Book Readings + Social Activism

This past September 11th, a date of political significance for a number of different reasons, I participated in the first of what I hope will be a series of events combining readings from my novel with discussions of social activism. The event was at a local cooperative called Coop la Maison Verte and the theme was cycling as a responsible form of urban transportation and a key ingredient to making our cities more green, healthy and sustainable.

Participants in the event included activists and spokespeople from cycling and pedestrian associations, organizations promoting environmental justice and sustainable urban living environments, and concerned community people.

Once, on a radio interview, I was asked whether I thought that artists have a special responsibility to create art of social and political significance, or whether it is better for art and politics to remain separate. What I believe is that it is not possible to separate art from politics. If you are communicating something, it is going to have some kind of political content. It’s only that people will notice this less if the politics being expressed are mainstream or status quo. Of course, art can be overtly political or more subtly political, but for me, being devoid of any political meaning is almost impossible.

In the case of speculative fiction, it is even more obviously the case that social and political issues will slip into the work. SFF usually involve some amount of world building, and how you build that world says a lot about what you think of current social and political realities, and this is true whether it is a future world, a parallel universe, or alternative history.

In the case of Cycling to Asylum, I play with dystopian and utopian themes. As all writers of those genres, I do  this to sound an alarm for trends that seem frightening, while at the same time emphasizing ideas might help us build a better, more just world. For me, having political ideas and content in my novel was a given. For this reason, it is both a pleasure and a relief to be embracing this fact through the types of events that I doing, starting with September 11th at Coop la Maison Verte.

Upcoming Events:

Handlebar eventLike my event at Coop la Maison Verte in Montréal, on September 23rd, I will be combining readings from my novel with a discussion of urban cycling, only this time in Toronto. The event will be hosted by Kensington Market’s HandleBar, a venue that is oriented towards cyclists. Joining me will be cycling activist Derek Chadbourne who will moderate a discussion on what a cycling utopia in Toronto might look like.  On the eve of a mayoral election, I hope that activists and community members will come together and share views on this important ingredient to a safe, healthy and sustainable city.

On the weekend of October 3rd, Ottawa will be hosting the CAN-CON, or Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. I will be reading from Cycling to Asylum and will also beLin-Lin_Mao-Cover1-2 participating in three panels. One of these panels is about social and political science fiction. Another is on whether the superhero trope devalues the need for collective action. (Hint: My short story, “Je me souviens” was about superheroes in the context of a collective student movement.)

 

Finally, I am in the midst of trying to organize an event about immigration rights with a representative of Solidarity Across Borders. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, and it is arguably the most important theme of Cycling to Asylum. Stay tuned for more news of this and other events!

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Review of The Geography of Pluto by Christopher DiRaddo

Notwithstanding the reference to Pluto in the title, this novel is NOT speculative fiction. It is the debut literary novel of fellow Montréaler Christopher DiRaddo.

One of the things that I never predicted about becoming a writer was that I would end up having less time and mental energy to read. Reading has been one of my great loves since I was a small child. After launching my own first novel — Cycling to Asylum – this spring, I figured that I would now have more time to read again. I was sadly mistaken. Not only don’t I have time to read, I hardly have time to write! It’s just marketing, marketing, marketing. This is especially a shame because I am more aware now of the literary world and keep hearing about great new novels that are coming out. One of those novels was The Geography of Pluto.

My review of The Geography of Pluto was published in the online supplement to Matrix Magazine. I will give you the first paragraph as a teaser, but you can read the rest on their site:

The Geography of Pluto by Christopher DiRaddo
Cormorant Books (2014)

Read by Su J. Sokol

The surface terrain of The Geography of Pluto, Christopher DiRaddo’s debut novel, is a deceptively familiar landscape. Will, the main character, is gay, Italian, a geography teacher, and the only son of a devoted mother. He seeks connection in his life, suffers loss, and gains understanding of himself and the world. We even have a kind of “boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy finds boy” plot device.

Yet, despite these ordinary trappings, this is not your run-of-the mill novel….

Read the rest here.

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.)

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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:

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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