesh irritating: those kind tend to dress up like vampires and suck groupie blood. Vampire wannabes are only insufferable – zombies are much worse. She hates the dead – they have no self-control.
Like the rest of her kind, she slays zombies to prevent an out-of-control epidemic of zombie bite, resulting in an unmanageable number of flesh-hungry ghouls and zombies that would simultaneously out the ghoulish condition to all of humanity, and threaten to cause the extinction of mankind and ghoulkind alike by infecting the totality of the food supply. When a psychotic ghoul named Lizbet, who has suffered an unfortunate miscarriage/zombie child birth, causing her descent into madness, goes on a killing spree, Sera and all ghoulkind are placed at risk. What if the FBI puts a bullet in Lizbet and she turns into a zombie? And starts infecting everybody? On national television?
Q. Would you put your book more in the action, comedy, or horror category? Is there another category you would add?
A. “Warmth” is horror/dark comedy. I would not call it action, although there is some action in it. It actually started out as a straight-up parody, because when I had the idea for it, I was reading a bunch of fans on one vampire book writer’s page slagging off on another vampire book writer, and I thought: “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were no vampires, just some zombie-like creatures who thought they were vampires?” – and also, “What if instead of a vampire impregnating a human with damphyr, a vampire was stuck being pregnant with a fetus that would not come out and she couldn’t abort? Would she hate it? Would she have hundreds of years of morning sickness?” – every thought I had about creating it was of a dark comedy nature, because I was poking fun at the serious, petulantly beautiful vampires by turning them into something ugly and repulsive: walking future zombies.
Q. What sets your book apart from the thousands of zombie books out there?
A. I think my book spends a lot of time poking fun of the great vampire vs. zombie pop cultural debate. In “Warmth”, vampires are zombies and zombies are vampires: well, of course, they are not, they are all ghouls, in either their living form or their dead form, but my book is essentially poking fun at the genre rift. I read an article in Cracked Magazine about how scientists did studies showing that in the United States, during Democratic presidencies there was an increase in popularity for vampire stories, whereas during Republican presidencies there was an increase in popularity for zombie stories. Maybe that puts a political spin on my insinuation that the zombies and vampires are more alike than different: I’m not really sure.
Q. What, if anything, do you want the reader to take from your book?
A. One of the great things about “Warmth” is it is the first book I’ve written where the reader doesn’t actually have to take anything away: it can be read as pure, unadulterated entertainment. The main take-away of “Warmth” is about the ecology, but you have to really pay close attention to pick up on what it says about mankind’s elevated sense of self importance in relationship to the rest of the world we live in.
Q. Where is your book available?
A. It is available online at Amazon.com, and through Lulu.com. It is available locally in Oakland at Laurel Bookstore on MacArthur and Lokal Boy on Fairfax. Visit my website at http://www.sumikosaulson.com and look under http://www.sumikosaulson.com/books for a complete list of my books and where they are available for purchase.
You can buy it on Amazon HERE.
Q. Where can you be contacted?
“Warmth” Book Commercial Spot
“Warmth” Book Reading at Blow Salon
~ by Sumiko Saulson on December 3, 2012.
Posted in Interviews, Sumiko's Writing, Warmth, WiHM 2013
Tags: Author, Book Reading, DIY, George L. Cooks III, ghoul, Horror, Interview, novel, Sumiko Saulson, Warmth, women in fiction, Women in Horror, Women in Horror Interview Series, Women in Horror Month, Women in Horror Month 2013, Women in Horror Month Interview Series, Women in Science Fiction, Women of Color, zombie