To you the interview on Slashed Reads, click here.
David Henry Sterry is the author of Mort Morte, an absurd, hilarious, tragic and disturbingly haunting comedy published by Vagabondage Press in January 2013. David is the author of 16 books and a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.
What is your book about?
On my third birthday, my father, in an attempt to get me to stop sucking my thumb, gave me a gun. “Today son, you are a man,” he said, snatching the little blue binky from my little pink hand. So I shot him.
So begins my novel Mort Morte. It’s a macabre coming-of-age story full of butchered butchers, badly used Boy Scouts, blown-up Englishman, virginity-plucking cheerleaders, and many nice cups of tea. Poignantly poetic, hypnotically hysterical, sweetly surreal, and chock full of the blackest comedy, Mort Morte is like Lewis Carroll having brunch with the kid from The Tin Drum and Oedipus, just before he plucks his eyes out. In the end though, Mort Morte is a story about a boy who really loves his mother.
Is the book based on events in your own life?
Strangely enough, Mort Morte was my attempt to tell my life story. Fortunately, I didn’t kill my father on my third birthday. But my real life story is even more sick and deranged. Eventually I did tell my agent about my real life story and she urged me to write a memoir. This became Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent. The 10 Year anniversary edition of that book has just been released. As a result Mort Morte got put on the back burner. For 20 years. That’s why I was so excited when Vagabondage agreed to publish the book. 20 years is a long time to go between writing a book and getting it published.
What twists did the book take that surprised you?
The first twist came when I wrote the first sentence. Honestly, as I said, I was trying to tell my life story, and the first sentence just came out fully formed. I have no idea how or why. Clearly I must have some sort of repressed desire to shoot my father. Fortunately I have been able to repress that desire. For now anyway. Actually, the whole book was a series of twists. I didn’t plan it out or outline it or plot it in any way shape or form. It just came flowing out of me. The first draft took me three weeks to write. Mind you it took me over a year to revise and edit the book.
But it was almost like being in a fever dream. It just kept pouring out. All I had to do was get out of the way.
Are you a people watcher? If so, are they in your stories?
Absolutely. I learned most of the things I know about humans by watching them. I was a professional actor for 15 years before I wrote my first book, and I spent a lot of that time learning how people walked, talked, what they were saying with the language of their body, what was being communicated between the lines.
I moved around a lot when I was a kid, I never went to the same school for two years in a row until I was in college. So I was always the new kid, the outsider, the person who didn’t have friends. So I watched. I observed. I learned how to act like everybody else. And whenever we moved, I learned how to imitate the local accent. It was great training as an actor. It was also great training as a writer, to get the rhythms of the way people really speak.
One of my pet peeves is when you can actually hear the writer writing as a character in one of their books is talking. Almost all the people in my books are human beings I have observed. When I’m writing a memoir of course I try to remember exactly what they said, exactly what they looked like and exactly how they acted. When I’m writing a piece of fiction I take what’s there and let my imagination run wild. Either way, it starts with the way people really look and talk and act.
Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
Yes. I am a Gemini. But I don’t really believe in all that astrological crap. Even though that’s exactly what a Gemini would say. But as a Gemini I have two very distinct parts of my personality. I’m a hermit and I love holing up in my man cave and escaping into my imagination. Woody Allen once said the only things in life you can really control are art and masturbation. I try to keep my fingers in both those pies every day, in the privacy of my subterranean lair. But I’m also kind of an exhibitionist, and I love to go out and do book events and go on tour and present at writers conferences and book fares. So I kill both birds with just the one stone.
What are our thoughts on writing as a career?
In addition to being the author of 16 books I’m also a book doctor. I help talented amateurs become professionally published authors. So I’ve consulted with literally thousands of writers.
And I tell them all that by far the most important thing you can do if you want to have a career as a writer is to figure out how to make money.
It’s very hard to make money as a writer. I’ve been lucky in that way. But I’m also a hustler. That’s one of the things I learned in the sex business. How to hustle. Lots of writers don’t know how hustle. Let me be clear, I don’t mean hustle as a way of scamming, grifting, or ripping someone off. I mean hustle in the sense that you get someone to do what you want them to do.
I want publishers to give me money for my books. So I identify which publishers I want to work with who are most compatible with what I do, then I research them to the point of stalking. And of course I want readers to buy my books and fall in love with them. So I identify individuals and groups who I think will love what I’m doing and be passionate about my books.
As is the case with all hustles, you actually have to have Game. You have to make a good product if you want someone to buy it over and over again. If you try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes, eventually they will stop buying what you’re selling, and in the worst case scenario they will come at you with a lead pipe and try to split your skull open.
The great maxim of businesses as far as I’m concerned is: “Find out what people want, and give it to them.”
Mind you, I have books that I write for love, and books that I write for money. Mort Morte was more of a love book. That being said, I have made money off it.
What is your advice for other writers?
Research. Network. Persevere. And oh yeah, write. Write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I was a drug addict and a sex addict and I knew I was going to die unless I changed who I was and what I was doing. After a long search I finally found a hypnotherapist. She helped me get my addictions under control. I was a professional screenwriter in Hollywood at the time.
My hypnotherapist suggested I write about my life, since it was so much more interesting than the stupid ridiculous screenplays I was selling to Hollywood. I took her advice.
I found I really enjoyed it. And it was absolutely essential in staring down and overcoming the demon monkeys inside me which were destroying my life.
What do you want to say to your readers?
Buy my books. Tell your friends to buy my books.
How do you prepare to write love scenes?
Fall in love. Have lots of great sex. Have lots of bad sex. Get dumped. Rinse. Repeat.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.
His new books are Mort Morte, and The Hobbyist (Vagabondage, 2013).
His memoir,Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition has been translated into 10 languages.
He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.
He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.