Below is part 2 of a transcript of Jay Lemming’s video interview with Mike Sahno. Click here to access part 1.
Video Interview with Mike Sahno: Author of Whizzers – Transcript #2
Jay Lemming: You know it’s interesting what you said. What I mean is, I think you’re right because writing is such a solitary activity. I was thinking that since you were talking about this being pre-internet. Now that the internet has been around it’s become kind of a regular force. I think writers as a group are more likely to flock to it to find their community because otherwise–I mean everyone does–but I think when you’re involved in a solitary activity like writing, you just need that community and you go right to it when it’s available.
Mike Sahno: Yeah, I mean it may depend on how social you are. I can do this one-on-one stuff that we’re doing right now all day. If I have to be in a group of people, I quickly tire. It doesn’t matter whether it’s online or not I’m like okay I’m out you know I have to slow down and regroup by myself to get my energy back. But yeah, it’s a different world now I mean this is early 90s–late 80s early 90s–so yeah. Brothers Hand is a story; just briefly it’s about a guy who loses his hand in a tragic fall and then falls even harder for his physical therapist. And of course, having read it, you know there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s in a small town, small community and there are a lot of other stories of other people and they all kind of know each other or they have some direct connections to other characters in it so there are multiple plots weaving their way through.
It’s funny as I was putting this thing together in those days I was very much in that literary fiction mindset having read all sorts of classics and I really kind of put it together in such a way that I was using a model similar to a pretty obscure book by a guy who was a big influence on Faulkner–Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, which I don’t even remember reading. The thing I know I did because I had that in mind was small-town people kind of loosely connected and there is a lot of drama and it’s interesting because just about four or five years before that I went into a movie theater with some other people and I saw this film called Blue Velvet directed by David Lynch which really shows you a lot of a sort of dark underbelly of what a small-town surface looks like. You know, like in the 1950s everybody’s smiling and waving and it’s very suburban but there’s some dark stuff going on underneath and that feeling probably had a little bit of an influence as well a lot of things influenced the book.
In addition to other writing you know movies and rock music and all that kind of stuff so when I finished that book, I was starting to send it out to people and of course I had to write it and then I had to type it up on a typewriter. That’s right. There’s this electric thing you plug into the wall and has keys just like a computer.
Jay Lemming: You know what you should do so people understand is just refer people to the movie Misery with Kathy Bates and James Caan.
Mike Sahno: Yes, a little bit of a typewriter lady. Yes, well the funny part is that I literally rewrote that novel three times in an editing process because first I handwrote it then I typed it up on a typewriter and, by then, computers were starting to come into play and people were actually owning personal computers.
Now we’re up to ’93, ’94. Right around there it’s still pretty rare and I’m sure the program was WordPerfect or whatever. But that’s what people used so I actually typed it again, putting it on to a floppy disk again. We’ll have to refer the young folks to ask your parents you know what a floppy disk is. Yeah and so I was sending it out to people. Eventually once I had a printable copy, I could make photocopies and I started working on the second novel Jana. I actually was pronouncing it Jonah until I found out that name is actually pronounced Gianna.
Jay Lemming: Oh gosh, all right I should have asked beforehand. I know someone named Jana and that’s how it’s spelled so I actually say it wrong.
Mike Sahno: You know, I’m sure mine is an alternate, less popular pronunciation of the same name. But I don’t know if it’s better to say it Jana because that’s the common way. The thing with that novel that’s pretty bizarre is that Brothers Hand was written in the third person and then I wrote Janna first person so at that point and really up until today, that’s the only novel out of the three that I’ve written best in the first person singular.
So here’s his character talking to you and she’s a lesbian who is not really out because it’s still kind of, you know, you’re taking a big risk and you could really have problems from that and even though she’s not vocally out, it’s pretty evident to some people that that’s probably what she is because of the way she dresses and comports herself and so she gets fired from her job working in a daycare center because of this.
Yeah, and you’re not supposed to fire people for that at least, and so then she goes through this battle of: do I fight this? Like what are you going to get out of fighting. You’re going to get your old job back, but you don’t want that job back.
