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Cover Reveal and Interview with Psychopomp Author Maria Dong

 Cover Reveal and Five Questions with Maria Dong

When Maria Dong reached out to ask about a cover reveal for her dark science fiction novel, Psychopomp, I was absolutely honoured. I was lucky to have read an early version of this book and it blew me away with its ruminations on human nature, capitalism, and how isolation from one’s past and from other people can wreak havoc on our mental health. Check out the blurb, the cover, and Dong’s answers to our interview! Pre-order links are included at the bottom of the post.

 

Psychopomp

 

On the penal colony of Hibiscus Station, no positions are as key as the Pomps, who direct the dangerous mining operations to remove highly valuable—and volatile—crystal from the moon’s crust.

Young was previously in training to be a Pomp—until a depressive episode, mental break, and a suicide attempt. She doesn’t need the other convicts on her work team to suspect she’s unraveling again, so when she suddenly hallucinates visions of the unstable crystals in the tunnel walls around her—along with the potential danger they hold—she keeps her mouth shut.

And then their newly dug tunnel explodes, killing her crew.

During her reassignment, her new lover, Gyu, makes her an offer: he can pull some strings and help her finish her Pomp training. If Young decides to take the gamble that her new secret visions are accurate, she can prevent further accidents—and pay off the penal debt keeping her from going home.

However, the more she trains, the more her paranoia convinces her that the collapse wasn’t an accident at all, and that everyone—her new crew, the station staff, and even Gyu—are all hiding secrets. If she doesn’t figure out what’s real before her mental health implodes, she might not survive the next “accident.”

 

Cover reveal in . . .

 

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Gorgeous!

 

 

Five Questions with Maria Dong

 

For anyone who hasn’t come across you or your work before, could you introduce yourself?


Sure! My name is Maria Dong. I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense—and am also sometimes known for my lack of focus 😅. I’ve had the luck to have my work included in several anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2022 and 2023, We’re Here, The Best Queer Speculative Fiction for 2024, as well as a slew of really cool magazines. My writing tends to be anti-capitalist, feminist, surreal, vivid, and emotional, and over the last few years, I’ve come to understand that I also have ADHD, so I’m getting to understand that part of myself a little more every day.

 

 

I just felt so trapped, like all of the debt and the obligation and the things I should’ve felt about that job and that career were crushing down on me, trying to snuff me out. So that was the birthplace of this novel.

 

A common theme between both your literary thriller, Liar, Dreamer, Thief and Psychopomp is how capitalism enforces limitations on our ability to live full lives. Could you speak to this a little?

 

I wrote the first draft of Psychopomp in 2018. I had just entered the Pitch Wars contest with a Korean fantasy novel and was waiting to hear if I’d be selected for mentorship, and I was trying to follow that classic advice for any author waiting to hear an answer on a project, which is, write the next thing. 

 

At that time, I had this absolutely grueling job at a hospital, with a long commute along one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in Michigan. It was winter, and I’d get up, clean all the snow off my car, and then drive to work in complete darkness for miles and miles. The entire time, my brain would spin through how much I didn’t want to go to that job, how that job was supposed to be my salvation, how I went to graduate school and took on a bunch of debt that I’ll likely never manage to pay off to get exactly that job, how other people would’ve killed to have that job—just feeling more and more despondent with each passing mile. I just felt so trapped, like all of the debt and the obligation and the things I should’ve felt about that job and that career were crushing down on me, trying to snuff me out.

 

So that was the birthplace of this novel. The feeling of being trapped by a debt you can’t pay. And it’s something I think about constantly. I work in web development, now, and everyone is obsessed with adding LLM and generative AI to everything, so that you can create content faster. At this point, it’s literally machines creating content to then be consumed by machines, which then create more content…and meanwhile, the average American has less and less disposable income. Less job stability, less time with family, no time for leisure or to think about philosophical questions or make art, can’t even sit in a chair if you work a register—it’s really terrible.

