Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Moment With Salvatore Buttaci

Tell us about your most recent release.

What else do you have coming out?

I have two I’m working on right now: Poems in the Open Air and How to Be a Poet in 20 Easy Steps, both of which I hope to offer as Kindle editions on Amazon.com.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

That after almost 60 years of writing and seeing my work published, I am still writing, still selling books and e-books to delight readers out there. If they type in my name and do a search of “Salvatore Buttaci,” they’ll get a good idea of the books, stories, poems, articles, and blogs I’ve written.

What's the most blatant lie you've ever told?

Before I met my wife Sharon we were pen pals. I lived at the time in New Jersey; she lived in West Virginia. My intention was never to meet her. I simply enjoyed writing letters. It was a kind of safe relationship after a tempestuous divorce eight years before.

So here comes the blatant lie: I wrote and told Sharon I was 5 foot 9! A year later when my Amtrak train pulled into Hinton Station, the truth won out: Sharon must have wondered: 5 foot 9, yeah right! Now after nearly 17 years of marriage she’ll kid me with, “How tall did you say you were?” And I tell her, “5’6” now but over the years I lost about three inches.” In other words, a compound lie!

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

I was a freshman in college at the time and submitted two stories for publication in the campus magazine. The editor, a rather pompous senior, would tell us often how he had his writer’s finger was on the pulse of current literature. He rejected both my stories, claiming they were too similar in plot. “So take one,” I said. To which he smirked and rolled his eyes. But he didn’t. The following year I submitted both to the new editor and he accepted both for the same issue! It taught me a lesson: never place too much importance on the criticism of another unless it’s shared by a good number of others.

How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

I learned a long time ago that writers who buckle under to bad reviews should quit writing because it’ll never happen that everyone will love what they write. There will always be rough edges to a poem or story the author does not see clearly enough to smooth out in revisions but an objective reviewer will. When I get bad reviews I take a deep breath and move on.

When are you going to write your autobiography?

My life story so far has not been so bio-worthy I need to record it in a book to sell to those whose lives are more glamorous than mine. I did, however, write some bio-flashes in my recent flash collection 200 Shorts under the pseudonym “Anthony Lanzetti.” In these short-short stories I changed everyone’s name because once I did not and an irate cousin of mine took issue with something I wrote. “But it’s true,” I told him to which he replied, “It never happened.” Now we tread lightly around one another when we speak.

Are the names of the characters in your novels important?

The name of a character needs to ring true for me. It has to fit that particular character so that readers can imagine him or her in the context of the plot. If you read through a list of first names, you can recognize the ones that are strong, light, and neutral. Then a surname is added that does justice to the selected first name. Or a surname that does not seem to fit with the first name can reflect that character’s independence or inflexibility.

What about the titles of your novels?

My first flash collection is called Flashing My Shorts. I thought it was a catchy title that might draw in potential readers, though one lady e-mailed me asking if my book was an exposé of an obscene flasher! I believe a book, story, or poem title is quite important since it the first thing a prospective book buyer sees. That title must serve as the first hook before the next hook, which is the beginning of the written work.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Hemingway once said, “If you want to write novels, don’t get married.” Now I am not saying anything derogatory about wedded life. I’d be marooned on this planet were it not for Sharon’s company, but being married does not lend itself to continuous hours of writing, something that may not happen often but when it does, it is a Herculean feat to distance oneself from the keyboard or pad. Being a writer, novelist or otherwise, one yearns to write as often as possible. I keep a notepad and pen close by through the night in the event a promising line of a poem comes to me or an opening sentence to a crime noir story or a quote for an article on how to find true peace in this world. That same little notebook and pen are in my shirt pocket all day, at the ready for that scribbled note.

What's your favorite fruit?

The orange. I’ve even used it metaphorically in my poems: the orange sun, the infant fire, etc. I love the taste of an orange. Sometimes I’ll go to the grocery store and buy a huge bag of them so for breakfast I can eat one and then in the evening while watching TV news eat another. “Don’t you ever get sick of eating oranges?” Sharon more than once asked me. “When I do, I’ll switch to peaches!”

