Thursday, February 24, 2011

Monday Afternoon – One Year Anniversary – First Book Published by Night

Since Authonomy has been around, not one single book that has made the Editor’s Desk has been offered a contract by Harper Collins.  That’s over 100 books and not a single contract.  It’s surprising that writers still struggle to make it to the top of the heap when there is less than a 1% of getting a contract. tried to improve upon that system by allowing the readers to vote which manuscript will be published. 

Tim Roux created Night Publishing and Night Reading in hopes of publishing five books a month.   Every month the members vote.  The entire editors’ desk at Night reading gets published.

What excellent ideas.

I absolutely love the first book Night published, Monday Afternoon by Steve Sangirardi.  The prose drew me in as an English teacher is tempted to cheat on his wife.  It’s easy to say that cheating is wrong, but this book offers such depth of thought and complexities that challenge the reader to think as we grow to understand the characters motivations.  It’s stunning that this book wasn’t offered a contract by a big publisher.  As its one year publication anniversary (March 3, 2010), I decided to play tribute to its author with an interview (you can also find the first chunk of the novel on Authonomy).    

KJ Kron:  When Angelo meets Monica for the first time, it feels like 17 year olds falling in love.  The excitement, the anticipation.  I felt like this was going to be a romance, but I wouldn’t call it that.  How would you describe it?

Steven Sangirardi: Though it might sound cliché, the two are lonely soul-mates…in the sense that they fall in love and fornicate rather quickly. The nineteenth-century British poets call it the finding of the Epipsychidion, the ideal intellectual and sexual counterpart. Monica and Angelo also bring out the child in each other, as when they ‘play’ in the museum or dance the night away.

KJ: He seems to suffer from a lot of Catholic guilt.  Are you Catholic and how much of your Catholic upbringing did you manage to put in this book?

Steven: Considering Angelo’s great guilt over his mother-in-law’s accident, the reader should not be surprised by his decision at the end of the novel. Catholic gods die hard. I myself am a lapsed Catholic, and yet every time I pass a church in the car, I make the sign-of-the-cross. Since you have asked this question, I feel comfortable saying that I’m always asking forgiveness for sins I’ve not yet committed in case I unexpectedly die. Lol.

There is no way you could write this book without being an English teacher.  What is your teaching experience?

Before retiring from Clarke High School in Westbury, NY in 2009, I taught high school and college English for thirty-three years. I began teaching at the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1976. I taught all over New York City for a time. I had to retire at the relatively early age of fifty-four because of Multiple Sclerosis. My bad luck. A writer should write about what he or she knows, right? I like to think that I understand every nuance of teaching.

As an English teacher, I absolutely love this book.  All the allusions to literature I’ve taught.  He also uses allusions from movies, etc.  Monica shares his background in a way his wife can’t.  Does that mean they are alike or is it just their shared love of literature?

As I implied in the first question, their love goes far beyond their love of literature. They both loved the Stamford Nature Center, were both born in July, and together loved watching the film King Kong. They were also, er, complementary in bed. They were especially able to peruse the speech bubble hovering over the other’s head.

Romeo and Juliet is a perfect love because they die without leaving that initial honeymoon phase.  I’m curious if you believe that Monica and Angelo would have been able to stay in that honeymoon phase forever?

That is an excellent point. I think, and several readers have told me the same thing: sooner or later, Angelo’s Catholic Superego was going to prevail. Doesn’t Monica tell him the same thing? These same readers, I should frankly point out, were upset with the ending of the book. The wanted just the opposite to occur.

I read the book Sex in America that states that married couples rarely cheat on each other because they’d feel too much guilt and they couldn’t find the time and most couple that cheat end up getting divorced.  Once Angelo crosses the Rubicon, do you believe that his marriage to Alice is doomed?

Probably. The part of the book that I most enjoyed writing was Angelo’s return-visit home, alone, when he clears out his belongings in preparation for life with Monica, and still he is bombarded with memories and absent voices. In a way, he can’t believe what he is doing. And his wife Alice will never let him forget his marital transgression. If a man takes inventory of his life at any given moment, his life is pretty much the sum total of his choices up to that point of his inventory. Angelo strays from the conjugal path and pays dearly for it. He is like a shuttlecock, fluttering between Connecticut and New Rochelle.

He struggles with his faith in God and his lusts at one point pitting Freud against Jesus.  How can you summarize those two points of view?

Ha. Jesus and Freud play tug-of-war on Angelo…and will likely render him Venus de Milo. Duty vs. Desire, it is a bitch. I suppose the main question of the novel remains: what does a man do after fifteen years of marriage and fatherhood when he falls in love with another woman? Does he repress his impulses, as a moral Catholic spouse should, or does he explode in the name of freedom? We can’t forget that Angelo Aiello is a very decent man who happens to be unhappily married. Then he meets Monica Richardson. Ahem. Maybe, just maybe, the traditional bad angel on his left shoulder is really the good angel, and the good one on his right shoulder is the unhealthy tyrant.

