Los Angeles launch at Diesel Books

I’m posting my book events in reverse-chronological order. I kicked off July with a visit to DIESEL in Brentwood. This reading was so gratifying for a number of reasons. My ultra-supportive mom came with wine, cheese and crackers and fruit, and was even super gracious when kids in the store ate all the fresh figs and didn’t buy my book. Friends from the two high schools I attended in LA turned out for the event. College friends from Santa Cruz and NY friends and cousins who had moved to LA were there to celebrate. My husband Bill and our two sons came with me from NY and made the whole experience feel like home. Also, I wasn’t nervous. Apparently, I’m only nervous once, when I’m a book launch virgin and after that I just know how to have fun.

The fun was doubled by having a post-reading conversation with the irresistible and witty Julia Fierro. We talked and spiraled around our psychologies, why we write, what I hope this book means and also publicly observed that the fig tree is getting too much shade but is full of small birds nonetheless.


Eureka book reading at phatsy Kline lounge

Last Friday I had the privilege of having a reading and book signing in the gorgeous Eagle House Hotel, Phatsy Kline Lounge. The event was so warm, with a group of lovely friends and book lovers, who actually stepped out of the rare July sunshine to listen to scenes from PRACTICE DYING and drink some Friends With Benefits Humboldt Cider (so good!)

And the best part was doing this all in the company of my sister, Dana. She was such a fun and intelligent Q&A facilitator, even throwing in a big-sister curve-ball to keep me on my toes.

Authors, put Eureka CA on your book tours!

You won’t regret it.

author photo outtakes

A few weeks ago I met my friend Jena at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with both our one-year-olds. Before leaving the house I texted her, “I’m putting on some make-up in case you take my new author photo!”

Jena is a photographer and she took my last author photo for The Sign for Drowning.

I love how natural and relaxed the best pictures turned out. When truth-be-told, we were doling out snacks and milk bottles and babbling to two restless babies during the whole shoot.

These outtakes capture the mood perfectly.

My new novel, PRACTICE DYING, will be out in 8 short days!

First blurb came in!

Obtaining blurbs for your upcoming book can be an excruciating part of publishing. It’s up to the author to find the leads, have the contacts and make the requests. It’s a big favor to ask- the author whose recommendation you want, has to read the novel for starts. And then craft something useful and enticing to say about your book in a few short sentences. You write to authors you know, or have met once, or (yikes) have never met at all, and you ask really nicely. A few months ago, I went through this hard process, starting by choosing authors who’s work had some overlap with mine, traveled some similar territory, who it made sense to be associated with. Well, I have to admit, Leland is the least of these criteria. His work is darkly comedic- very comedic and satirical. But I kept coming back to him. His work has huge range, tells ridiculous, striving and poignant tales. He writes human beings- who you can see- sometimes naked- often tortured- very flawed. The more I thought about his work, the more I wondered if he’d blurb my book. I exchange work with Leland regularly in a monthly writing group we’re both in. And I also know him to be open, supportive and to the point.

From a writing retreat in a castle in Scotland, he recently sent me this moving and generous blurb. I am so grateful he did, and that I asked.

“Like the best novels, Rachel Stolzman Gullo’s PRACTICE DYING deals with life’s biggest questions, among them: how do we find the courage to live and love in the face of all our collective suffering? Full of surprise encounters leading to even more surprising developments, this is a novel for seekers, like twins Jamila and David, for whom every day is an urgent and beautiful quest for connection and enlightenment.”


The roar of change

Each hour I hear the grind and shift of the tectonic plates of this planet and its inhabitants forcibly rubbing. A breaking point is underway. Can something be too obvious as to make it actually less visible? We’re expecting more subtle signs, something we have to find and uncover. These slaps in the face and deafening explosions leave us number and less certain of meaning. But I’m sensing that collectively most of us see the deal here. Power and wealth inequality like we’ve created in this past half century, create crisis, breakdown and destruction. The race to corporate and personal wealth have abused Earth, women, the poor and people of color. And those in extreme power become the sickest individuals among us. Those individuals who wield power over others by racism, classism, sexism, they are the most diseased of humans- their lives on a realm so far below those they oppress. The future might be better, far better, it might be worse- even annihilation. But I think we all hear the ground giving way. A new sprout must cause the total destruction of the seed. 

the meaning of democracy


This piece originally appeared in the Notes and Comment section of the July 3, 1943, issue of The New Yorker. “The 40s: The Story of a Decade,” an anthology of New Yorker articles, stories, and poems, will be released on Tuesday.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

E. B. White

Author Interview with Leland Cheuk

A few years ago, the author, Leland Cheuk, joined my writing group. Except then he was the writer, Leland Cheuk. The personal statement part of his application described one novel, his writing sample was an excerpt of another, and once he was in our group, he shared with us countless short and very short stories. The overall impression was that this guy was prolific and that he also had a huge cache of finished work. Well I think first impressions were correct, and in short order it seemed Leland was constantly publishing his short stories. Then about a year after he joined us, following a routine blood test, Leland found out he had a very rare blood cancer and needed to undergo a bone marrow transplant, and live in semi-isolation for a long time. We didn’t see Leland for over a year. I bring this up because it became part of his journey of becoming a published author. On the same day Leland underwent his bone marrow transplant, he received an email from a publisher that they would like to publish his novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong. And then two years later, on the same day, another publisher asked to publish his short story collection, Letters from Dinosaurs. I love Leland’s work and how utterly surprising and fresh it is. And I’ve always enjoyed his life stories too, told with dry humor and a good natured astuteness. So no surprise, I really enjoyed this recent author interview we had and hope you enjoy reading it too.