It kind of goes back and forth and then it actually turns into kind of a road novel in a way because she just kind of punts. She just decides if she’s really in her 20s and still not sure what she wants to be when she grows up, she just decides to take off across the country and goes all over the place with her partner, which takes up a pretty decent section of the book. So, depending on how I kind of wanted that book to be–a book that you don’t have to sit there and anxiously stay up all night like you know you can’t put it down–instead, I want it to be a book that people can sort of luxuriate in and take their time reading.
It is by far the longest of my three books and for that reason and probably for the reason I mentioned, that it doesn’t have that page-turner element, it’s the least successful of the three unfortunately. But I mean one of them has to be less successful. It’s kind of like I said–they’re all my babies but I would like more people to dig into that because some people have read it and loved it. I have a friend who I went to high school with who’s gay. She was reading it and she laughed out loud while reading it on a plane, which is money to me. I mean that probably made my whole week.
So you know, it is what it is and then the third novel comes around, I was actually now sending these out. I had two books and I was sending them out and getting all the rejections and then I started working on Miles of Files.
It took a lot longer with that, just because I said that was on the side for a while and then that’s a whole other story which we may or may not have time for. Then, you know eventually I put them all out myself because self-publishing became respectable, finally.
Jay Lemming: Sure, no absolutely, and it is becoming more so every day that goes by. We’re both members of the Alliance of independent Authors.
Mike Sahno: Yes.
Jay Lemming: It is a London-based group but has members throughout the world. My sense has been over the last couple years of the United Kingdom and maybe Australia to some extent–they’re really kind of leading the charge and trying to push for the respectability of independently published authors even though they’re everywhere. I mean you and I, we’re both in the United States on the East Coast, so it’s just really great that organization exists.
Mike Sahno: I have a sense now that more than ever that the reason a major publisher will not take on a project like mine and represent it and pay any sort of advance is that it has nothing to do with the quality. They just don’t think they can make enough money. Sure, it’s really that simple. So once I came to terms with that and I went, okay, well guess what I’ll do it myself. And I don’t have to give all that money that is being made to them. That creates a great opportunity for readers. You don’t have to feel like you’re going be pigeonholed and spoon-fed safely published novels.
There’s a greater diversity and a greater amount of risk-taking that independent authors can bring to the market which is really welcome.
Jay Lemming: I was just going to say to wrap up that this is a really great overview of the three novels that you’ve written. I think that you know, being an author myself, you know you’re able to look back. At least I do and look at my own writing and almost analyze it as a third-party objective individual. Like, you take off your writer’s hat when the writing is done and you put on your critic’s hat and you look at this body of work like I might look at my novel and my short stories and say okay well I see these connections almost as though I’m not even the one who’s written it. So, my follow-up question for you is going to be: Are there themes that make their way through all three novels. Are there consistencies in themes or style or tone, and if you do recognize that, was it a surprise when you found it out or did you think, this doesn’t surprise me, this is who I am as a person, so this is naturally what I would write about? OR did you find there was some surprise and that your imagination really pulled an unexpected turn here and there in terms of feeding you elements of the stories that you ended up writing?
Mike Sahno: That’s a great question. I think some people probably have more of a sense of that than I do, and you did actually ask three different things: theme, style and tone. I would say that, for me, the style is probably the most consistent. I think as someone going back and editing and editing, and then editing my editor after I get changes sent to me, I do feel like I have something of a style that’s unique.
One of the greatest compliments I ever got on that was from my was from my old academic advisor, Liz Rosenberg, who wrote a blurb for Brothers Hand that’s on the back cover of the paperback version. It says something like ‘Mike Sano writes with blood and guts, with passion, humor and a radiant energy all his own’ or something like that. And that ‘radiant energy all his own’ is what really stuck with me because I feel like when I’m really in it, when I’m really in that zone and it’s almost like automatic, writing where I’m not actually sure I even know what’s coming next. I’m just doing my thing; there’s some man or some real magic that happens. I don’t have any kind of logical scientific explanation for what happens there, and I feel like all of the reading that I did in the past helped prepare me to be able to do that. But I don’t sit there and consciously make decisions like oh I’m going to I’m going to create a stream-of-consciousness section here or I’m going to make this read like Joan Didion. There’s none of that. It’s all really organic and very character-driven so I don’t.