Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flashes From the Other World by Julie Weinstein

Julie Weinstein's new book, Flashes From the Other World is a collection of very short fiction - Flash Fiction. Her writing is clear, concise and colorful. Check out her story Camp Ghosts at Her book is filled with perfect stories for moments when you want read but you don't have a lot of time: doctor's offices, plane rides, or just evenings when the dinner is cooking and you're tired of watching the news. Here's an interview Julie did. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did when I read this.

Why should I read your book?
If you like magic realism, short stories collections, and characters that are quirky, offbeat and full of unusual surprises, then you’ll love Flashes from the Other World (All Things That Matter Press, Fall 2010).

The story collection is in the magic realism vein. I think of it as reality that is slightly bent as opposed to science fiction, which is completely bent. Stories of this nature have a subtle and bewitching way of blending the out of the ordinary with everyday life. In my writing, it's often a surreal landscape where the question of what is a dream and what is reality blur. Along those lines, it can be a place where the intangible becomes tangible, whether it's a ghost or a flower, vegetable or a grain of sand talking.
My story collection, Flashes from the Other World is packaged under the loose umbrella of paranormal, relationships and the surreal. There’s no telling which character in this collection you’ll identify the most with whether it’s those in search of love, or others questioning reality, or all the ghosts that stop by for a spell dispensing mischief and mayhem, or the talking animals including one that befriends Elvis, or the lovers that take what they need of each other and from other people’s weddings, or the wise snail finding its true color or a whipped can of cream espousing theories on the way the universe works. And along the way you will find delightful mini-trips that will touch your heart, even if they tug at your funny bone first.

What do you like about writing?
I love the play of words, the language, the chance to meet and know new characters, the enticement, the seduction of inspiration, the playful expression of creative energy, the chance to see whole new worlds unfold and all the surprising characters and stories that emerge along the way.

How do you reach your muse?
The muse is everywhere whether it’s words I hear at a coffee shop like “the Gorillas, “they weren’t photographed” or a key phrase heard at a party, “they might have trans organs,” or all the random words heard while I run on the beach, like “what’s that washing ashore it looks like split pea soup?” Or all the unusual things I see like a manikin’s body without the head being carried at the center of a shopping mall, or a pair of men’s jockeys left by a car tire, or the odd configurations of words that suddenly amuse or entertain me, like dichotomize or flummery, making me realize that I should use them in a story whether or not I have a clue how a character will respond to them. They simply must be written about, because they can be.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing in one form or another all my life. One of my earliest stories featured a lady bug with Kafkaesque tones I wrote at the age of nine. Anything involving words I jumped at the chance to create from high school to college to work life from poems, essays, marketing material – anything became a story. The past ten years I’ve seriously focused on fiction. My love of writing fiction began first with short stories, novels, and flash fiction and lately it’s an exploration of both mediums.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I write both short and long fiction.
What I love the most about flash fiction is that I can experiment more with language and take bigger leaps of the imagination. It’s easier to see the end of a story in short form than it is with a longer story. Novels are often multiple stories within stories, so it’s much more complex to navigate the various plots and twists. But then there’s the full development of a character’s psyche and life and that can be very exciting to see play out with all the layers that build upon each other. I do that thematically with much of my short fiction in Flashes from the Other World whether it’s the exploration of the paranormal to the intangible forms of nature having their say…I like to give voice to characters that are not typically heard.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
Stories are our humanity. They are our existence whether imagined or not. The writing and reading of stories brings us closer to others through the imagination, the heart, the soul – the everything! Stories allow us to move beyond ourselves and into other places and back again.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, T.C. Boyle, Alli Smith, Zadie Smith, Aimee Bender, Joyce Carol Oats, Katsuo Ishiguro, Alice Sebold and Barbara Kingslover.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?
I write by intuition. Logic occurs after the initial idea is explored, then I go back and find the core and linear structure of the story.

Now here is a really weird, but fun one...what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story?
In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on two story collections. One is a paranormal collection with a clairvoyant gal as the central, reoccurring character. It explores her life with her Grandmas, ghosts and friends from the age of five to about twenty. The other collection has a sensual tone and explores various single women’s journeys with dating and relationships.

To learn more about author Julie Weinstein visit her website at, or and her blog at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rachel's Children by Jean Rodenbough

Jean Rodenbough has put together a wonderful collection of essays and poetry concerning life as a child during World War II. She's linked the elements of her book with a narrative that describes what was going on during that difficult time. Some of the descriptions are personal and some cover current events from those years. This interview is a chance to get to know Jean as an author. Her book is available at Amazon.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you believe you achieved them?

I felt compelled to write about the time of World War II, in part because I was a child during that time and lived in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military. My purpose in gathering the stories of other children and their experiences was to illustrate the need for an end to wars, in light of the horrors perpetrated on non-combatants as well as the military.
There has been a growing volume of books which deal with that time, and I wanted to tell the story from my perspective as presented by the stories.
The test of whether my goal has been achieved will be the reactions of the readers of the book.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

I met Walter Falk, who now lives here in Greensboro, whose name was given me as one of the children in the Kindertransport, a rescue operation for (mostly) Jewish children in Germany and Poland, sending them to Great Britain, most of them to England but also to other countries in the British realm. Once the war began when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the program was ended. Walter and I have become friends and after getting his story, detailed previously in a feature by one of the writers for the local newspaper. We now meet occasionally and share our stories and also current activities. He is in his mid-80’s and remains active and interested in news events here and elsewhere in the world. His wife died a few years ago, and he lives alone in his home.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Making decisions about what to include. I found a number of collections of stories told by those whose childhood was spent in the midst of that difficult time. At first I extracted some of their experiences, but then realized these stories had already been made public, so I took them out of the book and simply summarized their circumstances. Instead, I was able to get stories from those I knew personally for the most part, and made their experiences the relevant ones. I still had to decide what to include and how to use them. The book took such a long time to write chiefly because of these decisions.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Aside from the sense of accomplishment in fulfilling my goal of writing about the children of that war, I had a variety of other good feelings in writing it. I felt strongly about making a case for never having another war, a hope that so far has not been fulfilled. Another major enjoyment, or at least satisfaction, was using my poetry as commentary on events and situations described. There are times when poetry can speak to deeply emotional conditions of hardship better than prose, whether in narrative or in historical detail.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ghost Runners by Robert Rubenstein

Warning: If you go to Amazon and check out the first few pages of Robert Rubenstein's book, Ghost Runners, you'll be hooked. It is immediately clear that this writer's words are backed by passion. Here's his interview:

