Author Profile: Casey Costra and Touch

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your humble host

Today we are joined by my friend Casey Costra, who recently released his new novel Touch.

Casey left home very early, worked a lot of jobs to pay for a lot of education, met “the one” early on, had kids who were adults by the time women these days are getting around to their first birth, added child care into the work and schooling, and ended up with advanced graduate degrees. “For a time I was a professor who traveled around the world to teach and give workshops, and my sweetie was sent to learn overseas and bring new teaching strategies back to the U.S. Then I quit all that to become a full-time artist and writer.”

Casey and I met in a critique group a while back, and I was intrigued by his story about Rosa and Tony, and his unique storytelling style.

Dan: Welcome Casey! Tell us a little about Touch, your new novel.

cc-8Casey: In Staten Island’s Little Italy neighborhood, Rosa DeAngelo marries at 18, leaving behind her secret admirer, Tony Prezzi. He in turn marries his own pursuer, a NYC cop. Two tragedies later, they each bury themselves in their jobs, and earn promotions. Their friends, family members and a new European touch therapy spa, Le Salon de l’Amour all play a part in the next chapter of their lives.

This description was e-mailed to me by an enthusiastic reader, who said she thought what I had on Amazon gave away too much of the plot

Awesome. Helpful fans are the best.

What is the working title of your next book?

Traffic. Nothing to do with cars and trucks. Not a working title, either. It’s the second in the Rosa DeAngelo series, and I’ve announced its name to the world.

On behalf of the world: message received. Why Traffic?

The last scene of Touch was interrupted by the arrival of two “baby whores” who desperately needed a place to hide. Next book, we learn they’d gotten away from their pimp just after he sold them to a sex trafficker, so they were considered stolen property. Rosa and Tony never heard of this before, but now they’ve got two runaway 14-year-olds to fight for. Trouble is, though they’re teens with terrible troubles behind them, they’re also two rebellious pains in the ass.

Ah, good wholesome family entertainment. Where did the idea come from for the book?

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author Casey Costra

From the same place as all my other book ideas—my disordered mind. I have a computer file full of book ideas. I can’t relate to those exercises to help a writer come up with an idea. I mean, if you don’t have something to say…

I’m not big on writing prompts, either. What’s your process like? How do you do what you do?

To start with, Forward Press handles my books. It’s a small Indie Press “dedicated to works of fiction which call attention to social problems or their solutions.” Forward Press is so small that all its paperwork fits into a couple files in my desk drawer. So I choose domestic violence or sex trafficking and then I write fun characters and a romantic or suspense plot around it so I don’t preach and people want to read it.

I’m bipolar. The most important thing is to write while I’m in the upper half. Edit, too. I paint. And sing. I have painted and sung my way out of depressions, but I have never been able to write or edit my way out of one.

Editing actually depresses me. Editing my own stuff, anyway. Editing other people’s stuff – slashing and burning their pride and joy – that, I find strangely cathartic.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Four months. It was a NaNoWriMo mess. Sorry, NaNoWriMo. I completely rewrote it—maybe five months. And then the first revision—another four. Then the editing. Never again.

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visual inspiration for the Rosa character

I’m not a fan of NaNo, either. It’s like a massive writing prompt or something. I’ve never understood the allure or trying to rush. You either feel the desire to write or you don’t, but to force it, and for an artificial deadline? I don’t get it.

What makes you so damn interesting anyway?

I’ve been homeless; I’ve been well off. I’ve been called the white one because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was; I’ve been called the gringo because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was; I’ve been called the American because I’ve worked in places where nobody else was.

Maybe also, because I spoke Spanish, I could understand Nona’s Sicilian and got her immediate blessing to marry into the family even though I wasn’t Italian. The aunties couldn’t believe it. Everybody assumed we’d get engaged, which seemed like a good idea to us, so we did.

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Right now—singing. In a folk meet-up where everybody plays some instrument but me. In my car alone—real loud.

Where’s the strangest place you have gotten a story idea?

I already answered that. Out of my head. It’s really strange in there, and getting stranger all the time.

What about research? What’s the oddest or most awkward research you’ve had to do?

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visual inspiration for the Tony character

My tracks are all over the internet learning how to pimp-out a 13-year-old, how to find a buyer for your teen whore once you’ve turned her out, how to avoid jail time for raping your daughter. There are people who wouldn’t consider this awkward—I’m writing about a couple of them—but I do.

God, I thought my internet history was scary. Mine’s nothing compared to yours! I guess it is for all authors – he said, slowly moving away…

It turns out, by the way, that hardly anybody goes to prison if they stick to raping their own kids. Sometimes when you do research, you find out things you don’t want to know.

Okay, that’s gonna keep me up tonight.

Why do some indie authors sell well and others don’t?

Some write well and others don’t. Some bother to market and others don’t. Some, Dan, do both well.

What’s your favorite genre?

I always wrote thriller/suspense. All the learner novels in my files are in that genre. Draft one of Touch was magic realism, but it’s third version had become Women’s Lit. The magic realism elements that remain, all my readers ask “Is this a real thing?” “Does this really exist?” “Are women doing this?” So I guess they’re more realism than magic.

That’s the fun part, too. Getting them to where they have to ask. That’s great storytelling. I was sure parts of Rosa were real – and they were – but not the parts I thought!

