interview with Scott Mastro

What genre do you write and why
Savant Books and Publication is a post-modern publishing house. Vonnegut was post-modern, Somerset Maughm's The Razor's Edge and Eric Arthur Blair a.k.a George Orwell whose writing is characterized by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense, revolutionary opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language and a belief in democratic socialism. Perhaps the genre of 'satire' has post-modern tendencies.

"Post-modern" entered the language in the 1870s and was used to describe the painting that was coming after French Impressionism. In the early 1900s, critics of religion began using it to describe the shortcomings they saw in religion no longer being viable in terms of many societal problems. The term was used to describe World War One and arrived in literature in the 1920s. The Lost Generation in Paris of the 1920s solidified the genre, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein…Henry Miller is probably a good person to consider when looking for an example. What comes after post-modern, what most people are writing now, what would that term be? Dickens, Tolstoy, Hugo, a lot of the novels we now call 'classics'  laid the foundation for post-modernism, that and the forty hour work week and more leisure time. Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is a spoof on the post-modern human condition. The American cartoon sitcom The Jetsons and maybe the science fiction genre could be construed as post-modern.

There are some who feel it is the artist's job to inform, to make the world better, to show the correct moral path…that just gets you in trouble. Still, at the end of the day, you want to write what makes you feel good. I write the way I do because it's fun and helps me understand the world as I see it. It could be said in one sense that that is what everybody does, but a lot of people are only copying what has come immediately before, working to write a book that's very much like another book recently published. We see a lot of novels about food and love recently.

Everyone will tell you how things are. They'll want you to buy something or buy into whatever they're up to. If you take the road of Henry David Thoreau with his 'the unexamined life is a waste of time,' you want to construct a lifestyle that helps you cope with all the dysfunctionalism that hounds us in these perilous times. Looking back over history, can anyone say when times weren't perilous?

Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo Journalism and the novels of Tom Robbins are good examples of post-modern work from the 60s and 70s on. Before that, Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka. With Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allen Poe's Inspector Dupin created the genre of the psychological detective mystery. From that we get Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Inspector Poirot and a million other things.

If I owned an oil well, I'd probably be writing some other way.

Here's a good example of post-modern and people today missing the point of what's truly important, two things. First, driving, there's a white Cherokee with an Impeach Obama bumper sticker. Whether you like Obama or not, this Cherokee's tooling along, thinking his finger's on the pulse of where this country should be going. Following him for fifty miles, his right turn signal is blinking the entire time. That's post-modern. Another example, we've become a nation of signs: No Pets on the Grass, Do Not Enter, No Right Turn 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., No Trespassing, No Exit, One Way, Speed Radar Enforced, on and on and on and on and on. It's become some new twisted norm to allow yourself to believe you need to be instructed on everything every step of the way, every single moment of the day and still claim to be enjoying a free and unfettered lifestyle.

British Petroleum screwed up the Gulf, but their petrol stations are still doing brisk business. That's post-modern. It's more important to appear to be cool than to actually be cool. We write to say what we have to say. I've been told I think too much. I've had worse things said about me. I've also had a number of things thrown at my head.

In the neighborhood coffee shop, a guy stepped in front of me. "Oh, excuse me, did I jump in front of you?" he said, in a light blue, argyle sweater. I joked how he didn't really care if he had or not, in a friendly way, saying, "The new attitude helping everyone cope is to feign compassion. You come upon an accident on the highway. You stop, get out of your car, run to a victim lying in the road, you kneel down, hold his head in your hand and say, 'Help is on the way.' Then you get back in your car and drive on to wherever you're going." He agreed he didn't really care either way.

The US was the last major industrialized nation to finally get healthcare. Less than a year later, Republicans have regained a majority in the House. Their first point of agenda, repeal healthcare.

It might be correct to say post-modernism embraces the irony and absurdity we all find ourselves mucking about in, trying to make sense of our collective soul/zeitgeist and have a bit of fun while straining to make a living and provide ourselves with a decent life free of strain and intimidation.

Once, I went to the store to buy a bag of bags. When the clerk rang me up, she put the bag of bags in a bag and said, "Have a nice day."

