Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the two hundred and tenth, is of multi-genre author Sam Sackett.
California-born Sam Sackett received his Ph.D. from UCLA. While a student he published several science-fiction stories. He taught at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, where he published a translation of a Flemish novel, a collection of Kansas folklore, a children’s book of cowboy songs, and a critical study of E.W. Howe. He also founded and served as president of the Kansas Folklore Society.
After 23 years as an English professor and folklorist he burned out and left teaching. He worked first for a newspaper, then for an advertising agency, then for a public relations firm. By this time he was an expert on career change, so he moved into the career management field. After gaining experience with two local companies, he worked for 12 years as vice president of the Oklahoma City office of Bernard Haldane Associates.
Sackett retired in Thailand for six years, writing short stories which have been collected in two books, Through Farang Eyes and Snapshots of Thailand. On his return to the US he published his first novel, Sweet Betsy from Pike. He had heard the song at an American Folklore Society meeting, and it struck him that Betsy learned she couldn’t trust sweet-talking Ike to take care of her and that she had the strength to take care of herself. He had been interested in Robin Hood since he read Howard Pyle’s book in the fifth grade and always wondered what truth might lie behind the legend. Answering that question resulted in his second novel, The Robin Hood Chronicles, which is a sharply different take on the story.
Adolf Hitler in Oz, Sackett’s third novel, grew out of his belief that goodness and love, symbolized in the novel as the Land of Oz, will always overcome evil and hate, symbolized by Hitler.
Also the author has been interested in the psychological theories of Carl Rogers and believes Rogerian therapy, based on unconditional positive regard, could have a beneficial effect even on a Hitler. Sackett calls it “a children’s book for adults” because these ideas would likely not interest children. He grew up reading the Oz books, and when his own sons were growing up read the books to them as well; his familiarity resulted in an essay, “The Utopia of Oz”
. Since Mark Twain was one of Sackett’s favorite authors, it was logical for him to write a sequel to Twain’s classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At the end of Twain’s novel Huck says he intends to “light out for the Territory.” In Sackett’s version of Huck’s future, the hero goes to Indian Territory to live among the Cherokees. When gold is discovered in California, Huck joins a wagon train bound for the mining camp of Hangtown. Then he spends some time in San Francisco. When Kansas Territory is opened for settlement, Huck goes there to help bring it into the Union as a free state. Along the way he falls in love (twice), gets married (once), has two children, and defends his home during the Quantrill raid of 1863.
And now from the author himself:
My mother encouraged me to read, and I was reading before I entered kindergarten. I wrote my first book when I was in kindergarten; I remember being frustrated because my drawings were not so pretty and my printing was not so neat as those in the books I had read.
Also I had an aunt who gave me books as presents. When I was in fifth and sixth grades she gave me Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and the complete plays of William Shakespeare. I started writing a Shakespearean-style play, but I never finished it.
In junior high and high school my writing interests veered toward journalism. I was editor of my high-school paper. Then in college I took all the writing courses I could in both journalism and creative writing. At different times I was editor of both the college newspaper and the literary magazine.
My reading interests in high school and college began with detective fiction, ranging from John Dickson Carr to Raymond Chandler — which you’ll have to admit is quite a range. But eventually I figured out that the structure of all detective stories was the same: crime-investigation-solution. The details were always different, but the pattern was the same. I got as far as writing a detective novel. I submitted some short stories to The Saint Mystery Magazine; the editor (not Leslie Charteris) took them seriously enough that he gave me some constructive suggestions.
I liked Charteris’s fiction a lot. I still remember one of his short stories, which I think is among the best in the language (but I don’t recall the name). When I was president of the college chapter of Alpha Phi Gamma journalism honor society, I managed to convince Charteris to come out to the college, give a lecture, and be initiated into the chapter. It devolved on me to try to keep him sober; I was not wholly successful.
But then I discovered science fiction. It was a whole new world. Science fiction was broad enough that every kind of story could be found in it. It provided a way to comment on social problems, as Ray Bradbury commented on the disadvantages of technology and A.E. van Vogt commented on racism in Slan. Of course I had favorite authors — among them, in addition to those two, Clark Ashton Smith and Henry Kuttner — and, being a brash young man, I entered into correspondence with them. Of course I also corresponded with Forrest J. Ackerman, the world’s number one science-fiction fan.
As an English major in college, it was of course impossible for me to avoid more literary writers. I fell head over heels for Mark Twain and Henry Fielding. And I happened, almost by chance, to become friends with Harlan Ware, a writer of commercial fiction, radio drama, and motion pictures.
But I continued my interest in science fiction.. One spring break my roommate and I drove to Auburn, CA, to meet Clark Ashton Smith.
