Tuesday, November 17, 2009
a conversation with Roberto Scarlato, author of FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH
Roberto Scarlato is a writer's writer. He loves being around writers, loves talking to writers, and loves talking about writing. He's also a reader's writer. He understands the relationship between a writer and a reader, or a reader and a character, and more often than not he is one of those readers.
Rob is currently promoting his latest collection of short stories, For What It's Worth. Please enjoy the following interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and where you're from.
Originally I'm from Dolton, Illinois. After a fire that took our house, which my family and I managed to escape unscathed, we moved to a small town. When I mean small town...hoo...do I mean small town. It's a place where rumors are considered testament. Everyone knows, or thinks they know everyone else's buisness. I don't feel comfortable in saying the name of my hometown but I will tell you that it wouldn't be a place you would want to visit.
At what point in your life did you know you were going to be a writer? Was it something inherent, or did it hit you over the head?
I wanted to be a filmmaker at first. I had all these crazy cool ideas for movies and short films but I would run into problems along the way. No budget and not enough actors. Instead, the ideas fizzled out or never got made. I started writing in high school. My freshman year. Four different ideas hit me over the head. I figured, hell, if I can't make the movies that I want I might as well write them how I picture them in my head. Then see if everyone else sees the same picture as I do.
What do you like most about being a writer? What do you like least?
There are so many things I love about writing. I like threading stories together, getting struck by an interesting Idea, experimenting with characters, using real life dialogue and situations within my story, leaving clues for the reader to figure out. I can go on forever. I love being able to get lost in a story from a writer's standpoint. The thing I like the least is I have too many ideas and not enough time to write when I want to. Plus the paperwork. The paperwork always piles up.
I'm sure you get writer's block like most writers. How do you overcome it?
Whenever I used to get stuck on a story, I'd just quit and let the story percolate for a while. No need to shove when the door's not gonna open, right? I'd take walks, hang out with friends. Anything to get my mind off of the story. Now I've come up with different strategies. Music. Music is key. listen to one good song that represents the theme of your story, close your eyes and picture what the movie trailer of your idea would look like. Imagine the highlights, the best scenes and you'll come up with something. Or you can work on something else, go to the next idea in your stockpile. Also, pick up a copy of The Ultimate Book of Top Ten Lists. My girlfriend got me that book to help me with the block. It works! I don't know why, but it does!
Tell us about your writing process -- do you revise a lot? get feedback in the early stages or later stages? write during a particular time of day? Etc.
I revise as I write. It works better that way. When a story of mine is 90 percent to where I want it to be, I'll show my girlfriend. I'm glad to say she's been my muse from the very first moment I started writing. She likes it when I'm clever in a story. That gives me a high. Then I know my story has an edge. I used to write from the hours of 11pm to 6am. Those were the best hours. I'd write pages upon pages without stopping. Now I just write whenever I have time.
Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write?
My audience is a theatre of two. Just my girlfriend and I. I write a story to experiment, but I always keep in mind ways of surprising her when she reads something of mine. From the very first novel I started writing, she was encouraging me to write more. I only had nine chapters to start with when I was writing. She would ask almost every day what happens next? It just took off from there.
Who are your favorite authors and/or books, and why?
Richard Matheson, Brad Melzer, Jospeh Heller, Richard Bach, Ron Base and Stephen King. These guys are at the top of their game and I've been heavily influenced by their work. I love I am Legend from Matheson. He was so realistic with that story, it gave me chills. Matheson is also a master of short stories. Read "Button, Button" and "The Holiday Man." Those were very different. Brad melzer has snappy dialogue. Joseph Heller has remarkable wit. With Richard Bach, I just feel like his writing is very fluid. Ron Base, as far as I know, only wrote one book. But his book Magic Man was one I simply could not put down.
What are you currently reading?
My reading list is very large and always growing. But right now I'm in the middle of
13 Bullets by David Wellington
Schemers by Bill Pronzini
S is for Silence by Sue Grafton
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.
