Hi, folks! Today, we’re hosting a Quick Q&A with Johnny Cataffo, the author of Sally Singletary. Read on to find out what we talked about…
Hi, Johnny! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.
For starters, I’m a fourth grade teacher with a passion for writing and science. I’ve dreamed of becoming an author for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, so fantasy and science fiction have always been right up my alley. I decided to try something new, however, with my Sally Singletary series. I wanted to bring the inquisitiveness of Nancy Drew into a new era. While the character of Nancy Drew would never fly with today’s audiences, Sally retains her curiosity and drive to find the truth no matter how strange it may be.
Which gives you more satisfaction – to write a first draft, or to finish the last round of editing?
I’d probably have to say finishing the last round of editing. I always feel accomplished with the final product, when I know that it’s ready to go. While writing the first draft is exciting, getting it out to my readers is always my goal.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
The original premise for both series, Sally Singletary and Tears of Destiny, began with a short story I wrote in high school for a creative writing class. It was a scene about a boy in an accident. That simple scene grew into an idea to take all of modern fiction and kind of turn it on its head. I wanted to build a world that had not yet been built, to create a story that combines elements of fantasy, science fiction and mystery. A story that would cross barriers, highlight equality, and empower those who feel less empowered. My books are meant to highlight the best characteristics of humanity while showing characters that have to deal with their flaws in a world that stretches the imagination and blurs the line between science, fantasy and myth.
Pick a random piece of writing that you worked on ages ago and that never saw the light of day. Now tell us about it!
I wrote a short story once I’d intended to enter for a contest, but I never wound up submitting it. I can’t say why for sure. It was long enough ago that I don’t remember the reason. It was a simple fantasy short story about a fairy who lived in a tree, the last magic tree located in the middle of a town square. She broke all the rules to make contact with a boy she was sure could save them from certain doom. The boy faced ridicule and shame, but never gave up and finally succeeded in saving the tree.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, can you tell us about it?
I write mostly during summers when I’m out of school. I started as more of a pantser, just writing whatever came to my head, but as my overall story grew, I had to find ways to keep it all organised. Now, I use Excel to track books, ideas, and scenes, and I work on multiple devices for different tasks and so that I can access my work anywhere. I have many moments when I’m out to lunch and will have an idea. I always have my work with me.
What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
I’ve been having trouble finding good things to read. I started reading 11/22/63, but like many of Stephen King’s books, you get a lot of character build up, but not a lot of pay-off in the end. It was interesting in its historical aspect, but focused so much on “gritty” characters, that it lost a lot of its historical value for me. I started So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane, but I have to admit, it hasn’t kept my attention.
Who are some of your favourite unsigned and indie authors?
To be honest, it’s a similar struggle with indie authors. You get plenty of books that say they have a million five-star reviews and then come to find out the book is horrible and most of the reviews were paid for or obtained by questionable means. It’s difficult to overcome that stigma as an indie author. What I can say is that I’ve read some amazing work, just none that has made it out there. I was once a contender for Amazon’s Breakout Novel Award, but was beat out by a book called TimeBound. I decided I wanted to see the book that did better than mine. I have to say, I was not as impressed as I expected. The story was good, but there were a lot of things that were drawn out and off-putting for the reader. I hate to criticise other people’s work because I know how much of themselves they pour into it, but if indie authors are going to make it in this world, they’ve got to be sure the product is at least as good as something released by the big six. I see that as a problem for a lot of us because it requires such a strong commitment both in time and money.
What’s the best bit of writing advice that you’ve ever received?
Keep writing. I reworked my first novel countless times in an attempt to make it perfect. Each time I only succeeded in making it work. The first time I gave up and moved on was the best decision ever. Not only did my writing improve with each book I wrote, but also I was able to develop the story better for that first book and one of these days it will actually see the light of day.
If you could go out for dinner with any three authors, living or dead, who would you pick?
J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Andy Weir, each for different reasons. J.K. Rowling is my hero in all aspects of her life. She has created a timeless story that has so often touched me in ways a book never has. While reading them, I faced situations similar to Harry’s in every day life and her books reminded me all things come to an end. For Dan Brown, it was opening my eyes to things I’d never before considered. Though his works are fiction, there’s so much reality in them, so much possibility it was enough to make me question the world at a time in my life when the world needed questioning. And for Andy Weir, just because he accomplished every writer’s dream. Putting his work out there with no real expectation of making it big, and doing just that.
How do you get the word out about your work?
I attend Book Fests when I can, visit schools, and talk with others authors who are interested in my journey. Social media is good for some things, but I’ve found it considerably lacking when it comes to garnering sales. I’ve done ads, boosted posts, Twitter ads, even Google ads. I see more interest in real life events than online. Word of mouth is powerful, but you’ve got to make real life connections with people first..