On my honeymoon, I took my bride to visit some of my friends. Harlan Ware treated us to lunch. One evening when we were at Forry Ackerman’s — my bride did not like Forry — Ray Bradbury dropped in, and I got to meet him in person. Later I showed Ray one of my stories; he said it was too slow getting started and rewrote the first two pages into one. That page, of course, was great; but it was not my style, and I rewrote it back into Sackett. One sentence, however, I could not find any other way to say than the way Ray had said it, so one sentence in my first published science-fiction story was written by Ray Bradbury.
When I went to UCLA to work on my doctorate, I continued being active in science fiction on the side. I attended meetings of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and there met van Vogt. Since I didn’t have a car, sometimes I rode with other people — once with Richard Matheson. Charles Beaumont became a friend and occasionally dropped in to my apartment for a chat. Bill Nolan was another friend; he used to pick me up in his car and we would go together to visit Bradbury. Ray was very friendly; he and Maggie took me and my wife to dinner once. Henry Kuttner was also in Los Angeles, working on a maser’s at USC, and he and I spent many hours talking together. Once my wife and I, our two sons, and Hank and Kat went on a picnic.
But my doctoral specialty was eighteenth-century English literature; my dissertation was on Fielding. So it was something of a shock when I got my first teaching job and discovered I was supposed to teach folklore. I had never even had a class in folklore. Fortunately, one of the great advantages of a doctorate — perhaps the only one — is that you learn how to learn. I hit the college library in June, and by September I was a folklorist. Eventually I gained a national reputation, published articles in many folklore journals, and co-edited a book on Kansas Folklore. Anoher publication which grew out of folklore was a children’s book, Cowboys and the Songs They Sang, picked by the New York Times as one of that five best in its age group that year. I also had to teach courses in Kansas literature, which resulted in my being picked to write the Twayne American Authors Series volume in E.W. Howe.
These experiences also taught me that you don’t really have to limit yourself. I continued publishing science-fiction stories — one has been anthologized three times — and became interested in Flemish literature. That last interest resulted in my publishing some translations, including one of a novel by Johan Daisne (pseudonym of Dr. Herman Thierry). The Belgian government rewarded me for my translations of poems by Paul Snoek (pseudonym of Edmond Schietekat) by giving me a cash prize which I had to go to Belgium to collect. While there I met a number of other Belgian authors, including Karel Jonckheere, Fernand Auwera, and Hubert Lampo. I had also become a fan of Suske en Wiske, the great Belgian comic strip, and visited Willy Vandersteen, its creator.
After 23 years as a university professor, I had burned out on teaching; and during 27 years of marriage, my wife and I had grown farther and farther apart. I made two glorious separations: I quit my job and left my wife. I moved to Hutchinson, KS, and set up as a writer. That year I made $3,000, even in those days not enough to live on, so I started looking for some way to support myself. I became dean of a proprietary business college for a year, until the president absconded with all the college’s money.
At this time the Anadarko Basin oil boom was in full swing, and a weekly newspaper had been established in Clinton, OK, to take advantage of it. I worked for it as a reporter for a year, during which I met and married my second wife, and was hired away by an advertising agency in Weatherford, OK, as its director of creative services. When the oil boom collapsed, so did the agency.
I landed a job as assignments manager of a public relations firm in Oklahoma City and lasted two years until the owner discovered in was incompetent and fired me. For the next two years I ran my own public relations firm until I was hired by my biggest client to work in her career management firm. After two more years we could not stand each other, and I went to a competitor to work on commission. Financially that was a disaster. Fortunately, I got another job with the Oklahoma City office of Bernard Haldane Associates, at that time the nation’s oldest and largest career management firm. I spent twelve years with Haldane, retiring in 2003.
My wife and I moved to Thailand. I had some uncompleted manuscripts and some unacted-upon ideas. I spent the next six years fulfilling the ambition that had first taken possession of me in in kindergarten: writing. In addition to writing fiction, I collaborated with Dr. Thanapol Chadchaidee on two books aimed at helping Thais prepare to pass the Test Over English as a Foreign Language, one book to help them prepare for the International English Language Testing Series, and a book called Learn Thai. Since my own Thai is worse than rudimentary, for the last I provided only the linguistic theory and the exercises.
We returned to the US in 2009, and I set about publishing the five novels I had in hand. Four of them are now extant: Sweet Betsy from Pike, a Fielding-esque historical novel based on a folksong; The Robin Hood Chronicles, a fictional biography based on ballads; Adolf Hitler in Oz, a comic science-fiction fantasy; and Huckleberry Finn Grows Up, a fictional biography sequel to Mark Twain’s classic. Still to come is Rabbi Yeshua, a fictional biography of the man Christians call by the name Jesus.
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