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
When I was in my teens, I met a girl whom I loved. In her house, at night, I discovered some of the secrets of a kiss. I also heard the sounds of her father moaning loudly in his sleep. Laughing, my girlfriend told me it was just the war and the camps and the memories of death. So, as a teenager, I was introduced to Nazis. Almost thirty years ago, I learned of the story of two American Jewish Olympic runners who were not allowed to compete in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Had it been German anti-Semitism, it would have been understandable. But it was Americans, not Germans, who took their only Jewish Olympians off the team. The questions plagued me: Why? Could history have been changed, the ensuing Holocaust halted even for one day if these Americans ran? What happened to that twenty-one year old runner who seemed to just disappear?
So slowly did truth emerge: the complicity of American corporations: IBM, Chase, GE-the lists kept growing. Whom had they been serving? After all the years, I saw the vehicle that could answer those questions. The theme that had escaped me had reappeared like a ghostrunner.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I have a tendency to imagine too strongly and to follow an extraneous thought to distraction. If left to my own, I would write fantastic gibberish. But Historical Fiction sets the measured tones I need to stay on track. It allows me to write within a timed and known setting. I also love the possibilities of history, to wonder about the ‘Butterfly Effect,’ to see if I could blow my breath into the known and change, by the winds or celestial flows, the way things were to the way things might have been.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
When I was younger, I didn’t have many toys. I was a prolific reader. Like other kids, I liked to read whole series of books. I had intimate encounters with Tarzan in the jungle. I tried cases with Perry Mason. I was smitten with the Hardy boys. But even earlier, I loved when my father came home with the newspaper. The written word, for me, has always reminded me of a happy home.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?
No matter the path, the spirit cannot avoid suffering. How two young men deal with misfortune is a lesson for us all. It is not the sorrow but the existential choice to give that woe a greater meaning, a far reaching implication. In my story, Joshua Sellers is transformed by the process of his separation from an American dream betrayed by his own countrymen. He finds redemption in the alien surroundings of our indigenous natives and in the joy he has in passing on the gifts he had, but could not use, to disabled children.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
In GHOSTRUNNERS I wanted to address a wrong that does not go away. It has stayed in the public debate without modern challenge. The complicity of American corporations and certain names whose lineage is well known has still not been brought to American justice. I wanted to create controversy and bring the deplorable adoration by many Americans to Adolf Hitler under the light of dialogue and public scrutiny.
I also wanted to give body to an American hero, Sam Stoller. Sometimes, it is not the successful that should be remembered, but the ones who had the promise, but were not ever given the chance for glory.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Good, good question. Even fictionalizing with good intentions, people who have lived and died, the author owes a great debt to their memories and must be cautious before attaching one extraneous word. In GHOSTRUNNERS I could never be certain how to portray brave, decent men like Frank Wycoff or Foy Draper, Jesse Owens or even Charles Lindbergh. When I thought about their descendants, I did not want to trespass even lightly on a memory. One of the two protagonists was a beloved figure in sports, Marty Glickman. I would have wanted to contact his family for permission. I hope I portrayed his likeness with humility and love. Lastly, Sam Stoller was the forgotten Olympian, his life’s journey still unknown. I hope I put some flesh around him. I hope my words may find his descendants well.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?
My book is about the possibilities of what diversity could have done in sports to vanquish Hitler and his ideas of racial supremacy during the infancy of the evil of Nazism. Blacks and Jews and Native Americans: no master race could subjugate them for too long.

What projects are you working on at the present?Presently, I am working on a story of thwarted desires amid the beauty and violent history of New Mexico. Can one truly find happiness in a land of unsettled accounts? When the harmony of the mountains is disturbed, a secret group of Natives must extend their old influence on young, wayward braves. OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY is just that: a love story of the permanence of forgotten events or shallow passions, shifting with the sands of unremorseful times.

What's your most memorable childhood memory?
Ducking for cover under my desk to escape nuclear war in a fifth grade fire drill. I was not going to let the Russians get me. I held my head and did as I was told: I didn’t talk to my neighbor. I didn’t look at the glass windows. And I was saved.

What do you do for fun?I love to visit the National Parks and the southwest. I love to swim in the ocean.

What did your character do that totally shocked and surprised you and caused you to revisit your book?
When Joshua Sellers walked over to the Fuhrer’s Loge and raised his fist to deck Hitler out, I was as shocked as anyone. But I bought Joshua’s explanation. He really didn’t want to hit Hitler. He just wanted to give him a love tap from the Jewish nation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

This book tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish woman and an African American man. It is a powerful story dealing with racial issues. Rachel's mother, whom she calls Mor (mother in Danish), does not see race until she moves from Europe to America. After that it becomes such a powerful force to her she takes a desperate action to protect her children from being black. Rachel is the only member of her family to live through that act.

Rachel is biracial so she encounters bigotry from both sides. She is dismissed by the other students at her school because she acts white. Characters of both races are fully developed with failings as well as good qualities.

There are some coincidences in the story that are a bit of a distraction, but those aside, it is a beautifully written work filled with a great deal of power. It is written in a non-linear fashion that confused me a bit until I got used to the style. After I understood the time shifts I liked the choice to write it that way.

My one objection to the story was the treatment of a minor character who was homosexual. This was the husband of Rachel's aunt, who had died of Aids before the story began. He was described as funny and as willing to be with anyone. This struck me as odd in a book that handled other prejudices so well. I brought up the issue with my wife who said she felt the comments were simply true to the characters who spoke them. I suppose that's true, but I was still disappointed in the way that issue was dealt with.

