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Conversation with Susan L. Lin

Susan shares her representation journey, how "Dear Mercury," fits into a larger poem sequence begun in 2012, her novella's 15-year journey to completion, and the now-defunct Twitter Fiction Festival.

Conversation with Susan L. Lin

Susan L. Lin is a Taiwanese-American storyteller who hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean won the 2022 Etchings Press novella prize, and her short prose and poetry have appeared in over fifty different publications. She loves to dance. Find more at

Susan is the author of “Dear Mercury,” from Radon Issue 7.

Q: “Dear Mercury,” is part of a lovely poem series. What can you tell us about the sequence and how the poems fit into one another?

I wrote the first draft of the first poem in 2012 or 2013 after visiting the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The epistolary poem was a sort of love letter to our planet, revealing my emotions and thoughts surrounding topics like hunger, artificiality, homesickness, and wanderlust. I titled it “Dear Earth,” and eventually published it in a vivarium-themed issue of pacificREVIEW in 2015. At that point, I had no plans to create a series around it. I also quit writing and submitting entirely around that time, so that was the last piece of writing I published for 6 or 7 years.

On New Year’s Eve in 2021, shortly after my return, I wrote “Dear Pluto,” a prose poem about otherness, lost innocence, and the passage of time. Inspired in part by singer-songwriter Sleeping at Last’s concept albums ATLAS: SPACE I and II—which are a collection of beautiful songs named after the sun, the moon, and each of the planets—I decided to keeping writing more letters to complete the set. I didn’t really intend for the poems to fit into one another or form a cohesive whole; I was more concerned about capturing the essence of my feelings about each distinct world. Nevertheless, some common threads do appear throughout the series.

Q: Tell us about your latest novella, Goodbye to the Ocean, which won the 2022 Etchings Press novella prize?

I wrote the novella for my senior thesis when I was an undergrad at the University of Houston, drawing inspiration from Henri Michaux’s poem Je vous écris d’un pays lointain," Katy Rose’s debut album Because I Can, Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and a lot of my own childhood memories.

At the beginning of the story, a young father names his newborn daughter after the Ulysses Butterfly but dies shortly after in a car accident. The narrative unfolds in present tense from the girl's point of view as select years of her life pass by, beginning with her birth and ending when she finally reaches the age her father was when he died. Along the way, memories of the past and anticipation of the future bleed into the present while other relationships—such as the ones between the girl and her mother, between the girl and the other men who enter and exit her life—are explored through the construction and de(con)struction of bodies, books, art, and even words themselves.

I began experimenting with structure and form while working on this manuscript (in addition to regular prose, the text includes a poem in verse, a bulleted list, an elementary school worksheet, an encyclopedia entry, and a short stage play) and a lot of that playfulness and genre-blending continues in my work today.

Q: It took 15 years after writing the novella for it to be released. What occurred during these years?

I finished writing it in spring 2009, shortly before graduation. After doing a deep dive on indie presses, I started submitting at the beginning of 2010. The awkward length of the manuscript definitely made the market difficult to navigate. It was too long for most chapbook competitions and far too short to be considered a full-length prose book. At 15k words, it was even too short for a few novella contests. In 2012, I entered the annual Gold Line Press chapbook competition hosted at the University of Southern California, and even though the novella didn’t ultimately win, it was selected as one of the semifinalists. The editors really liked the manuscript, so they invited me to resubmit it to an upcoming reading period for their sibling press, Ricochet Editions. This was the first time during the process where I really got my hopes up and thought, Maybe this is finally the one! It was, of course, not the one. After that disappointment, I went back to scouring the web for publishers that might be a good fit and continued to get rejections. As I previously mentioned, I quit writing and submitting in 2015 for unrelated reasons, namely unresolved childhood trauma, but by then the list of eligible markets was growing thin anyway.

I didn’t really think about the novella much at all for 5 or 6 years. Shortly after I began querying my first novel in 2021 (more about that later in the interview), I thought I might as well update my indie press list in case some new markets had popped up in recent years. Sure enough, after more rounds of research, I had a new batch of possibilities. About 9 or 10 months later, I got the email from the student editors at Etchings Press telling me they loved my novella and wanted to publish it that year. I definitely remember having to read the email several times before my brain finally processed that it wasn’t yet another rejection, and I had actually won the prize…? All in all, the manuscript was rejected around 35 times before it finally found a home. I think if you really believe in a project, it’s fine to put it in a drawer and forget about it for a few years, but you should definitely keep trying whenever you’re ready. You’ll likely be rewarded with the right match eventually.

Q: Where can readers find your Where I Came From, your 2022 chapbook longlisted for the Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize?

I guess if someone were really determined to read it, they could find the chapbook on my laptop. (But actually, please don’t try to do that.) Jokes aside, it hasn’t been published and isn’t publicly available at the moment, though many individual poems are scattered around the web. The good news is, I’ve since expanded the manuscript into a full-length collection. I’ve been submitting it to contests and publishers for around a year now. Hopefully it gets picked up soon, and people will be able to read the complete volume without hacking into my personal files. “Dear Mercury,” and the other poems in that series are included, in addition to numerous other poems that explore themes of memory, identity, sleeplessness, and the climate crisis, among other things.

Q: How did you come to be repped by Erin Clyburn and what has your experience been?

