Friday, February 7, 2014


An interview with author John Biscello.


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

I’ve been writing since I was a wee lad growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Back then I was comic book crazy (with a special nod to Spider Man), and also devoured tales of adventure, horror, the supernatural, and crime/detective stories. When I was eighteen, I did an editorial internship at a parenting magazine in Manhattan, where I wound up working on and off for eight years. Two things I learned from that job: 1. Your first ever byline might not be what you envisioned (mine was tagged to a short article about a breastfeeding pump), and, 2. I was not interested in dealing in “facts,” hence journalism wasn’t my cuppa tea.

I’d say I got “serious” about my writing when I was around twenty, in that I began to work on my own material in a structured and disciplined fashion. In order to stave off creative doldrums and same-ol-same-old-edness, I like to work in different forms/mediums: prose, poetry, playwriting, spoken word performances, etc. I presently live in Taos, New Mexico, where I have primarily resided for the past twelve years.

What got you into writing?

That time-honored tradition of family dysfunction and heightened sensitivity. Once I discovered there were worlds inside myself, as there are all of us, or a cave-like sanctuary in which one could hospitably conjoin warmth and solitude, I was ready to hang out there . . . A LOT.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

Broken Land, A Brooklyn Tale, sprang from the seeds of a sketch about a “ghost-writer.” In this brief sketch a writer, who is now dead and therefore free of ambitions and expectations, is surprised to discover that his afterlife-self is still inspired to write. With no chance for fame or fortune, no ego to gratify or inflate, he still wants to write . . . just because. Anyway, that sketch grew into a story, and that story grew arms and legs and a number of heads (some which had to be cut off—hey, “cutting” is essential to the process, right?) . . . this very simple ghostwriting notion attached itself to other notions and ideas and things snowballed from there.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

That’s a tough one. I love them all in different ways. On this occasion, I’ll go with Hen (short for Henry). Hen is a hard-drinking dwarf and prolific artist, with a satyr’s sexual appetite and historian’s knowledge of Coney Island (where he lives). I once described him as the Brooklyn version of the French painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

I like the encounters between Salvatore Massimo Lunezzi, the protagonist who is searching for his “disappeared” writer-friend, Jimmy, and Anna, the enigmatic woman who is kind of a living rabbit-hole (of the Wonderland variety). She is a magnetic force to be reckoned with, and each encounter between Anna and Salvatore brings him closer to an understanding of the way things are . . . and are not.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

There’s really no one specific thing, it’s more of a feeling. When I am deeply inside and behind the words, when I feel properly attuned . . . that’s my absolute favorite.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

I do have a writing process, whether I’m working on a book, or something else. I work 3-4 hours a day, and pretty much always in the morning (which makes me feel that I’m making writing my number one priority in starting my day). Broken Land, which is a short novel, took me about seven months to write, but that’s kind of misleading, in that certain ideas and sections of the book had been worked on in different forms over many years. At present, I am working on a second novel, Raking the Dust, which I’ve been plugging away on for nearly fifteen months, with hopes of having it done by the spring.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

Honestly, I don’t really work within “genres,” or think of that when writing. That being said, I am a fan of cross-breeding, cross-pollination, hybrids, and genre-bending. I like the idea of the writer as a D.J. spinning seamless mixes and beautiful mash-ups.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you? So, so many! Herman Hesse, Henry Miller, John Fante, Jack Kerouac, Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Duras, Anais Nin, Jean Rhys, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Julio Cortazar, Raymond Carver, Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Dylan Thomas, William Saroyan (I’ll stop there). Books, let’s see, I’ll name six that were profound influences: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (William Saroyan), Ask the Dust (John Fante), Kafka on the Shore (Murakami), A Moveable Feast (Hemingway), Cathedral (Raymond Carver), and Steppenwolf (Herman Hesse).

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

Yes, and to refer back to your earlier question, that’s another of my favorite things about writing. When you are genuinely surprised by something that occurs in your storyline. That sense of discovery which breeds childlike delight. Without that, I’d feel like I was doing something wrong in my writing, or I was cutting myself off from something essential to the process. When you are caught off-guard, and you don’t feel like the writer writing but the writer reading (who also happens to be writing): that, to me , is pure joy. As for specifics, all I’ll say is: the cat in the book, Keaton, did something at the very end, that made me say—Really? That just happened? The part of me that almost cut that from the book, was overridden by the part of me that said—Don’t argue with the strange truths that are at the heart of fiction.


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