Satire as coping mechanism
An interview with author Gregg Sapp
The following is an interview Robin Nesbitt of the Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Library conducted with Gregg Sapp at the Ohioana Book Festival, April 2021
You can find Gregg Sapp’s books on the Evolved Publishing website or your favorite online bookseller.
Here’s a brief description of Gregg’s latest novel, Thanksgiving, Thanksgotten, Thanksgone.
When the doors to the North Columbus Wow-Mart open at midnight on Black Friday, ringing in the “Wowzathon” event of the century, chaos breaks out.
A rampaging mob threatens to tear the store apart. Santa Claus is drunk, and a washed-up Halloween diva takes his place. The store manager’s daughter disappears. A turkey breaks loose. The security guards go into hiding. Somebody is giving out psychedelic brownies. Rookie undercover journalist Mazie Tuttle’s boyfriend gets lost trying to rescue her. All the while, three very different shoppers battle to figure out the clues leading to a hidden treasure.
Then a shot rings out. Mazie has landed right in the middle of a major story... if she can survive to tell it.
ROBIN NESBITT: What is your latest book about?
My latest book, Murder by Valentine Candy, is the fourth volume in my “Holidazed” series of satires, each of which is set around a different holiday. I invite you to check out me reading from “Holidazed” novels on the Author Content page.
Murder by Valentine Candy is about Adam Erb, a conservative blogger with a reputation as a ladies’ man who is found murdered in his limo, having been force fed a massive overdose of erectile dysfunction medicine in the form of little candy hearts with messages on them.
His ideological adversary, Huck Carp, a sociologist at The Ohio State University, is arrested for the murder. With a little help from his friends at the local donut shop, Huck solves the crime and gets the girl.
What was your inspiration/influence to write this book?
My inspiration for writing satire is the irony and absurdity of being human in the modern world. Our species has created technology that’s beyond its level of maturity. In the early days of the internet, a colleague of mine said he believed that the Net was the democratization of information. I think it is more like the democratization of misinformation, as well as its whims, biases, vanities, and delusions. Satire is my coping mechanism.
Specifically, though, for Murder by Valentine Candy, I always wanted to write a murder mystery. I admire writers in this genre for their ability to manage so many plot threads and bring everything together in the end. It was a challenge for me. I’m no Agatha Christie. My editor found clues in the text that I didn’t intend but will gladly take credit for. Call it beginner’s luck. However, Murder by Valentine Candy is technically a satire of a murder mystery, so its more of a “why done it” than a “who done it.”
How did you choose the characters for this book? Why?
I often read newspaper advice columnists to get ideas for characters. That’s a good laboratory for studying human imperfection. Once I write a character that I like, I can’t let go. I generally get along much better with my characters than with real people.
The major characters in Murder by Valentine Candy all appeared in my earlier novel, The Christmas Donut Revolution. And the main character in both was a minor character in my first novel, Dollarapalooza. In these novels, he grows from a nerdy high school student to an idealistic undergraduate to a crime-solving professor of sociology. The primary thing that appeals to me about my characters is that they are all messed up, in one way or another. I find their flaws endearing.
What is your writing process like?
I spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing. The thing that I enjoy most about writing a novel is that it becomes the background for all my thoughts, whether I’m driving, working out, walking the dog, or even sleeping. It is always rolling around in the back of my mind. My wife recognizes the look on my face when I’m lost in profound ruminations about my book. She says I look like I’m having an out-of-body experience. But a lot of the time when it looks like I’m doing nothing, I’m really thinking. So, I do my best work when I’m not actually sitting at my desk in front of my computer writing. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve stirred up a critical mass of images and ideas, so all I have to do is put them into words.
How do you balance day job with your writing?
For the last year I’ve been retired, so there’s no conflict. Finally! For twenty-five or so years, though, I shelved my creative writing ambitions while I pursued a career. When I graduated from college, I wrote several short stories, got a couple published, and also two novels that were never published, nor did they deserve to be. I think that all copies of them have been destroyed, for which I am grateful. Then I went to graduate school and got a degree, and then another. Soon, I was a working professional in academic library administration. In academe, of course, people measure your worth by the number of publications you have, so I channeled all my literary efforts into professional writing and published some fifty articles, five technical books, and hundreds of reviews… very little of which anybody ever read.
In 2007, I took a sabbatical and used the time to write my first real novel. Entitled Dollarapalooza, it was published by Northern Illinois University Press. Afterwards, I simply could not go back to academic writing. Now I’ve published six novels, around twenty short stories, and even some poetry… and, probably, very little of which is ever read. But I’m working on that.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
I’ve taken undergraduate and graduate courses in creative writing, and I’ve also attended workshops and conferences on the subject, and I’ve distilled all that information, as well as my own experience, into the observation that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every writer is different. What works for me won’t work for others. If you write best naked, in the basement, by candlelight, then go for it.
To me, the most important thing is to find your own voice. It took me a long time to figure out what kind of a writer I was. Did I want to write minimalist, realistic stories or highly symbolic psychological stream-of-consciousness reveries. Did I write so-called literary novels, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, humor – what? I couldn’t settle on a consistent style. Whenever I read a book that I liked, I wanted to write like its author. Eventually I figured out that the most important thing to me was to make writing fun. Maybe that’s why I became a satirist – so I wouldn’t have to take myself too seriously.
What has the publishing process been like for you?
I didn’t think that I would ever get my first book, Dollarapalooza, published. I sent queries, sample chapters, even the whole manuscript to hundreds of publishers and agents. It was finally accepted by a university press – NIU Press from DeKalb, Illinois – from hundreds of other manuscripts straight out of the slush pile. It was a stroke of blind luck on the order of getting struck by lightning. I only learned how it happened much later when, by pure chance, I happened to be in DeKalb one day and dropped in for a visit.
There I met the secretary who opens all the mail. She told me that its her practice to open any new manuscript to a random page and read one paragraph, just to get a sense of it. As serendipity would have it, she opened my manuscript to a scene in which the main character was wearing a DeKalb flying ear of corn baseball cap.
She tagged that page and fast tracked it to the editor’s desk, and the rest is history. Given a choice between luck and talent, I’d choose luck every time.
Since then, I’ve published five novels with Evolved Publishing, an indie ebook/print-on-demand publisher founded by a mystery writer named Lane Diamond, who is from Wisconsin but now lives in Transylvania. My teammates include an editor from Portland, Oregon, and an artist from Great Britain. The thing I like about publishing in this venue is that the time from submission of manuscript to publication is about two months. And I get a much higher royalty percentage than is common with traditional publishers.
What’s your next project?
Book Five of the “Holidazed” series will be Thanksgiving, Thanksgotten, Thanksgone, available will be available in mid-2022 (update: available now).
After that, Book Six will be set around New Years Eve, 1999, and will be published later in 2022. Like the other “Holidazed” titles, they are set in Ohio. I look forward to promoting both at future Ohioana Book festivals. Somewhere down the road, I want to write a baseball novel.
What do you like to read?
Things that hardly anybody else reads. That means a lot of stuff from indie publishers of fiction. Most recently, I read and reviewed for Reedsy International a wonderful satire about the state of public discourse on the internet, a book entitled Oof, by an author who goes by the name Strobe Witherspoon. Another relatively unknown book that I loved is The Gopher King, by Gojan Nicholich.
I also believe that every reader of fiction should subscribe to at least one literary arts journal, such as Columbus’s own Story magazine, or the Journal at Ohio State University, or the New Ohio Review, or the Cincinnati Review, or any of a number of other fine literary arts journals in the center of the literary universe, which of course is Ohio.
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