Overall, I felt this book was wonderful. I would recommend it to anyone. I read it twice.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brooklyn born Vic Fortezza is the author whose interview I'm posting this week. His book, A Hitch in Twilight is twenty short works in the style of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock. What I find most interesting about Vic is the way he goes out on the streets to talk about his writing with anyone he can meet. This is what storytelling should be about, one on one contact with the reader, like a medieval minstrel. Technology has helped us get closer to people all over the world, but in many ways it has hurt our ability to talk the people who live close by. I love the fact that Vic is doing this with a book styled after TV shows from the fifties.

How long have you been writing?
Since 1975. I wrote three novels before I attempted a short story, Rude Awakening, which was based on the strained relationship of my immigrant parents. It was published in 1988 by Unknowns Magazine out of Atlanta. Thereafter, getting stories into print was sporadic until 1999, when I finally heeded the advice of friends and went online. I was amazed how easy submission was. I sometimes heard from an editor the same day, as opposed to a year or more using snail mail. It also saved me the expense and annoyance of dealing with the post office. It may have been the best thing I’ve ever done - ever.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I’ve completed a short story of 1000+ words, Oblivious. I will read through the file a couple of more times to make sure it’s as good as can be. It’s about the dangers we all face that we are completely unaware of, most of which never occur. It was probably influenced by the TV show Criminal Minds, which is extremely unpleasant but is to be commended for its uncompromising nature and reluctance to put things into a tidy politically correct context - except for its occasional playing of mopey songs at the end.
I’ve also submitted a novel, Killing, to All Things That Matter Press. It encompasses many aspects of the theme. Of the nine novels I’ve written, of which two have been published, I believe it is the most meaningful. I don’t know if anyone has ever examined the theme to such an extent.

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve been a teacher’s aide, a bartender, a messenger and, for nearly 25 years, a data entry person and supervisor at the Commodity Exchange in Manhattan. I worked in the madness of the pit and at the podium trying to manage the three circus that the open outcry system, which has largely given way to electronic trading, had been. It was a wonderful place for a writer, as the gamut of behavior could be observed. I even wrote a raucous novel about a year in the life of a supervisor, Exchanges. Trouble is, it is so vulgar and politically incorrect I don’t know that any publisher would touch it.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
During Christmas break my freshman year in college I spotted Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment on a rack at a newsstand. My two best campus friends, who were really intelligent despite the fact that they were football players, had mentioned him a few times. I was prepared for the humiliation of not being able to understand the book. To my surprise, I not only understood it but was amazed and frightened at how I identified with the main character. Prior to this, it was almost strictly Batman and Superman comics.
I also admired Henry Miller’s fearlessness, although in the end he may simply have been the world’s greatest pornographer. The novels I respect most are those that get life right, like Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, perhaps the most beautifully written of all.

Who's your best/worst critic?
I beat myself up pretty well about all aspects of my life, even something so silly as a once a week round of golf.

What's the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?
I often use a budding short story as a means of counting sheep. In the morning it’s about seizing the day, hoping for at least one book sale on the street.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
90% of my work is mainstream or literary. I’m fascinated by the bittersweet mystery of life, by what makes people tick, by peeling away as many of the layers of personality as possible. The other ten percent is borne of the love I had for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock as a youth. I’ve never found it difficult to differentiate between the two.

Vic's Website:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel:
Vic's 1st Novel:
Vic's Blog:
A Hitch in Twilight on Kindle:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Flashing My Shorts by Salvatore Buttaci

This week's ATTMP featured writer is Salvatore Buttaci, author of Flashing My Shorts. His short fiction is at times funny and at times powerful. His book is the perfect read to take on a plane or to carry along with you for any random reading time that might come along.

Here are Some Things That Matter to Salvatore Buttaci

What does your muse look like?

When I was a teen-ager I wrote a short story called “Man with Wheels” that told my version of the literary muse who visits writers and presents them with ideas for poems and stories. He had wheels for legs and feet, and you knew he was there because the spinning sound of his wheels matched the sound of ideas spinning in my head, trying so hard to escape to pen and notebook. He wore a dark-blue sharkskin suit, his eyes were lunar yellow, and in his arms he carried a flower basket filled with words that obediently, at his command, assembled themselves into sentences or lines, then paragraphs or stanzas until…eureka! before the writer’s eyes, without need of editing or revising, lay the finished story or poem. Then the man with wheels would roll out of sight until once more he’d be needed to break through the haze of writer’s block.