It’s painful to see the way he treats his wife, yet there is good in him.  His wife is frustrated that he can empathize with his students but not her. Do you blame his lack of moral consistency due to being in an uncomfortable situation?

I think Angelo has come to know the B.B. King song: “The Thrill is Gone.” He married Alice too quickly due to her physical beauty, and now that the Beauty has vanished---some of the reason for which is Alice’s own fault--- Angelo finds his new thrill in a very unexpected place. In Angelo’s defense, he didn’t intentionally intend to hurt his wife and daughter, as he tells them. Nonetheless, if Angelo were brought before some Oprah tribunal comprised of a jury of women, Angelo would be lapidated, stoned to death; then his decapitated head sentenced to a pillory.  

I like the line about how he hates Billy Collins’ poetry and they prefer the classics, sonnets.  Do you share that point of view and what are some of your favorite poems / poets?

Like Robert Frost, I am opposed to any poet who plays tennis without a net, that is, relies almost entirely on Free Verse. Billy Collins is actually a good poet whom I enjoy. But open any magazine or journal or anthology, and behold the fast-food poetry that is usually composed in, er, five minutes. My favorite poets are Yeats, Frost, Stevens ad infinitum. I am a poet myself and have written two hundred sonnets.

Your style is different.  Long paragraphs and long sentences which really shows the confusion Angelo goes through.  It’s different from much of the modern fiction I read with short paragraphs and choppy sentences.  Are you critical of modern literature the Angelo abhors modern poetry or do you like modern fiction?  When reading your book, two come to mind: The Corrections, a modern piece of fiction and The Death of Ivan Ilych, a classic.  Which would you say is closer to your style? 

Thanks for that compliment. When I read Dickens, Franzen, Tolstoy, Boyle, Faulkner, Morrison, Joyce---the list is endless--I feel like an excited second-graded waving his hand, and it feels good playing the second grader vis-à-vis these masters because there is always something to learn. My writing is eclectic: I am influenced by everyone I am reading at the time. In fact, three years ago my wife and I were at Stop and Shop. I was browsing the book section as usual, while my wife went up and down the aisles. I culled from the shelf an author I had heard a lot about, someone poohed-poohed by literati. It was Nicholas Sparks’ True Believer. I read it and understood the cylinders and pistons and belts of a best-seller. That book taught me much, and Monday Afternoon is somewhat based on it.

This is a 90s book, which made me wonder – did you write it during the 90s? How long did it take to write?  How many drafts did you go through?  How long was it sitting on your shelf before you tried to publish it?

I wrote the book sporadically from 2005-2007, then honed it after my retirement from teaching, four, five hours a day. Allow me to include the most important statement ever made about writing. It’s from Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger: “You cannot pluck a single fruit from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with your entire life.” After I retired, I felt such a guilty void that I sublimated that guilt into writing, turned my blood into ink. Writing, as Mann suggests, becomes your obsession.

You go through a full ranges of emotions in this book.  Which do you prefer writing, the joyful or the painful scenes?

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the scene where Angelo and Monica make love for the for the first time and go dancing for the first time entirely enmeshed in that Dirty Dancing number. I also thoroughly enjoyed writing about Angelo’s sister-in-law’s death and his compunction returning home to gather his possessions, etc., for his new life with Monica. I think any writer must be able to don both the comic and the tragic mask.

One of my co-workers said that the English department is full of broken dreams.  That’s true in my case, struggling novelist.  And that’s the case with your two main characters.  Do you think anything would have changed if they were published poets?

Sounds like the Green Day song. Who knows? They might have been too content with their lives to seek the other person. I’ll end with this confession---as I wrote this novel, I fell in love with my character Monica Richardson. I was anxious to discover what she was going to say and do the next day, as soon as I, the author, awoke. I began missing her as soon as the book was finished. Life on the planet.

I see you have a new novel out.  Tell me a little about it.

My new novel, also published by Night Reading, is A Shakespearean View of Freud. Around 1980, I read something by the critic Harold Bloom that sparked my interest. Bloom wrote that he was getting tired of reading Freudian interpretations of Shakespeare. Why couldn’t someone write a Shakespearean interpretation of Freud? Times being what they were, I attempted the task.

Tim Roux, the founder of Night Publishing, decided to publish your book first.  How did you two meet?

I met Tim on the website Speak Without Interruption. We exchanged writings, and Tim asked to see my novel. I owe him a lot.

Best of luck with A Shakespearean View of Freud and continued success with Monday Afternoon.


  1. Thank you for conducting such an interesting and insighful interview, Karl. The publication of Monday Afternoon was a brilliant choice by Tim.

    I enjoyed 'meeting up' with Stephen Sangirardi through the context of the interview.
    Well done both of you.

  2. What a great interview. I am a new visitor and follower via Java's Follow Friday.
    I wish you both much luck!