A writer for over three decades, Rocco Lo Bosco has published poetry, short stories, and two novels. His first novel, Buddha Wept (Greycore Press), 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.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Ninety Nine. When did you start writing, and what got you into fiction?
I began to write in earnest in my twenties. At first, it was something I did for fun. I’d climb into the steaming hot bath, smoke a joint, and scribble what I thought were brilliant poems in a notebook. Later I’d try to read what I’d written and either found it was illegible or not the radiant fragment of mentation I originally imagined. Writing and eventually publishing poetry led me to writing and publishing fiction. By the time I was in my thirties, writing had become an obsession. My very existence depended on it. I write; therefore, I am.
What is your book about?
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.
What was your inspiration for it?
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.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
I faced very few challenges with the story I wanted to tell and the writing itself. The challenge came with organizing the material to maximize the impact of the story and deepen its meaning. Plot can have different ways of unfolding in the story that contains it, so the organization of a book’s content is critical. Ninety Nine moves the reader among the characters’ different perspectives. The layering of these perspectives embedded in their unfolding sequence provides a framework that gives the story deeper resonance.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
Of course, 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 persistent innocence in human darkness. Finally, I’d hope the story makes the reader recollect a transparent but terribly potent truth: great longing always comes with its own retribution.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
Sadly, I must admit I do not celebrate the completion of a book, even during the book party or after reading good reviews. For me the writing of a book is never truly over. What I mean is that as I leave the book behind, I also take it with me––in the form of corrected insight––into the next book. Corrected insight is the improvement in thinking, imagining and crafting story that follows after I’ve sufficiently put the book behind me to read through and discover its limitations or imagine ways I could have made it better. There is no finishing a piece of fiction for me. I’ll be done when I’m dead.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George Orwell wrote one of the most important novels of the 20th century. It is as relevant today as it was when he published it in 1949—perhaps even more so, considering some of the draconian changes taking place in our country as a result of technology’s collusion with our fear of terror. Orwell paid dearly for that prescient, brilliant masterpiece of fiction, with its profound psychological and political commentary. He paid in part by being subjected to human cruelty at a very early age. One easily imagines his life (though he died quite young) as an exhausting struggle. He was one of those writers who had to write. His constitution and his personal history made it so. Some writers, good and bad, are like that. They have to write. There is no choice. I am like that too. To have to–– those three words link one to slavery in some form. I can understand why Orwell compared writing to a long bout of a painful illness and a way of serving a demon. Salvation and damnation are twins; one always comes with the other.
What has writing taught you?
Writing has taught me how to write. It has also aided my ability to think critically and examine what I feel in a more nuanced way. It has caused me to recollect my life in much greater detail than I would have if I did not write. It has inspired my imagination. It has made me read more and always with an eye to how a work of literature (or any book for that matter) is constructed. It has provided a platform of transcendence by which the tragic aspect of life can be viewed with humor and wit and embraced more openly. Lastly, it has taught me to happily keep my own company.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Yes, if you are writing, keep writing. Immerse yourself in the act without concern for any outcome except telling a damn good story.