“If a story is in you, it has to come out.” — William Faulkner
One of the features of social media is one’s ability to obtain social access to people almost anywhere in the world. On of the features of the social media platform Medium is that you can hardly make a move without bumping into a writer. My strongest immediate connection to Scott is Hemingway, whose powerful prose served as catalyst to ignite numerous authors over the past many decades, including myself.
Scott Stavrou is from Las Vegas and a graduate of Georgetown University. He’s lived and worked as a writer in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Prague, and Venice. He and his wife presently live on a small Greek island. He’s written fiction and non-fiction for numerous publications in America and Europe and was awarded a PEN International Hemingway prize for short fiction. (Several readers of this blog would be jealous.) Losing Venice is his second book. He has a new novel due to be released in 2019.
EN: How long had you been writing before taking up the challenge of writing your first novel?
Scott Stavrou: Ah, the better question might be how long had I been writing before I finally completed the challenge of finishing a novel. There were a lot of false starts and missteps along my winding writer’s road before I finally found the time and commitment to finish one to my satisfaction.
Since I first started trying to grow up, I’ve always been a writer of one sort or another, though by necessity and interest, its taken many different forms in many different places. I wrote for the college paper and then after university worked as a copywriter, then did some journalism and corporate PR writing before I came to the realization that I didn’t like sitting at a desk and gave in to my wanderlust and did a lot of traveling, which led to travel writing to fund more travels, and then had a travel book published, Wasted Away. For years, I was a columnist and freelance writer and somehow managed to write two screenplays and some sappy TV scripts, and then a satirical stage play before finally committing to my real passion which is novels. So now I sit at a desk again but I get to move it around more and make more things up, which keeps me interested.
So the road to actually completing a novel was rather long and convoluted but one hopes — or likes to think, anyway — that lessons learned along the way lead to fuller and richer writing.
EN: You won the PEN America International Hemingway Writing Award for your Hemingway parody, Across the Suburbs and Into the Express Lane. What degree of Hemingway fan are you and which of his books first grabbed you?
SS: You can color me with the well-worn clichéd cloak of full-blown Hemingway acolyte. Like so many aspirant writers before me, Hemingway was the first classic author from the canon that I fell in love with. His style, his passion, his persona, his larger-than-life approach to living out loud and shaping and honing his image. The whole package. As a young writer with a passion for travel, for writing and wanting to live in Europe, The Sun Also Rises struck an early chord with my in my youth and remains my favorite. And though my writing style is very different from Hemingway’s, I like to think that I gleaned many lessons about writing and life from careful and devoted devouring of everything by and about Hemingway.
And because his style was so unique and different than so many writers before or after him, it rather lends itself to parody (however much Papa would have hated it) and I really loved the annual PEN America International Hemingway contest and finally winning it was a fine and fun accomplishment, not only because of getting the piece published but also because of getting to attend the awards dinner and meet some of the literary luminaries that judged the contest, a full cast of superb writers and Hemingway aficionados that included his old friend Barnaby Conrad, Ray Bradbury, Bernice Kert, Digby Diehl, Joseph Wambaugh and even formerly Jack Hemingway and George Plimpton. A great highlight of the awards ceremony was hanging out at Harry’s Bar and drinking Bellini’s with Charlton Heston, who, after we’d had more than our fair share of drinks, told me to call him “Chuck,” and then regaled me with stories of trying to arrange hunting trips with Hemingway and their mutual pal, Gregory Peck. You can’t help but feel honored to get to hang out over a fine dinner and drinks and hear your own words read out loud at the ceremony and then get to share drinks and laughs with so many living legends. You like to think that maybe some of the luster of the legend might even rub off on you. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
EN: Based on the reviews for Losing Venice you have quite the sense of humor. Is humor a theme in your stage play and screenplays?
SS: I’ve always tried to take a rather irreverent approach to my writing, even when dealing with serious themes. My stage play, Picketing With Prometheus, was all about life, destiny and the perilous future of mankind, but with a satirical and humorous approach. I like the interplay between the dramatic and the comedic, because part of the grand tapestry of life and all its troubles is that you hope you can always find light-hearted moments along the way. And though my screenplays were very different, one about Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution and one about a bar owner mired in debt, I tried to bring a bit of whimsy and irreverence into both of them along with the serious issues. And even though they both disappeared into Hollywood’s deep development wormhole, having some humor in them was probably what made them attract attention in the first place.
With Losing Venice, it’s a novel about the search for belonging and finding love when finding yourself lost and has some pretty serious identity, religious, and even historical aspects and having approached many of these with a light-hand and interjecting some humorous elements seemed at first a little discordant to my agent and editor and we actually discussed the possibility of toning down some of the humor in the novel but I’m really glad that we didn’t because in the end, going by the editorial and reader reviews, the humorous aspects seem to be some of what most readers found most appealing. You like to think you write a novel to make people think about life in a new way, to allow readers to see life from another vantage point or perspective. And it’s pretty gratifying if you hear that maybe you’ve provided some some laughs along the way
EN: You have obviously lived abroad and traveled. How much of yourself is in your lead character in Losing Venice?
SS: Like the protagonist in my novel, I was fortunate enough to have lived in Venice and then in Greece and of course some of those experiences seep into your writing when you set out to write about real life. Unlike the protagonist, I’d been blessed by already having found my life partner and been happily married for a few years when I moved there. But being happily married and content isn’t generally the fodder for riveting fiction and unlike him, I didn’t go around stealing gondolas and paintings from churches. In life you hope you can avoid conflict as much as possible but in writing you hope you can create it. Perhaps Mark Vandermar and I are different sides of the same coin. But maybe both are counterfeit currencies. I think the thing in writing — and in life — is that you hope you can invest some value in the currency of your creation.
EN: What is it about Venice that so inspires writers and film makers? I think of Death In Venice (Mann) and one of the recent Bond films with Daniel Craig.
SS: Firstly I think Venice resonates with artists because it’s so unique. An entire city built on the firm faith that it did not have to be like anyplace else. Secondly because the very nature of Venice is reflective. The city has spent centuries staring at its own watery reflections and writers, film makers, and artists are always seeking new ways to reflect life, to dredge something out of its depths.
Finally, there’s the sense of unreality that permeates the place. There’s a lot of in-between in Venice, floating as it does precariously on the misty borders between land and sea, dream and reality. It’s not quite fully water, not quite fully land, neither fully one thing or the other; a place where stones stride the sea but seeming floating on nothing. And I think writers and artists are always looking to fill the spaces in-between, to turn something unreal into something real.
EN: Finally, what other question would you ask yourself if you were interviewing you?
SS: What do you do when you’re not writing? My life is finally pretty centered on my real passions: reading, writing, and traveling. In addition to working on my new novel, I still do some freelance writing but one of the other things I love doing most of all which combines all these passions is working as a mentor and facilitator with Write Away Europe’s Creative Writing Retreats, which gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by groups of inspired and inspiring writers several times a year in some of my favorite places in the world, including Venice, Tuscany, Prague, and the Greek islands. The stimulus and inspiration of spending several weeks a year being surrounded by creative people in such captivating places is always invigorating, fun, and fulfilling.
EN: What are you working on now?
SS: I’m pretty deep into my new novel, a tragic-comic satirical novel set in LA and Greece that explores movie-making, the Greek economic crisis, the refugee crisis, the vain and possibly impossible attempts to make art that matters and makes a difference during such turbulent times. The yawning conflicts of commerce and art, humanity and its inhumanity. But because I like to think that life is sometimes shockingly serious and sometimes strange, funny, and imponderable, I’m trying to make it strange, funny and imponderable. But you know, in a funny way. It’s promised for the first half of 2019 so I just have to finish putting the words in the right order — and learn some more about how shockingly serious, strange, funny and imponderable life is. I’m excited to see how it ends and hope that’s the feeling readers will have when they have it in their hands. * * * *
Stay current with Scott’s writing at ScottStavrou.com
On Medium (@ScottStavrou) On Twitter (@WriteAwayEurope)
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com on December 11, 2018.
Photos courtesy the author Scott Stavrou. Used with permission.