 RSG: I started The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong (TMOSP) before our election and after the results came in, I had to put it down for a week or so. The campaigning and election between father and son Pong was too disturbing and prescient, in light of the Presidential election unfolding here in America. What was your model for that campaign and those characters being in politics when you first conceived of and wrote TMOSP?

LC: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to read TMOSP either during that dumpster fire. Haha. The book is about the dark half of the American soul as embodied by the Pongs. Unfortunately, the 2016 presidential election was also an example of that American dark side. I’ve paid close attention to politics my whole life, and when a campaign gets negative (and this one was probably the most negative of my lifetime), voters tend to detach. I started TMOSP around 2005-2006 during the George W. Bush presidency, and I think even the most partisan Republican would agree those eight years did not go well. We really are still digging ourselves out of that hole. And yet, we re-elected Bush handily. In TMOSP, the Pong v. Pong election is supposed to be darkly humorous commentary on the willful ignorance and indifference of the American voter. We really take our democracy for granted. Less than half our population votes—absurdly low compared to newer democracies.

My drivers ed teacher used to have a catchphrase related to defensive driving. He said, “You want to be right, but you don’t want to be dead right.” That’s kind of the way I feel about the election in TMOSP and Donald Trump. I wish I wasn’t right, because chances are we’re going to be dead right.

RSG: What’s your family’s history of immigration to America? Anyone as colorful as your characters in your own family?

LC: My grandfather was a dissident, anti-Communist essayist who was forced to live in a rural re-education camp in South China during the Cultural Revolution. His banishment forced my dad and uncle to flee because there were no educational or economic opportunities for the children of those deemed disloyal to the Communists. My parents walked two weeks straight to the coast where they had to swim across a rocky channel to the Hong Kong customs station. They trained for months for this swim, wading in rivers with makeshift floating devices strapped to their waists and small edibles in their pockets so they wouldn’t starve. My dad was 5-7, 99 pounds, and he passed out from hypothermia on the way across. My mom dragged him unconscious onto shore. Their legs and feet were sliced up from the rocks. She was afraid that the Chinese would be shooting at them from the mainland, but she wasn’t strong enough to carry my dad to the customs station. They were saved by a friendly Hong Kong customs officer. Some of their cohort didn’t survive the swim because visibility was so bad that you could easily get swept out to sea.

Let’s just say their story makes me unable to empathize whatsoever with the rural white working class voter who’s upset that they can’t work in the same factory for 50 years. The day one of them risks their lives the way my parents did for a better life will be the first.

RSG: I know you made a shift from writing only novels to writing shorter and shorter fiction as well. Can you describe that journey as a writer?

LC: It’s liberating. As a society, we’re moving toward briefer and briefer forms of communication. From Twitter to text, the future is bright for profound concision. Writing shorter also requires you to unlearn all those craft tricks you might have learned in MFA programs or writing workshops. You don’t have the space or time for large containers like scenes and chapters. You really only have the sentence and the word. I also feel like I learned a lot from reading epigrams and aphorisms and doing standup comedy where jokes have to land every ten seconds, or roughly every two sentences.

RSG: Where do you hope your writing leads you and your readers?

LC: Wow, this one is a tough one. Some writers write to show beauty in the messiness of life. Some writers write to highlight injustice. Some writers write to share their lives. I’m not sure I do any of those things. I think I’m trying, through comedy, to raise serious questions about the way we live and what we value as a contemporary society.

RSG: You’ve recently stepped into the role of publisher as well! Can you tell us about that?

LC: Yes! I’m very excited about it. My life was saved on July 13, 2014 by a successful bone marrow transplant. On that same day, an indie press asked to publish TMOSP. Then two years later, also on July 13th, another indie press asked to publish my story collection LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS. So to pay it forward, in November, I started 7.13 Books, a small press for debut literary fiction for adults.

After going bookless for almost twenty years (and nearly dying bookless), I realized that I (and most writers) go about the publishing business all wrong. We get caught up and beaten down by the need for approval from agents and editors at the big houses. As a young, aspiring writer, I feel like no one told me that you can be the best writer you can be and still, it’s very possible—highly likely, in fact—that no one will pay attention. And not only that, New York publishing has zero intention of paying more than a few dozen literary authors each year a living wage for their work. If I knew that earlier, I wouldn’t have waited twenty years for that precious approval from people who view our work no differently than apparel at Banana Republic. The author, for the most part, is just the kid in Bangladesh making a sweater for $50 a month.

Every author should go through the traditional process, if only because it’s basically your only chance of making more than coffee money for your book. But if you’re rebuffed, you shouldn’t spend decades trying to break into the big houses without publishing on small presses and in journals. Having an agent should 100% be a nice-to-have, not a must-have. Authors should take their fate in their own hands and get their work out there when they honestly feel it’s ready, different and additive to literature as a whole.

Another thing no one talks about is that to publish a book is to risk losing money. Before you complain about a press not doing enough publicity for your book, you should realize that the publisher is volunteering to lose hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars for your book to exist at all. I’m happy to lose a little time and money to help other writers experience what I’ve experienced as an author.

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