How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

Are you accusing me of murder? Just kidding. By “done away with” you mean left by the wayside, abandoned. I was never in my younger days much for the extroverted lifestyle. I had a friend or two, didn’t feel comfortable in crowds of people celebrating or mourning, and I wore my loneliness like a badge of honor. I never followed the wrong crowd nor the right one. Now in my seventies, I embrace the many friends I have at church, the senior center, family, neighbors, and poker friends. Looking back on my life, I will admit I could have been kinder, more compassionate, less egotistical, but these admissions are all leaves burning in the barrel of time. I try not to dwell on what I’ve since confessed.

Ever dispatched someone and then regretted it?

Yes, I have. A fellow I met in first grade back in 1946 taught me the lesson of standing up for myself. How? On that first day of grade one while on the line to enter the school building Vinnie called me “Pewee,” and like one of the little fairy-tale pigs I ran crying and squealing all the way home. Then my father warned me if I did not sock that boy on day two, Vinnie would adopt me as his pet punching bag and Papa would sock me when I got home! It all worked out. I socked Vinnie. Vinnie liked my courage and we became fast friends but not for life. We were friends until grade four when I moved away from Brooklyn to Utica, NY. Then in the 80s we reunited and rekindled our friendship, but it fizzled out a few years later. I regret that.

Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

I was attending the University of Miami for a semester back in 1960 when a gang of us decided to cut classes one day, buy some beer, and drink on the beach. Someone in a beachfront house called the police. We spent a couple of hours behind bars, waiting for family to rescue us.

So when were you last involved in a real-life punch-up?

When I was fifteen my father had me join the Police Athletic League––P.A.L.––to learn how to box. Being short (like my father), I agreed it would be to my advantage learning how to defend myself. For a while I loved it and started telling my father I wanted to make it my profession instead of studying law or journalism. He didn’t like that, then proved it by talking to the police captain about arranging a fight for me with one of the very tall boys whose arm reach could keep me dancing two feet away and whose glove could and did knock me out.

If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

I wouldn’t write it down here in this interview.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A kind and compassionate child of God who’s destined to one day reach Heaven.

What is your favorite bedtime drink?

Water. Sometimes a V-8. Never coffee or tea.

Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?

I did work in a factory during the two years I took a break from college. I was a driller (power, sensitive, and radial) in an airplane factory where I drilled holes in jet pistons. My father, a welder, worked in the next department and we’d share our lunch hour together.

Do you believe in a deity?

Once a fallen-away Roman Catholic, I returned to the fold about 20 years ago, thanks to my late mother’s prayers. I wholeheartedly believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.

Do you ever write naked?

Yes, and I will now write naked again: naked, naked, naked, naked.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Good one. I haven’t a clue.

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Don’t make writing the end-all-be-all of one’s existence. Keep the heart open for business. Write horror stories but don’t live them. Be compassionate and remember always that we live in a transient world. All things including us are destined like a novel to eventually reach The End.

Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or a movie?

Yes, as David Shearl in Henry Roth’s 1934 novel Call It Sleep.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novel?

Remaining committed to writing whatever number of words you’ve agreed to each and every day as well as never being satisfied until you’ve reached the end of all needed revisions.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

I wrote a two-act play, The Party, in my senior year of college. The magazine staff did a reading of it one May evening days before graduation. In the audience was a college scout from Yale School of Drama who stopped me on the way out. He said that on the merits of my play he could get me a scholarship to Yale, but I laughed it off. “I’ll be attending the University of Rome in Italy,” I said, “but thanks anyway.” As it turned out, I did not attend the college in Rome because I could not at the time speak Italian.

Do you research your novels?

I research everything before and during my writings.

How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?

If you quit before the race is over, there is no way you could possibly win.

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Why not? Is it a crime? Sometimes my jokes are funny. I wish they were funny all the time!

Do you admire your own work?

Yes, I do, but I know enough to want to always improve.

What are books for?

To keep us company throughout our lives. To teach us valuable lessons. To expand our vocabularies. To fill the hours of free time.

Are you fun to go on vacation with?

No. I worry too much about nonessential things like missing the bus or I get annoyed waiting on long lines into museums.

How do you feel about being interviewed?

I enjoy it because I like sharing with others. I find the questions rather challenging.

Why do you think what you do matters?

