All posts by Su-Yee

About Su-Yee

3 things: 1) If I could have one superpower, it would be the ability to fly. 2) I would like my life to be like Nancy Drew's. My nighttime dreams have gotten to that stage but reality has yet to match those dreams. 3) I write stories about things that are lost. Sometimes.

2021 books

Happy new year! It’s the first snow of the season for me today and everything looked beautiful early this morning but quickly turned slushy here in NYC. As is my tradition, here’s the list of 40 (!) books I read in 2021 (I managed to squeeze the last two in due to the amazing number of Little Free Libraries in Berkeley, CA, where I was visiting). Some old favorites, and plenty of books ranging from poetry to nonfiction to middle grade and young adult fiction, some of which I read for work. A few particular favorites this year were Barbarian Days, Mouthful of Birds, and Memorial.

1. What You Can See from Here- Mariana Leky, translated by Tess Lewis
2. Interior Chinatown- Charles Yu
3. The Vanishing Half- Brit Bennett
4. Virtue- Hermione Hoby
5. Dust & Grim- Chuck Wendig (MG)
6. Real Life- Brandon Taylor
7. Mexican Gothic- Silvia Moreno-Garcia
8. Songs in Ursa Major- Emma Brodie
9. Machinehood- S. B. Divya
10. Ruthie Fear- Maxim Luskotoff
11. Orwell’s Roses- Rebecca Solnit (NF)
12. City of a Thousand Gates- Rebecca Sacks
13. Miss Iceland- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
14. LaserWriter II- Tamara Shopsin
15. Peaces- Helen Oyeyemi
16. Barbarian Days- William Finnegan (NF)
17. Vagabonds!- Eloghosa Osunde
18. An Arrow to the Moon- Emily X.R. Pan (YA)
19. World of Wonders- Aimee Nezhukumatathil (NF)
20. The Unsinkable Greta James- Jennifer E. Smith
21. A Tip for the Hangman- Allison Epstein
22. Whereabouts- Jhumpa Lahiri
23. The Glass Hotel- Emily St. John Mandel
24. Time Is a Mother- Ocean Vuong (Poetry)
25. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone- Jaclyn Moriarty (MG)
26. Disorientation- Elaine Hsieh Chou
27. Borges and Me- Jay Parini (NF)
28. Sea Wife- Amity Gaige
29. Tam Lin- Pamela Dean (reread)
30. The Edge of Summer- Erica George (YA)
31. Memorial- Brian Washington
32. Mouthful of Birds- Samanta Schweblin
33. Bitter Medicine- Mia Tsai
34. Forbidden City- Vanessa Hua
35. Golden Ax- Rio Cortez (Poetry)
36. Great Circle- Maggie Shipstead
37. Let Me Tell You What I Mean- Joan Didion (NF)
38. The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again- Catherine Price (NF)
39. The Castle of Llyr- Lloyd Alexander (reread)
40. Taran Wanderer- Lloyd Alexander (reread)

NYFA Fellow!

I’m excited to announce I’ve been chosen as one of the 2021 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellows in Fiction! I’m so honored and grateful to be one of 16 fellows in fiction this year; there’s always a ton of talent among the fellows since it’s a statewide grant. After this incredibly hard year, it’s nice to get some good news and really makes me feel more inspired to keep writing. The press release is here: https://www.nyfa.org/blog/introducing-2021-nysca-nyfa-artist-fellows-finalists-and-panelists

2020 books

I won’t get into all that’s happened in 2020 (nevermind the chaos of 2021 already) so I’m just posting my book list here. It’s incomplete since my laptop died in April, towards the beginning of the pandemic (see first sentence), and took my records with it, so I definitely read more than 25 books! But here’s what I can remember and the books I read after April—a few childhood favorites, some nonfiction (Sanmao was a fave) and translated work, and a bunch of novels.

