Tuesday, April 2, 2019

An Interview with Sebastiano Lanza

Hi there!  Today, I'm excited to share my interview with Sebastiano Lanza after the publication of his novel That Which Must Happen.

That Which Must Happen is a literary novel about Benjamin, a child able to foresee and forestall events unfolding in his life and that of others. Yet he dreads to reshape them, for these events intertwine each and every existence in a delicate balance. However, when he senses his sole caretaker’s imminent death, he feels he must intervene.

In a fevered state, Benjamin was abandoned in the midst of a winter night, and is now sheltered by Ms Penter, a woman grieving over the loss of her own child. As he’s nurtured back to health, and his presence helps the woman to partially let go of her grief, Benjamin is devastated each and every time he glimpses her imminent demise.

Despite his attempts to alter the events leading to her death, Benjamin knows he won’t be able to save Ms Penter without damaging the delicate balance which entwines each and every life. The same balance he was born to preserve.

That Which Must Happen tackles the theme of fate.
Not to be understood as a series of immutable events leading to a predetermined destination, rather, as a series of interconnected events which can be influenced by our choices.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

The saying goes, "Never judge a book by its cover." The publishing industry is based on, "Judge a book by its back cover." While, yes, there must be a criteria to decide which books get an in-depth look and which don't, I feel it's oversimplified. Still, I wouldn't say it's unethical. There's also a tendency to avoid risk altogether, hence stagnation in the long run.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Definitely energizes me. The writing in itself is the better part. To imagine all those tiny details, and to see what was on your mind on paper is one the best feelings ever. Especially when that one thing you thought would be great to write turns out to be even better than you could have ever imagined. There's something to it that makes you think, "I'm the greatest!"

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Wanting to overdo it. Possibly, I'm guilty of it as well. Assess your level at first, and be realistic about it. Then work to improve it, and strive to be the best in what you do. Never be afraid to go down unbeaten paths.

                                                                      Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Definitely! This is no walk in the park. As a writer, you'll hear just about anything about your novel. That same novel on which you spent countless hours obsessing over the best placement of an innocuous comma. A big ego helps, as long as it doesn't become overly so. You'll still need to be able to pick up the useful criticism to mould yourself into a better writer.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

My big ego says I don't have one thus far.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

The day I'll stop trying to write original stories about concepts and ideas that have rarely been looked at in depth, I'll probably stop to write altogether. So far, writing has felt so good to me because it gave me the tools to put to paper ideas I've always been fascinated with. In short, it kept me entertained and interested. For me, that's crucial to try and produce the best writing I can.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

As long as this hypothetical individual is a good observer, I don't see why not. He doesn't need to feel a situation strongly, he just needs to observe it in his imagination and describe it. He'd also be subtle about it. A slight facial expression is worth more than hundred and hundred of words. A situation described so accurately can make the reader feel an emotion, whilst the writer doesn't necessarily need to. Hypothetically.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I'm definitely not the type to write a series. On the long run the chances are high for it to become watered down and to make little sense. I much prefer for every novel I write to stand on its own. It makes it more enjoyable for me and, I hope, for the reader. Still, I guess one could say that my works (future ones, I hope) are loosely connected by concepts and ideas.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

"You're doing good, kid. Maybe...don't try so hard. And that comma is fine right there, don't move it any longer!" - "Also, buckle up. It's going to be a long ride."

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Not that I lacked structure before, but now, having seen all the work that goes on before publishing, I'm even more organized. It keeps me from proof reading my work over and over again while producing even higher quality content. This was a problem for That Which Must Happen. As a side effect, the writing in itself goes a little slower, but that's ok.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I tend to demand a lot from the reader, I'm not going to lie. If someone would read That Which Must Happen quickly, chances are that someone wouldn't understand a great deal. He'd probably think, "Rubbish! This is a bunch of random events!" And that's not the case. It's not a light read. On the other hand, I reward readers by trying to write compelling, interesting stories. That's what I was aiming for all along.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

