Veteran Writer Rick Harsch Interviews Editor and Debut Novelist George Salis

A note from Rick Harsch, the interviewer: If I’m right, the creator of this site, George Salis, likely doesn’t want to come off as a blowhard or braggart, nor IS he a blowhard or braggart. But his first novel is coming out this fall and I thought maybe it would be a good idea for readers to find out a little something about him. So I concocted the idea of a rapid-fire interview done in near real-time, whatever that means other than it takes time to write answers. But the questions were not prepared ahead of time and George had no idea what he would be asked. I hope the interview is of sufficient interest and you find the attention required.

Rick Harsch: Are you a method writer?

George Salis: I think every writer has a method to their madness, their sanity, and everything in between, some clear, some not-so-clear. My ‘method’ would fall on the latter part of the spectrum, realizing that the subconscious is a powerful muse, an engine that works on its own and must be oiled here and there. Or maybe it’s better to describe the subconscious as a reticent creature that must be coaxed out of the darkness. Sometimes it wants to grovel in the black mud and not come out, other times it wants to fan out its feathers and reveal nearly the entirety of its glory. I’ve learned to put my trust in this creature, to put up with it, to take care of it. It seems to be nurtured by a capricious diet of every little thing and no thing at all. And thus, inspiration can come from a poem, a chance phrase in an eavesdropped conversation, misheard or otherwise, the itch on my left buttock once satiated by my fingernails. It is unpredictable, so one learns simply to be aware of everything and when those stars align it can be something that I’m hesitant to call ‘spiritual.’ Aside from the subconsciousness, there is the menial part of the equation that involves sitting down at the computer and trying to write at least 300 words a day. Though often I’ll take long stretches of time off if I need to do a bit of research, a bit of procrastination, a bit of subconscious coaxing, etc. The balance of forcing something and letting it flow of its own volition is precarious, but I think I’ve found the balance that works for me, and I suspect it’s wildly different for every writer.

RH: Why 300 words a day?

GS: It seems like the sweet spot between too little and too much. It can sometimes take me all day to reach that goal. On a good day, I’m able to write more. I’ve found that dialogue is much more of a breeze than sheer prose, but the reasons for that are obvious, I think. Overall, 300 words a day, give or take, can add up nicely. I’m over 100k words into a projected 275k-word novel. I’ve been working on it for about 3 years, so you do the math on that. I’ve learned to go a long time without writing and not loathe myself for it. But, obviously, if I’m going to get work done, I need to self-flagellate a bit. I took three months off to do a deep read of Ulysses and that was a better time spent than if I had sat down to write a thousand words a day. I recommend such a mental workout for all writers.

RH: Do you think writer’s block is bullshit?

GS: Absolutely…at least in my own solipsistic world of writing. Perhaps it exists for others, but in that case I’m blessed by the gods to have a seemingly endless supply of stories whirling around in my head. Perhaps that is why I’m so fond of maximalist novels. I can relate to the whirl they attempt to contain. And the novel I’m working on now, titled Morphological Echoes, is an attempt to exorcise what I think is a very large portion of my own mental whirl, although, as if to stopper the leak, I already have a generous portion of the next novel in line figured out with pages of notes, etc. This will be the (I think first) maximalist novel dedicated to the wonders of Greece. Its history, culture, mythology. I have familial connections to Greece, so when it comes time to write that novel, it will have a particular personal connection, although that could be said about everything I write, on some level.

Back to the question though. Any ‘block’ that occurs I recognize as something more akin to a temporary lapse and that’s where the coaxing of the subconscious comes into play, or an ignoring of the subconscious, or sleep allowance. The prescription is as fickle as the thing itself, but it’s never permanent and never much of a hassle, whenever it rarely happens.

RH: The next period of your public life as a writer will be as a NEW author of a FIRST novel. What measures will you take to disguise your irritation at the way these clichés claw at you and attempt to drown you in shallow counter-eddies of brackish water surrounded by large horizon-obscuring rocks?

GS: If anything, perhaps the adjectives ‘new’ and ‘first’ will encourage people to be a bit kinder as readers in their reception of what is, in fact, a first novel. Most people are (un)lucky enough to never see their actual first novel published, but here I am with my first first novel. Perhaps it’s not sexy to be anything other than confident in my first effort but the best I can say is: I think it’s worthy of the paper and ink and the time to read it but with a caveat: if you like what you read, wait til you see what I’ve been working on since. In some ways, I think the differences between this first effort and second effort are astronomical, both figuratively and literally. And if any irritation is involved in all this then it’s the bit of irritation of still having much to write but wanting this second novel to be out so I can show people what I’m capable of now. This, I think, is not unique to me. All writers live in the past as their works are eventually or never published while behind the curtain they’ve been honing and whittling and discovering new alchemical combinations to dazzle their audience or the empty seats.