You've done a lot of traveling. How do you think this helps your writing
You see that people are more the same than different, our needs, wants. Laughter is laughter everywhere, fear, hope, hunger, disease. The differences are superficial, clothing. Religion is odd. If there's one god, why are there so many religions? Why do people need religion at all, other than to keep tabs on people, make them all the same and conduct brisk warfare?

There are places in this country where there are three churches on one block. It's like three Starbucks at one intersection.

Traveling teaches you your limits, what you'll put up with and what you won't…what you'll tolerate and what you'll punch somebody in the face over. Spammers…they deserve a good pop in the snout, and people who think I give a damn about their ringtone and when they're getting a call. Talking really loud on your cell phone in the library harkens back to the previous question.

Traveling makes a person more themselves. It's an education minus the high cost of a formal education.

Traveling, you can't take a lot. Possessions become less important. George Carlin talked about packing to go to Hawaii. When he gets to the big island, a friend says, "Come over to this island." Now he is faced with packing a smaller version of his 'stuff' that is already a smaller version of all the stuff he has at a home. It's like a bag of bags in a bag.

Here in the US, we have mobile home parks where people travel with their home, literally. They pull in, park, flip switches and rooms whoosh out the side, canopies, lawn furniture, wall tvs. Walmart offers their parking lots to these people. There is speculation Steinbeck's Travels with Charley is mostly fabrication. There are two types of writers: Those that write in the same place every day and those that can write anywhere. D.H. Lawrence was the latter.

Traveling offers an abundance of opportunities to experience paradigm shifts.

I have a friend, the inspiration for the Rocky character in the last story, Circle 'Round New Mexico, a mystical, wine-drenched 4th of July weekend rambling around The Land of Enchantment, the name New Mexico puts on its license plates. He says, "Scott always wants to be in a different state." I asked him, "Mentally or physically, like California to New York." He said, "Both." Everybody should have a travel buddy, someone who'll hit the road, sleep in fields, drink from the bottle and enjoy poetic sensibilities. It's like Kerouac and the beats. Go…just go, until you get somewhere.

Please tell us a bit about you book Blood Money
Why was I writing short stories in 2008, probably because everything was coming as a short story? The Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, was given a peer-award for her short stories and that was the impetus to lead a comeback of the form. I put ads in all the major cities, NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo...Wanted: Agent for Transatlantic Short Story Collection. The Savant editor, Doris Chu, saw my ad in Rome, Italy, knowing the publisher, Dr. Daniel Janik, a former NASA rocket scientist - Savant, wanted to publish a short story collection. She said, "Email me some stories." When a writer starts out, they are so excited when anybody asks for something. I literally opened her email, read it, clicked reply, wrote, "here are some stories," attached them and hit 'send,' no emotional attachment whatsoever, thinking I wouldn't here anything, it being Craigslist, the anonymity it offers, allowing us all to be so full of bull and ourselves and never acknowledge or follow up, but Doris did. She said, "You're a very talented writer," which is rare to get any comment out of anyone of influence in the business, and I took it as a stroke, but right after that was the publisher's information. It was an 'in,' an industry referral, what's called an RME, requested materials enclosed as opposed to an unsolicited manuscript. I wrote to the publisher: "Your editor asked me to send several stories," which sounds so much better than, "Will you please, please, please consider reviewing my submission and by some un-worldly possibility consider publishing my manuscript and making me rich and famous." Two months went by, an email came. I expected it to be a turn-down. It was the publishing agreement for Blood Money.

The orginal title was In Short: Tales from Two Sides of the Atlantic. Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. If it was a novel, it would have a self-professed title, but a short story collection...? I started looking at story titles, to pick one, like albums used to take a song title to be the album title. Mr. Emm's Bucket, no, Circle 'Round New Mexico, no, Blood Money, yeeeeeeaaaah. Then the second half got shortened, with added alliteration, Tales from Two Continents. The process has taken longer than first proposed, and that's part of the game. I have a publisher and an editor that 'get' my work.

Which is your favourite story and why? 
When the opportunity to publish a book of short stories came along, I looked at my back-catalogue for the best stories and wrote some new ones. The first story, The Desperate Breaths of Fallen Stars was originally entitled The Kiss. It is much improved and utilizes a technique learned from Faulkner, that of moving a character forward and backward in time in one sentence, so they get to look at themselves years later or before the moment they are in now.

