Rachel Stolzman Gullo

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!

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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.”

—Leland Cheuk, author of THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG and LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS

second novel coming soon!

bungold

Seven years ago, I finished the first draft of this novel. Since then, it’s been re-written three times. The decade its set in has changed, new characters were introduced, another country was added, whole plot-lines have gone and new ones emerged, the title changed and changed back, and the author has been changed as a result of this long endeavor. What has remained the same is the narrators, a pair of twins who have set off on seemingly opposite paths of enlightenment and suffering. Their discovery of how their natures go hand-in-hand might just mean they can finally find themselves and truly see each other.

It’s very appropriate and fitting with the themes of this book, that the publishing of it, required a lot of adaptation and a shift in my perspective. One of the reasons its publication took a long time was that I attempted to go the route that I was familiar with. I have an agent, I’ve been published by a big house. Shambhala would have been ideal for this novel with Buddhist characters, and its exploration of Dharma. They published my first novel, but they have since moved away from publishing novels. My own agent showed this novel around a bit, quite a few years ago. In hindsight, the book wasn’t ready, but the reactions it got, made me think it just wasn’t finding the right people. I went about trying to attract a new agent after my agent decided she wasn’t right for this book. That detour led me to an interested agent, who gave me some great editorial advice. I didn’t know I was willing to spend another year, but that’s just what I did. In a year, I completely re-wrote the book. It got much, much better. But actually, that agent decided to pass too. Time passes, opportunities change. I spent a bit of time corresponding with several more agents. And while this time went by (thankfully I was writing a third novel) the publishing industry was incrementally changing around me as well. I saw more and more of my friends and colleagues publishing with independent presses. Sending their books directly to these indie presses for consideration, not being represented by an agent. This is hardly new, but I began to see that many novelists moved about. Depending on the work, the book itself, it might make more sense going one way or another. I noticed more people I knew and more authors I’d always read, were publishing works under different presses. It makes a lot of sense. Not everything we write has the same weight, structure, subject, style, voice, size and shape. And there are places for all kinds of writing. Once I grasped the idea, that this novel might have it’s own path to follow and I could send it to independent presses- a new experience for me- I leapt t it, and within a couple of months, I received an acceptance from BINK Books, a fairly large independent press, based in California, whose mission is to publish books with female protagonists.

I’m so grateful and amazed that I can share this work, that this insane persistence to write this book and to figure out not just the characters’ paths-but the book’s path- paid off. Publication date is June 1!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORNING COMMUTE

FREEDOM TOWERA few minutes after I sat down on a crowded 3 train, the man next to me asked if I had enough room. I smiled at him and said yes. He could have been complaining that he in fact did not, but I didn’t think he was.

“Do you have enough room?” I asked back.

“Yes.”

I began reading the Sunday Styles section of the weekend paper.

He leaned close in and said, “You gonna read all that- all those words?” He chuckled.

I chuckled back, “Yeah, I am.”

When I rearranged the paper five minutes later to get to the bottom half, he again, interrupted me, “You read it all! You finished all that. I’m just kiddin you- you know I’m just kiddin you, right?”

Each time he turned to me, the brim of his baseball hat actually touched my head. We we’re that close. But strangely, I didn’t mind any of it.

As we stopped at the first stop in downtown Manhattan, Wall Street, he asked, “Were you here that day?”

I knew what he was talking about. “In New York?” I asked.

“Yeah, were you here?”

“Yes, I was here.”

“Were you in that tower?”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“I was in Tower 7,” he told me. Again our heads were touching and I smelled a faint whiff of alcohol. He was a little cross-eyed and wearing black jeans and a black baseball cap and had the friendliest smile, and I liked the guy. “I ran! I ran so fast, I ran right out of there.”

“You still work there?”

No, he didn’t. He told me his new address, very nearby. I told him I worked right there now, right next door to the new tower. He said, “Yeah,” like he knew that or expected it. Now we were one stop from my work and I was actually disappointed.

“Sister. We’re all sisters and brothers you know?”

I nodded. I knew.

“I got out of there and got me a forty and ran right to the train, I got the last subway to 125th street. They said, ‘This is the last stop.’ and I said, Fine- this is far enough.”

We both laughed happily.

I looked around for a second and saw two women observing my new friend and me, starting to smile.

“This is my stop. Take care!”

“Take care, Sister.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

wedding

You may have noticed a change in the header of this blog. It might seem like I recently married. In reality, for some people it takes precisely five years to settle into a new name. Five years ago last month, I got married. I gave only a little thought to going to a social security office in Brooklyn and changing my name from Rachel Stolzman to Rachel Stolzman Gullo. I was six months pregnant on our wedding day, and I know my decision to change my name was largely fueled by the baby on the way. It seemed like a good thing to board future airplanes with a baby and eventually kid that shared the same name as me. I vaguely imagined him going to school and wanting the school to see my name and his name as the same. I wanted the kid to have one last name not two. But, I was also forty and had been a Stolzman for forty years and I was a published novelist with my name. Somewhere in my head was the thought, “I won’t use it.” It was for documents, planes and schools, bank records, passports, it was my official name. And in fact I did not use it. I didn’t introduce myself as Gullo, or submit short stories or articles with Gullo, and so on. But pretty fast there were some credit cards, some bills, some mail and even my pay checks (!) where Gullo was popping up. I kind of looked away, confused. Neither name felt like me anymore. I thought about more important issues and let it go.

