Black Lawrence Press
November 19, 2015

NaNoWriMo Feature: Christopher Torockio

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, 2015! We’re celebrating all month long with a gangbuster sale on some of our favorite novels, a consultation program for those of you with in-progress manuscripts, and this–a daily feature profiling a Black Lawrence Press author who has done the unthinkable: completed a novel.

Today’s featured writer is Christopher Torockio, author of the novels Floating Holidays and The Soul Hunters.

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Excerpt

TorockiocwOnce the reality of what his father had done sunk in, the anger and shame he’d felt, while never disappearing entirely, began to give way to gratitude, and love—or at least an acknowledgment of the fact that his father surely must love him to have finagled such a deal. Not that he’d ever truly doubted it, but the man who Nick, Lawrence, and Stuart called Dad had never been one to flaunt affection. He was honest, though, and if Nick were simply to ask him about the course of events that led to his avoiding military service, his father would have sighed and cracked a can of Rolling Rock and told him the truth. But then Nick would have wanted to fall into his father’s arms, to press his face to his father’s chest and let the tears come; to confess the fear he’d felt at the prospect of going off to fight, and his shame at having avoided that fight, at missing the opportunity to face down the fear, to return home having accomplished something. He’d want to thank him, to let his father know how much he appreciated the sacrifice, and that he understood how much he’d sacrificed—the willingness to approach a man he obviously didn’t like (why, Nick would never learn) and ask him for such a favor, then to repay that favor by working like a servant for that same man, all with the knowledge that the sacrifices would only beget sacrifices: thousands upon thousands of dollars he didn’t have for more college tuition.

Then again, Nick thought, maybe he’d done it not for Nick but for Nick’s mother? He could see that. He could see them laying in bed in the dark, his mother’s whisper filling the room: Don’t let them take my son. And his father’s nod, not seen but felt.

The only other possibility, which occurred to Nick several times a day, nearly zapping the balance from his knees, was that Nick’s father did what he’d done not for Nick, and not for Nick’s mother, but for himself. He didn’t want to lose his son, and he did what he had to do, whatever he had to do, to make sure that didn’t happen.

How did you thank a person for something like that? Even if that person’s your dad.

Especially if that person’s your dad.

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Craft Notes

I’ve always been interested in those moments when we’re experiencing more than one emotion at once—sometimes there isn’t even a word for that emotion, or we couldn’t explain it if we tried. But we feel it. We recognize it. Discovering that your father went to great personal, possibly humbling or even demeaning, lengths to keep you out of harm’s way, out of a war, would be one of those moments, I think. You’d might feel relief. Gratitude. Shame. Awkwardness. Pride. Love. Whatever collective by-product that emotion is, it doesn’t have a name. But we know it when we feel it. I like those moments.

 

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Q&A

1) What is the hardest part of writing a novel? What are your techniques for dealing with this aspect of the process?

The hardest part of writing a novel, for me, is to keep going, even when you don’t know where it’s going. It’s so easy, once you get into that middle No Man’s Land when progression gets muddled and you feel like you’re just flailing wildly and wondering why you ever started the damn thing in the first place, to just quit. Or quit and start another one (that always makes us feel a little better about quitting: “I’ll just write another one!”). That’s why there are so many half-finished novels out there in the world.

 2) What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Richard Bausch once gave me some advice to help fight the anxiety that all writers feel—the anxiety that we’re not doing enough. He said: At the end of the day ask yourself just one question: “Did you work today?” If the answer is “Yes,” then: “No other questions.” Go on with the rest of your day knowing you’ve done all you can do.” That’s made a world of difference to me.

3) How long did it take you to complete your novel? Please talk a little bit about your journey from first word to final draft?

It took me about three years to write The Soul Hunters, though at times I feel like I’m still writing it. Much of it was written in Florence, Italy, where I teach a class each summer, and in various fits and starts. I’m not as regimented as I used to be in terms of a writing “schedule,” though I try: I’m more of a binge-writer these days, I guess. As the novel developed, a lot of my focus was taken up by its structure—how to work with the multiple points of view, when each character’s perspective was needed and how to fill out one character’s story through the perspective of another. Toward the end, that was the biggest struggle. Hope it worked.

4)   What is your favorite writing time beverage?

Bourbon. No, just kidding. Vodka, of course.

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Suggested Reading

Some novels that continue inspire and to reveal what a novel can be, and one other:
  The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
    Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
    On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

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IMG_9012aChristopher Torockio is the author of The Soul Hunters, a novel forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, as well as a previous novel, Floating Holidays, and two short story collections, The Truth at Daybreak and Presence. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, Colorado Review, The Antioch Review, New Orleans Review, Willow Springs, and many other publications. A native of Pittsburgh, he lives with his wife and son in Connecticut and teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University.