Flutter & Drag is similar. It was supposed to have an element about racism, but was removed and now focuses more on illusion, failure and acceptance of the fact we and the world isn't always what we had hoped for. There is some re-referencing of the images of flutter and drag. This was learned by reading John Irving.

How to Get Into Heaven with Little or Nothing Down is an examination of the crossroads where religion and economics meet. It is by coincidence a favorite intersection where religion and literature tell us the devil likes to frequent. The gentleman in the story makes a living selling papal paraphernalia to tourists in a suburb of Rome, and what we learn is that he barters with Vatican-icaters on Vatican square for them, a biblical black-market, with Super Tuscan, the marijuana he grows between his grapevines. When he dies, he checks to make sure he has a bit in his pocket in case he has to haggle with Saint Peter to let him in. The idea for this character came from meeting a roofer going by the name of Poet who spoke Latin, could recite Shakespeare like he'd learned it in the crib and said, "I used to sell hashish to Vatican priests, right on Vatican Square. They'd see me coming and would leap over one another to get in line. I dressed like Christ with the long hair, beard, white robe and sandals, but nobody ever remarked on it, not even once."

Mr. Emm's Bucket is a playful homage to Kafka's Metamorphosis in that one morning Mr. Emm wakes in his Camden brownstone to find, quite unexplainably, he's got a bucket on his head. He makes the most of it and triumphs none the less, whereas Charley Quill finds himself in a much different malaise in A Very Tall Man with Very Deep Pockets. As if being unusually accomplished height-wise isn't oddity enough, the poor man's pockets are filled with stories, literally bursting at the seams. This comes from the meeting of a man, then bed-ridden, who said, after being told, for some inexplicable urging on my part, that I had most recently discovered the music of Thelonius Monk, he used to be Monk's European tour manager. How does the universe call these things down? He said, "You know how you'll get a song in your head and you can't get it out? Thelonius walked around with ten going all the time." Pushed into a corner, Charley, an otherwise decent fellow uses his disability in the name of self-preservation. It's the notion that sometimes good people do bad things.

There's a character I've created, Sam Creek, a sort of Lazlo Toth, who was brought to literary fruition by Don Novello, a Saturday Night Live writer best known for his Father Quido Sarducci character. Lazlo got his start in the 70s when he wrote to a number of dignitaries, in particular former President Gerald Ford, asking one and all for one of their old ties after singing their public-life praises. Mr. Creek is an octogenarian with a lot on his mind and the time and inclination to tell it as it is. He's a letter writer and in Blood Money he makes two contributions, one to the mayor and one to the chief of police. Of course, his letters fall on deaf ears, but in real life he's received a letter from Prince Andrew's social coordinator. Sam wrote to the prince after the prince got popped for picking up his girlfriend in a military helicopter. Andrew's social coordinator thanked Mr. Creek for his letter and his concern for Prince Andrew's well-being. The letter's around here somewhere.

A cleaning girl fulfills a dying woman's wishes in Cleaning Up After the Dead. Sometimes people deserve what they get. Rarely though do they get what they really need.

An English professor teaching in Poland loses his cat in The Theft of Szprotka (Shprot-kuh) and his students help him find her again. It was written for my English students about their town, with lots of description and directions for walking, up, over, down, behind, against, right, left, straight ahead, things in the market much like a language-learner would get in a textbook lesson put into a fun literary endeavor. I am looking forward to hearing from them when they get the opportunity to read it.

Fishing Day pits a man and his dog against a relatively common activity, finding it to be nothing of what he imagined, finally making a catch in a most serendipitous manner.

On March 20th, 2003, walking along a river's railroad tracks from one town to another, I said, "When I get to the next town, I'm going to have a new story," hence Rebel's Revenge, the tale of three brothers run up onto a ridge by Blue coats and about to charge down in the early morning in hopes of driving divided Northern forces back across the river. An odd aspect is their faithful canine runs straight into hell with them. This is a situation where it definitely pays to be shorter and less of a target. This is a powerful example of how history repeats and we never learn from our mistakes. Young men will forever die to defend old men's stock portfolio interests. Statistically, you either need a poverty class to raise an army or create a situation where people want revenge. Then you have the makings for a lively conflict certain to draw or drag in a sizable percent of the population. During the Civil War, people packed picnic lunches and went out to watch the battle.

