Mari SanGiovanni

A short time ago, I asked my readers which authors they would most like me to interview, and I got a response from one with the suggestion that I ask Mari SanGiovanni for an interview. The results of our conversation follow.

Thank you for accepting my offer of an interview. I try to start my interviews off with a bit of background about the victim, er, uh, the subject of my interview. In researching information about you, I couldn’t find much other than that you come from a large Italian family. Tell us a bit about yourself, please. 

Let’s start with some easy questions, just to get you in the mood. Light or dark chocolate

Dark…unless it’s really dark in the room, then go with the light.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be.

Your eyes may be failing but, obviously, your sense of humor is still working! Favorite color?

Black and tan (the color of my puppy.)

Dogs or cats?

See above…dogs…can you believe I am allergic to pussies?

Checking my notes…I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere else! Wow! An exclusive…and you heard it here! Ok, on to a safer topic. Tea or coffee?

Coffee, preferably in Italy or the Caribbean.

Cup half full, or cup half empty

Honey, have you seen my breasts? These DDD cups are more than half full.

LOL…not exactly what I meant. And no, I haven't. First my partner would kill me for looking and you sadly sent only a head shot that ended at your neckline! Do you have a favorite saying?  

What the hell, I will steal one from a character in my book, this way, I crowbar in a shameless plug:

“There is something about straight girls you just can’t put your finger on.” 

--- Lisa Santora, Greetings From Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer…

That’s a great line. As a reader, what genre do you prefer?

Anything relating to The Mating of Mute Swans.  Just kidding.  (I like them to make noise.)  Seriously, I am the world’s pickiest reader.  It is probably why I started writing! I wanted to read something LIKE Rubyfruit Jungle only for a big, fat, loud Italian family, only with some lesbos sprinkled in to complicate matters.  Oh, and I wanted to read words like “lesbos…” I like to be entertained in a Ricky Gervais sort of way, where the reader feels, WHOA! I can’t believe she went THERE!!  It’s a bit hard to find, so, I started writing.  I hope that’s how it comes across, anyway! (Not that I am Ricky---he is a genius!!) I don’t really have a genre, but I tend to read books that are character driven. You will not catch me reading a mystery…

What are you reading currently?

HELP ME!!  I am addicted to Ted Talks and need a good book…the last book I read was Hung Jury – a fascinating read!  If you know the book, you must have a million questions swirling in your head…

Tell me about the books you’ve written, and how they came to be.  

The books I have published are: Greetings From Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer…  and Camptown Ladies both published by Bywater Books.  I entered a writing contest with a book that started with fun family stuff and veered off into a drippy love story, and my publisher said: I like the first few pages (it may have been a chapter or two) and if you rewrite the whole book to keep the family in it, we would publish you. 

There you have it.  They probably never thought they would hear from me again, but I rewrote the Jamaica book by trapping the kooky Italian family on an island together, and they did keep their promise!

Are you working on a new book now? If so, can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I was derailed in a big way by my real life when my partner of 14 years passed away from cancer.  I completely stopped writing and am slowly working back to writing.  I have a book that is slated to be the next in the series called 80% Done With Straight Girls and I also have a completed manuscript that needs a pretty big edit that I need to get back to: Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen, which will be my 4th book.  That one is my favorite and I look forward to that one hitting the shelves once my brain is fully functioning again.  Slowly, I am coming back. (Look out!!!)

I’m very sorry to hear about your partner, but glad you are writing again. Is anything in your work based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

That is SUCH a loaded question!!  TONS of what I write is fueled by real life, but also totally fictionalized (—so I won’t be sued by my family —hahaha.)  Truly, there is so much, and my 3rd book in the Santora Family Saga (which are all three romantic comedies) are completely filled with bits and pieces of the flavor of my life, although the facts are completely different.  Of course, that doesn’t stop my own family from asking when we rented that cabin in Maine, etc… and also, I did have one woman write me thinking I had inherited millions (I DID NOT) –she was looking for me to import her as my (lucky) bride.  Sorry, she had cats.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) you’ve written and why it your favorite?

In Camptown Ladies, I did a chapter where the character who plays my sister (who is a lot like my real sister, I might add) does a blow-by-blow football announcer style of that infamous sex scene in Desert Hearts.  Good times.  I have done that scene during readings in Provincetown and other places. I laughed the entire time I was writing it, wincing & laughing, wincing because it was graphic—that’s when I know I have something—when I am afraid to publish it, but it makes me laugh!

How do you come up with the titles of your books?

The first two had a location, so it was easy, but the 3rd one was unique.  Someone had posted on Facebook their progress in reading a certain book by saying how far they had gotten, but the way it was written was unintentional and it made me laugh out loud.  She had posted something like: “I am 75% done with Hard Men” so, I got the idea for the title 80% Done With Straight Girls

Liddy-Jean, Marketing Queen is about a young woman with Down syndrome. She works in corporation and decides to fix everything that is wrong with the company and her co-workers lives.  She sees that two women would be perfect for each other and decides to put them together and along the way she dubs herself a “Marketing Queen.”  That story came from real life too.  I was working for a terrible corporation at the time, and thought, what would our company look like through the eyes of an innocent, enthusiastic person that knew no typical personal limits or prejudice?

Do you write full or part time?

Right now, my publishers are being patient with me and are waiting for me to get back to my part time writing schedule!

What do you like to do when you are not working/writing?

