By Ray Sawhill
I’m a huge fan of the novelist Silvia Sanza’s book “Alex Wants to Call It Love.” It’s funny, smart, perceptive, entertaining, daring — just like Silvia herself.
I met Silvia a couple of years ago at a poetry reading. I immediately liked her and have been struck since by how generous she is towards other writers. It’s all too unusual to meet artists or writers who are, God knows.
But Silvia is that rarity: a genuine bohemian, someone who was born to live the arts life, not someone who aspires to it, or who wants to use it just for a career. So it was a pleasure to read “Alex Wants to Call It Love” and love it.
Well, how could I not love a book that’s deliciously raunchy and beautifully written? Here’s a passage from “Alex Wants to Call It Love”:
Sex is important only when it’s great. Otherwise, it’s an inconvenience. If it doesn’t make you high as a mountain, why bother? If it’s too tentative, who needs it? And with Alex sex had become something to do, like eating junk food. It passed the time, wiped up the excess passion, and hid the twisting and groaning emotions, it was as easy as shaking hands and that made it too easy. She was after untamed pounding.
Ray Sawhill: As a fan of your book “Alex Wants to Call It Love,” I’d like to ask if your new book is similar in tone?
Silvia Sanza: Tone. I have to think about that word for a minute. Tone can mean quality, attitude, atmosphere, ambiance, mood. My new book is much the same in that it is contemporary New York characters but my characters, like me, are older — their needs are singular, their experience speckled. Still struggling but with valiant strides.
What’s your writing process?
I am always writing bits and pieces. I sit on stoops, in parks, on curbs and listen to the sounds of the city. I sketch words. Scraps of paper are tossed into file folders and plucked out for inspiration. Characters often write themselves. The shirred yellow empire dress I see in a Soho window becomes the dress that catches the eye of a man walking down Prince Street looking for a lover.
I write a first draft longhand on yellow legal pads with #2 pencils; a second draft goes on the computer. I like to write sitting down on the rug in my tiny living room. If I get distracted for too long a time by my own four walls, I escape to the Jefferson Market Library and sit at one of the round tables upstairs where I can defer the temptation to check my e-mail twenty times a day.
How much do your own experience and your own circle of friends enter into your work?
Very much except I inject it all with a exceedingly healthy dose of fiction. I save everything: letters, postcards, notes, diaries from when I was 12 years old, shopping lists people leave in their baskets at D’Agostino’s. At family thanksgiving dinners I listen hard so I can write about the whole thing when I get home. I listen for the things that remain unsaid. I listen for what’s going on beneath the surface. I’ve always done that.
Then I mix the characters up: one from Column A, one from Column B, two from Column C. A man from one of those family dinners gets matched with a woman (or man) from a completely different social occasion. Characters meld and blend and set and bond in that marvelous world of fiction. I let them tell me what comes next.
What role do eroticism and sex play in your writing?
It would be impossible not to have sex in my writing. Sex is an emotion, painfully addictive, powerfully soothing, wildly absurd, blessedly hilarious and validly and vividly alive in everyone, even those who choose to deny it. I myself am driven by a bundle of sexual tension but sometimes pull back for my own safety. I use that part of me in my writing, too — that calculated disentanglement allows me to create a new dimension of character . . . a new way to measure.
What’s the title of your new book?
My new novel is called “Negative Space.” It is an analogy between the bleak aftermath of 9/11 and the death of my husband who I adored. He was an environmental sculptor and often talked about “negative space”. I was bulldozed by the harsh loneliness of negative space after his death, then came the sweeping far-reaching negative space of 9/11 and the collapse of the twin towers, and then a nose-dive into the negative space of the internet in a grisly chase for love. Let’s say it starts out based on a true story and goes from there.
©2005 by Ray Sawhill