The last story in the collection is a good example of what Tom Robbins calls one third South American animalism/magical realism, one third Eastern Mysticism and one third good ole American gumption. In Circle 'Round New Mexico good friends and cosmic road buddies Nez and Rocky hit the road down out of Denver, Colorado for a long and magical 4th of July weekend in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, high desert marked by red stone and sparse vegetation, and the animal-man folk spirit, Kokopelli, the human form of Coyote, the Native American Pan, Puck, Caliban, a deity of mirth and fertility, flute-wielding and fun-loving.  Fireworks, tequila kisses, fine-tuned mandolins, three legged dogs, songs howled into the night, down a high-desert road and from the bed of a broken truck all converge to make magic and mysticism mainstays in an adventure that takes the pair to cowboy bars, drum circles and hot springs with wise old Indians and frisky, Everclear-swilling bikers, taking the two cosmic adventurers full-circle back to Denver with an adventure in their pocket and the song in their hearts, Desert Train, a chronicle of their journey, on paper before they land home-free in the Mile High City.

Now these stories are a collection, once orphan children sleeping in doorways and under bridges now all lined up together in a big, long row of clean beds, all tucked away and ready to be adopted by a literary reading public.

What other projects are you working on?
Last year, 2010, saw three books rise up out of the keyboard and take shape on paper, the novels Sticks & Stonesand The Hardons – Go Hard or Go Home and the memoir VagabondageSticks & Stones is satirical speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is where the author takes liberties with what we've been told. Satirical speculative fiction takes wildly-comical liberties. Dylan Sticks & Seamus Stones steal a leprechaun's gold and head to America. What they don't know is that the gold actually belonged to a dragon, so they have a leprechaun named Duggan and a dragon named Evangeline following them as they pass in and out of London, New York City, Washington, D.C. and across the Wild West all the way to Gunshot, Colorado where they become mixed up with a gang of prostitutes, a midget, a hunchback inventor and day-spa twins in a plot to undo the scheme of Samuel Sidewinder Sullivan and Senator William Billfold Haggle hoping to bankrupt the entire territory. No matter how bad things get or how wrong they turn, the boys always come out of it, somehow, some way, like in George MacDonald Frasier's Flashman series. When the town burns down, they jump on a rocket the hunchback inventor's been working on and fly all the way back to Dublin, where they realize, like Candide, they could've stayed at home and managed just as well. It passed in and out of the hands of a Saint Martin's Press editor, but I've made a good contact from it.

The Hardons – Go Hard or Go Home was originally The Longshots – Go for Gold.  The Longshots is too generic. There are a number of things with this title. In this case it comes from a family being named the Longshaws and a bully kid names the family Longshot. They are in cup-stacking competitions, if you know what this family-oriented sport is. If not, it's worth googling. I changed the family name to the Hardins so the bully could dub the protagonists the Hardons, much more provocative, and much more original. It will probably be a while before anyone else title's their book, CD or whatever The Hardons. The Hardins throw themselves completely into the world of cup-stacking, sport-stacking is its professional name, while continuing a fierce generational feud with their next door neighbors. Bruce and Penny Hardin quit their jobs, get all their utilities turned off, stoop to shoplifting, bathing at their neighbor's backyard hose and growing marijuana to keep their dream of winning sport-stacking gold, and they do. It's a spoof on the family-sports genre in a Hatfield and McCoy battle between neighbors setting. There is a continuing scene where every time the neighbors, the Lempdeks, go to start their car, it's always out of gas, and they never do figure out why that is.

Vagabondage was a book I wanted to write after Sticks & Stones, just to be writing something. It ended up being the story of the year in which Blood Money got picked up. Its other title is Mobile Homeless ~ a man, a dog, a compact car. We were camping, couch surfing and doing a lot of visiting from May of 2009 to May 2010. It is half a how-to for getting published and half about successfully downsizing in a brutally shrinking economy. Fulcrum Publishing might have interest in this when they start taking submissions again.

