A writer for over three decades, Rocco Lo Bosco has published poetry, short stories and two novels. His first novel, Buddha Wept (Greycore Press, 2003), about a spiritually gifted matriarch’s experience of the Cambodian genocide, received good reviews (e.g., Publishers Weekly) and much praise from readers, many of whom called it “life changing.” His current novel, Ninety Nine, is published by LettersAt3amPress. Lo Bosco also has a nonfiction book in press with Routledge (2016), co-authored with Dr. Danielle Knafo, a practicing psychoanalyst, entitled Love Machines: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Age of Techno-perversion. He is currently working on his third novel, Midnight at the Red Flamingo. Additionally, he has edited papers in the fields of psychoanalysis and the philosophy of science and has also worked as a ghost writer.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about Ninety Nine, and what compelled you to write it.
Rocco Lo Bosco: My book is about a poor and mixed––mine, yours and ours–– Italian-American family fighting desperately to survive in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. The story centers on the two (step) brothers living in a family threatened by psychological fragmentation from within, dangerous levels of poverty and two vicious loan sharks who will have no trouble killing the father if he doesn’t find a way to pay their boss. Meanwhile the two boys run with a small gang, The Decatur Street Angels, led by one of the brother’s cousins, a dark-minded genius who invents wild and daring exploits for the group that become progressively more dangerous during the summer of 1963. One of the brothers is involved in his first (and secret) love affair with an older woman while the other is losing his mind over the abandonment of his mother. The event streams of the book culminate at the novel’s end in a stunning and unexpected climax.
The novel creatively draws on my early years growing up in Brooklyn, but its inspiration emerged from two very specific things: a dream and a book. When I was five years old I had a dream that has stayed with me my entire life, a dream that in essence predicted the character and quest of my life. The dream appears in the book, and it will become clear to the reader why that very dream inspired the novel. The second inspirational element came from finding a book I was never supposed to see. When I was fourteen I found it in the bottom of a box that held my father’s war memorabilia—a large, government-issued volume about the Second World War. It contained far more pictures than text. I returned to this forbidden book repeatedly and viewed images that literally altered the trajectory of my life and shaped my particular interests in human endeavor. I knew I could not remain silent. Though I did not yet know that I would write, I knew that I would not want to pass through this life quietly, hunkered down in some existential bunker until the danger passed. At fourteen I already knew the danger never passes. That forbidden book appears in Ninety Nine, but it was also part of the inspiration for Buddha Wept.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in Ninety Nine?
R.L.: Well, what is key for me in writing and reading fiction is the story—that is, the compelling vector carrying and carried by a cast of interesting, strange, unpredictable, and dangerous characters. That’s the point: the story, the tale, the what-happens-next ride through a world spun from imagination and memory. Yet in a very real sense a story is an ontological argument, an argument about the way things are (or were or might be) and how pain and beauty, suffering and love, madness and sense emerge from that way of existence, from that framework of being. Within that argument there are concerns that necessarily thread themselves through fictional time and space, “themes” as it were. Within its frame, Ninety Nine is concerned with the beauty to be found in loss and sorrow and the strange and persistent innocence accompanying human darkness. It also casts an interesting light on how great longing always comes with its own retribution.
M.C.: Why do you write?
R.L.: I have no choice. So the question of why is not relevant unless “because I have no choice” is accepted as an answer.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
R.L.: I cannot say, because these days fits of creativity come on me unexpectedly. I have no idea what triggers them at this point. In my early years, smoking pot in a hot bath and running many miles helped inspire me. Now it comes when it comes. All I know is that creative periods are far too brief and separated by long periods of slogging away at my craft.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
R.L.: I’m never completely happy with what I write. I can always look back on something and think of a better way to write it. There’s so much that goes into the crafting of even a single sentence. Writing has no bottom. Two gems I try to keep in mind: (1) the verb is the engine of the sentence, and (2) tell (show) the story so the reader is always leaning toward you.
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
R.L.: No, I do not. When I write I feel like I’m being manipulated from within. It’s like this: we think we are living our lives. That may be true, but what is more radically true is that our lives are living us. Our minds have a mind of their own. Indeed, it may well turn out that what we think of as “my mind and self” are convenient illusions of consciousness.
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
R.L.: After I’ve finished something, and I’m not sure what to do next.
M.C.: Your best?
R.L.: When I’m writing and hot. The story is flying out through me. There’s no hunger or time. There’s no I. There’s nothing but this: the story that needs to tell itself.
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
R.L.: A disabling condition (e.g., coma) and death. Just like there’s “always room for Jello,” there’s always time to write.
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
R.L.: The moment following a white hot writing session. The moment when I open the box and see my novel in print for the first time.
M.C.: Is writing an obsession for you?
R.L.: Yes. Sadly, yes.
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
R.L.: Always. For example, my first novel, Buddha Wept, which was about a female mystic undergoing the horrors of Pol Pot’s genocide, shared my obsession with the nature of human evil and my unsuccessful struggle to fully come to terms with it.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
R.L.: I would never want to disagree with that amazing and prolific literary wizard and, indeed, I can find a way to agree with him if I take reality to mean the routine and dull work that seems so much a part of the human experience. Yet everything one writes––everything––has its roots in the reality human beings experience. We cannot conceive of something that is not somehow connected to the world we know.
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
R.L.: My website is RocLoBosco.com. A reader can go to Amazon and search for my name and my books will appear. I think reading the work of the author is probably the best way to find out about him or her. Outside the work itself, does it really matter who the author is?