I finished line editing and proofreading my first novel in spring 2021 and started the querying process soon after. My list mostly included agents who represented authors who’d written some of my favorite books as well as ones I found on MSWL by searching various keywords related to my dinosaur-infused literary speculative manuscript. Erin was near the top of my list, but she was closed to queries when I first started, so I wasn’t able to query her until my third round. She requested the full manuscript three months later and made an offer of representation during a Zoom call about four months after that. I definitely loved that she fully embraced how weird and experimental my work can sometimes be. I officially signed at the beginning of 2023, we went through two quick rounds of revisions on the manuscript, and then the novel went on submission. I hesitate to go into any more detail while that situation is still in limbo.

At the moment, I’m actively working on two new novels. One is an alien invasion campus thriller and the other is a futuristic locked-room murder mystery. I hope to finish the former by the end of the year. Actually, I was originally hoping to finish it last year, but I became seriously ill that summer and was physically and mentally unable to do anything useful for six months or so. Erin was very patient with me during the whole ordeal, and I felt very lucky to have someone advocating for me and my novel when I had neither the time nor energy to do so myself.

Q: What is the Twitter Fiction Festival you took part in as a featured author?

The Twitter Fiction Festival was an annual weeklong event hosted on Twitter, which was unfortunately discontinued after only three years. Scheduled stories by a number of well-known writers were the main attraction, but I pitched an idea to the open call (“The board game CLUE, but all the characters are posting live updates on social media” was the gist of it) and was chosen for one of the featured amateur spots in 2015, the final year.

I planned out the main story beats of my murder mystery ahead of time but wrote the majority of the tweets in real time over the course of 5 days. The whole experience was chaotic, exhilarating, and terrifying, all at the same time. It felt almost like performing in an improv theater production that was being broadcast live all over the world. I loved every minute! Following the other writers’ stories was also so much fun. I have no idea why the event didn’t last beyond that year, but maybe it was too much of a nightmare to organize.

Q: What do you love most about Southern California?

The weather is mild, and the mosquitoes don’t swarm me the way they do in more tropical climates. Most importantly though, I grew up along the Gulf Coast, and I’ve always felt so much more comfortable near large bodies of water. Maybe it’s also my Taiwanese roots, but my ultimate dream is to live on an island one day.

Q: How do the visual arts interact with your written page art?

I was a Graphic Communications major my first two years of college (my dream job was book jacket designer, though I also wanted to be a filmmaker before that) before I switched to English, so image and text have always been inextricably linked in my work. In my junior year, I took a book arts studio course and really fell in love with the medium; in addition to the novella, my thesis also included a related series of hand-bound books. Later, I deliberately chose to complete my MFA at an art school, so I could continue those interdisciplinary explorations, and I did. Regrettably, I’ve had trouble maintaining a regular visual arts practice since I left school. I hope to start doing quick daily sketches this summer and fall to slowly ease myself back into that world.

Q: What suggestions do you have for other authors to help organize their thoughts?

Well. I’m neurodivergent, so what works for me might not work for everyone. I do think I’m a fairly organized person, possibly because my life would dissolve into utter mayhem otherwise. But half the time I still have no idea what I’m doing or where anything is, and I think I find that chaos kind of exciting? I’ve definitely learned to embrace my turbulent process over the years.

Anyway, I’ve been obsessed with office supplies and color coding since childhood. I enjoy the tactile nature of writing longhand, so I love blank journals/notebooks in particular, and I probably have at least ten different volumes in use at one time, each with its own purpose. I make sure they’re not the same types of notebooks so there’s never any confusion. I also love lined sticky notes and page flags (both in a rainbow spectrum of colors, of course) because I cannot stand having loose paper in my workspace, and I use multi-color pens and highlighters to better categorize my scribbles. For stray ideas/lines and list-making (I am constantly making lists about anything and everything), I use a notes app that syncs across all my devices because those are the sorts of things that would get lost forever if I only recorded them with analog materials. Simplenote is my personal preference. In my opinion though, so much of organization is figuring out what works for you through intuition or trial and error because even if you aren’t neurodivergent, no one’s brain really operates the same as anyone else’s.

Q: How did you teach yourself sewing and dressmaking?

I watched a lot of YouTube videos and experimented with old curtains. I’m a huge fan of The Sound of Musicand always thought it would be hilarious to fashion my own dress out of upcycled drapes. I do sometimes wish high-speed internet and video-based social media platforms had existed when I was a teenager because I’m a visual learner, and I never had access to a sewing machine I could practice on. I loved fashion when I was younger, but beyond sketching out ideas, I honestly had no idea what a pattern was or how to turn a two-dimensional piece of fabric into wearable three-dimensional garments.

Unfortunately, since I started writing again, I haven’t had any free time to sew. My machines are currently stuffed in the back of my closet. As you might have gathered by this point, I have a lot of passions and struggle to balance them all at the same time, especially now that I’m forced to maintain a very strict sleep and exercise schedule due to my precarious health. There truly aren’t enough hours in the day, but I’m also trying to improve my time management skills.

Q: What are your writing goals moving forward?

In addition to my aforementioned poetry collection, I have finished a short story collection that I’d love to get out there in the world. I also still have a lot of unpublished short-form work lying around that I hope to sell by the end of the year because the submission process is very time-consuming, and I’d much rather be writing.

Going forward, my focus is primarily on my two in-progress novels, as well as any future ones (I have many half-baked ideas), with a dash of poetry on the side as the occasional energizing palate cleanser. I’ve had a number of health scares in recent years where I was convinced death might be imminent, which was one of the reasons I returned to writing in the first place. But those experiences have taught me to live day-by-day and not get too distracted by specific long-term goals.

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