My puppy, of course. Musetto. Well, he's not a puppy anymore, he's grown a bit. He had the patience to listen to my proof reading, and my reasoning for everything that happens in the novel. To be honest, he did look perplexed at times. It mustn't be easy for him.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Currently I have a comic book that I would like to finish somewhere in the near future. Mostly it's an idea that never went on to be much else. But it has lots of potential. And the other novel I'm currently working on. It involves a priest in pilgrimage to Turkey and a village in Romania. Not so long ago I published a sample chapter on my Wattpad profile. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Like everything else in life, I tend to take one step at a time. Six years ago I was quite sure I wouldn't ever be able to write a full-length book. Two years ago I was quite certain I wouldn't get past page 1 of That Which Must Happen. Four months ago I wasn't quite sure I would ever publish That Which Must Happen. And today, here we are. The key is to keep your head down and put lots and lots of work in what you do. That way, chances are something above average is going to happen sooner or later. It's been an interesting journey so far, I reckon it'll keep being interesting for the foreseeable future.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

The kind of research is dictated by the core matter of the novel. For That Which Must Happen there was a lot of thinking involved, I had to come up with a way for this "active fate" I had imagined to work. It wasn't easy, and I'm sure it's not going to be easy for readers to grasp as well. You really, really need to pay attention to the details, they tell a lot. I became fixated with subtlety whilst writing it. And it shows. For my other novel, which has more historical and folklore elements, I had to dig up quite a lot of material. I'd like it to be as accurate as possible. I read a lot of information before I put pen to paper, but I left the details for last, so they'd be fresh in my mind while writing.

How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

I still am a part-time writer! I like the struggle, it keeps me focused.

How many hours a day do you write?

I write as many hours as I can. Even when I don't write, I think about scenes for my next novel and I try to think about how I will put them down. I think about how the plot will evolve and I make diagrams to see how it'll flow. As for a precise amount of hours, I'd say I average 5 or 6 a day.

What did you edit out of this book?

I edited A LOT out of That Which Must Happen. Whilst writing it I recognized that some scenes and concepts would have made it just too long and difficult to grasp. I was definitely biting more than I could chew. Also, the original story did look quite different from the end product, but overall, I like the finished product better. It's neater.

How do you select the names of your characters?

It depends on how important the character in question is. I won't give much thought in naming a secondary character whose role is very limited. Obviously, that changes with main characters and supporting characters. You'll probably find out that the name Benjamin is quite important to understand Benjamin's role in That Which Must Happen. That and a few more hints I give out throughout the novel.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I'm a land surveyor, so yes, there's that. On the other hand, I could still give a thought about being a chef, or a football manager (I do plan to get a license in the future). Or a professional chess player. I tend to hold many interests, so it's rather difficult to say!

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I like to imagine That Which Must Happen as a book-sized riddle. It has a defined story, defined characters, and everything else on the surface. But the deeper you dig, the more story and plots you'll find. Some will get it, others will not. I tried to create this interconnection between chapters which fits the underlying theme of the whole novel, fate. In the end, I think it's important to say that this is not my story, I merely wrote it, discovered it. The story came to me on its own, as if it had its own will.

Do you Google yourself?

Sometimes. For research purposes.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I'd give up absolutely nothing. To get to your destination without a journey is no fun at all. I enjoy seeing my writing getting better day after day; as they say, no pain no gain.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Fiabe Italiane - Raccolte e trascritte da Italo Calvino. I still have it. Definitely one of my favourites. It's a collection of Italian fables; the first one, the orc with feathers is the best probably. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

What comes after writing. Editing. It’s terribly slow and headache-inducing. It’s also terribly useful, without it I probably wouldn’t be publishing That Which Must Happen by now. I’m not saying my first draft was a total mess, but close to it. A lot was edited out and in.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Anywhere between 6 months and one year. It also depends on day to day life. As is natural, sometimes something of unexpected will happen and the writing has to wait. Right now I'm looking at finishing my next novel inside the next year, but without obsessing over it. It has to happen naturally.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

I guess it can happen if you don't know yourself well enough as a creative individual. Like everything else in life, it'll come a point when you just can't create anymore if you force it and overdo it. It'll all come to a stop, at least for a time. There needs to be that balance between rest and the creative process. It's very much alike to a self-sustaining cycle. Balance is key to everything.

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