RH: Do you think “(un)lucky” conveys the meaning you intend it to?

GS: Whether it’s reading an interview or a novel, I can’t expect everyone to interpret everything in the exact way that I’ve intended. Everyone reads everything through the kaleidoscopic lens of bias and influence and various overlapping emotional and conscious states. George Bernard Shaw was particularly keen on controlling the interpretations of his work, and he failed, as all who try will fail. Interpretations and meanings are as multifarious as they can be nefarious. Interpret all that as you will, as you will.

RH: I won’t. A few minutes ago a baby was desperately screaming. It seemed to be coming from an apartment in the building behind mine. If that baby were you, what would you have been desperately screaming about? What is the world not hearing that you want it to?

GS: The world is deaf but individual people, some, have ears. Those few people who possess genuine audition are the ones I would like to have as listeners of my tales. As a baby, toddler, and now as an adult, I’ve never screamed desperately. Crawling between guests’ legs under the dinner table, I’ve bumped my head in silence. Burning my ankle on the exhaust pipe while trying to dismount my father’s motorcycle, I’ve remained silent. Pain, then, is better used in art than in ululation. Whatever pain I’ve ever wanted to scream about has been transformed into stories, or at least laces them. I’m a pessimist most days so I’ll say that the world needs to be more curious, more skeptical (of themselves and what others tell them), more loving and caring, but no one will listen because these things have been repeated ad naseum, thrown into a dumpster labeled cliché, the so-called truths that are supposed to be self-evident. With that said, and not heard, everything I believe in and everything I don’t believe in exists in my fiction, perhaps my stories will make it easier for others to navigate their own mental world, or not.

RH: In your fiction, who gets a raw deal?

GS: Orwell said all art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art. Who still reads the novels that were allowed to be published in Soviet Russia? If anyone is trying to communicate some clear message from the get-go, their art and fiction will suffer for it. In my attempt to do justice to ideas and human beings, I try to be an observer in the back of the room, keeping judgment to a minimum. But, of course, this is well nigh impossible, so perhaps everyone/thing gets a raw deal in my fiction and all fictions, perhaps that’s why it’s called fiction in the first place….

RH: People often say, to the point of cliché, that surreal no longer has any meaning because so much of what is surreal is so readily evident in our shared quotidian. Is that one of the dumbest things you’ve ever heard, pretty fucking dumb, or something new you need to think over?

GS: Quotidian is quotidian, surreal is surreal. The only quotidian surreality we experience is our dream life. Surreality occurs in our daily lives but not often enough for the surreal to be real. The surreal is real for other reasons.

RH: I asked, Is that one of the dumbest things you’ve ever heard, pretty fucking dumb, or something new you need to think over?

GS: Pretty fucking dumb. Then again, I’ve stopped paying attention to the news, so I’ve gained a more real dimension to my daily life, I think.

RH: Finally, one last question, more along the lines of a request. As briefly as possible yet giving fair play to the subject, please describe your favorite scene or moment in your debut novel, Sea Above, Sun Below (if I don’t have that backwards).

GS: My favorite is the ending, the build-up of whispers and increasingly anxious dream imagery. The ending is two-pronged, existing as a wave function. If Kurt Vonnegut were to map it onto his rejected master’s thesis in which he draws out the finite plot lines of our most cherished stories, it will simultaneously fork upward and downward, an anomaly to make him go cross-eyed.

The title is backwards and forwards. As above, so below. This is what exists throughout the book as an idea. That reality is inverted, subverted…the fact that we can zoom in forever and zoom out forever and somehow we think we are in the middle of this cosmic spectrum. I doubt it.

Editor’s note: I’d like to thank Rick Harsch for making my day more interesting with his eccentric concept for an interview. If any of you readers are interested in reviewing my debut novel on Goodreads or elsewhere, feel free to send me an email at georgesalis@live.com and I’d be delighted to give you an ebook copy.

About the novel:

Upside-down lightning, a group of uncouth skydivers, resurrections, a mother’s body overtaken by a garden, aquatic telepathy, a peeling snake-priest, and more.

Sea Above, Sun Below is influenced by Western myths, some Greek, some with Biblical overtones, resulting in a fusion of fantastic dreams, bizarre yet beautiful nightmares, and multiple narrative threads that form a tapestry which depicts the fragility of characters teetering on the brink of madness. www.RiverBoatBooks.com

George Salis is the award-winning author of Sea Above, Sun Below (forthcoming from River Boat Books, 2019). His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.

Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children. 

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