Of course, the story was meant to be humorous. To me it was as absurd as Erato, that muse lady in blue gown, from whom writers expect some inspiration. I find the whole idea of a muse hilarious. I rate it up there with the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

Sometimes writers find it difficult to admit that the writing craft is a gift, something to be developed and improved over time. They will attribute their work to a sudden burst of inspiration that, once down on paper, becomes sacrosanct and unchangeable. I saw this often when I taught writing on the college level. Students would write a story or nonfiction article, and despite my red-penciled suggestions, my proofreading signs, they would prefer taking the low C than aim for an A by making the work better. It was almost as though they felt guilty about tampering with that inspired first draft.

Ding dong, the muse is dead. She was never born. She does not exist. The blue gown, the diadem in her long blond hair, her svelte beauty…all of it an artist’s rendition of what literary inspiration might look like if personified.

When I think “Muse,” I remember that story of my younger days. The man is out there someplace spinning his wheels. In his arms he balances his word basket and waits for me to raise my hand and beckon him towards my writing space, but I leave him stranded out there, all revved up and nowhere to go.

I believe inspiration comes more easily when one is committed to writing. It is hardly enough to write occasionally. In fact, the more often a person writes, the more easily the writing flows. Daily writing comes highly recommended by those bestselling authors who ply their craft hours a day, including weekends.

While there exists no writer-friendly muse, with or without wheels for feet, there are words locked inside our minds that beg for release. I imagine they are all packed like treasures in huge wooden chests, waiting to be opened, to be set free, to fly from the castle hall in which they have been imprisoned. Freedom via the open window or the heavy wooden castle door is attained by daily writing, the reading of books about the craft of writing, building a vocabulary, and the books of successful writers.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

We often gravitate towards what we ourselves enjoy. Writing has always been a passion of mine…fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, each for different reasons. But brevity has always been my objective. I keep poems to a maximum length of 40 lines. Rarely have I exceeded that length. As for fiction, while it is true that I have written two novels, full-length plays, and short stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words, my favorite kind of writing is fiction under 1,000 words. This is not to say flash fiction is the easiest to write because of its brevity, just as saying as much about the haiku would not be quite true. As
I see it, the job of the flasher (pardon me, the flash-story writer) and the haikuist becomes more difficult because their goal is to fit a world of a story or emotion or imagery into a confined space of either 1,000 words or less, or 17 syllables or less. The flash and the haiku demand that certain criteria be achieved. Certain elements that define them must be written into them or they fail within the context of their limited space.

Flash fiction appeals to me because of the challenge it presents. I must tell a story with a hook of a beginning, enough of an enticingly descriptive middle, and a satisfying conclusion. Editing becomes paramount as the writer strives to reach the final draft. All unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs need to be given the literary boot because what does not add to the flash detracts from it. A flash is not simply words no longer than 1,000. It is a story with the same requirements as its taller brother, the short story, and giant brother, the novel. The flash is the iceball packed solid and hard. The short story and the novel are snowballs, but none of the three can fall apart once the thrower sets it sailing.

In my collection of 164 short-short stories, Flashing My Shorts, I tried hard to vary the stories so that readers would encounter different characters with different motives, different situations and settings, within different genres. My intent was to be true to myself and provide precisely the kind of book I love reading, one filled with humor, horror, crime, love, science fiction, time travel, alternate history, post-cataclysmic. I wanted them to run the gamut so each flash would stand apart from the next one.

The same holds true for my poetry. When I wrote A Dusting of Star Fall: Love Poems
India: Cyber-wit Publications, 2006), I included those poems I felt that readers could and would relate to. Over the years of our marriage, I’ve written and given Sharon a small book of my love poems to commemorate her birthday, St. Valentine’s Day, and our wedding anniversary. One day I asked if she’d mind if I shared the best of those poems in a book others as well could read. She said yes and so did Cyber-wit Publications.

What motivates the kind of book I’ve written has been, “What would I enjoy reading?” I can’t even conceive of writing a book I myself would not bother to read.

