I am so honored to be able to interview David Henry Sterry an author, performer, educator, activist, muckracker David is the author of 13 books, the first of which was published in 2001. Prior to becoming an author, David was a professional actor and screenwriter.
Thank you so much for being here today.
It’s great to be here.
Tell us David Henry Sterry how did you get your start?
My parents are immigrants, and I believe I was conceived in England, but they’ve always been kind of sketchy about that. I began my performing career at the age of three, when I memorized big chunks of The Music Man, and would sing it when my parents had guests at our house. I began my writing career when I won an essay contest in Birmingham Alabama in the third grade. The title of my essay was, “Why I Love America”.
So tell us do you consider yourself an author, performer, educator, activist or muckracker, can you share on those very different roles?
They all feed each other. I am an extrovert and introvert. A hermit and an exhibitionist. Being an activist and I muckraker go together like gasoline and fire. When I see someone doing something evil to someone defenseless, I feel like I have to do something to help. When I was 17 I was sexually abused. I was naïve and defenseless, and a predator punished me for his own pleasure. This led to post traumatic stress disorder, which led to years of addiction and bitter unhappiness. Telling my story was key to my recovery, which is ongoing. Telling my story helped me find love, a wife, a life, a child who I love dearly. I do feel a desire to call out perpetrators of evil on all levels. That’s what makes me want to rake muck. To be the one who tells everyone that the Emperor has no clothes on. I love writing, which is often a very solitary avocation. Sometimes I spend 10, 12, 14 hours a day writing. Writing doesn’t feel like work to me. It feels like play. In my real life, I get to control so little. I have a five-year-old. But in my writing, I get to control every single thing that happens. It’s so much fun. It’s such an escape. It’s like a drug, without the hangover. If I don’t do it for a while, I crave it. I write something creatively every single day. Even if it’s only 140 characters. I enjoy performing that jolt you get when an audience laughs or cries or gasps is so visceral and physical and spiritual and exciting. The adrenaline is so powerful it really jacks up your central nervous system. In a good way. It’s like a drug, without the hangover. If I don’t do it for a while, I crave it. I made my living as an actor for about 15 years, and I use those skills touring the country with an event I invented called Pitchapalooza. It’s like American Idol for books. Writers get 1 min. to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts. It’s me and my partner Arielle Eckstut, and then we always have guest judges: agents, book representatives, publishers, writers, critics, editors. We critique pitches in a kind and gentle way. At the end of the event we have a winner, and we introduce that winter to an agent or publisher who’s right for their work. This summer we did Pitchapalooza has in Cape Cod, rural Alaska then Hawaii. Last weekend we were in Exeter New Hampshire. Earlier this evening, we did one at the Brooklyn Book Festival, in the Brooklyn Public Library. Lots of our participants have gone from being talented amateurs to professionally published authors with the contracts. I’m very proud of this. It’s such a rush to help someone make their dream come true. And there are so many talented writers with great ideas that just don’t have any connections, or don’t quite understand how the publishing business works. This event allows me to combine my acting/improvisational skills which I spent so many years cultivating, starting as a stand up comedian in San Francisco in the early 80s, being the MC at Chippendale’s http://amzn.to/UfMWFk male strip club for a couple of years in New York City in the mid-80s, doing improvisational theater acting in the Renaissance Fayre, being a TV spokesman for everyone from AT&T to Publishers Clearinghouse. I also wrote lots of short plays, I acted in them, I produced and booked them in small theaters in venues and clubs in New York City in the mid-80s. That was a great learning experience, researching what venues would be right, convincing club and theater owners to let me perform there, writing, revising, rehearsing, promoting and marketing, figuring out how to get in the media, connecting with an audience, all these things are valuable in almost any business venture you want to engage in. When my first memoir, Chicken, http://amzn.to/S8NSte came out, I made a one-man show out of it and toured the country with it. I took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is the biggest arts festival world. If you’ve never been to the festival, I highly recommend it. There are artists from all over the world. I got to perform in the same bill with an Australian singer who does spectacular impressions of everyone from Judy Garland to Janis Joplin, and the Soweto Gospel Choir. In a way, that was probably my most favorite combination of everything I do. I got to perform what I had written, and inside that story is a subtle kind of activism. I’ve acted with chihuhuas, a cow, a duck, great Danes, two monkeys, Michael Caine and Will Smith. And I learned something from each and every one of them. I wrote screenplays for a while, which also taught me a lot about how to tell a story visually. But I much prefer writing books. I sold a bunch of screenplays, but none of them ever got made into movies. But when I write a book, I can always get it published. In fact, with self-publishing, I actually can always get it published.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I get a newsletter once a week from inspiration.com. It’s awesome. My brain is constantly trying to figure out how to take things I see in life and make stories out of them. Two days ago my five-year-old broke her arm on the dreaded monkey bars. After I dried her tears, hugged, comforted and kissed her, took her to the doctor and got her x-rayed and watched her get her cast put on, I posted a picture of her, and I got tons of responses. Turns out generations of Americans have been brutalized by the dreaded monkey bars. I thought that would make a great idea for kids book. The hero of the story would be a little kid who keeps hearing from his little friends in preschool about this dreaded monster that breaks children’s bones, a womb nd cracks their skulls, a merciless beast that feeds on children. Only we don’t know what it is until the end of the story. But the kid is so horrified and terrified by these war stories. And of course, the reveal at the end of the story is that the monster is the dreaded monkey bars. So much fascinating, horrifying, hysterical, sad, exciting, brutalizing, romantic, sexy stuff is going on around us all the time. All we have to do is pay attention.
