Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and eighty-fifth, is of multi-genre author Sam Sackett who guested last year. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
Sam Sackett has had a varied career in his 86 years. Along the way he has published both fiction (novels and short stories) and non-fiction. After getting his Ph.D. In English from UCLA, Sackett taught in a university in Kansas for 23 years before burning out. He tried for a year to make it as a freelance writer and failed; then he successively worked for a newspaper, an advertising agency, and a public relations firm. Deciding that he had become an expert on career change, he spent the next 15 years in the career management field, advising clients how to find jobs. In 2003 he retired and moved with his wife to her native Thailand; six years later they returned to the United States, and he published several books he had written earlier.
During Sam’s professorial career he produced a collection of Kansas Folklore, co-edited with William E. Koch; Cowboys and the Songs They Sang, named by the New York Times Book Review as one of the fifteen best children’s books of its year; a critical study of Kansas novelist E.W. Howe in the Twayne United States Authors Series; and The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short, a translation of De Man Die Zijn Haar Kort Liet Knippen by the Flemish novelist Johan Daisne. He received an award from the Belgian government for his translations of Flemish literature. Mr Sackett also published several essays and poems. From his years as a career counselor came Career Karate: How to Keep Your Job While Everybody Else Is Losing Theirs.
Since 2009 Sam has published five novels: Sweet Betsy from Pike, a historical novel of the California gold rush; The Robin Hood Chronicles, a fictional biography based on the earliest ballad sources; Adolf Hitler in Oz, a comic fantasy satire; Huckleberry Finn Grows Up, a sequel to Mark Twain’s classic novel; and Rabbi Yeshua, a fictional biography of Jesus of Nazareth. He has also published two collections of short stories about Thailand, Through Farang Eyes and Snapshots of Thailand, and one collection of stories about a college town in the Midwest, Chamberlain Stories. Two biographies by Mr Sackett have also been privately published, The Sage of Potato Hill, about E.W. Howe, and Scalawag, about John N. Reynolds.
And now from the author himself:
“My mother taught me to read even before I started in kindergarten,” Sam says, “and from that point on I wanted to write. The first book I ever wrote was in kindergarten; it was what you might expect, an imitation of the kinds of books kids read at that age. When I was in fifth grade a well-intentioned aunt gave me a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, and I immediately set about trying to imitate them. Mercifully those early efforts haven’t survived.”
When did Mr Sackett become really serious about writing? “It was when I was in college,” he said. “I was reading a lot of detective stories, and I tried to imitate them. I even submitted some of them to pulp magazines; I got some encouraging rejections, but no acceptances. I wrote one detective novel, but I had better sense than to submit it anywhere. Detective stories were starting to bore me, anyway; they all have the same structure, though of course the details are different. Then I discovered science fiction. It has a lot more variety in the structure, and it’s thought-provoking. I was corresponding with some of the authors, and finally I tried a short story. I sent it to Ray Bradbury, and he showed me how to get into the story faster. I sold that one to a pulp magazine, and I was hooked.
“All the time I was working toward my doctorate,” Sam continued, “I was also writing science-fiction, and I even published some of it in the magazines of that time. The one I’m proudest of was called ‘Hail to the Chief”; it’s been reprinted three times in anthologies, one of them edited by Isaac Asimov. And I was publishing a fanzine – that’s an amateur magazine – called Fantastic Worlds. It’s become something of a collectors’ item; I’ve seen copies of it advertised for sale on amazon.com.”
Why do you call two of your recent books “fictional biographies”? “Because that’s what they are,” Mr Sackett replied. “One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not good at inventing the kind of plots that are used in popular fiction; you know, problem-complication-complication-solution. I’m good at creating characters, and I write well, but I can’t do plots. Life itself doesn’t have a plot; it just kind of flows on, and there’s never any real resolution. So if you take a character and trace him through his life, or at least a part of it, that’s more like reality; and that’s what I do best. Robin Hood and Yeshua are like that, and so is Huckleberry Finn Grows Up. You could call all three of those historical novels if you wanted to, but they’re really not conventional novels with tight plots. Sweet Betsy does have more of a plot, but that’s because it’s based on a ballad that has a plot of its own.”
What about Adolf Hitler in Oz? Sam smiled. “I started that out with a conventional plot opening and supplied it with complications, and then, when I got about halfway through, I couldn’t think of a way to end it, so I kept writing while I was trying to find an ending. Finally I came up with a way of ending it. Readers mostly tell me that it’s a satisfying ending. One reader even praised the second half of the novel because it was suspenseful. Of course it was suspenseful; I didn’t know what was coming next myself. The novel did get one bad review. But another publisher liked it so much that he’s bringing out a deluxe edition. It may be available by the time your readers see this blog. It will have wonderful illustrations by Patricio Carbajal, and it will include an essay on ‘The Utopia of Oz’ that I published in the Georgia Review some 40 years ago. What I was trying to do in the novel was let Hitler stand for evil and hate and Oz stand for goodness and love; and if that comes through, I guess I succeeded. Let me spoil the ending for you: Oz wins.”
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