Interview by Dan Alatorre, December 2nd, 2016
Today we are joined by my friend Casey Costra, who recently released his new novel Touch.
Casey left home very early, worked a lot of jobs to pay for a lot of education, met “the one” early on, had kids who were adults by the time women these days are getting around to their first birth, added child care into the work and schooling, and ended up with advanced graduate degrees. “For a time I was a professor who traveled around the world to teach and give workshops, and my sweetie was sent to learn overseas and bring new teaching strategies back to the U.S. Then I quit all that to become a full-time artist and writer.”
Casey and I met in a critique group a while back, and I was intrigued by his story about Rosa and Tony, and his unique storytelling style.
Dan: Welcome Casey! Tell us a little about Touch, your new novel.
Casey: In Staten Island’s Little Italy neighborhood, Rosa DeAngelo marries at 18, leaving behind her secret admirer, Tony Prezzi. He in turn marries his own pursuer, a NYC cop. Two tragedies later, they each bury themselves in their jobs, and earn promotions. Their friends, family members and a new European touch therapy spa, Le Salon de l’Amour all play a part in the next chapter of their lives.
This description was e-mailed to me by an enthusiastic reader, who said she thought what I had on Amazon gave away too much of the plot
Awesome. Helpful fans are the best.
What is the working title of your next book?
Traffic. Nothing to do with cars and trucks. Not a working title, either. It’s the second in the Rosa DeAngelo series, and I’ve announced its name to the world.
On behalf of the world: message received. Why Traffic?
The last scene of Touch was interrupted by the arrival of two “baby whores” who desperately needed a place to hide. Next book, we learn they’d gotten away from their pimp just after he sold them to a sex trafficker, so they were considered stolen property. Rosa and Tony never heard of this before, but now they’ve got two runaway 14-year-olds to fight for. Trouble is, though they’re teens with terrible troubles behind them, they’re also two rebellious pains in the ass.
Ah, good wholesome family entertainment. Where did the idea come from for the book?
author Casey Costra
From the same place as all my other book ideas—my disordered mind. I have a computer file full of book ideas. I can’t relate to those exercises to help a writer come up with an idea. I mean, if you don’t have something to say…
I’m not big on writing prompts, either. What’s your process like? How do you do what you do?
To start with, Forward Press handles my books. It’s a small Indie Press “dedicated to works of fiction which call attention to social problems or their solutions.” Forward Press is so small that all its paperwork fits into a couple files in my desk drawer. So I choose domestic violence or sex trafficking and then I write fun characters and a romantic or suspense plot around it so I don’t preach and people want to read it.
I’m bipolar. The most important thing is to write while I’m in the upper half. Edit, too. I paint. And sing. I have painted and sung my way out of depressions, but I have never been able to write or edit my way out of one.
Editing actually depresses me. Editing my own stuff, anyway. Editing other people’s stuff – slashing and burning their pride and joy – that, I find strangely cathartic.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Four months. It was a NaNoWriMo mess. Sorry, NaNoWriMo. I completely rewrote it—maybe five months. And then the first revision—another four. Then the editing. Never again.
visual inspiration for the Rosa character
I’m not a fan of NaNo, either. It’s like a massive writing prompt or something. I’ve never understood the allure or trying to rush. You either feel the desire to write or you don’t, but to force it, and for an artificial deadline? I don’t get it.
What makes you so damn interesting anyway?
I’ve been homeless; I’ve been well off. I’ve been called the white one because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was; I’ve been called the gringo because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was; I’ve been called the American because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was.
Maybe also, because I spoke Spanish, I could understand Nona’s Sicilian and got her immediate blessing to marry into the family even though I wasn’t Italian. The aunties couldn’t believe it. Everybody assumed we’d get engaged, which seemed like a good idea to us, so we did.
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Right now—singing. In a folk meet-up where everybody plays some instrument but me. In my car alone—real loud.
Where’s the strangest place you have gotten a story idea?
I already answered that. Out of my head. It’s really strange in there, and getting stranger all the time.
What about research? What’s the oddest or most awkward research you’ve had to do?
visual inspiration for the Tony character
My tracks are all over the internet learning how to pimp-out a 13-year-old, how to find a buyer for your teen whore once you’ve turned her out, how to avoid jail time for raping your daughter. There are people who wouldn’t consider this awkward—I’m writing about a couple of them—but I do.
God, I thought my internet history was scary. Mine’s nothing compared to yours! I guess it is for all authors – he said, slowly moving away…
It turns out, by the way, that hardly anybody goes to prison if they stick to raping their own kids. Sometimes when you do research, you find out things you don’t want to know.
Okay, that’s gonna keep me up tonight.
Why do some indie authors sell well and others don’t?
Some write well and others don’t. Some bother to market and others don’t. Some, Dan, do both well.
What’s your favorite genre?
I always wrote thriller/suspense. All the learner novels in my files are in that genre. Draft one of Touch was magic realism, but it’s third version had become Women’s Lit. The magic realism elements that remain, all my readers ask “Is this a real thing?” “Does this really exist?” “Are women doing this?” So I guess they’re more realism than magic.
That’s the fun part, too. Getting them to where they have to ask. That’s great storytelling. I was sure parts of Rosa were real – and they were – but not the parts I thought!
What about First Person v Second or Third person? Which do you prefer to write in?
I wrote the first publishable book in third person. All my previous ones were in first. The first draft of this book, even the second, I’d fall back into first and confuse the hell out of writers who were critiquing chapters for me.
Why did you switch from first to third?
