Ask the Artist - John T. SullivanPosted: Updated:
Former Sackets Harbor resident John T. Sullivan, Assistant Attorney General in Watertown wrote a memoir that is a joy to read. It’s a must for local residents who will appreciate the references to Oswego and Jefferson county and NY State Politics.
I posed three questions to John T. Sullivan as part of my "Ask the Artist" Series
CT: I think the question, that everyone who hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet, wants to know, is where does the title come from? How did you choose it, and was it difficult selecting a title?
JTS: When you write a memoir you go on a journey through your life; trying to figure out how you became the person you are. That journey took me back to Kindergarten, St. Mary's School, Oswego, NY, 1952. The title was inspired by an experience I had, which taught me a very important life's lesson. The nun who taught us, Sr. Stanislaus (we called her Sister Santa Claus) allowed us to choose our own seats from the four colored tables in the room. If memory serves, there was the red table, the blue table, the green table, and the orange table. If you sat at the red table, you were the "Bees knees", but if you sat at the Orange table you were considered an “the other side of the tracks” type kid.
So, of course, I always tried to sit at the red table, and that worked pretty well until one day, I peed my pants, and Sister Santa Claus made me stand behind the piano, and then sat me at the Orange table. I was mortified! Me, at the Orange table? Thank you Sister Santa Claus, I think, for teaching me one of life's valuable lessons, and that is "Pee not your pants", for it is dry pants people who rule the world. The "Pee not" verbal formulation was probably subconsciously inspired by Kennedyesque rhetoric.
I tried out the title on friends and acquaintances and got a positive response, and so changed the working title from "Set sail with Sullivan" (My Mayoral campaign theme) to " Pee Not your Pants- Memoirs of a small town Mayor with big time ideas". The title, coupled with the front cover graphic of a four year old on a pony (me), makes the book more visually appealing, and intriguing, or so I am told.
At one point we considered " What color is your table?", which is not a bad title either, but the pony picture was more endearing for the book cover than a sterile picture of a red table, or so we reasoned.
I actually went back and edited several of the chapters to tie in the theme of the book. So far, it seems to be working. We sold over 200 books in the first month of publication, which is good for a self published treatise.
CT: What did you learn about yourself, your life, and the big picture of life from writing this book? Were there any surprises?
JTS: I learned that reacting in the moment, while temporarily satisfying, can often be counterproductive in the end. I also learned that with age comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes wisdom, and with wisdom must come restraint. I am surprised by my ability to remember fine details of events long past, when I can sometimes barely remember what I had for breakfast. I guess that is not an unusual part of the aging process.
CT: What was your inspiration for writing the book? Was there a particular author that inspired you? A particular book you had read? Or was there a story or stories from your life, your past that you just had to tell.
JTS: I love to tell stories and I have plenty of them, as my friends will tell you. My kids have heard them all, so I guess I am looking for a wider audience. I think that by sharing these experiences I can educate as well as entertain, and I feel relieved that I finally got it all down on paper. Well, not all, but lots of it. It is not a tell-all book, but it is a tell-a-lot. You have to save something for a possible sequel.
I was inspired by the style of my late friend Tim Russert's book about his dad, "Big Russ", and his anecdotal style I attempt to emulate. It's kind of like " Hop in the car, let me take you for a ride", while I regale you with stories I enjoy telling. That's what makes it an easy read.
My inspiration for writing the book was fueled in part by the positive reception my first book " Forks in the road", received. We have sold over 1000 copies of a largely local book with themes that are applicable to anyone's experience growing up in a small town. This book takes it to the next level. It is broader in subject matter, yet still personally revelatory. I am just happy to have completed the project and hope to make the readers smile, think, and maybe even shed a tear or two. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
You can pick up a copy of "Pee Not Your Pants" right here in Watertown at your local bookstore: The Reading Room in the Salmon Run Mall.