Tell us about FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH revolves around the theme of human survival and the struggle that we all face when trying to figure out who we are and what our place in life might be. I wrote these 19 different stories to experiment with different genres and different life stories. I wanted to know what would happen if fire became invisible. Or what would happen if a supernatural invention wound up in the real world where two misfits toy around with it. Mostly, this collection was a way for me to understand my characters better and to give everyone little tastes of what I want to bring to the writer's table. I'm always trying to make the experience different.
Do you have a favorite story in your collection (or would that be like asking a parent to pick a favorite child)?
I'd say the one I hold near to my heart would be Failing Upwards. That one was really fun to write. I just wanted everything in that story to be chaotic but at the same time laughable. Second to that would be Graveyard Shifters. I had to do some research for that one and liked how it turned out. I also learned a lot more about Edgar Allen Poe and the oddity of his death. Those are my babies.
Can you tell us about "Your Escape Plan" -- where did you get the idea for it? (It felt like something Ray Bradbury might have thought of -- very imaginative!)
If you are able to hear a thud, that would be me hitting the floor. I'm humbled that you would put me and Ray Bradbury in the same category. I got the idea by forcing myself to write a Sci-Fi story in one sitting. I wanted to make it different than everything I've read so I thought, why not make it a personal document? Why not instructions? But at the same time I wanted the reader to decide whether Allen Quixote made it out of that facility. It was thrilling to write but it played hell with my back. I wrote that story on my laptop, on the floor, laying on my stomach. I thought, I'm not getting up until this story is finished. I like to make writing challenging.
Tell us about the character Mr. Rifa from "The Subtle Teachings of Mr. Rifa." What goes into creating a character?
That character was a combination of all the teachers who inspired me throughout high school and college. One day I thought I'd write a story to pay tribute to them. What came out was a teacher who went a little too far while trying to kill a fly but, over the course of five chapters, while recovering in the hospital with a broken leg, learns some valuable lessons about life. I've already shown the story to one of my teachers and he loved it. Even went as far as saying, "I am very impressed. What gives you the right- at your age- to write so well about subjects about which you can not possibly have any experience?" I laughed my ass off. I guess it just goes to show that if your teacher is really interesting, you'll pay attention.
"The Nature of a SecondHand" was intriguing. I found it interesting that you wrote it in twelve parts. Tell us about that one. What is happening to the protagonist in that story? Who, or what, is the antagonist?
That one is sort of my twilight zone story. I'd like to sit in crowded bookstore with the lights dimmed reading this to people on Halloween. It's just bizarre. Don't know what I was thinking when I wrote it. But I knew it had to be in twelve parts. This may be different from other interpretations but I think that Cecil Weet is being haunted by an entity called Chronos. This particular apparition has the power to manipulate time. I wanted to toy with that concept, being haunted by time. Like I said, something different. When he gets up close to the clock he finds that Chronos is really two miniature men hiding in the clock. They are the specters of time. They wanted him to join him and he does. My girlfriend thinks that Cecil was going mad and having hallucinations echoing that his time was coming to an end.
What's next for you?
Glad you asked. Right now I'm preparing another book for release which will be a supernatural thriller. As soon as I get that one all polished up, I will put up the release date. It follows the life a writer who just moved to Wisconsin and is being haunted by a deceased serial killer.
As far as writing goes, I'm still writing short stories. I think there will be two more collections. Soon, I'll start posting them to my blog to see what people think. I'm also in the middle of writing a novel that has to do with the power of reading itself. It's code name is Epic Tale until I can figure out a title for it. But it is sure to be a lengthy book. It's sort of my love letter to self-publishing.
Finally, can you tell us about your blog, and where we can purchase a copy of FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH?
I started the blog to try and break my writer's block but now it has become something more for me. I like sharing my stories with others and encouraging people to be writers. I figure, writers go through some pretty troubled times. Why not give them a boost? Lord knows we all need one. Technically we're not starving artists. We have jobs, we have hobbies, we have support. We're just hungry writers. Hungry to get our stories told.
These were all really great questions. I appreciate you taking the time to read my book. You can purchase a copy on Lulu.com or you can order a digital copy for your Amazon Kindle
Thanks for having me here, Elisa. Keep writing, everyone.
P.S. Buy Faking It. Good book. Lots of snappy dialogue. :)
Why thank you, Rob!)
Tune in tomorrow for more about Roberto Scarlato and FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH!