Welcome to the four hundred and ninety-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Salvatore Buttaci. You can read Salvatore’s poem here. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Salvatore. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Salvatore: In 2007, upon retiring from nearly 30 years teaching English, I moved from New Jersey to West Virginia, my wife Sharon’s roots. We are so happy we did! Now with so much more leisure, I spend at least four hours a day writing and promoting my work.
Though it feels to me as though I’ve been writing since crib days, it all started when I was about nine years old with a poem. It was Mother’s Day and having spent my allowance on strawberry malteds, I had to come up with something that wouldn’t cost me anything. Well, my mother cried when I read my first poem. My father insisted I write an early Father’s Day poem for him. He cried too! I figured if I could so easily bring tears to my readers’ eyes, I might have something there. With my parents’ encouragement I continued to write poems, then stories, essays, and articles. My first published piece was an essay called “Presidential Timber,” which earned me $25.00 back in 1957 from The New York Sunday News where it was published.
Morgen: Wow, how wonderful. I can’t remember what I gave my parents as presents but I don’t remember writing for them. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Salvatore: Easily bored, I tried to write in as many genres as I can. I do have favorites, of course: crime noir, sci-fi, alternate history, horror, comedy.
Morgen: Crime noir and comedy are my favourites too. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Salvatore: Please don’t take this for bragging, but my bibliography is 70 pages long. I’ve had my work published in newspapers large and small, magazines, books, and Internet sites. I’ve written many flash fiction and short stories, how-to-write articles, several books and had a few publishers take on my poetry and fiction.
All Things That Matter Press: Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts.
Cyber-wit Publishers: If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems.
Middle Island Press: What I Learned from the Spaniard and Other Poems.
Big Table Publishing: Boy on a Swing and Other Poems.
Pudding House Publications: Greatestest Hits: 1970-2000.
Until a good friend of mine said writing under a pen name was a form of hiding, I stopped using bylines like “Ben Shaba,” “Turiddu,” and “Sal St. John Buttaci.” For years now I write under my own name Salvatore Buttaci.
Morgen: My goodness. Not bragging at all. You would have worked hard for everything you’ve achieved. You’re also self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Salvatore: Few writers, when they first begin, succeed in finding publishers. I believe it takes years and years to hone one’s writing craft; in fact, a process that ends with writers’ last works. In 1974, I put together my first book of poems called Coming-Home Poems: Stops & Pauses on the Scrapbook Express. Next: Bread and Tears (1986); Poems from a Lover’s Purgatory (1994); two volumes of a bilingual collection of Sicilian sayings and proverbs (1997); Sun Sparks the Day: Poems of Sicily (2005); Promising the Moon (1998); A Family of Sicilians: Stories and Poems (1998); Fra Ca e L’autra Banna: Puemi Siciliani (From Here to There: Sicilian Poems) (2010).
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Salvatore: Yes, I do read e-books and hope eventually to publish some of my own writings that way. I must tell you, however, I love and prefer a physical book in my hands rather than on a screen. It is for me part of the joy I experience in reading. The only books of mine available in Kindle e-books are both my flash collections.
Morgen: So far. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?’
Salvatore: When I was a boy, I’d ask my parents which of their children was their favorite. “Do you mean which do we love more?” Mama asked. I nodded. She laughed. “I love you all the same!” I walked away feeling so let down because I wanted to be that recognized family favorite. Now, so many years later, I well understand why selecting favorites among one’s children and one’s books is near impossible.
I can say, however, that my favorite character (among thousands!) is Anthony Lanzetti who appears in chronological bio-flashes throughout my book 200 Shorts. Lanzetti gave me the opportunity to write about my own life and the people who made it happy and interesting.
Right now I am in the process of editing a novel of mine tentatively entitled Carmelu the Sicilian. It’s about a Sicilian immigrant who makes it to Hollywood where he becomes a famous gangster-movie star, but in his old age repents and takes on the anti-Italian American media. I must say he is also a favorite character of mine, one I can imagine on the silver screen, portrayed by Jansen Panettiere (played Joey in Tiger Cruise in 2004).
Morgen: And younger brother to Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Salvatore: Selection and approval for the covers of books I self-published rested, of course, entirely with me. I approved those of the others that were selected by the publishers. I believe covers are extremely important; after all, it’s the first thing that hit’s the potential buyer’s eye. I have purchased books purely based on the cover: vivid colors, great artwork or graphic design, a vintage photo, and in most cases I also enjoyed reading the book!
Morgen: I do like to think that if the author has taken time over the cover that they will have done with the writing (one can hope). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Salvatore: I just completed a how-to-write-poems chapbook, which I hope to learn enough about the mechanics of readying a manuscript for Kindle and placing it there as an e-book for sale. I am also editing two novels, Carmelu the Sicilian, which I mentioned, and a sci-fi / alternate history / time travel one called Denver-under-Dome.
Morgen: Intriguing. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Salvatore: The best cure for writer’s block is to write every single day, which I do. In addition, I read English handbooks and books on the writing craft so I keep myself rooted in writing mode. I also vary my writing so that one day I am composing poems, the next a short story or flashes, followed by nonfiction on the next day. By writing daily, writing becomes easier, more spontaneous, better organized, and wonderfully addictive.
Morgen: I only worked out recently that 300 words a day is 100,000 a year. I think everyone should find time to do that. I do an average of that for my 5pm fiction slot and am over three months in. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Salvatore: Before I sit down to write, my stories, from start to finish, have already made their appearance in my head. I envision them in the barest of bones, so that I don’t deprive myself the pleasure of that first draft where I flesh out the details, give voice and action to the characters, add vivid description, all the while keeping the old writer’s maxim alive: Show it, don’t tell it.
Morgen: Absolutely. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Salvatore: Before I write them into my stories, I first assign them a name, then a physical presence. I used to prowl the cemeteries where I’d jot down interesting names, but now in my retirement I check out the obits and the phone directories. I do my best to give my characters a face and a bearing that readers can see as they read. It is too difficult to sympathize with a character one cannot imagine. Readers need to see who it is they are rooting for and who it is they are hoping gets their karmic due.
Morgen: Cemetaries are wonderful for unusual names. “Karmic due” I love that. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Salvatore: Editing is less of a chore because of my nearly 30 years as a former English teacher in middle schools, high school, and college. My editing is less proofreading as it is deleting unnecessary words so the story is tight and direct, adding needed exposition, sharpening the dialogue, and keeping the story from derailment by staying the course.
Morgen: Having a strong knowledge base must certainly help. I count myself fortunate that I went to a couple of great schools with fantastic English teachers (some of the others left a lot to be desired but that’s another story). Do you have to do much research?
Salvatore: I research all my stories so they ring with authenticity. Understandably, I research much more my nonfiction pieces.
Morgen: I write very little non-fiction and what I do is about writing but I know I can veer off reality for my fiction. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Salvatore: Point of view for me depends on the kind of story I am writing. I usually choose first person for crime noire and humor. Third person for just about everything else. As for second person, I’ve written a few, but that point of view is much too limited and seems to work only in a short flash.
Morgen: Second is my favourite but even I’d agree with you there. So you write poetry, non-fiction or short stories, have you had any successes?
Salvatore: All of the above. I’ve won a few poetry competitions, the latest being the 2011 Franklin-Christoph Fine Writing Instrument Poetry Contest. It was an international poetry contest with 3,000 entries, a first-place winner, and 10 additional winners, which included me for my poem “Promises We Made.” The prize? A $150 fountain pen. I also won the Azsacra International Poetry Prize of $500 in 2007. I won the Empress Publishers Poetry Award of $500 in 1994.
Morgen: Congratulation. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Salvatore: Of course! In 2008 I wrote 845 poems; the following year, 1010, many of which I have not yet submitted for publication. I also have quite a few short stories waiting for my editing. I am, after all, pushing 71, so I have a lot of writing years behind me and hopefully ahead of me to accumulate works that will remain in the dark.