When my son was about two, I got in a car accident that was my fault. When the cops arrived they asked for my name. For the first time, without hesitation I blurted out, Rachel Gullo! Her. Not me. More years went by, still no name that felt very true anymore. I didn’t give it much thought, except when I’d call the cable company or check-in at a hotel and I’d have no idea what name I’d given. I debated what I’d use for publishing, and didn’t really decide. It didn’t matter, my novel wasn’t ready. Well recently, our five year anniversary came. And I think it’s significant that my husband and I have been paying more attention to our union lately, not just what to call ourselves, but our connection and commitment; I’m quite sure that has been part of settling into my name. Secondly, our boy talks now. Some of the things he says include, “We’re the Gullo family.” He knows me as Rachel Gullo, just as he knows himself as Enrico Gullo.

Recently several poems I wrote were accepted for publication in a journal called Sixfold. I had submitted them under the name Rachel Stolzman Gullo. When they asked for final proofs, I made a few edits to the poems and also asked that they please publish them under the name Rachel Stolzman. And finally, enough psychic and pragmatic lasers crossed in my brain and I was abruptly able to see the name that felt like me, it wasn’t Stolzman or Gullo, but both. I’d made that decision five years ago, but never actually took it in, felt it. Until now. I imagined a book arriving later this summer with my poems inside, and my name on the page header. I imagined showing Enrico, “Hey look, I wrote some poems and they’re in this book.” I imagined him saying, “Why doesn’t it say Gullo?” It’s a small thing in the scope of the universe and even in my own concerns and life, but as I changed my name on social media and on this blog header, and when I rushed to contact Sixfold before it was too late to say, I figured it out- my name is Rachel Stolzman Gullo, it felt really settled-in and nice.

WHITE PRIVILEGE

I think about my white privilege often. I think about it when I intentionally run a red light, when I ride my bike on the sidewalk or the wrong way down a one-way street, when I drink alcohol in Prospect Park on my picnic blanket, and when I self-serve myself coffee at my local Pret and decide I’ll “pay later” because there’s twenty people in line.

Alongside the deep horror and painful grief of the endless events of racist police brutality and murders, I am gladdened and also surprised by, taking note of the proliferating media coverage and political commentary on racist police brutality and racist mass incarceration. Racism in policing and in the criminal justice system is nothing new. All the attention on it is not a constant, to say the least.

In my twenty-plus years working in public health, in the HIV and AIDS field, it is a constant that we discuss racial disparities and inequalities, health and wealth disparities. There are wildly different stats in this country for premature birth, infant mortality, disease acquisition and life expectancy between black and white people. This can be attributed largely to poverty (racist economics) and the everyday stress of racism.

I attended a panel discussion not long ago about AIDS amongst gay black men, and yes, even as we discuss the end of the epidemic every single day at my office, it is gay black men who continue to have new infections of HIV and will bear the brunt of the epidemic as it winds down in America. This panel of gay, black professors, academics and physicians, referred regularly to white supremacy in their talk. I was startled by the phrase. It was used in place of where I would have expected “institutionalized racism” to appear.

But I liked them describing the bias in our American society as white supremacy. I live in a land where I can steal coffee, drink wine in public, and break traffic laws in front of the police, and not only am I not arrested and assaulted and accused of assaulting an officer, I don’t even suffer the heart palpitations and chemical reactions to stress of fearing these things.

Here’s one small example of how institutionalized racism or white supremacy has been established in our land. When FDR initiated Social Security for senior citizens in 1935, it excluded two groups of workers, domestic workers and agricultural workers. 95% of black Americans held one of those two jobs in 1935. This created a legacy of poverty where poverty was already abundant. Black senior citizens could not support themselves when they stopped working. Their middle-aged children could not acquire wealth so easily because they financially supported their parents. Without a single word about race in the Social Security bill, a huge system of government entitlements institutionalized the racism that prevailed throughout the country. It’s one small example of so many.

I’m convinced that part of ensuring an avalanche of attention on racist police brutality and racist mass incarceration- and hopefully a societal shift in attitudes and policies- is that we white people recognize our white privilege. Noticing how we “benefit” by being dominant can create a cosmic adjustment. There are so many out there that deny racism even exists anymore. I think most people do not deny it, but I think most people have a ways to go in seeing how racism has not hurt them, and what the cost of that has been.