Don Massenzio Interview
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I’m just not smart enough to know what other people, including readers, really want—especially marketing-wise. I mean, I can barely corral and control my own fictional characters sometimes. I certainly want people to read my books. And there are many, many authors I admire greatly – some for their artistic ability and some for their commercial success – but it just doesn’t feel right or, at least to me, it doesn’t read right when I’ve tried to “flatter” those writers by way of hard or soft plagiarism just to get readers to put their eyeballs on my pages. It’s the duty of every writer to develop their own voice. So, I guess I listen to the casually dressed artist in my right brain more than I do to the businessman wearing a gray flannel suit in my left brain.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“Persistence to the point of stupidity…but never beyond.” I wish I hadn’t taken a two decade “sabbatical” from scribbling but, frankly, I got distracted by so many other shiny things – particularly airplanes – that I’m still playing catch up as a writer.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Magus by John Fowles—as it was originally published. I read a later, revised edition with a new ending that ruined the story for me, so I set the book aside and it has kind of faded down a memory hole. It was recommended to me by a good friend, Russell the Mad Potter (as in throwing pots of clay) during my college years while I was an English & Philosophy major and the story gave me pause to navel gaze on life, art, aesthetics and, you know, stuff. It made quite an impression on me – as did Russell, who had one of those “larger than life” personalities.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do, because I’m curious about how people react to my stories, you know, ’cause of, like, the first question: I do want people to be turning my pages. I’m also curious, sometimes, about what book the reviewer actually did read. You have to take all critiques — good and bad — with a grain of salt or two (and sometimes with some tequila and lime), because I’ve discovered that people often have a lot to say, but not all of it is really about your book. And that has entertainment, as well as educational, value.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I do but not with any kind of cruel malice. I once got dinged in one of my writer’s group critiques for a character repeating the phrase “luckless pedestrians.” Obviously, my fellow scribbler was not a Steely Dan fan, so she missed the admittedly obscure reference to “Don’t Take Me Alive” which I thought offered some resonance to the character and the story. People are crazy, complicated things that absorb incredibly arcane details as they move along through their real-life stories. Characters need to have secrets, too – and so do the stories themselves, in symbolic and thematic terms. My favorite books are those that allow new discoveries when reread. That can’t really happen unless there are buried treasures waiting to be discovered in the book.
Do you Google yourself?
Only in the dark behind closed doors when no one else is home…I mean, yes, every so often I do and I’m always amazed how Google sends potential readers to Montana for bass fishing – even if you search on “M.T. Bass Author.” Wizards of smart? Right. Bing and Yahoo better hit the mark, but it just confirms my inklings about the Internet and social media: It’s like the ocean: good for surfing and fishing, but definitely don’t drink any Kool-Aid made from the water.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Sabre Jet Ace , the biography of Air Force fighter pilot Joseph McConnell, Jr. I think I first read it in the third or fourth grade. Yeah, I know, not exactly Dr. Seuss. But besides fueling my dreams of becoming a pilot, it was a great story of not only bravery and heroism, but also dedication, persistence and selflessness. The book I had is long lost in the wake of the years and the cheapest used copy I’ve found was listed for $350.00 on Amazon.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I’m always suspicious of self-mythologies that start out, “Ever since I emerged from the womb, I knew I wanted to be a best selling young adult distopian novelist like Suzanne Collins [or insert current adult profession here].” I’m glad I had a normal childhood, running around my suburban neighborhood like a wild indian—I mean, native American. Are there things I would change? Sure, but not to make myself a better writer. I was having too much fun.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
On average, I suppose it takes from 12-24 months once the idea percolates up into my consciousness and I actually get started on the writing. That being said—and I hate to admit it—In the Black and Somethin’ for Nothin’ took more like 10-15 years to finish, because, well, I took a hiatus for most of the nineties and into the early years of this millennium. You know what they say about life happening. I’m doing much better now.