Morgen: Wow. That’s 2-3 a day. Thank you for your poem for post-weekend poetry. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Salvatore: I nearly quit writing when I was a teenager. After my first publication at 16 in one of the largest-circulation newspapers in the world, I went through a very dry period, not of writing but of having my work accepted. I’d submit poems and stories and they’d come back in my SASE’s with monosyllabic comments like “No,” “No, thanks,” and “Keep this.” My father suggested I keep submitting. “Save the rejections in a box,” he said. “One day you’ll own a house with a basement where you can paste these rejections on the wall.” I looked at Papa. “Why would I want to do that? And he patted my shoulder and said, “For humility. By that time you’ll get plenty acceptances. The wall will keep you from getting a big head!”
I still get rejections, but I take the good and the bad as they come. Rejections come to everyone. They’re no big deal.
Morgen: I’d love to see that wall. Mine are in a red display book (I have less than 30 so a smaller wall, I suspect). Do you still enter competitions?
Salvatore: I enter competitions, but only those that do not require entry fees. I know that so many more writers will enter the freebies and the competition is so much steeper, but being retired I hardly have much discretionary income to spend entering contests. I take my chances with the competition and save my money.
Morgen: Very wise. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Salvatore: I don’t have one. If I ever write a novel I suspect could become a movie, I think I will go hunting for an agent, but right now, so far, I haven’t seen the need to search for and hire one.
Morgen: Many authors are going directly to publishers, others self-publishing so you may not need to when that happens (note my use of the word ‘when’ :)) but most authors who have them swear by them (others swear at them!). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Salvatore: Marketing is the task most detested by writers…
Morgen: It is. It’s usually the reply to least favourite aspect of an author’s writing life.
Salvatore: …but so important. I am quite involved in it. I spend hours daily trying to gain visibility for myself and my published books. It’s obvious that with millions of books out there, no one will buy mine unless they’ve heard about them. All Things That Matter Press does quite a bit to promote the books it publishes. I’d venture to say Phil Harris does quite a bit more than most publishers do, and yet major book marketing falls on the shoulders of the authors. At least at ATTMP the authors created a marketing group to promote one another’s books. Nowhere else have I seen that happen. It’s no surprise we at ATTMP call it the ATTMP Family.
Morgen: How lovely. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Salvatore: My favorite aspect is writing the first draft. I had a college professor who advised us to “get it all down before it disappears.” Thinking up the plot, inventing characters, running a mental scene of the story are all excitingly fun, but they pale before the actual unfolding, word by word, of the story that beforehand was a figment of my imagination, not really a story at all.
As for my least favorite aspect of my writing life? At my age I don’t have all the time in the world to produce the myriad poems and stories I want to. Still, it’s not as if I’ve just begun to write. I’ve been plying my craft since the early 1950s and though I am not a famous author, I am certainly a happy one who will never decide one day to retire from writing.
Morgen: Me neither. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Salvatore: It’s the same old advice aspiring writers should heed if they are serious about becoming writers. They need to learn all they can about the English language, put what they learn into practice by writing daily, and have the self-confidence to submit their work for publication and the perseverance to never give up their writing dreams.
Morgen: Submissions… ah, yes, I could do with doing that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Salvatore: Jesus the Christ, Marcus Aurelius, and Thomas Jefferson. As for the meal I’d keep it simple: whitefish, fried eggplant, Italian bread, and Merlot.
Morgen: I’d be there, other than for the Merlot. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Salvatore: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31)
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Salvatore: I try to find time to read books by authors I personally know, as well as those I do not, and then write reviews of those books at Amazon.com. Right now I am reading Rachel Maddow’s bestseller Drift and next will read Monica Brinkman’s The Turn of the Karmic Wheel and then Mr. Glamour by Richard Godwin.
Salvatore: We volunteer our time to Sacred Heart Parish where my wife Sharon is one of the Sacred Heart Ladies. We attend Mass there. I am a third-degree Knight of Columbus. Two of life’s diversion: church bingo and poker.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Salvatore: I belong to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, StumbleUpon, and a score of others. I believe they are helpful in increasing one’s visibility.