I’d read the collected short stories of Hemingway. I liked his distant third, where emotions are very clear, but only from behavior and dialogue, almost no inner thoughts. I set out to do that. But by the third draft, all the Hemingway was gone, because the book has much more POV narration than the current fashion, and the narration reveals the emotions behind it.
Plotter or Pantser?
My story design process goes: theme, setting, characters, plot. I plot lightly, because I know from experience that my f’ing characters will not stay on track. As I get to know them and their situations better, we together think of much better paths than the one I laid out before I knew them so well. So I have to constantly replot. I started one book without knowing the characters well enough, and it turned into a total pants. Never again.
It’s what I call the sharp left turn. You need to eventually get to point X as per your outline, but as you are writing, you seem to be veering farther and farther away from X. Suddenly you realize a sharp left turn is going to happen if you don’t get your characters under control – and that will read like crap – so you stare at the page and curse the characters, as though you weren’t the one writing them. Or maybe that’s just me. But it usually requires a lot of frowning at the computer.
What really exciting thing has happened to you lately?
Touch went on Amazon, and a bunch of other places, November 15th. It was free the first few days, got a ton of downloads, and good reviews are starting to show up. I don’t have a blog because I’m not faithful enough, but I write periodic notes on my website, caseycostra.com That also just went up, and people have found those notes and liked them.
Yeah, I checked it out. Nice looking site.
What are the most and least fun parts of writing a novel?
The only reason to erect a first draft is so you can edit it afterwards. The only reason to paint the core elements is so you can mess around with them afterwards. The only reason to memorize a song is so you can interpret it later. The nearer the end, the more the work’s been done and the more fun it is to decorate and polish.
I would agree with that! The closer I am to finishing the editing, the more I like it. It’s easier and more streamlined. Better reading. Yeah, that part is fun. Editing that first draft can be NOT fun, though. I need somebody else to do that for me…
I agree. I should have said writing the second draft is a pain in the brain.
What’s a good writing secret?
It’s hardly a secret, but never end a writing session at the end of a scene. Mid-paragraph is even better. Mid-sentence is better yet. Eliminate those initial minutes of blank-page anxiety.
Have you ever been recognized by a fan?
No. But recently a beta reader saw me at an art event and gushed all over me. Boy, did that feel good. I swear she knew every scene and some of the dialogue inside them. People I know recruit beta readers for me in their book clubs, so there are beta readers for Touch whose names I’ve never known.
How many stories are in your “good ideas” file?
I don’t know. I don’t number them. But, at a paragraph apiece, there are 15-20 pages of them lurking in the cloud.
Sounds about right. I think everybody has that many percolating, if they’re honest about it.
When is the last time you did the laundry?
I can hear the dryer vibrating right this minute.
Strangely, I can, too. That can’t be good…
Did you ever have a job where they were strict about shined shoes and stuff?
If the “stuff” includes steel-toed shoes and a hardhat, yes.
Steel toes. Sound serious.
What would readers never guess about you?
A few writer friends wouldn’t be surprised, because they know of the learner books, but readers of Touch might not guess that I’ve been in all 50 United States, 7 Canadian provinces, and about 55-60 other countries. Because when I was homeless, I kept on moving. Because we have family spread around. Because of the jobs we used to have. And mostly because, “as long as we’re over here….”
Where is the most unmemorable place you’ve been?
I drove through a little Italian town called Poggibonsi, and a couple months later, here was this guy writing a whole novel about it.
Ha! I hope the town holds up. It gets immortalized in the novel. So far the native Italians who’ve read it have approved of my depiction of their country.
Selecting a cover is usually very difficult for me. I thought the cover for Touch was very eye catching. Who did it?
I have gotten a good reaction to it. It’s creator is http://www.jdandj.comThey won awards in both the US and the UK as best cover designers of 2016. (Packages start at $270 and the super-deluxe is $540. All the packages include more than just the cover.)
That’s not bad!
Another tough decision for authors is selecting an editor. What was your process like there?
I hired an editor one time in my life. She was unable to get past her political and vulnerable-kids horror at the work. Complete waste of money. I haven’t tried again.
I won’t say never, but I like using other author friends as my collective editors, and we trade services. That’s worked well because they have no agenda and hold me to the highest standards, while I do the same for them.
When have you created unfamiliar characters and places, and had to write about them?
How? Every time.
In Touch, there are two main characters, a man and a woman. I am not a transitioned transsexual. I’ve never lived in such a traditional Italian neighborhood either. Or on Staten Island. The book before that, the two POVs and MCs were a retired lesbian and her wife, and an 11-year-old indigenous Guatemalan Kakchiquelgirl and her 7-year-old brother, both born in the US and parentless after their mother was deported. I’ve never been a lesbian or an indigenous Guatemalan. The book before that, one of the POV characters was a Mexican-American goat farmer. I’ve never been a goat farmer. Those two books, by the way, were great books except for one thing. I didn’t yet know how to write well enough. They linger in the cloud, ready to be pulled down and rewritten. In each case, I started with something I knew, and researched on the internet from my chair. Twice so far, I interviewed somebody. I lived in the Kakchiquel area of Guatemala and in Mexico. I’m married to an Italian-American of the other gender, and I’m more familiar than I want to be with how that gender thinks. I’m an artist, surrounded by gay and lesbian couples. And I once helped raise a couple goats.
And thus springs the imagination, using your eclectic knowledge gathered over a lifetime of being a curious intellect, and putting it into your work to create something new and engaging for readers to dive into.
How do readers get Touch or keep up with you?
Twitter is @caseycostra. The web page and semi-blog is caseycostra.com, You can contact me through it, or buy the book. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for dropping by, Casey! Gang, be sure to check out Casey’s novel Touch.
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