 

We’re quickly reaching a point where anything that doesn’t conform to the fastest, leanest, loudest version of the Save the Cat structure doesn’t get published—which means that when people do run across material that doesn’t fit this exact framework, it’s so rare that it feels off and gets automatically rejected.

 

Much of the strength of Psychopomp comes from the way you blend genres and genre aesthetics. It’s one part sci-fi dystopia, another part psychological thriller, and also invokes a noir atmosphere in its latter half. Is this something you consciously wove into the novel, or does genre-bending like this come out through the process?

 

I think it’s probably a bit of both! Most of my books do this; some people really love it and find it surprising that the second half can be so different from the first, and other people hate it. But I have always, always loved the moment when you think you understand what kind of book you’re reading, and then the author removes a wall or twists something around, and it’s suddenly a whole different book. It’s like the radical shift in tone that happens halfway through Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson or the movie Parasite—and this convention, of a massive change of genre in the middle of a work, it also something you see relatively frequently in East Asian media, so I’m not surprised it osmosed its way into my writing. The shift in PSYCHOPOMP isn’t quite so huge, but instead a more gradual blend from one genre to the next.

 

You’ve spoken previously about the influence of non-Western story structures on your writing. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

 

I think that most of the books we read, in terms of what is available in the average English-language bookstore, have been cultivated by publishers to follow a very strict structure. It partially comes from movies, and partially from western literature, but we’ve essentially reached a point where you can beat out a book as you’re reading and tell if the same key beats are a bit early, a bit late, etc. 

 

I have always, always loved the moment when you think you understand what kind of book you’re reading, and then the author removes a wall or twists something around, and it’s suddenly a whole different book.

 

And that’s okay, to a certain extent, except that we’re quickly reaching a point where anything that doesn’t conform to the fastest, leanest, loudest version of the Save the Cat structure doesn’t get published—which means that when people do run across material that doesn’t fit this exact framework, it’s so rare that it feels off and gets automatically rejected. I can feel that process happening to me—books that I once loved, I’ve become impatient with, because they’re not prestige TV enough. So, I take time often to try to explore and remember different structures, to read quiet stories or slow stories or stories with twists and turns that break the rules publishing as an industry has tried to engrain in us in pursuit of profits (see question #2 re: capitalism), so that I don’t lose my capacity to enjoy them.

 

While much of your work wrestles with dark themes, I’ve always found that you manage to bring an incisive levity to even the bleakest stories. Where does this come from?

 

Trauma, mostly. 😅

Liar, Dreamer, Thief Giveaway

In honour of the cover reveal, Maria is also doing a giveaway for three SIGNED copies of her debut, Liar, Dreamer, Thief! Check it out here.

Check out Psychopomp!

 

 

 

Pre-order Here!

Goodreads

Maria Dong’s Website

 

About Maria Dong

A prolific writer of short fiction, articles, essays, and poetry, Maria’s work has been published or forthcoming in dozens of magazines and anthologies, including: the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed, Augur, Nightmare, Khoreo, Fantasy, Apex, and Apparition. Her debut novel, Liar, Dreamer, Thief, is a psychological suspense with speculative elements that’s been features in Buzzfeed, PopSugar, Goodreads, Forbes, Shondaland, Electric Literature, Good Housekeeping, Gizmodo, and Novel Suspects, and her sophomore novel, Psychopomp, is a science fiction suspense being published in March of 2025 by Dark Matter Ink.

Although she’s currently a computer programmer, in her previous lives, Maria’s held a variety of diverse careers, including property manager, English teacher, and occupational therapist. She lives with her partner in southwest Michigan in a centenarian saltbox house that is almost certainly haunted, watching K-dramas and drinking Bell’s beer.

She is represented by Amy Bishop at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. For film inquiries, please reach out to Addison Duffy and Orly Greenberg at United Talent Agency. She can also be reached via twitter @mariadongwrites or via email with the contact form. If you’d like to be notified when new fiction is published, you can also sign up sign up for the newsletter.

 

 

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