Can you tell us about your latest book “ The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published?
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published http://www.thebookdoctors.com/our-book is a soup to nuts, nuts and bolts explanation of how to write your book, sell it and market it successfully. From figuring out the right idea, to understanding who your audience is and how to reach them, to constructing a social media platform, finding and agent and/or publisher, or doing it yourself, because let’s face it, the idea that a self published book is still the redheaded stepchild of the publishing world no longer holds any water. The fastest selling book in the history of the world, Shades of Gray, a self published book. Or it was anyway, until the author got a million-dollar book deal. The book actually came out of a workshop we taught at Stanford about how to get published. When we got that opportunity, we found out there was so much interest in the subject, while we enjoyed both the process of deconstructing the publishing process, and working together immensely. So our book is kind of like the What to Expect When You’re Expecting of publishing. Everything you’ll need to know about conceiving and giving birth to a happy, healthy book.
Who are the Book Doctors and what do they do?
When The Essential Guide was published two years ago, we started The Book Doctors, http://www.thebookdoctors.com/ to help writers figure out how to get successfully published. And because Arielle is an agent, author and entrepreneur; and I am an author, performer and producer, we bring lots of different perspectives, skill sets and experiences to our company. Publishing is a very strange and quirky business. It has its own ridiculous and often arbitrary rules. And, of course, publishing is changing mercurially. Print-on-demand, e-books, goodreads, kindle singles, smashwords, book trailers. We think it’s the greatest time in history to be a writer. The great news is, anyone can get published. But the bad news is… anyone can get published. So now you’re competing against everyone in the whole world.
Tell us something we do not know about you.
There is literally nothing about me that the whole world doesn’t know. As a memoirist, part of my brand is that I will tell you more about myself than you would ever possibly care to know. My deepest darkest secrets have been revealed. By me. The good news is that no one can blackmail me. And no matter what horrible things anyone might say about me, I’ve already said worse things about myself. That being said, I’ve recently learned how to pickle jalapeno peppers which I grow in my garden. It’s very satisfying to grow jalapeno peppers and then pickle them, and then eat them. I recently caught a Lin cod in the ocean off the coast of Alaska. It’s very satisfying to hook, reel in, catch, barbecue, then eat a 35 pound fish. I had a brief love affair with a monkey named Sally, who I acted with a Michelob beer commercial. This is a true story. At the time I was in prosthetic makeup that had transformed me into a Neanderthal. She was kind of supposed to be my girlfriend in the commercial. When we did the first take, the human who was playing the waitress came up and started flirting with me, which is what she was supposed to do according to the script. But when she did, Sally the Monkey went berserk, jumped up on the table, bared her teeth, screamed bloody murder and look like she was going to kill the poor terrified human who was portraying the waitress. Every time Sally the Monkey would see me she would run up to me and jump into my arms and gave me a huge big monkey hug. Often times she would give me tiny little monkey kisses all over my face. Sadly, we were never able to consummate our relationship. Ours was a forbidden love.
So, tell us about your new book.
I’ve always loved hard-boiled noir. I cut my teeth on Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and I’m a huge fan of James Elroy, Elmore Leonard, and Lawrence Block. In fact, I’m honored to be performing at NoirCon in Philadelphia http://www.noircon.info/ in November, along with Lawrence Block. So anyway, I decided to create some noir for the 21st century. It’s set in one of the nastiest places on the planet, the seedy groin of San Francisco’s Tenderloin, where smoking guns, dangerous dames, predatory traffickers, shivering tourists, bustling businessmen, hungry junkies, deadly dealers, stiletto-heeled streetwalkers, wannabe hipsters, grifters and strippers all rub elbows. A place where I spent way way way too much time. It’s all about a maniac trying to chase down the object of his desire, the Snow Leopard, a creature as lovely as she is lethal. It’s called Confessions of a Sex Maniac. http://amzn.to/JyBfkU It is not a memoir.
Well this has truly been amazing and I wanted to thank you once again for being here today and I have to say I quite enjoyed the pics you sent that show the many sides of you!
Eye-opening, astonishing, brutally honest and frequently funny… riveting…”—The New York Times Sunday Book Review (front page review)
“Sterry writes with comic brio… [he] honed a vibrant outrageous writing style and turned out this studiously wild souvenir of a checkered past…” – Janet Maslin, NY Times
“Sterry’s prose fizzes like fireworks… As laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson.” –The Irish Times
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published “A must-have for every aspiring writer.” – Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner