Cycling to Asylum is launched!

Thank you Montréal and New York for your support in launching my debut novel!
I had a great time reading to all of you and signing books. I even got to act out a dialogue with my friend Rach! So far, feedback on the book has been good. Below are links to the three reviews that have been written as well as a link to my reviews on Goodreads:
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I have also enjoyed being interviewed at my events, online and on the radio. Here is a link to Dyane Forde’s interview of me for her blog, Dropped Pebbles. Here is a link to the interview on CKUT radio.

Where to Buy the Book:

CreateSpace (direct from publisher) | Barnes and Noble | The Book Depository | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon FR | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon ES | Amazon IT | Smashwords

In Montréal, the book is available at Librarie Paragraphe Books, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, Argo Bookshop and Coop La Maison Verte. In New York, Cycling to Asylum can be purchased at The Community Bookstore. Libraries and bookstores can also order the book from Red Tuque Books, the distributer.

Upcoming Readings and Events:

I will be reading at the Yellow Door Poetry and Prose Reading on Thursday, August 28th at 7pm,3625 Aylmer, Montreal, producer/host Ilona Martonfi.

A reading and book signing followed by a discussion of cycling as transportation will be held at Coop La Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke, Ouest, on Thursday evening, September 11th, at 7pm.

I will also be doing two events in Toronto in September, on the 21st and the 23rd,  during the Word on the Street festival. More information to follow!

My First Author Interview

This has been an exciting month for me! My first novel, Cycling to Asylum, was published. (For details on the book and where it can be purchased, visit my Cycling to Asylum page.)

C2A full cover

 

So far, my novel has been reviewed by three publications . You can read these reviews by following the links below:

New Perspectives on Canadian Literature

Capital Literary Review

The Oxytocin Post

I was also interviewed for the first time as an author. I was a little nervous, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, and in the process, I got to meet writer and blogger, Dyane Forde, who lives in my own city of Montréal. The interview is below:

This is a first! An author interview with Su Sokol, an author hailing from my very own city of Montreal. It’s always great to meet new authors, but I have to say connecting with a local writer carries a little something special. I quite enjoyed discovering today’s guest–an activist, lawyer and writer with a warm personality and gift for communicating–I’m sure you will enjoying meeting her as well.

So without further delay, please pull up a seat and make yourself comfortable. It’s time to welcome our guest!

Hello, Su! Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

I am originally from Brooklyn, and like the family in my novel, my own family immigrated to Montréal largely for political reasons. Happily though, unlike that fictional family, it was not because our lives were in danger. In New York, I worked as a tenants’ rights lawyer. I do similar work now in Montréal as a social rights advocate, only I don’t have to go to court and I get to speak French as well as English. I love cycling, cooking, books, red wine and dark chocolate.

Oh, you had me at red wine and chocolate!

Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? Why are you drawn to writing?

I also love music and have sung in a number of choral groups. I’ve played piano, cello, and most recently, I learned to play the glockenspiel for an anarchist marching band. I also enjoy visual art, theatre and dance, cooking, and gardening. Yet, aside from music, there is no artistic expression that has come close to moving me as much as writing. With words and stories, new worlds can be imagined, populated by characters, events, places, and emotions, and all this can grab hold of your heart and mind and refuse to let go.

Wonderfully put. Such is the magic of storytelling.

What draws you to novel writing? Do you write in other formats? What can you never see yourself writing?

I also love music and have sung in a number of choral groups. I’ve played piano, cello, and most recently, I learned to play the glockenspiel for an anarchist marching band ….

Read the rest of the review here.

What is great about all this is that my book launch hasn’t even happened yet! I am being double-launched, first in Montréal, where I live, and then in New York, Brooklyn to be exact, my city of birth. I am very excited about reading at two fantastic bookstores – Drawn & Quarterly and the Community Bookstore – in front of my friends and other guests My publisher and I are also working to arrange readings in other cities, so stay tuned!

Cycling to Asylum’s first review

A month and a half before the publication date of my novel, and I have my first review! Thank you, Cynthia Cherish Malaran, who wrote this review for Hot Indie News and the Oxytocin Post. It is a thoughtful, interesting response to my story, complete with evocative photos and illustrations. The review begins like this:

“The reason I absolutely enjoy doing book reviews on fiction works is because I get to go on a journey … “

I also love journeys, which is probably why I wrote a story that includes both an actual bicycle trip and a psychological journey. The reviewer also speaks of own experience living in New York City and observing activism. I was touched by how my story found resonance in the reviewer’s own memories and reflections:

“Cycling to Asylum takes place in a New York City of the near future… a New York City that is hostile and authoritarian.”