I was a featured poetry reader some years ago. I stood and read some of my work. At the conclusion a woman walked up to me and thanked me for reading a particular poem that helped her make an important decision. I thought back on the few poems I read and could hardly imagine any of them capable of encouraging a life change. But it taught me a lesson: we do not know how our writings effect our readers. Before retiring in 2007, I was a teacher and professor who would often wonder what good was I accomplishing with my lessons about the writing craft. Many years later on Facebook former students of mine thank me for turning them on to poetry and prose.

Have you ever found true love?

I have a theory about true love. It’s very hard to find. Each time in my life I’d fall in love and call it true, but time would make a liar out of me and I’d be left standing there asking myself, “What the heck happened?” The only love that could in the end be considered true is that in which God has a part. For eight years I prayed to Him and thanked Him for my new wife. I am still thanking Him for Sharon. I know because of God’s presence in our marriage, we will be truly in love all our remaining days and, yes, even into eternity!

How many times a day do you think about death?

Sharon’s mom passed away a few days ago, so death is very much on our minds. In my own family of ten, only three of us remain. Still, as a Christian, I don’t see death as an ending but a transformation. I believe in God’s promises and pray I will be reunited with all of my loved ones in Heaven.

Are you jealous of other writers?

Never. And I have so many writer friends who can write circles around me! I not only wish them well, read their work, and promote their writings, but I try to encourage them to write and write and write.

What makes you cry?

Sorry to say, just about everything! When I was a boy and someone told a sad tale or my father mentioned his mother who’d died in 1939, he’d take his white handkerchief from his back pocket, dab his eyes, and cough away the tears locked in his throat. “Pa, you’re too old to cry,” I’d tell him. Now I am just like him, reacting to life with tears of joy and sorrow. My mother once said, “Sal, you’re worse than a woman!” Maybe so, but I can’t stop the tears. They come uninvited.

What makes you laugh?

I laugh a lot. It’s good for one’s heart. If I exercised as heartily as I laugh, I’d be in better shape. I think laughter is one way of saying, “Sure, I am part of the human condition, but it’s not going to defeat me. I will laugh at monsters, real and imagined."

What are you ashamed of?

Not saving money for a rainy day.

What's the loveliest thing you have ever seen?

My mother and father kissing each other on Papa’s 80th birthday.

Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Newsday, U.S.A. Today, The Writer, Cats Magazine, and widely elsewhere in America and overseas. A retired teacher and professor, he was the recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. Buttaci has lectured on Sicilian American pride and conducted poetry workshops and readings. 

A retired teacher, Buttaci lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

Flashing My Shorts, is available from  Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473 

200 Shorts is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1304373156&sr=1-1  Both flash collections were published by All Things That Matter Press.

A Family of Sicilians: Stories and Poems, still selling copies after 13 years,  is available from http://stores.lulu.com/ButtaciPublishing2008

He is the author of two recent chapbooks: What I Learned from the Spaniard… (Middle Island Press. http://middleislandpress.com/?page_id=191  
and Boy on a Swing… (Big Table Publishing. http://www.bigtablepublishing.com/chaptitles.html


  1. Thanks, Dan, for posting my interview as part of The Dan O'Brien Project. It was a lot of fun sharing bits of my life here.

  2. Wow, what a great and in-depth interview of one of the best writers out there today. Thank you for interviewing this great writer.

  3. Thanks for the opportunity to learn more about a wonderful writer.

  4. Sal, you are so open and candid in this interview, that I feel like I know you personally. And...I like you a lot!

    Thank you, Dan, for interviewing Sal and asking such good questions.

  5. Interesting author interview, Dan! And Sal, I feel I know something about you now. Thanks for the great read!

  6. Oh my word! I've never seen more interesting questions! :D Sal, you are a great writer, and a fellow human being I admire a great deal.

    Thanks for featuring Salvatore, Dan. Good stuff!

  7. What a stellar interview - outstanding questions Dan O'Brien - and outstanding, interesting answers Sal - glad and thankful to whomever turned me on to this - I think it was Pearl...so yes, thank you, thank you.

  8. What a fantastic interview. Well done Salvatore, I especially liked your response to writing naked. Very few interviews keep me gripped to the end but the excellent questions teamed with such great answers certainly did today.

  9. Good questions and great answers. I learned so much about you, Sal. While reading I was smiling, laughing, feeling sorrow, and often surprised. You definitely kept it interesting. And your answer to carrying out the perfect murder was perfect.