I have an incredible family and group of friends and a wonderful girlfriend, too.  I also have a tiny dog named Roxi that is awesome, and I travel a lot.  I plan to see the beaches of the world!

If you could try any job for a day, what would it be?

I have a dream full time job.  I am a trend designer for an international company, so I can’t imagine a more wonderful and inspiring job.  I started my career as a designer after graduating from RISD, and now I travel the world and shop, shop, shop! 

If you could time travel, where would you go and what year would it be.

I would go back and make the people I loved (and lost) stop smoking and take care of themselves.  Not sure what year that would be, but I am one of those radical people that think cigarette companies should be wiped off the face of the earth.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

The only thing that matters is LOVE.  While I was lucky enough to know that, even at a very young age—I didn’t know how short life could be. 

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet?

Meryl Streep!!

How long does it take you to write a book…from that first glimmer of an idea until the book is finished?

I have written a book in 3 months, but the rewriting/editing can take another 8 months, depending.  I also have been stalled for years on a project (now!!) but I remain convinced I will get my creative self back in full swing and was happy to be asked to do this interview!  Thanks for not forgetting about me while I have been mending my brain cells…and heart.  You need both intact to write.  Who knew??

Marketing one’s books often seems an aspect of writing authors dislike. How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for you?  

I think Facebook has its limitations—they cap you at only having so many friends, plus, I like to use it for my close friends and family, too.  I let it all hang out on there, but I must say, that is simply because I can’t imagine managing two different accounts along with the rest of my life!  Twitter is okay, but I miss the photos and people don’t want to take that extra click to see visuals, or at least I don’t.  I used to post wherever Lesbians gathered online…AfterEllen, places like that.  The problem is, the small-ish audience seems to be the same few of us that like the same sites.  Same with book tours.  After a while, the same folks have your book already and you end up feeling like you are bugging them (and they feel like they have to apologize:  “I already have your books, I just came by to say Hi!”) However, I do LOVE doing the signings and readings and I love when people come back to say HI!!  The problem is you don’t hit the numbers to make traveling pay for itself to do the signings and building the readership that way is costly.  My long-term goal has always been to get a movie made, and that in turn will sell more books and bring more people to the writing.  My opinion here, but I feel a lot of beautifully filmed projects are being made with amateur screenwriting (or little screenwriting at all.)  I would love to help change that so lesbian movies can compete with the mainstream and be a bit more polished in the storylines.

Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published? 

My publishers are great—my only limitations have been my own.  I need to push past this tough time I went through and get back in the writing groove.  Writing is so personal. Some of what I fear is what it may open up again for me.  My next book has some pretty close to home moments—but it is a comedy like the other two.  That’s why I have to be careful write when I have a light and goofy heart!

How do you create your characters? Is the story there first or is it the character?

It is always about character for me—always about the people.  Then I put the people in situations they have a hard time getting out of!  I guess if I were a screenplay writer by trade (which I love writing screenplays) I would be a situation comedy writer, since, as the saying goes, I love the idea of chasing characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them, and watching how they react!

How do you organize working and writing? Any scheme? By intuition? Spontaneous?

I know this is going to sound crazy, but I see the scenes in my head, like a movie.  It usually comes easiest to me when I am driving.  I used to have a terrible driving commute, about 5 hours a day on average for about 10 years at my old job, and this would be when I would organize my ideas, think up scenes, write jokes and opening lines to chapters.  Yes, while I was driving!  Then, on the weekends, in the morning in total silence, I would write like crazy! It helped because I was never facing a blank page.  I always had an idea brewing that I had to just flush out on the computer, once I had the time to sit down.  Now that I have I job with a bit less driving, but more airline travel, I will have to find a way to adjust!  I am thinking of getting a smaller Mac…my MacPro is too big!  I love the little one, the 11 inch….(spoken like a true lesbo.)

I have the 11' Air. Great for writing, but you'll need the bigger one for picture work. Did you take classes or courses or just start writing? 

I am a designer by training, went to design college (Rhode Island School of Design for illustration, went into product design and development, so no, I didn’t take writing classes. However, I think creative arts use similar parts of the brain!  I know when I am drawing, painting or sculpting I go into the same “trance” I do when I am writing.  Its like I’m not doing the work.  When it feels like I am working, that’s usually when it’s not going well!

Did you use any mentoring?

I got some broad editing help from Catherine Friend, a great and funny writer.  This was only for Liddy-Jean, Marketing Queen.  I will still have to do all the structural changes and figure out the HOW of incorporating the changes she thinks I needed…but it was very helpful to get a fresh eye on the project from a writer I deeply respect!

Did you always write? 

Sadly, no.  But I can say this, I am happier when I do!

8) Do you play any instrument?

I can play the guitar—but for all the lessons I took I should be able to play it much better than just Dust In The Wind and Stairway To Heaven!  My guitar teacher said I was tone deaf, and that I should consider the drums, which was clearly an insult, but he was right—I love the drums!  So, right now, you will find me buzzing down the highway, tapping the “drums” on my steering wheel with pencils, as I work out scenes to my future books and screenplays!

That’s it! You’re off the hot seat! Thank you for this interview.

Thanks for being interested!

Contact information is:  

Website: MariSanGiovanni.com 

email: MariLaughs@cox.net  

Click on the picture below to be taken to Mari's Amazon Author's page.

Cover art by Mari SanGiovanni

© JEN 2014