1. Our Colony Beyond the City of Ruins- Janalyn Guo
2. The Golden Compass- Philip Pullman (reread)
3. The Subtle Knife- Philip Pullman (reread)
4. The Amber Spyglass- Philip Pullman (reread)
5. The Nightworkers- Brian Selfon
6. And the Walls Come Crumbling Down- Tania De Rozario (NF)
7. Costalegre- Courtney Maum
8. Pee Wees- Rich Cohen (NF)
9. Desert Oracle- Ken Layne (NF)
10. Sabriel- Garth Nix (reread)
11. Crown/Court Duel- Sherwood Smith (reread)
12. More Miracle Than Bird- Alice Miller
13. The Book of M- Peng Shepherd
14. H Is For Hawk- Helen Macdonald (NF)
15. Flights- Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
16. How Much of These Hills Is Gold- C. Pam Zhang
17. Stories of the Sahara- Sanmao, translated by Mike Fu (NF)
18. Eat to Beat Disease- Dr. William Li (NF)
19. Monkey King: Journey to the West- Wu Cheng’en, translated by Julia Lovell
20. Painting TimeMaylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
21. On Restless Waves- E. Lily Yu
22. Piranesi- Susanna Clarke
23. What We Lose- Zinzi Clemmons
24. Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines
25. Mostly Dead Things- Kristen Arnett

suburban surprises

This time last year, I was in Wyoming terrorizing cattle, watching grasshoppers pop out of the tall grass by the dozens, running in light snow to watch for golden eagles on the hills. What a world away it seems; how things have changed. This year I have not left New York state. I have barely written (but I plan to start again), with the emotional/physical/mental turmoil this pandemic and other family issues have caused. It’s been a hard year for everyone I know and strange for me to be back in my childhood home although I’m thankful to be able to spend more time with my family.

But I’ve discovered interesting nooks closer to the place I grew up—a cemetery with the graves of Revolutionary War veterans, local ponds and woods full of deer and chipmunks, another lone gravestone with the name of one of the founding members of the town carved into it hidden behind a suburban strip mall. This is how I really like to get to know a place—that stumble across an unexpected discovery, those little trails that lead off into who knows where. Places and creatures that may have always been there but went unnoted. There are wild turkeys roaming around the suburban developments and woodpeckers everywhere I turn. There are greenways to bike and local historical areas that can’t be found online. There are so many things I don’t know about this place and it’s a lovely surprise.

Here, black crickets invade the house every night. The mosquitoes are finally dying out now that it’s gotten chillier. The end of the growing season is still giving us carrots, figs, raspberries, and sunchokes, and the blue jays and cardinals have discovered the birdseed I put out for them so they wake me up every morning (but the squirrels have discovered it too). The jays and squirrels make a ruckus with all the nuts and acorns they’re eating from the trees. I, like everyone else, have been baking like crazy (sourdough, focaccia, biscuits, cookies, cakes, danishes…) so I’m already on banana bread #14 this year (this year’s banana bread production has been more than the last 30 years combined!) but I just want to say that my recipe has been perfected—moist and light and perfect toasted with butter for days after.

I’ve finally started reading again; there are so many books that have come out that I’m excited about. I’ve just finished C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold—beautifully written and melodic in its language, a fascinating reinvention of the American West during the gold rush era told through the eyes of an Asian American girl. I also read More Miracle Than Bird by Alice Miller, which introduced me to the life of Georgia Hyde-Lees, the woman who eventually married W.B. Yeats and began automatic writing to hold their marriage together. There was quite a bit of drama in those days! This was a pretty surprising and interesting read, considering I didn’t know anything about her or about W.B. Yeats’s personal life previously (and interest in the occult). Reading Aimee Bender’s newest book next and Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara, which has finally been translated from the Chinese! I’ve been recommended Sanmao’s writing several times now, including from the fisherman I met on that island a couple years ago (has it really been two years since Taiwan and my China research trip?!) plus I LOVE the desert and desert stories so I’m really excited to start it. Hoping that all this reading will inspire me to work on my novel!

In the time of the coronavirus

All the news nowadays on the virus–the toll it takes on lives, on minds, on the economy and society. Sometimes I can’t tear my eyes away from the constantly updating news, the numbers going up and up, all the things we should’ve done. I know it isn’t healthy.

