I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview author Peter Rosch about his novel “My Dead Friend Sarah.” Below is my review of the book and an exclusive, one on one, mano y (wo)mano chat session about writing, Costa Rica, self-publishing, and the results of too much caffeine.
“Until then, I’ll meander the streets, act the pretty little fool, unsuspecting with a touch of sorrow worn on my face. We can walk for a while, moving in unison among the masses, together but apart. I’ve got nothing but time.”
You ever have that dream where you’re about to give a book report on Milton Hershey and you look down to see that the only clothing you’re wearing is an apron that says “I Love Chocolate?” How about the one where the world is about to be taken over by hyper-evolved polar bears that only you can control with your voice, which has conveniently gone missing. Well in “My Dead Friend Sarah,” the latest novel by Peter Rosch, main character Max has a dream he just can’t shake and real life consequences intervene, forcing him to confront the dream head on.
“My Dead Friend Sarah” opens with Max being grilled by the NYPD about a crime we have yet to know if he, or anybody, committed. It’s revealed very quickly that Max’s involvement in the case of a missing girl named Sarah is solely based on his confession that he has been plagued by a recurring dream where Sarah gets abducted and potentially murdered. Prior to this moment, Max had the fortune (or misfortune) of meeting Sarah in the flesh and spent the months leading up to her disappearance trying to protect her from the fate he had dreamed about and been dreading ever since.
There are further complications… Max is a recovering alcoholic and his quest for sobriety informs much of the book’s drama. The introduction of Sarah into his life interferes with his marriage to the great Rachel, forces an end to communication with his sponsor, and puts his job into critical condition. And to be inside the mind of a not-so former addict going through a life event that would boggle even the most sober, clear-headed person is what keeps you reading page after page without one thought of pausing for even a glass of water.
“My Dead Friend Sarah” is a quick read, but not for lack of quality. It is beautifully written and Rosch expertly captures the voice and inner workings of both Sarah and Max who switch off on the duties of narration. With lines like the one quoted above you stick around for both the story and the prose and much like Max, you’ll find yourself developing an addiction, not too booze, but to reading this book. “My Dead Friend Sarah” is available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback forms. Buy it now… What are you waiting for??
You’re in line for the bathroom behind Chuck Palahniuk and he asks you what “My Dead Friend Sarah” is about. The line is moving quickly. What do you tell him?
Prior to a couple of days ago I probably would have rambled on and on, possibly said, “It’s about a recovering alcoholic, new to sobriety, who meets this girl he’d been dreaming about, dreaming was going to die, and he sets off to befriend her and save her. He decides it is somehow his responsibility to take care of the situation, even as he hasn’t really solved his own.” I’m sure Chuck would have stopped listening long before I’d finished that last sentence. Now I think I might just pitch it with, “It’s a morality tale about trying to control the world and the people we hold dear, told by the wrongest guy for the telling of it, in the guise of a beach read thriller.” Beach read has positive and negative connotations thought. I’ve been told this book almost reads itself, and that’s a huge compliment in my mind, because I wanted it to move along at a fast clip, almost like a film. But, I do think it is significantly better than quite a bit of fiction people take to the beach. I’ve always been quite long winded, and dread being told to come up with the “elevator pitch” for ideas, stories, concepts. I’d be really psyched to hear what you or anyone else would say to Chuck in quickly describing my book.
We’ve all heard the saying “write what you know…” How much of this book would you say comes from what you know?
Well, I don’t think the main character is me, but I’m sure he is a manifestation of how I see myself at times. It’s quite possible Max is the aggregate of everything I’ve ever hated about myself, but even that might not be entirely true. They say it for a reason though, and I think it definitely makes writing that first book easier if you base it on something concrete, something to reference to help keep you going. My own addiction, alcoholism, and recovery from it, specifically the first six months, shaped the themes, settings, interactions, and some plot developments-of course, the story is a completely original narrative that just popped into my brain one morning crossing the street in SoHo. And it camped out in the gray matter up there long enough to grow into one of the first book ideas I’d ever had, and there have been many, that I deemed worth writing.