The reviewer notes that although her current experience of New York is positive, she still has memories of :

” … police tanks in my neighborhood and fires set by squatters just blocks from me as I grew up. I have watched hovering police helicoptors beam lights onto rooftops and into apartments right from my bedroom window. My pupils have seen the riot gear policemen in all public places, from Times Square to Zuccotti Park to right outside the Baskin Robbins ice cream shop that used to be at my corner.”

Here is another excerpt from the review:

“Cycling to Asylum by Su J. Sokol is a four-stringed journey about struggle and freedom told via the lives in a family fleeing from the harsh treatment of a politically troubled New York City, to Montreal, their city of hope. This gripping, yet moderately-paced work of future fantasy writing succeeds in detailing the multi-faceted family dynamic experience that would occur in any relocation situation. Throw in the “lives are in danger” element and you will find yourself turning pages faster than your imagination can keep up.”

Writing Cycling to Asylum was, for me, also type of journey. One of the best things about journeys are the people you meet along the way and with whom you can share stories.

Please read the full review here.

Cycling to Asylum, my first novel, to be published in June!

I am very excited to announce that my first novel, Cycling to Asylum, is scheduled to be published by Deux Voiliers Publishers in June. Here is a description of the story from my publisher’s website:

In a near-future New York subject to an increasingly authoritarian and hostile government, Laek, a non-conformist history teacher, finds that he can no longer hide his radical past. After a brutal confrontation with the NYPD, he flees the United States with Janie, an activist lawyer, and their two kids, Siri and Simon. They cross the border by bicycle into Québec by posing as eco-tourists. In a Montréal that the future has also transformed, the family faces new challenges: convincing the authorities to grant them refugee status and integrating into Québec society. Will they find safety in their new home? Told from the points of view of the four family members, Cycling to Asylum is an unique work of interstitial fiction from an exciting new Montreal author.

I am thrilled to be using cover art created by the very talented Lin-Lin Mao. Here is a little preview of what the front and back of the book will look like, minus text:

fullcover

The book launch has been scheduled for Thursday evening, June 19th, at 7:00 at Drawn & Quarterly, a fabulous venue in Montréal’s own Mile End. Please click here for event details.

I will also be participating in a collective reading during The Magical Evening with Canadian Authors (MECA), on Saturday, June 14th. Details are here.

Stay tuned for news of other related events, hopefully including a New York launch of the novel as well!

 

Review of Journeys in the Winterlands by Dylan Fox, C. Allegra Hawksmoor and John Reppion

WinterlandsBrrr! It’s cold out there! Perfect weather to read Journeys in the Winterlands, an experiment in collective storytelling by Dylan Fox, C. Allegra Hawksmoor and John Reppion. Described as a “snowpocalypse”, it is a dark but beautiful collection of three stories that take place in a post-steampunk apocalypse. You can read my review here in The Future Fire: http://reviews.futurefire.net/2014/02/fox-et-al-journeys-in-winterlands.html

2013 favourite long speculative fiction reads: The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, and Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older

Although I read a wide diversity of literature, I have a special love for speculative fiction. I’ve recently been reading mostly short stories in this genre, but there’s nothing like long fiction to satisfy the urge to jump into a different world and stay there for a while. With 2014 around the corner, I’d like to mention three books that I read this year and especially loved. They are The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, and Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older. Each book is from a different speculative fiction sub-genre.

Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman is something between science fiction and fantasy. It tells the story of Rowan, a steerswoman who sets out on a quest. Steerswomen (and steersmen — there are a few of those too) are seekers of knowledge. These types of characters in science fiction are usually likeable since writers and readers in this genre tend to be sympathetic to the idea that knowledge and activities designed to increase knowledge should be prioritized in our society. Rowan is a particularly satisfying protagonist– intelligent, exacting, competent and with a quiet dignity and integrity. Our respect for her grows as we watch her proceed with methodical, clear-headed logic which ultimately leads to her decision to sacrifice her own comfort and safety to find the answers to certain important questions. Steerswomen, by their creed, are required to answer any question that is put to them. I love this idea, which combines the value of freely sharing knowledge with the importance of telling the truth. When Rowan pairs up with another women — an outlander warrior with a very different background and personality — the fun has only begun. It’s such a pleasure to read intelligent science fiction/fantasy containing strong, interesting and believable female lead characters who effortlessly smash stereotypes and overused tropes.

