Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Straight From the Mouth of 'Narcotic Nation' Scarlett Savage

Scarlett Savage was born and raised in Maine. She began her writing career at age 5 after reading LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS. When she finished the book, she announced to her family that she would become an author. She began to write stories but soon turned her attention to the theater, which led her to explore playwriting. By the time she was in high school, she was writing for professional stage companies in Maine. She received a full scholarship to the University of Maine at Orono, where she won her first major writing awards. Her play, DEAR DADDY, LOVE CASSIE, won several awards and raised money for both national and regional sexual assault support centers. Scarlett moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and made her L.A. theater debut with her latest play, SHE F*&KING HATES ME: A LOVE STORY. She lives in Santa Monica with the love of her life, Mike Biggie, who designed the cover of NARCOTIC NATION.

Visit her website at www.ScarlettSavage.com.

Thanks for letting us interrogate interview you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

When I read my first book without pictures at five years old, “Little House in the Big Woods”, I realized immediately that the words made pictures in your mind, and I thought that was about the coolest thing ever. I picked up a pencil immediately afterward, and never put it down.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

The Perks? You get to spend your whole working day in your head, in worlds you create, in world’s you’d like to visit or are curious about, or at least can control, in a way you can’t in real life. You get to indulge yourself—any time you find yourself interested in a topic you can just throw yourself into research and utilize that information in your work. You get to meet fascinating people. But for me, the best thing of all, is that it gives you an excuse to focus completely and totally on human interaction, which is truly what life is all about.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

Traditionally. I know a lot of people have had crazy good luck self-publishing, but there’s so many millions of self-published books out there; getting lucky that way is literally like winning the lottery. I had one project, not a full novel but an award-winning piece, that I put out there, and I pushed it. I mean, I spent twelve hours a day for about five months promoting this thing. The people who DID read it loved it…but there were only a handful of those. Then I was offered a contract by SkyHorse Publishing for the novelization of my play, “She F*&king Hates Me: A Love Story” and almost immediately afterward, a contract from Taylor Street Books for “Narcotic Nation”. Once the door is open, people flock to you. It’s a wonderful feeling.  

So, while I would never discourage anyone from self-publishing, I would also suggest not doing it unless they have a professional publicist, who can help tell the world about you. People talk about “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but the woman worked in professional television and had a lot of contacts to help get the word out.

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

My husband Michael fell in love with my work before he fell in love with me; he read my play, “Dear Daddy, Love, Cassie”. He sent me a four-word email: “Read Cassie. You’re beautiful.”  He encouraged me to move to LA to be with him but most importantly to focus on my writing—being in this city makes a whole world of difference. He works as a set painter in the industry, and he’s a sailor, so I have lots of time to myself to work, but on the rare occasions I work when he’s in the house, he treats it as something sacrosanct: he doesn’t let anything bother me. My youngest daughter is only eight, but when people ask her what I do, she says, “Oh, she’s a writer, of course.” It turns out that she thought that all moms were writers. And my eldest…she’s my rock. She was three when I began to mount my plays professionally; she told her friends I was “famous”. She was 12 when I had my first NYC show; she insisted on being there for opening weekend. When I had the chance to move to LA, I asked her how she felt; Daph has always lived with her grandparents in Turner, Maine, because she loved living in a big farmhouse with family all over the place, but I always lived nearby after her dad and I divorced & I moved to the Boston area. So, leaving for LA, that was huge. If Daph had said, “Don’t go,” I wouldn’t have. But she said, “Mumsley, you know you need to do this. You know it’s time. And whatever happens with your career, I’ll be so incredibly proud that you tried.” I mean, what 12 year old talks like that? But my little girl does.
Plus, and sweet Michael recently we were out for dinner with a bunch of people who were excitedly asking me questions about “Narcotic Nation” and “She F*&king Hates Me: A Love Story”; one of them turned to Michael and said, “So, are you proud of Scarlett?” He looked at them like they were crazy and said, “I’ve ALWAYS been proud of Scarlett.” I’m a lucky girl. 

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?

I write religiously between the hours of 10PM-2PM, so those weren’t really issues; but on the few instances that it was, rules were a) my children come before everything, including my writing (the image of them standing there waiting for dinner looking starving that this question puts in my head is horrifying!!) b) again if the phone rings and it has to do with my kids, I’ll pick up immediately and c) I never leave my agent or my manager or publicist hanging. Everyone else and everything else goes away when I’m working. And
my friends totally understand…I wouldn’t go up to them at their jobs and demand their attention, or call them there.

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

Positive crazy, was that I contacted two of my heroes, Jodi Piccoult and Lou Meyer (author of the incredible Jacky Faber series) telling them how much their work meant to me…and they both responded immediately and encouraged me. Jodi had even heard of my work (we both lived in NH in the wonderfully artistic hamlet of the Portsmouth, NH area) and Lou was more than happy to share his own tales of how difficult it was for him to get published (it took him something like 30 years!). Plus, many, many doors that were once closed are now open to me; managers and agents and producers that wouldn’t have looked twice at me are now calling.

The negative crazy makes me sad…there were a number of friends I had that are also writers, and they didn’t especially like it that I “made it” before they did. There was one girl in particular…for six months, she’d send me these emails that started off saying things like, “I’m so proud of you!!” and end with, “Well, it’s not such a big deal…so don’t be too proud of yourself.” The last email she sent was, “You referred to so-and-so as a ‘studio exec’…you should stop talking like that, because people will dismiss you more than they already do.” That was it. For one thing—that’s the lingo out here, so for her to say that was just looking for a way to slap. She then forwarded all the emails I’d sent her regarding accomplishments in my career to my boyfriend, saying, “I just thought you should know what lies your girlfriend is telling; she should stop before she gets caught and embarrasses herself.” I was beyond stunned…the only way she could deal with my successes, was to pretend they didn’t exist; that I’d made them up. I met Neil Simon once, and he said, “Enjoy your friends while you have them, because once you make it, they’ll be gone. Sitting around at a table talking about how it was luck, or that you knew someone, or that so-and-so just wanted to sleep with you.” I laughed—I’m a writer, and at the time was a thirty-four year old mother of two, so the “writing desk” theory seemed funny, but not nearly as funny as the idea of my writer friends abandoning me. But he sadly shook his head. “When you make it, people take it as a personal slam, if they haven’t.” And sadly, he turned out to be right. BUT…I have found a whole new crew of writer friends, who are all going through pretty much what I am…the delights, the challenges, the career plans, and sharing tips on managers, and websites, and all kinds of stuff. It’s such a joy to have friends that are going through just exactly what you are.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

LinkedIn has been invaluable to me; that’s where I found both my publishers AND my manager. FaceBook is great, but Twitter has been absolutely fabulous; in one day I got 150 new friend-followers, all writers, based on my announcement of my publishing contracts. I found a site called Smashwords where people post their work, as well as Book Gorilla. It seems like there’s a new one every day!!

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

My book hasn’t premiered yet, so I don’t know!! But I plan to be online every day just plowing away!!

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?


Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

Oh, I’d be writing constantly whether I was published or not…but now that I’m about to be, I feel…validated. I know that being a writer is a part of my soul, and it shouldn’t matter if I have an audience, but it does. I think if I hadn’t gotten published, I might feel that perhaps I should have done something else with my life…then again, I got some of the most amazing responses from plays I put on in thirty seat houses in New Hampshire. I did a play called “Dear Daddy, Love, Cassie” about a woman dealing with the fact that she repressed a rape and it’s led to a suicide attempt. I had girls as young as thirteen, and women as old as eighty, approach me after the play (I produced it a dozen times between 2000-2008) and say, “You told my story for me” and “I’m going to go home and tell my family what happened to me.” At a special surprise lunch for me in 2005, Joanne Dodge of the Sexual Assault Support System handed me a huge folder filled with 500 responses they’d gotten, from women who’d seen the play and who had gone to get help. So, maybe I wasn’t wasting my time after all.

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