Cal U grad & Fayette County native publishes 1st novel

Erica Satifka

Erica Satifka

Fayette County native and California University of Pennsylvania alumna, Erica L. Satifka, is set to publish her first novel, Stay Crazy, in mid-August.

Stay Crazy is a contemporary science fiction novel that involves an alien invasion taking place at a big-box store called Savertown, USA. The protagonist Em, a young woman recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, tries to get her life back together after being forced to leave college due to her illness. While working at the store, Em is contacted by another alien through the RFID chips in merchandise.

Escodex tells her that he’s a good alien working against the bad planet-destroying alien taking over the store, but Em isn’t so sure about that. She’s also not sure that Escodex isn’t just a hallucination. When Em’s co-workers start committing suicide en masse (due to the influence of the “evil entity” trying to destroy the world), she begins to believe in the aliens…  but she’s not exactly the most reliable witness. In addition to the science fiction elements of the plot, there’s also a lot of detail about dealing with mental illness, having a loving but dysfunctional family, and working a minimum-wage job.

The release for Stay Crazy will be August 16, Satifka said. It’s being released by Apex Publications, a small press that carries a lot of genre-bending titles the bigger publishing houses won’t touch. Stay Crazy leans toward the “softer” side of science fiction, in that the plot is motivated more by what resonates emotionally than what is physically possible.

“I actually had one person take me aside at a critique group and tell me that voices can’t travel through RFID chips,” the author said. “And I’m, like, thanks?”

Satifka hails from Brownsville and Uniontown, and lived in Pittsburgh for about five years after college. The book is set in Clear Falls, Pennsylvania, a fictional town in Fayette County.

“It’s based on personal experiences,” Satifka said. “The protagonist feels trapped in the town, which adds to her alienation and feelings of paranoia.”

Like most writers, Satifka can list her strongest influences on her work. Her literary influences include a number of science fiction authors both old and new. Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven was a big influence on Stay Crazy, and she also enjoys newer authors like Jonathan Lethem and Daryl Gregory whose works slide between genres. However, she says her main influence is Philip K. Dick, the king of paranoid fiction. Satifka discovered his writing in college, and instantly felt a deep connection with his themes.

To write from the perspective of a person with schizophrenia as authentically as possible, Satifka read around twenty books written by people living with it.

“It seems like people are more open than ever about experiencing anxiety and depression,” Satifka said, “but the stigma around serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia still remains, such as the false belief that sufferers are violent. I hope that Em can be a positive example of someone with schizophrenia, and in some small way reduce stigma toward people living with this disease.”

SCfrontcover150_1024x1024There’s also a political angle in the book. Satifka worked at a big-box store for a few months, and dreamed up the plot while working there. While she says the alien invasion isn’t totally a metaphor for corporate greed, it certainly can be read that way.

In today’s world, many writers obtain an education in a writing discipline. Satifka holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from California University of Pennsylvania. To further her studies in the field, she obtained an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She completed that degree in 2006.

Satifka said that her literature classes and also reading science fiction novels outside of class particularly impacted Stay Crazy.

“Reading what others have written can be a great exercise for becoming a better writer,” she said. She said that she picks written material apart, and then criticizes in the literary context.

She has been published more than thirty times in numerous magazines, such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Shimmer. Satifka says that the process of writing a novel is much different from writing a short story. She wrote the original draft of Stay Crazy in 2005, and then sat on it for almost a decade while leveling up her writing craft. The version that is being published is nearly a sentence-by-sentence rewrite of the original draft, with a very similar plot, but much better language.

Stay Crazy can be ordered directly  through the publisher’s website at apexbookcompany.com, and at all other major book retailers. Readers can keep up with Satifka’s work at ericasatifka.com.

Story by Zach Filtz for Pennsylvania Bridges