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint lets you know from the very first page that what you are about to read is going to break rules and shift paradigms. In fact, if I understand correctly, this story birthed its very own subgenre:  mannerpunk. Part of what we find in this tale are things we’ve seen before: dukes and nobles and common folk, wealth and poverty, balls and plays, intrigue, murder and politics — and Kushner does all of this very well, but with her own twists. On top of all that, we’re treated to a story of love, art and scholarship. The main characters are Richard St. Vier, a swordsman, and Alec, a student with a mysterious background — but beware, these are not your mundane swordsmen and students. Like everyone is this world, these titles come with very particular expectations and rules. This, in part, is where the mannerpunk comes in. Beware as well if you are expecting a story that is heteronormative. It’s also not a warm and fuzzy tale — both main characters can be quite bloody minded. What we do get is a story that’s both tender and intense, and Kushner manages to pull this off with an economy of language that’s astonishing. I rarely read books twice but I did in this case. The first time, I enjoyed the story, the second time enjoyed the details, the nuance and the language.

I read Salsa Nocturna because I’d already read Daniel José Older’s stand-alone story, “Skin like Porcelain Death” and wanted more. I was not disappointed. Salsa Nocturna is a set of related short stories which fit together so well that there’s the same feeling of cohesiveness and completion you get with a novel. In addition, I didn’t have the problem I sometimes have with short story collections where it takes me a certain amount of time to get into each story. There’s no down time here — Older had me nicely buzzing along from each first sentence. Horror is not a genre I usually read, although I would probably characterize these stories as a horror/urban fantasy hybrid (and I do read urban fantasy). Whatever the genre, four things makes these stories unforgettable: the voice, the authenticity and complete believability of the characters (especially impressive in horror and fantasy), the warm feeling of community that Older is able to create almost instantly, and the voice. Did I mention the voice? On a personal note, as a Brooklyn expatriate living in Montréal, Salsa Nocturna tugs at my tender feelings for my hometown, particularly for certain neighbourhoods where I’d worked for many years. He manages to create a place that is utterly familiar and fill it with ghosts, half-dead creatures and paranormal activity, and then shows us a supernatural hierarchy and bureaucracy which brings us back again to the utterly familiar. I will never look at my city of birth in the same way again.

Publication announcement and writing between genres

I am happy to announce that I sold another short story. It will hopefully see the light of day in January, but stay tuned for more concrete news closer to the date. What I can say right now is that the story is to be published by Spark, a creative anthology that prides itself on going against established practice by publishing a mixture of different genres. This seems to be a good fit for me since my first published short story was described in a review as being “interstitial”: falling between accepted genres.

In fact, most of the fiction I write does not fit neatly within any one genre. This can make finding an appropriate market or publisher a particular challenge. Yet, it seems to me that genre, like gender, can frequently be fluid. Gone are the days — if there ever were such days — when you could take any book and confidently place it on the appropriate shelf. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, magic realism, romance, YA, NA, psychological thriller, political saga, family drama… There are so many books out there that are genre mashers or defy any of these categories.

And then there is the category known as literary fiction — the genre thought of as “non-genre.” I think of a story that friend told me about when she worked in a bookstore and her boss was angry with her for having placed an Ursula K. Le Guin novel in the science fiction section rather than in the shelves reserved for literary fiction. As a big Ursula Le Guin fan, I could see this as complimentary; as a reader of science fiction, it is rather insulting. Is the fact that Ursula Le Guin novels are beautifully written mean that they are not science fiction? Of course Le Guin writes science fiction, she just writes it really, really well — as do many others. If a story presents characters who are realistic and act out of profound and complex motivations, if it takes on important and weighty themes, if it addresses social and political subjects of universal importance, if the writing style is elegant or lyrical, layered or experimental, or strong and clear: is that what makes something literary? What if a writer does all that within a story that fits within one or more of the traditional genre categories?

I have never been able to properly understand or accept the literary/genre binary. I have reasons for loving speculative fiction and these reasons are similar to the reasons that I love literature from cultures and societies other than my own; stories that focus on children, outsiders and underdogs; stories that explore unorthodoxy; and anything that stretches my mind and presents alternative ways of thinking or being. At the same time, for me to enjoy them, these stories must also be well-written, have good character development and touch on important ideas. And complexity? Complexity is a good thing. Ironically, it is the question of complexity that causes me to reject the kind of binary thinking that is behind the literary/genre division.