Storytellers is part of my "Literary Luminary" series, featuring insights on writing and publishing straight from the folks who do it for a living. Storyteller Tony Romano is the author of the novels Where My Body Ends and the World Begins (Allium Press) and When the World Was Young (HarperCollins), along with the short story collection If You Eat, You Never Die (HarperCollins).
Tell me about your latest project.
Where My Body Ends and the World Begins (a novel). On December 1, 1958, ninety-two children and three nuns lost their lives in a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. My story centers on a young man, a survivor of the fire, who is still dealing with the trauma of this tragedy nearly a decade later.
If I trace this back far enough, I write because my parents never taught me how to swim. You see, we lived about ten minutes away from Lake Michigan in Chicago. By the way, every destination is measured in minutes in Chicago. All my friends would take the CTA bus to the lake, and I was always afraid they'd throw me in. So I stayed behind and sat on my stoop and read voraciously, mainly comic books, but also Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft and Harlan Ellison and Edgar Allan Poe and countless others. All the alone time and the reading time provided great training for a future writer. As a shy kid, reading, and then writing, provided one of the few meaningful outlets to express myself.
It's become cliche but this sentiment still rings true for me: I don't quite know how I feel about something until I write about it. Writing, whether it's a blog entry or an essay or fiction, is always a process of discovery. And when I'm in the middle of a long project, there's nothing richer. Every phrase overheard, every dog pulling on a leash, every fragrance becomes potential for discovery. How can I use this or that detail?
Can you describe, briefly, your writing routine or process?
Routines sustain writers. But I'm a staunch believer in not allowing the routine to rule you. For example, I wrote my first novel with pen and notebook. I'm happy I did. I still have those notebooks and treasure them. When I began my second novel, I tried following the same routine, which worked once so why not again? For some reason, I wasn't being very productive. I kept telling myself, "But, I'm a writer who uses a pen..." Writing with a pen sounded quaint, writerly. I wanted to be able to SAY that I wrote with a pen. Eventually, I abandoned that routine and turned to my keyboard, which for some reason, at that time, worked. I've gone through periods of working at home with Satie or Copland playing in the background. I've written with a purple pen at Panera Bakery. I've gone back home and written without music. In other words, I find a routine and stick to that, usually for months, until I need a new one. No particular pen or setting is going to dictate whether I write. The routine doesn't define the writer. The routine simply allows the writing to happen.
What's the most difficult part of writing, in your opinion?
Every sentences is a challenge. There are so many variables to juggle. You have to know, well, everything. If you're a man, you need to know the motivations and feelings of a woman. If you're young, you need to know that challenges of those older than you. Your use of language needs to match thematic concerns. You can't be boring. Every sentence should include some small gem or surprise or...something. Some kernel of clarity.
All of this sounds daunting because it is. But it's all play. It's not a life or death equation here. You don't have to do it. I think you have to keep reminding yourself that you're playing. But that's often difficult, too, especially when you're dealing with a serious subject matter.
My latest novel is about a tragedy, as mentioned above, but while writing, I kept a note to myself on my desk: FUNNY. In other words, even amid the most tragic of events, there's room for lightness. I needed to search for that.
The most fun?
I love those times when I’m in the middle of a novel, when I’m fully immersed, but I’m away from my desk. And I’m walking. For some reason, a brisk stroll provides the optimal condition for generating new ideas. I always walk with some gadget where I can record my thoughts; otherwise, I’ll mull over the same ideas over and over, afraid I’ll forget. But having recorded them, I cleanse those ideas and open myself to new ones. I don’t push too hard. I simply put one foot in front of the other, take in the outside world, enjoy the blue of the sky or the cool of the breeze, and know that something will arise. If not today, then tomorrow.
Who are or were your literary heroes?
Don DeLillo. All his characters sound the same, which is a flaw. But he writes so well that I overlook this. Philip Roth. I still can't believe he hasn't won the Nobel Prize. Richard Russo. He's one of the few writers who still make me laugh out loud. And about a thousand other writers, such as Geraldine Brooks, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Miller Williams, and on and on.
What advice do you have for authors just starting out?
Write for yourself. Rejections will come. But don't let the rejections define you or your writing.
What else are you working on now?
My next book is narrated by a boy searching for clues that will free his older brother from Cook County Jail for murdering their father.
Where can we buy your books/read your work? Be shameless!
Are you or someone you know an author who would like to be featured in this series?
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This means if you click through one of the Amazon links above, I get a small cut of your purchase. This helps me keep my website up and running so I can continue helping authors tell their best stories.