You ask how I balance writing poetry and writing fiction, my two main kinds of writing. That’s a good question. I think each involves a different mode of thinking. With fiction I first imagine in my head…set the scene, so to speak…of what the story is about. I see the characters, the problem to be resolved, the time and place of the action, some dialogue, and finally the resolution in what might be something you’d see in a minute YouTube video. Next, I dream up the strongest hook I can to start the flash ball rolling. Then in a conservation of words, I tell the story with an equal balance of narration, description, exposition, and dialogue. Lastly, I dream up the strongest possible ending.

With poetry it’s entirely different. I sit at the computer keyboard and screen and type out the first line or two that pop into my head from wherever the poem stuff is stored! For example, I’ll type, “four fingertips gripped the eaves/she held on for not-so-dear life.”
And then I continue to type until the first draft is done. I have no clue where I am heading. It’s like a train ride into dark night. I won’t know where I am going until I get there. Sometimes I am not happy with what I find and I highlight, then delete, the entire poem. Sometimes I save the best line or more. And there are those times when the poem’s first draft satisfies me enough that I don’t mess with it.

Usually I write two or three poems daily, as well as one or two flash stories. I carry a pocket notepad where I jot down any ideas that come to me or new vocabulary I read or dialogue I hear. In this way I keep myself stocked with the raw materials to write more and more poems and stories.

How long have you been writing?

My wife tells me, “Please don’t tell them again how you started writing! I’m dreaming it in my sleep!” But the truth shall set us free, so here goes. I was nine and it was a day before Mother’s Day. I had no money to buy my mother a gift. I had money, but I’d spent it on green grapes and a strawberry malted, all of which cost me back in 1950 only about 40 cents. If I hadn’t been so selfish, I could have bought her a napkin holder from Schramm’s Hardware for 30 cents and had enough left over to buy another malted.

I took a sheet of school loose-leaf paper, folded it like a greeting card, drew a heart on the front and wrote HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MA. On the inside left page I wrote a quick poem called “To My Mother.” On the right side, I wrote, “Love, your son Sal.”

Of course, my sisters gave me the evil eye because, unlike them, I had no gift, only a greeting card, one I didn’t even buy. But when Mama opened my card and read my poem, she started to cry.

“Ma, what’s wrong?” one of us kids asked.

“It’s beautiful!”

“The card?” asked Joanie, hardly believing Mama would love it more than the kerchief she bought her.

“This poem your brother wrote.”

Then Joanie and Anna read it, but it didn’t impress them much. Anna was in the 8th grade and read so much better in school. Joanie was in the first grade where “Roses are red, violets are blue” type poems probably outshone my attempt at poetry.

When Papa heard Mama crying, he came into the kitchen, wanting to know “What’s going on?”

“It’s beautiful!” my mother repeated, then handed the poem to him.

Papa read it aloud. Honestly, the poem was, pardon the oxymoron, “pure crap.” But he had tears in his eyes too. What gives? I wondered.

My father, who had studied in the seminary back in Sicily, was well versed in the works of Dante in their original tongue. He held the poem high in the air and waved it like a flag. “This is better than Dante!” he said. “Your poem is beautiful.” I thought to myself, one more beautiful and I will eat my poem and throw up. “Would you write a Father’s Day poem for me?”

I smiled. “Pa, we got a whole month.”

“Go write it now,” he said. “I can’t wait that long.”

My parents encouraged my writing from that day on. If they caught me doing nothing, they’d ask, “You did all your homework? You studied for that test?” And when I said yes to both, one or the other would say, “Then go write a poem or a story. We want to hear it.”

There were times I would rather have relinquished my title back to Dante, but they kept after me. “Got a poem? Got a story?” They never said, “I’m too busy to read or hear what you wrote. Ask me later.” My parents would actually stop what they were doing, sit down and either read my work or ask me to read it to them.

Because of their praise and belief in me, I tried to learn more and more about good writing. On Saturdays I’d go to the library and read books of poetry or how-to-write books. I’d keep a notebook of what writing tips I’d find and incorporate them into my own writing. I’d keep a special notebook where I would jot down new words and their definitions. I’d arrange them in alphabetical order. Then I’d memorize them and use them in my story.

