Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

John J Savo is a young talented writer and auctioneer from Pennsylvania who just self-published an epic fantasy tome called Lux War: CORONATION, one of a series. I’ve known John for years, initially meeting at his family’s auction gallery (Rebecca's Auction) which I frequented until my house was crammed to the rafters with stuff I had bought. At most auctions the players are dealers planning to resell their crap but I would show up for the entertainment value as much as anything else. John’s very funny and theatrical and this charisma comes out on his popular blog, The Authoring Auctioneer. (Full disclosure, John can be an intimidating figure (he looks like a good-looking Penn of & Teller) Often I would bid on something just because I was scared of him.)

Painting by Carlo Savo

Freelancer’s Lament: I would probably show up more to your auctions if I didn’t feel you would break my legs if I didn’t bid on everything.
John J Savo: Really? Because I'm not much of a leg-breaking kind of guy, even though I am Italian. I'm more of a ball-breaker. I'd much rather smash someone with my wit than with my fists. For me, there's much more satisfaction in making someone feel terrible on the inside than on the outside, like bacterial infection of the stomach lining. Besides, one can't be charged with aggravated assault for a well-executed insult. So I may pick on you if you come to one of my auctions and not buy anything, but let's face it: You can never NOT buy something.

FL: I love the brashness of your blog. You told one reader who wanted to wash your mouth out with soap to go to hell. What’s the worst thing you’ve said or done to someone at your auction?
JJS: I've never really had to do anything terrible to someone during my auctions. I've had to kick a few people out for being unruly or obstinate, but that only happens once in a blue moon when a customer thinks he runs my business, not my family and I. Nine of out ten people are good. It's that 10% that raises my blood pressure. Like the moron that left that comment because he or she had to read the f-word on my blog. "Boo-hoo-hoo.”

FL: Friends whose job it is to perform in front of people for a living always tell me they hate people. We have both said the same to each other, but I think you’re lying. How do you REALLY feel about people, as a group?
JJS: Again, I think most people are just trying to survive. Most people are good, I think. (I still hope, anyway.) The problem is, the assholes get all the attention and so are always on the forefront of society's news coverage. I guess that's a theme of my blog: Point out the absurdity that humanity sometimes displays and make fun of it in the funniest and angriest way I can.

FL: Would you like to continue auctioneering?
JJS: I feel that the auction business is something I was born to do. After all, I grew up in it. But my goal is to constantly improve it. We've come a long way in the past few years. Our quality of merchandise and buyers is getting better with each sale. We're starting to gain some national recognition. So yes, I would like to continue as long as it keeps growing and maturing and remains a challenge. Of course, that falls on me, my brother, and my father. We put a lot of effort and creativity into each of our auctions and more and more people are starting to notice.

FL: What's the worst part of auctioneering?
JJS: The second worst part is of the auction business is the manual labor involved. I don't have a team of lackeys to move the merchandise out of the estates and into my gallery. That duty, all duties, fall on me, my brother, and my father. It's grunt work that involves fighting elements, dirt, and adverse architecture. I can't stand it, but it's a necessary evil. The WORST, top most thing I hate about the auction business? The people who think that we, the Savo Auctioneers, are only at our gallery or at work on auction day. Some think that all the inventory magically appears and sets itself up into neat little rows and vignettes, and that all we have to do is show up and "talk fast."

FL: The best?
JJS: We don't buy the merchandise we sell. We're an auction company. We provide a service. Therefore, we sell on a commission basis. So the best part of the business is when I'm able to sell something for someone and shock the hell out of them. For example, a couple of months ago, we sold a vintage beer can collection for a gentleman. He had no idea the value. The collection consisted of about 250 cans, ranging in age from the late 1930s to the last few years. It was sold as a group. After taking bids from seven people from all over the country, the collection achieved a final selling price of $4,250. The guy who owned the cans almost fell over with joy and amazement after we told him. That's a good feeling, to be able to make someone's day because we did a good job.

FL: Cool story? Can you share another?
JJS: Well, there's always something in an estate that can surprise people. Years ago, we removed the contents of a doctor's estate. Like usual, the executors thought we were crazy, because sometimes gold looks like garbage and garbage looks like gold. People who don't sell in the auction/antique trade are often boggled by the things we take and the things we don't take out of a home. In this particular doctor's house, the surviving family members believed us to be super insane when we took a cadaver's skull and then asked if the rest of the skeleton was somewhere. (You know, it was from one of those skeletons you see propped up in a physician's office all the time.) Unfortunately, only the skull remained. We offered it up for bidding and it brought somewhere around $350.

FL: John, do you have any theatrical background?
JJS: I have a degree in theatre and public speaking, but I haven't been in a play since 2001. It was at that time I found out I have an allergy to divas and primadonnas. So, for health reasons, I had to give it up.

FL: Let’s talk about your new book. In Lux War: CORONATION you create a whole new world— you even provide a glossary s a guide for readers.
JJS: Lux War is a fantasy, but it is a story about the human condition more than it is about magic and armor. It explores the consequences of political greed, genocide, revenge, and love. Yes, love has consequences. The setting—the fantasy part of it—becomes a harmony to the characters. The plot is larger than life, and so the world in which it happens had to be equally large and unique. The characters affect the setting as much as the setting affects the characters. Lux War isn't really about good versus evil. It's more like real life, where all of the players are bad, but a few have some redeeming qualities. Still, the characters draw you in, much like being unable to look away from a really bad car crash.

FL: What type of readers are you hoping to attract?
JJS: My novel is not for children. It is gruesome at times and intelligent in the rest. It was written for adults who enjoy the genre but need some smart drama at the same time.

FL: Did you set goals for yourself as to what the book would or could accomplish?
JJS: I honestly didn't know what to expect with my first one, but I've learned there's a lot of competition out there and it's very difficult to get agents or publishers to look your way. I can empathize though. As an auctioneer, I'm constantly told by people how good their stuff is. However, 8 out of 10 times, it's the same crap that everybody else has. But I'm not one of those 8. I know my novel is like the 2 out of 10 people who actually have something wonderful to sell.

FL: Who were you thinking of (writers-wise) when you wrote the book?
JJS: Well, naturally, I was thinking of Tolkein and all that he accomplished with Lord of the Rings. I didn't look to him for style, but for inspiration. It's funny that I wrote a fantasy, because the three writers that have influenced me the most are Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Woody Allen.

FL: Let's mention you do a radio show called "Cash or Trash." You guys are funny together. It’s gotta be a thrill to be doing a radio show with your family. [Sundays, from 3PM to 4PM streamed on] How's that going?
JJS: Great. My father, my brother, and I (the Savo Auctioneers) host the show. We discuss life, humanity, and the auction world (the tagline of We do our best to entertain while educating people about the auction business. It's one of the things that has helped improve our business. We've gotten some great merchandise and have met some great people because of it.

FL: Desert Island. What five books are you taking with you?
JJS: Oh, Christ... Umm...
1. The Great Gatsby
2. A Moveable Feast
3. The Seven Percent Solution
4. Hound of the Baskervilles
5. The Lord of the Rings

FL: 5 people you’re bringing with you?
JJS: My wife (or fiancee, whatever you want to say), naturally. I have to pick four more people? I guess it wouldn't matter, because I'd probably just end up killing those other four for their meat.

FL: What’s your life-story in a fortune cookie message?
JJS: "You love ice cream but despise ignorance."

To buy Lux War: CORONATION. For details on Rebecca’s Auction. Enjoy John’s blog.

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