Susie Hara is the author of the novel Finder of Lost Objects (Ithuriel’s Spear Press), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and received a 2015 International Latino Book Award. She teaches at The Writing Salon and is a freelance editor. Before turning her hand to fiction, she was a dancer, actor, and playwright and performed with Word for Word Performing Arts Company, El Teatro de la Esperanza, and Z Space. Her performance works were presented on numerous San Francisco stages, including The Marsh and Z Space, and her play Lost and Found in the Mission received a Best of Fringe award at the 2008 San Francisco Fringe Festival. She lives and writes in San Francisco.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
First I say that I write novels and teach writing classes. After that, people always want to know if I can make a living at that and so then I tell them what I do to make a living, which is freelance editing.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Time and space. That is, time free from family responsibilities, day-job work, and the distractions of everyday life. As for space, it means a place that is quiet and visually uncluttered—free from the distractions of bills to be paid or editing jobs to complete. These days I write at cafes and at Mechanics’ Institute Library.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Grab on to the strap and hang on. Don’t expect success but welcome it when it comes. Find a time and space to write regularly, even if that means writing for a half hour at the kitchen table. Find community among other artists and writers.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My grandmother, Rebecca Hara, grew up in Damascus, Syria, and wasn’t allowed to go to school. She taught herself how to read and write Arabic. After she married, she and my grandfather moved to Beirut and raised a big family (eight children). Years later they immigrated to the U.S., when she was in her fifties. Living in Los Angeles, she went to night school and learned to read and write English. She was a great cook—she made kibbe to die for—and was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
I’ll never forget the reverse striptease I saw performed in an Erika Shuch dance-theatre piece. So I might like to do that sometime—the sultry sliding on of clothing piece by piece, by candlelight.
What is your fondest memory?
One of my fondest: Backstage with Rowena, getting ready to go onstage to perform our dance theater piece in Love, Alienation, and Transportation, at Z Space. She in her jester’s outfit, me in middle eastern dancer gear. Pre-show music is Edith Piaf and we’re dancing to it, off-kilter. The sounds of the waiting audience, the pleasurable terror and anticipation.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Income equality. The end of racial profiling.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art comes in many guises: public, private, elite, community, artisanal, and therapeutic, to name a few. It can be made from language, paint, paper, found materials, plastic, wood, stone, song, instruments, voices, bodies, minds, and so many other materials. Why it’s necessary: it has saved the lives of so many lost souls, prisoners, troubled youth, and the mentally ill. It can shed light on conflicts and conundrums. It can make you laugh, scare you, inspire you, get you angry, allow you to cry, or mobilize you. It can spur change. It can bridge differences. It can bring people together. It can provide pleasure.
What are you working on right now?
I’m doing the final edits on the manuscript of my second novel, The Thing About Remembering, which features a Death Valley park ranger, a Brooklyn therapist, sex, a graveyard, a Haight-Ashbury commune, a meltdown at work, buried memories, cannabis, and love.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
There would be plentiful affordable housing for working people. It would be possible for a person or family of low to moderate income to afford to rent an apartment. Furthermore, there would be sufficient affordable housing such that no one who shared a place to live would have to sleep in the closet.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
At a corner store in the Mission district, the owner yelling at a street woman who was trying to buy a can of soda and was short a dime. “Get out!” he yelled at her. When she eventually came up with the extra change he sold her the drink, and as she left she said to him, in all sincerity, “I love you.”
What are some of your favorite smells?
Cooking: garlic, basil. Essential oils: lavender, clary sage, and sandalwood.