Two books started last year and put aside The Prosecutor, Prostitute & The Priest wherein a priest is accused of murder, a look at law, sex and religion, that Akashic Press said it might take a look at after February, and The Mermaid of Marmot Hollow, which also started as a memoir, but it came at a time when nothing good was happening so not only was their the living through less than desirable events, there was the chronicling of it which made it twice as sucky. One day I caught a pack rat in the barn and didn't get him out of there until late in the day. The heat had got him. Somehow, between seeing his dead body with his tongue sticking out and the marmots on the rocks at the end of the driveway, the memoir morphed in a Young Adult novel about a mermaid swept away in a flood a hermit saves, turning his life around and embracing the society he turned his back on years before.

After these books get done, I'd like to write a sci-fi spoof entitled The Hunt for Amero Trader in which rocket scientist, Amero Trader gets demoted to collecting garbage in a spaceship shaped liked a soccer ball because King Bebs and Queen Tra-la-la don't want anyone acting smarter than them. You have to give it Bebs and Tra-la. As stupid people go, at least they're aware that they are indeed stupid, which puts them head and shoulders above all the other stupid people who don't have a clue as to just how stupid they really are. Amero Trader takes the Halafalootin Air Force of a chase across the universe, his having found the secret to the cosmos, outwitting them at every turn, hiding out with ex-patriot F.B. Alladocious on a planet riddled with signs of every sort and having a David and Goliath showdown with a huge, mutant creature named Three-Eye Myland, a word-play of the 3 Mile Island Nuclear Disaster.

After that, a novel about Medieval times wherein a sort of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel about trying to do good and really just getting in everybody's way of systematically screwing everything up, proving nobody actually likes a do-gooder, and that nobody really wants to makek the world a better place, just their world. There is also the genus of a novel about a cave man who strives to be the first really great man. He ends up being the first truly misunderstood individual.

After that I'd like to meet a rich girl, fall in love and settle down.

Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Savant Books and Publications at this time. Hopefully that will expand to several more publishing houses this year.

Anything else you'd like to add?
 It might not be possible to be rich or famous, but something more important, and Bruce Springsteen said this. "More than being rich and famous, I wanted to be great." He meant to write great songs that touch people. He has. It's not a bad thing to aspire to. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, "Mediocrity only sees itself." We've become a nation of extremes laid upon a bed of mediocrity. The most heinous atrocities don't make us flinch, but we're all cutting each other off in traffic, hardly anybody's using a turn signal, most people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom and expect me to shake their hand, we're all stealing office supplies from work and talking loud on cell phones in the library. We've lost our ability to externalize the good and internalize the bad, or channel it to good. We externalize the bad and are afraid to share the good. Example, Christmas' consumerism is all over television and catches everyone up in spending obligations, but nobody says, "Merry Christmas," to one another. And Americans have been trained to be uncomfortable about sharing their political and religious views without choking one another out. Peace is never coming around again, not in the US.  The wars will end, hatreds will seethe and in less than twelve years we'll be back at it. Unfortunately, evil does win all the time. It never sleeps. The nature of evil is that it must crush what's good. Goodness doesn't have that ability. The most amazing thing I've heard lately, Gandhi wrested India away from England without raising a finger in counter-violence…and got shot in the chest for it, and only one time in the history of mankind did ten percent of the population ask the evil power-mongers to lay down their throat-hold on a nation, the Hippies of the American 60s. In 1968, 25,000 people marched at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Forty years later, August, 2008, the Democratic National Convention, only one thousand people showed up for the Recreate '68 Rally. I was right there at the front with the lead banner, Mark Spadafora and his co-organizers, Ron Kovics in a wheelchair, the Peace organizer Tom Cruise portrayed in Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July. The police came for war, four cops for every marcher. A half hour after we dispersed, there was nothing in the air, no tingle, no vibe. John Lennon said it in 1970: "The Dream is over." All we can do is cope, try to keep self-dignity, and not "let the bastards get us down," as Hunter S. Thompson was fond of saying.


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