Strangely enough, there are parallels in my work to this strange present. Here, “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” about another disease that swept through part of China. And from years ago, “What Is Lost” which references the racism and fear that can arise from traumatic events tied to certain countries. How surreal it is to see events and emotions extrapolated from possible events ripple through actual current events.

It’s been an upheaval, that’s for sure. The rhythm of my days is different, my social circle limited to the family members I’m currently living with. Spring has come more slowly to the suburbs than the city; some of the daffodils here have yet to bloom. But the birds are everywhere and spring peepers sing at night. A volunteer cherry tree blooms in the corner of the yard. Thankful for the beauty of spring, for the healthcare workers in the hospitals,  for those sharing facts and not rumors, for everyone taking this virus seriously and staying home as much as possible. The world is different now.

Also thankful to have poems out in two journals! In all the craziness of the last few weeks/months, my work hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind but I’m happy to have some more writing out in the world. The Capilano Review has three of my poems (Fire&Gold, If/then, Milky Way) and EVENT published “Lake.” I’m honored to have my work in the pages of these journals and I’m looking forward to reading everything!

Take care; stay safe and healthy!

Materia spinosa!

Following on the heels of my last post on a translated story, you can now read “Cacti Prickle” in Italian! Due to a partnership with Edizioni Black Coffee, my story was chosen to be translated from Bennington Review 7! New title: Materia spinosa, and it’s translated by Alex Di Nepi Finzi. Take a gander here!

Maybe I should start taking Italian so that one day I can read my own story??? Grazie, Edizioni Black Coffee and Bennington Review! ❤

My first translated story!

Excited to let you all know that a story published back in 2013 (Thirteen Steps in the Underworld) was recently translated into Chinese and is in the latest issue of Science Fiction World/科幻世界! It’s particularly amazing to have my first translation be in Chinese, considering it’s the only language other than English that I’m somewhat literate in! Strangely enough, the story itself has nothing to do with China–it’s actually more in conversation with Greek mythology and thoughts on death, memory, and identity. Here are some images:

Check it out if you’re in China and/or can read Chinese! I’m excited to dig into the translation and read the other stories in this mag–it’ll be great practice for me 🙂

A new year

Happy new year! Hoping this year is better than the last. A friend had told me how the first pigeon you see in the new year is auspicious (per a Japanese term) but I haven’t seen one yet, so auspicious gulls it is! They all flew well, which I’m taking for a good sign.

In 2019, I did manage to get a few things published. First was “Privy” in The Journal of Compressed Creative ArtsThen in December, “Cacti Prickle” came out in Bennington Review 7And a Chinese translation of “Thirteen Steps in the Underworld” was published in the January 2020 issue of 科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)! It’s the first time I’ve had work translated and it’s in China’s only science fiction magazine (!)

I started a novel this year, wrote for a forthcoming Lonely Planet book, and finished a couple of short stories, one that took me almost all year to write, but I’m super excited to share it at some later point, after a bit more editing. Forthcoming in 2020, I’ll have a few poems out in EVENT and The Capilano Review.

Also, I did two readings, one in NYC and one in my new favorite state, Wyoming. Attended a few writing/research-related workshops and residencies (a one-day residency! a bird language workshop! a residency in the Rockaways!), and saw just how amazing the West can be <3<3<3

I was trying to sneak a book or two under the wire for 2019, but looks like I’m at 40 (better than last year but way less than when I first started counting…) I read more nonfiction than usual this year with 13 books; here’s my list.

