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Santofler juggles painting and writing on no sleep

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Artist-author Jonathan Santlofer finds his lifelong struggle with insomnia has actually been a blessing, allowing him time to pursue his two passions -- painting and writing.

Author Jonathan Santlofer is photographed at his New York art studio in a May 2007 photo. Santlofer finds his lifelong struggle with insomnia has actually been a blessing, allowing him time to pursue his two passions -- painting and writing. REUTERS/Ellen Page Wilson for Harpers Collins Publishers/Handout

New Yorker Santlofer had a successful career as an abstract painter with over 100 solo and group exhibitions when a gallery fire destroyed five years’ worth of his work.

Stunned by the setback, he retreated to Rome where he spent time looking at Renaissance and Baroque art and began to write fiction as a form of creative release, resulting in the 2002 release of his first crime fiction novel, “The Death Artist”.

He has since written four more books, with his latest “The Murder Notebook” released recently, and has also found that his painting style has changed immeasurably.

Santlofer spoke to Reuters about juggling the arts:

Q: Had you written much fiction previously?

A: “Not at all. I had written non-fiction about art and culture and wouldn’t say I had a burning desire to write fiction although I did harbor a secret desire to write a novel, like many people. What happened is the fire really knocked me out of my career and I needed something else in my life to see me though ... and then I kept on going.”

Q: How do you balance writing with painting?

A: “I’m basically having a nervous breakdown to be honest! I kind of divide my day and tend to write very early in the morning and late at night and I paint in the afternoon. But when I’m finishing a book in the last three months I’ll do nothing but write and if I am preparing for a show then all I do is paint.”

Q: Is it hard to find the time?

A: “I am one of those people who don’t sleep much, maybe four to six hours a night. I have found a way to cope with my insomnia and to put the time to good use. I think the fact that I was an avid reader saved me in the middle of the night before. Now I find that it is a really good time to write because the world has gone away and it is really quiet.”

Q: How has your artwork changed since the fire?

A: “Radically. I was part of a group of artists that were called ‘eccentric abstraction’ and made my career as a painter of eccentric shaped abstract paintings. After the fire, it took me several years to refind my work. For some reason I couldn’t work abstractly any more and needed something more tangible, more recognizable. I eventually became an artist who works with imagery, very detailed realism. I really did a huge turnabout.”

Q: Why thrillers?

A: “I’d spent my life alternating my reading of books. I’d read a good literary novel and then a thriller or mystery. When I started writing, I started a memoir notebook about an artist but after about a year I didn’t like it and the character that was me so I killed the character on the page. It hit me like a thunderbolt - write the other book you love, the great thriller.”

Q: “The Murder Notebook” is your second book featuring the NYPD sketch artist Nate Rodriguez. Will there be more?

A: I would like to keep writing about Nate because he is a character that feels very close to me. I think we invest our characters with a lot of ourselves and I have put a lot of myself into Nate. Even though he is a flawed character he is a romantic character. He is this slightly troubled, very handsome, tortured guy who women love.”

Q: What’s the hardest part of writing?

A: “The hardest part when you are writing a genre book, a thriller as I am writing, is to make sense. I like complex, twisting plots but you have to be aware of all the threads.”

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: “To the people who say they are going to write a book then never write it, stop saying it. It is very hard to write a book but if you make that commitment don’t tell anyone. Write it for yourself and rewrite and rework it. Then use your six degrees of separation and go to every writing conference you can and meet people. You only need one person who will believe in your book.”

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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