Morgen: So do I – we get to interact with other authors and readers. I’m not on StumbleUpon (perhaps I should be) but on pretty much everything else. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Salvatore: It becomes more and more difficult for unknown writers to connect with traditional publishers who invest in the big-name authors with proven track records. Writers need to find smaller publishers or learn how to convert manuscripts into books and / or e-books and self-publish. I do not think physical books will ever become obsolete, but there will be fewer of them. Just as the VCR bowed out to the DVD recorder, so will today’s electronic readers. Perhaps in the future books will be implanted chips a reader can press into his eyeball like contact lenses or inserted into a skull flap. Who knows! But there will be writers marketing their work.
Morgen: What a scary thought. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Salvatore: I have several sites:
http://salvatorebuttaci.wordpress.com SALVATORE BUTTACI
http://salvatorebuttaci.spruz.com FLASHING MY SHORTS
http://salbuttaci.spruz.com THE WORD PLACE
http://salbuttaci.blogspot.com SAL’S PLACE
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Salvatore: What has been your best method of promoting your books? Any favorite book or networking site?
Morgen: Good question. I’m still trying to work that out, and do very little marketing (other than this blog) as I have very little (four free eShorts, a story collection and writing guide) available but mention what I have occasionally on Facebook / Twitter. I think appearing on other writers’ blogs though is a great way of getting attention as people get to know you then be more interested in investigating your ‘wares’. Thank you, Salvatore.
I then invited Salvatore to include an extract of his writing and here is one of the flashes in his book 200 Shorts:
When Giorgio was a young man, he delighting in sexual conquests, something he truly convinced himself was his right, earned by dashingly handsome features, curly hair the color of burnt sienna, and an eloquence that always seemed to be no match for women, married or single, to wriggle out of his clutches.
But that was so long ago, and now as the fat old and bald Giorgio sat on his divan waiting for the village nurse to come administer him a flu shot, he tried hard to ignore the ranting of his long-time wife who over the years he had so damn cleverly deceived. But in her mind it was only one woman, Francesca the nurse, who had captured her husband’s fancy back then, and Giorgio could not even imagine what murderous thing Carmelina would do to him if he were to confess the myriad number of women who had floated in and out of bed with him!
Francesca, now fat and white-haired, hardly the svelte forest nymph of her youth, walked into their home, gave both of them a good-day, then from her black satchel extracted the needle, filled it from the small vial, popped a quick spray into the air, and then said,
“Giorgio, take down your trousers so I can give you the needle.”
Well, Carmelina had a needle of her own and she was verbally jabbing it to Giorgio with remarks like “Oh, Francesca still wants to look at my husband’s ass, does she?” And “What do you think of Giorgio’s flat old ass now, nurse Francesco, who used to sleep with his round young ass behind my back?”
Too many years had gone by for the wounded wife’s cruel remarks to pierce the thick hide of Francesca, so she gave the shot to Giorgio, dabbed it with a cotton ball, and said,
“All done, Giorgio; you can pull your pants back up!”
“Short ‘flash’ fiction is a tricky art. A writer has to be able to incorporate the potency of poetry and the plot and character development of a short story. Well, if you want to learn how to do it well, read Buttaci’s book. Likewise, if you just want a book of 200 dynamic and riveting stories for sheer entertainment, buy Buttaci’s book. It’s a great collection for anyone who enjoys a good short story (or 200 of them).” Jen Knox, Musical Chairs
Drawing on his Sicilian heritage and his experience as a writer and a teacher, Salvatore Buttaci has excelled in this presentation of 200 Shorts (flash fiction). In bite-sized stories, and with humor and grace, Salvatore treats us to a compilation which has us laughing, crying, smiling, thinking. He’s a beautiful writer! His last book Flashing My Shorts won much acclaim. Go on: add these books to your reading lists – treat yourself and buy one, or two, or three. Friends will love you and will love the gift you gave!” Eliza Earsman, author, A Collection of Verse
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widely. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Thinking Ten, Pen 10, and Six Sentences. A former English instructor at a local community college and middle-school teacher in New Jersey, he retired in 2007 to commit himself to full-time writing. He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.
Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, are available in book and Kindle editions at http://www.kindlegraph.com/authors/sambpoet
His two chapbooks: Boy on a Swing… (Big Table Publishing)
And What I Learned from the Spaniard…(Middle Island Press) http://tinyurl.com/6orcv4z
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