In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and was elected editor-in-chief of the yearbook. At 16 I got my first essay published in the Sunday New York News. That same year a very short poem called “Charlatan” was published in Bardic Echoes. It went like this:

You promised to mend my broken heart.
Instead, I was treated and released.

So writing became part of me. I wrote to please my parents and my teachers, and to assuage whatever sorrows came in my life. When my father died in 1987, I filled three notebooks with memories of him. I suppose it was weird of me to think somehow I could keep him alive that way, but published stories of him do bring him back to me and I get to share him with readers who never had the pleasure of his company. [For example, see “Papa’s Gold Coin” in Cup of Comfort for Fathers, published in April 2010.]

How long have I been writing?

Sixty wonderful years!

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’ve nearly completed the editing of my follow-up collection of short-short stories, which I will submit to Deb Harris for consideration. I have a feeling she is going to love this one too!

Next I will be editing two novels, one of them called Carmelu the Sicilian; the other is called Denver-under-Dome. The first tells the story of a Sicilian-born American movie actor and the other is an alternate-history time travel scifi.

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

In 2007, I retired from nearly 30 years teaching on all levels of education. Prior to that, I was a marketing exec for a New York City mailing list company. In my younger days I worked in an airplane factory as a power, sensitive, and radial driller of aeronautical pistons. I was also a questioned document examiner for a time, and part owner of a janitorial maintenance firm.

They have all impacted on my writing because I have found material in my workplace experiences to fill several books!

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

As a boy I read the poems of Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni, poet laureate of Arkansas, back in the 1950s. She more than any poet hooked me into writing poetry. Later in life, in addition to a myriad list of international poets, I favored Leonard Cohen of Canada, Caesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Salvatore Quasimodo, and the old bard from Strafford-on-Avon!

As for novelists, I favored Hemingway, Dos Passos, Goldman, and Mickey Spillane. Now some interviewers wonder why Spillane. I tell them few could write with the ease of Spillane who told a story as though I were his only reader. I also like Follett and Folsom.

What's the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?

After kissing my love goodnight, I say my night prayers, asking God to make me a better person in the morning and to heal all those in need of His mercy. The first thing that comes to mind in the morning is a quickly fading dream I quickly jot down in my notepad by the bed.

Who's your best/worst critic?

My wife Sharon is my best critic. She can hear me recite a poem or story and know exactly what’s either missing or needs to go the way of the garbage bag. My worst critic is myself because sometimes I can’t let go of the story or poem and say to myself, “Enough already! The damn thing’s done!”

List, in one sentence, the three questions you'd ask your favorite author over lunch.
In one sentence, answer them.

I’d ask him how much of the book was his own writing, not the editor, did having an agent help him to become successful, and how much of what you write comes from his own life.

The book had several more characters and one or two other subplots, which the editor found too cumbersome and deleted them.

After two of my books started earning money, I hired an agent to save myself the grief of promoting my work, which gave me more time to write.

Quite a bit of what I write is based on personal experiences, and that’s why I advise writers to be observant, to notice everything, record them and internalize them into their writings.

What's your most memorable (not necessarily your favorite) childhood memory?

It was the day my father asked us if we knew how much he loved our mother. “I’d give up my right arm for her,” he said to us. The image of Papa with one bloody arm shook us up a little, but then he added, “because that mother of yours would give both her arms for me!”

Or now here is a really weird, but fun one...what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story. In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

In my childhood the little girl next door passed away from pneumonia. One night shortly after I saw her mother come out to the garbage can, lift the lid, and toss into it two or three dolls. I didn’t write the story until recently and put it into my upcoming flash collection about a woman of the streets who never has time to buy her little daughter a doll. She spends all her money on expensive perfume. When the child develops pneumonia, she leaves the doctor with her child, and runs out to buy her that doll. She brings it home but her daughter dies in the interim.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
Now that I am retired, I write about four hours in the morning and two at night.

I’d write more hours, but I love my wife and need to spend time with her. If I lock myself up at the computer, she’ll forget who I am and I’ll spend the rest of my days alone.

Salvatore Buttaci can be reached by e-mail at or you can check out his blog: or
or you can go to, click on BOOKS and type in “Flashing My Shorts” and read the reviews.