Books read in 2019:
1. The Voyage of the Beagle– Charles Darwin (NF)
2. Fire and Fury– Michael Wolff (NF)
3. Dark Skies (NF)
4. Hidden Wonders (NF)
5. Gingerbread– Helen Oyeyemi
6. The Weil Conjectures– Karen Olsson
7. Running in the Family– Michael Ondaatje (reread)
8. The Seas– Samantha Hunt
9. Myths and Legends of the World (NF)
10. French Exit– Patrick deWitt
11. Dealing With Dragons– Patricia C. Wrede (reread)
12. The Unique States of America (NF)
13. The House of the Spirits– Isabel Allende
14. What the Robin Knows– Jon Young (NF)
15. The Incendiaries– R.O. Kwon
16. All You Can Ever Know– Nicole Chung (NF)
17. Wake, Siren– Nina MacLaughlin
18. The Foley Artist– Rico Villanueva Siasoco
19. Saltwater– Jessica Andrews
20. When We Were Orphans– Kazuo Ishiguro
21. Hazards of Time Travel– Joyce Carol Oates
22. Ravens in Winter– Bernd Heinrich (NF)
23. Pushcart Prize Anthology 2019
24. Family of Origin– C.J. Hauser
25. N.P.– Banana Yoshimoto
26. Signal Fire Reader
27. Trick Mirror– Jia Tolentino (NF) ***highly recommend to everyone!***
28. Close Range– Annie Proulx
29. When You Reach Me– Rebecca Stead
30. The Ecliptic– Benjamin Wood
31. Battleborn– Claire Vaye Watkins
32. Alone on the Wall– Alex Honnold (NF)
33. Inland– Téa Obreht
34. The Overstory– Richard Powers
35. The Taiga Syndrome– Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
36. The New Me– Halle Butler
37. Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube– Blair Braverman (NF)
38. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running– Haruki Murakami (NF)
39. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead– Olga Tokarczuk
40. Imperfect Women– Araminta Hall

Looking forward to more reading and writing this year!

Every tree is perfect

Where I am in Wyoming, shade is in short supply. Red boxelder bugs fly against the windows, trying to get in, and small garter snakes sun themselves near the barn. An abrupt transition for me, from backpacking the evergreen-covered Cascade Mountains in Washington with Signal Fire to these arid hills of Wyoming. From carrying 30+ lbs of tent/food/sleeping bag/etc. and sleeping on the ground to the luxurious surroundings of a remote house on a cattle ranch where the nearest town is over 18 miles away. But the backcountry has prepared me for less time on the internet, no cell phone reception, no interaction with anyone other than those who live with me. Reading and hiking or running take up most of the day. I’ve only just started getting back into my writing, but I love the story I’m working on. Natural distractions abound: the cows mooing in the hills, a bobcat walking over a bridge, tubing on the creek, antelope and white-tailed deer leaping across the pasture, hail banging down on the roof, hawks on the wing.

Backpacking with Signal Fire was amazing though—the people, the conversations, the difference in flora and fauna we saw between the North and Middle Cascades. Deep play, learning how to tell between a cedar and a hemlock, how ponderosa pines smell of vanilla, eating huckleberries and elderberries, drinking mugwort tea to help your dreams, eating foraged chanterelles, hearing about everyone’s art practices that ranged from performance and interdisciplinary work to botanical illustration to poetry and sculpture. Learning to make a bear hang, to cook over a tiny propane tank, to dig holes in a forest floor that was mostly made up of moss grown over fallen tree trunks. Reading about the interconnectedness of nature and trophic cascades: salmon with bears and eagles and forests and whales, wolves with deer and elk and aspens. One day, a 12-mile hike to a beautiful turquoise lake and back, several creek crossings along the way that required footlogs and good balance. Mushrooms of all different shapes and colors everywhere. The grouse, the marmots, the trout, the hawks. Time ran both quickly and slowly—quickly when we were trying to get everything done before dark (the tent setup, bear hang, dinner), slowly when it rained or while hiking. I already miss the inspiring artists I was with, and feel so grateful for the guidance and knowledge from Tarp and Blanca—a week felt too short.

Two weeks away from NYC and what a gift it’s been already. So thankful for those at Signal Fire and Jentel, as well as WJ, one of my oldest childhood friends, for hosting, backpacking equipment, and conversation that ranged in topics both large and small.

For anyone in the northern Wyoming area, all the residents will be participating in a free and open to the public event at SAGE Community Arts in Sheridan, Wyoming on October 1st. Come by and hear/see what we’ve been up to!