Interview With Author Peter Sarno
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’ve been a freelance writer, journalist, editor, publisher (of other authors’ works), and taught literature and memoir courses at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In addition to essays, etc., I’ve published short stories. Though, I’ve written several manuscripts, to date, this is the first full-length book of mine that has been published.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
The novel is called “Visions of Johanna.”
I read a novel about a younger man and an older female artist and it hadn’t rung true. Though written by a well-established author, it seemed to me to be about a “pretend” artist. Of course, I could have been dead wrong. Other folks were engaged and enjoyed it. But—with a certain level of arrogance—I thought, I knew a talented and brave artist and might be able to share the experience of what that artistic life was like more effectively.
Then I thought, “Why hadn’t that relationship worked out?”
Independent of this, over the years, I had tried several times to write a story about a dear friend who tragically lost her life while only sixteen-years-old. And I eventually finished two short stories based on her. She had been hit by a drunk driver, abandoned on the side of the road, and found dead by her older sister who went out looking for her after she hadn’t returned home from a trip to the neighborhood convenience store. I was numb for weeks and much longer. Years later, only two main images of my friend remained: one of her dressed in a stylish suede leather fringe jacket of the era with her sparkling brown eyes and luminous smile on the Friday she left for that weekend trip to Maine—the one I saw. And another: her lying by the side of the road, alone, waiting for her sister to find her—the one I only imagined, yet could never rid myself of.
I didn’t know how to deal with that pain. There were really no such things as a grief counselors in “those days” and a man (even though I was only sixteen myself)—especially in my neighborhood—was expected to suck it up. It wasn’t until I started writing the novel that I understood that these events might be related. That perhaps one of the reasons my relationship with the artist didn’t work out had something to do with this traumatic event.
Finally I wondered, “Why is music so damn important to you?”
What authors, or books have influenced you?
A difficult question to ask a lit professor (smile) There’s a score—too many to name and I’ll miss a dozen or more. Fitzgerald, Ann Beattie, Andre Dubus, Jr., Ann Patchett, Roland Merullo, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, Billie Letts, Susan Cheever, Maya Angelou, Denise Duhamel, Susanna Kaysen, Joe Torra, Marge Piercy, Alice Munro—and, early on, the Russians, Camus, Ibsen, Dick Gregory, John Cheever, Eugene O’Neill…I’ll stop now (smile).
What are you working on now?
I’ve started another novel and am revising a linked collection of short stories.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Having owned an Indie publishing firm for over a decade that has released over 50 titles from other authors—many of whom are established and have published books from major houses—I’ve learned that no matter what your budget and how great the prose is, there are no magic answers to promotion unfortunately. So, I print and publish titles “traditionally” i.e. with an initial standard print run and distribute through Ingram and Baker & Taylor and also POD (print on demand) via Amazon and Lightning Source. I try to get them into the hands of as many respected review sources as possible, send old fashioned flyers via snail mail, work with Indie booksellers and their respective associations, work with libraries and book clubs, visit bookstores and libraries in person, have invested in Amazon Marketing ads, and used programs offered via the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association). Yet, I’m still on that quest for the illusive “best method” (smile).
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Find and hire a good and trustworthy editor. Ask for references, a sample of his or her editing process, and a free consultation. This is probably one of the most important decisions you can make as a new author. I think the “writing every day” advice that you hear very often is not practical for most of us who work other jobs and/or have child care responsibilities etc. And, that type of counsel can really set up an aspiring writer for failure, because he or she ends up feeling guilty if not at the writing desk every day. This leads to discouragement and lack of confidence. I’m not sure how successful an author can be without devoting a decent amount of reading to their chosen genre. (My definition of “success” is finding and being able to entertain readers—not necessarily garnering large sales numbers.)
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
In regards to writing (or the artistic life), when I was a graduate student at Boston University, the late short story writer and novelist Ivan Gold urged us to “stay away from negative people”—the ones who tell you, for whatever reason, you can’t do this. I’ve read (and assigned my students) dozens of books on craft and although I’m sure those have been more than helpful, Professor Gold’s advice was probably the best.
If we’re talking about life, following the Golden Rule is probably the best piece of advice I’ve heard.
What are you reading now?
“Father of Rain” by Lily King
What’s next for you as a writer?
I hope to get back to work on my new novel, before that though, I owe it to “Visions of Johanna”—those characters and their stories—to continue some promotional efforts. After that, it’s really in God’s hands. (I guess it’s probably in God’s hands anyway—smile.)
Thank you very much Awesome Gang for this opportunity to answer your questions and share my views. I really appreciate it.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
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