Astoria, NY and Asbury Park, NJ
MFA creative writing, Brooklyn College
How long have you been writing?
When I was in the first grade I got in trouble and was sent to my room by my mother. I spent my confinement writing a story about it on my all CAPS typewriter. In the story, a little boy runs away after being sent to his room. He is eventually found on the church steps by his frantic mother, who offers him ice cream and a complete and tear-filled pardon. I didn’t have the guts to run away myself, but it was fun to live vicariously through that other little boy. I learned early that fantasy is often preferable to reality.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Pretty straight-forward realism.
Do you write full-time?
In my head? Yes. In practice? No.
Tell us about your work in Crack the Spine.
“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is inspired by the Elton John song of the same name. It’s a piece of flash fiction that explores the brief relationship between two strangers, one of undisclosed (to the reader) gender. It seems a mutually-enjoyable relationship despite ominous beginnings and the presence of internalized “voices” that constantly judge, berate and warn.
Is there a main theme or message in this piece?
Not everything is meant to be forever, and that’s OK. In fact, it can be just exactly what’s needed in a life’s given moment.
How long did it take you to complete “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy?”
I wrote the first draft in under an hour. Then it took a week or two to tinker, with about three drafts in all.
Tell us about another project you’re working on.
“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is the first of 10 short stories in a collection based on the 10 tracks of the 1975 Elton John album of that name. The title of each track shall be the title of each story; however, that’s not to say that the story will follow the plot contained in the lyrics. Rather, my aim is to use the title and the essence (as I see it) of the song to create an altogether original story and, ultimately, a collection that has a thread running from story to story, just as from song to song on the album.
Where can we find this collection?
Alas, you’re seeing the first of this particular project.
How often do you write?
I think I am always writing in my head. Putting actual pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is another matter. I do my physical writing in spurts, often going weeks in between.
Where do you write?
I can write pretty much anywhere.
How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete?
I’ve had things published that took 20 years and endless drafts, and I’ve had things published where it was more or less ready on the first go-around. Admittedly, these are the two extremes and both are rare. Mostly, it falls somewhere in that vast in-between.
What are your thoughts on writing at a computer vs. writing longhand?
I do both, although I’ve become more accustomed to the computer over time. I love nice pens and have a small collection, and I love to use them. But the reality is, I can type faster than I can write. Also, when writing longhand I have to enter it into the computer pretty quickly afterward, otherwise I can’t read my own writing.
What is your usual starting point for a piece?
Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a title (as with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy). Sometimes it’s a piece of dialogue heard on the subway or street. I recently published a story that begins with the sounds of sex coming from a third story window and an old woman sitting below on the porch, finally screaming in exasperation: “Maria! Stop having sex!” That was a very real scene I once witnessed and knew I had to use in a story at some point.
How do you react to editorial rejections of your work?
How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication?
I must admit it’s a bit thrilling. And validating, for better or for worse.
What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer?
Sanity is relative.
What is your favorite word?
The right one.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Meryl Streep, because I truly believe she can play anything.
What makes you laugh?
I Love Lucy.
What makes you cry?
I am Italian on my mother’s side, so I can cry at just about anything.
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
I’ve witnessed many beautiful sights, but the one that comes immediately to mind is watching my dog run free on a beach.
Rain or Sunshine?
Both, not necessarily in equal measure.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Beach or Mountains?
“No Thanks” or “I’ll have another”?
I’ll have another.
Cats or Dogs?
Beer or Wine?
Pen or Pencil?
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams?