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.
During the summer of 1963 in Brooklyn, Dante’s family falls into financial ruin after his stepfather borrows money from loan sharks to start his own trucking business. Thirteen-year-old Dante has his first love affair, with an older woman, while his stepbrother Bo struggles with murderous impulses over his mother’s abandonment. The brothers become part of the Decatur Street Angels, a wolf pack led by their brilliant cousin who engages them in progressively more dangerous thrills. Four event streams—the problem with the loan sharks, Dante’s affair, Bo’s quest for closure, and the daring exploits of the Angels—converge at summer’s end and result in a haunting tragedy.
Ninety Nine is a fierce coming-of-age story, with tight plotting, interesting characters, and the timeless ingredients of any good piece of fiction—the anguish of change, the agony and ambivalence of love, the exuberance and craziness of youth, and a tragic ending with the whisper of redemption.
Welcome to BloggerNews, Rocco! Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background.
I began writing in my twenties in the bathtub, poems in a notebook. They were mostly terrible. Then they began to get better. Once they began to appear in print, I started to write short stories. After thousands and thousands of hours, I wrote a good short story. Soon more followed. I then undertook the novel and pretty much followed the same process.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Not avid, voracious. I read science books and also science fiction by the giants of the genre: Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and much later Douglas Adams. I considered this serious reading, though I loved it, and I took copious notes on the non-fiction titles. (Much later I’d do the same things with books on philosophy, psychology and cognitive science.) When I felt overheated, I took refuge in comic books like Superman, Batman, The Flash and The Green Hornet. Later, I read Zap Comics and exposed myself to the perverse genius of R. C. Crumb.
Thank you. 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.
Michael Ventura, novelist, essayist and cultural critic said, “In Lo Bosco’s Ninety Nine you experience the vitality, brutality, faith, doom and grace of people whose only choice is to figure out how to take it. They endure situations from which there is no escape, surrounded by beliefs and attitudes from which there is no escape, and their nobility is that, in the midst of such a Brooklyn, they nevertheless know and value beauty and are exalted by wonder.” I think this properly captures the spirit of my book, and what I secretly intended in writing it.
My first novel was about a Cambodian female mystic who endures and survives the horrific genocide of Pol Pot. I wanted to write a novel much closer to home and about characters who were closer to my experience, which is how Ninety Nine came to be .
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I began writing scenes, scenes created from a combination of imagination and memory and infused with intense emotion. After I created many scenes and looked at them, I began to see a pattern they suggested and a trajectory they implied. Three stories began to emerge, and I soon saw how to wind them together and have them converge and eventually climax in a surprising denouement. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle (with the caveat that one must fashion the individual pieces), and then when the last piece is fitted, the puzzle explodes.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
The book doesn’t aim to teach anything. Certainly, I’d like the reader to find the story compelling and the characters and their individual plights memorable. I’d like people to read the book, feel deeply moved and satisfied by the story and recommend it to their family and friends. But my deeper hope is that the overall sensibility of the novel leaves a deep and lasting impression on the reader––that there is a beauty in sorrow and a strange and a persistent innocence in human darkness. Finally, I’d hope that the story makes the reader recollect a transparent but terribly potent truth: great longing always comes with its own retribution.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas, and why do you think this is?
This has changed as I have aged. In my twenties I could have joined Christie in the bathtub because that’s also where I got my best ideas, only I wasn’t eating green apples, I was huffing reefer. Hot water, a good joint, a pencil and a copybook turned my bathtub into a spacecraft, taking me deep into the cosmos of profound mentation which resulted in what I thought were mind-bending poems until later, when sober, I attempted to read them and could not understand my own writing or, worse, realized they were worth less than the pot ash that had fallen in the bathwater. As time went on I’d get my ideas during long runs. Now I get ideas when I least expect them. I can be doing anything when something unexpected bubbles up from the underground.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
I love my muse. When she will not give me what I want, I give her everything she wants. Bet you’d like to know what that is. She’d be angry if I told you.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos . . . How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I look to see if I agree with any of what is said by the reviewer. If so, then I try to incorporate a correction of insight into future work. If I do not agree––that is, if nothing the reviewer says resonates with me––I give the review no further thought.
As for what “they” say, they might be wrong. How can someone with a “fragile ego” work alone for years at a time, investing vast amounts of physical, mental and emotional energy on a work, then send it out for representation, publication and review, while risking abysmal failure throughout the entire process? Imagine standing on an open plain during a meteor storm with only an umbrella for protection. In my mind this is somewhat akin to scribing and publishing a novel. The first story I sent out for publication was returned to me with a rejection letter telling me “wipe (my) ass with it” and find a good day job. I already had a good day job. That was many years ago .
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I am never concerned with theme when I write fiction. I am concerned only with telling a good story, a story filled with complex and interesting characters dealing with various shit storms which they help create and pound them without pity. I am passionate about the characters, their situations and relationships, what happens to them, and what they do with it, and especially what they do to each other. A few concerns that emerge from my stories: the heterogeneous complexity of family and love relationships; the frustrated search for certainty and stability in an inherently undecidable world; the creative and destructive possibilities of deviance from and even rejection of normative frameworks; the nature of human evil and its relationship to death; and the fill-in-the-blank quality of what it means to be human.