What are you proudest of about your novel?
I quite like the cover that my wife did.
What made you go from a guy who wants to write a book to a guy who wrote a book?
Two things I think, maybe more. I talked about writing a book for years, started a couple, and never finished them. The most obvious answer might be putting the bottle down, and certainly being sober played a gigantic part in going from annoying guy on barstool who dreams he can write a book, to guy who did write a book. But even in sobriety the motivation to finally sit down and write didn’t come easy. I think the breakthrough moment was when I finally made peace with the idea that I was only writing this book for myself–to see if I could do it for me, and truly let go of all the usual worries: Will it be any good? Will anyone read it? Will this be just another unfinished piece that collects virtual dust on my hard drive? I work constantly at trying to live in the moment, and I had to apply that same discipline to writing my novel. But just recently it occurred to me that perhaps the biggest reason was because of my wife’s enthusiasm for me. As I wrote a chapter or two, each night she’d read it–she loved the story, and wanted more. And so each morning I was motivated to write, because I didn’t want to disappoint her, and watching her read and react to the story as I built it made me eager to get back at the computer the next day? Since I’ve met her, I’ve sort of lived to impress her, amuse her, and win her over again and again–what better way than writing a book?!
Do you have any advice for people out there who want to undertake a large project like this one?
Commit to doing it, but don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. Create the time and space you need to get your story out there, for me that meant picking up and moving to Costa Rica. I made just enough bold claims about going down there to write a book to some key friends and family, to give myself a deadline. If I returned from there after six months with no book to show for it, I would have been extremely dissatisfied with myself. So often I’ll talk something up quite a bit before taking it on, so that I have the additional pressure of living up to what I’ve claimed to be working towards. Even as I’m quite sure, that in reality not a single person I’d told would have asked me anything about a book upon my return–but in my head I’d set it up as a failure. And even though I have a great appreciation for the critical role failure can play in life, I still don’t like it much.
What were some key elements in your writing process? Coffee, fanta, music, your cat?
A space designated for writing, and shit tons of coffee. My Dead Friend Sarah was mostly written at a small table on a porch facing the jungle, and Costa Rica has great coffee-anyone who knows me also knows I devour coffee. And a lot of Max’s rambling train-wrecks of thought were probably a byproduct of the eight or so cups I had between eight and noon everyday. That type of caffeine consumption isn’t for everyone, but it has worked for me thus far.
Was it hard writing a book set in New York while you were going through the culture shock of Costa Rica?
Quite the opposite I think. Removing myself from all the infinite distractions of the city gave me the stillness I required to sit down and write. And probably allowed me to see the whole of New York more clearly. Many inner dialogs about the pros and cons of having left the city occurred over the first few months there, and so New York was still always very much on my mind, the bad and the good.
What was the motivation behind self-publishing and what would you say are the pros and cons?
The illusion of control was appealing to me. I won’t say it was a decision made without a few form letter rejections from agents, but I really started to like the idea, that after years of writing ads and being told by others what was good, funny, cool, etc., that my book could be as much of me, and only me, as I wanted it to be. I got outside input, very good input from a few key people, but nobody could tell me what to do–and how often, even in creative endeavors, are we afforded that luxury? Like Max, my own control issues probably played a big role in finding massive appeal in self-publishing. Probably too early to say what the most legitimate pros and cons are, but the biggest con has got to be the fact that far too much of what is currently available out there, from self-published or “indie” authors, is really not so terrific. So you have to work pretty had to break through the clutter, and convince people that you aren’t just another yahoo who thought they might take a stab at writing a book about vampires, so they could become instantly famous.
Are there any last words you want to leave readers with or anything these questions haven’t covered that you want to share?
If you are reading this, I thank you for taking the time. It’s been quite a pleasure to give thought to these questions, and I hope if you’ve read My Dead Friend Sarah that you enjoyed it. And if you haven’t, well, what the hell are you waiting for? I kid. I’m a kidder.
Check out more from Peter Rosch at his website www.level9paranoia.com.