What about First Person v Second or Third person? Which do you prefer to write in?

I wrote the first publishable book in third person. All my previous ones were in first. The first draft of this book, even the second, I’d fall back into first and confuse the hell out of writers who were critiquing chapters for me.

Why did you switch from first to third?

I’d read the collected short stories of Hemingway. I liked his distant third, where emotions are very clear, but only from behavior and dialogue, almost no inner thoughts. I set out to do that. But by the third draft, all the Hemingway was gone, because the book has much more POV narration than the current fashion, and the narration reveals the emotions behind it.

Plotter or Pantser?

My story design process goes: theme, setting, characters, plot. I plot lightly, because I know from experience that my f’ing characters will not stay on track. As I get to know them and their situations better, we together think of much better paths than the one I laid out before I knew them so well. So I have to constantly replot. I started one book without knowing the characters well enough, and it turned into a total pants. Never again.

left_turnIt’s what I call the sharp left turn. You need to eventually get to point X as per your outline, but as you are writing, you seem to be veering farther and farther away from X. Suddenly you realize a sharp left turn is going to happen if you don’t get your characters under control – and that will read like crap – so you stare at the page and curse the characters, as though you weren’t the one writing them. Or maybe that’s just me. But it usually requires a lot of frowning at the computer.

What really exciting thing has happened to you lately?

Touch went on Amazon, and a bunch of other places, November 15th. It was free the first few days, got a ton of downloads, and good reviews are starting to show up.  I don’t have a blog because I’m not faithful enough, but I write periodic notes on my website, caseycostra.com That also just went up, and people have found those notes and liked them.

Yeah, I checked it out. Nice looking site.

What are the most and least fun parts of writing a novel?

The only reason to erect a first draft is so you can edit it afterwards. The only reason to paint the core elements is so you can mess around with them afterwards. The only reason to memorize a song is so you can interpret it later. The nearer the end, the more the work’s been done and the more fun it is to decorate and polish.

I would agree with that! The closer I am to finishing the editing, the more I like it. It’s easier and more streamlined. Better reading. Yeah, that part is fun. Editing that first draft can be NOT fun, though. I need somebody else to do that for me…

I agree. I should have said writing the second draft is a pain in the brain.

What’s a good writing secret?

It’s hardly a secret, but never end a writing session at the end of a scene. Mid-paragraph is even better. Mid-sentence is better yet. Eliminate those initial minutes of blank-page anxiety.

Have you ever been recognized by a fan?

No. But recently a beta reader saw me at an art event and gushed all over me. Boy, did that feel good. I swear she knew every scene and some of the dialogue inside them. People I know recruit beta readers for me in their book clubs, so there are beta readers for Touch whose names I’ve never known.

That’s awesome.

How many stories are in your “good ideas” file?

I don’t know. I don’t number them. But, at a paragraph apiece, there are 15-20 pages of them lurking in the cloud.

Sounds about right. I think everybody has that many percolating, if they’re honest about it.

When is the last time you did the laundry?

I can hear the dryer vibrating right this minute.

Strangely, I can, too. That can’t be good…

Did you ever have a job where they were strict about shined shoes and stuff?

If the “stuff” includes steel-toed shoes and a hardhat, yes.

Steel toes. Sound serious.

What would readers never guess about you?

top-012209A few writer friends wouldn’t be surprised, because they know of the learner books, but readers of Touch might not guess that I’ve been in all 50 United States, 7 Canadian provinces, and about 55-60 other countries. Because when I was homeless, I kept on moving. Because we have family spread around. Because of the jobs we used to have. And mostly because, “as long as we’re over here….”

Where is the most unmemorable place you’ve been?

I drove through a little Italian town called Poggibonsi, and a couple months later, here was this guy writing a whole novel about it.

Ha! I hope the town holds up. It gets immortalized in the novel. So far the native Italians who’ve read it have approved of my depiction of their country.

Selecting a cover is usually very difficult for me. I thought the cover for Touch was very eye catching. Who did it?

I have gotten a good reaction to it. It’s creator is http://www.jdandj.com  They won awards in both the US and the UK as best cover designers of 2016. (Packages start at $270 and the super-deluxe is $540. All the packages include more than just the cover.)

That’s not bad!

Another tough decision for authors is selecting an editor. What was your process like there?

I hired an editor one time in my life. She was unable to get past her political and vulnerable-kids horror at the work. Complete waste of money. I haven’t tried again.

I won’t say never, but I like using other author friends as my collective editors, and we trade services. That’s worked well because they have no agenda and hold me to the highest standards, while I do the same for them.

When have you created unfamiliar characters and places, and had to write about them?

How? Every time.

cc-8In Touch, there are two main characters, a man and a woman. I am not a transitioned transsexual. I’ve never lived in such a traditional Italian neighborhood either. Or on Staten Island. The book before that, the two POVs and MCs were a retired lesbian and her wife, and an 11-year-old indigenous Guatemalan Kakchiquel  girl and her 7-year-old brother, both born in the US and parentless after their mother was deported. I’ve never been a lesbian or an indigenous Guatemalan. The book before that, one of the POV characters was a Mexican-American goat farmer. I’ve never been a goat farmer. Those two books, by the way, were great books except for one thing. I didn’t yet know how to write well enough. They linger in the cloud, ready to be pulled down and rewritten. In each case, I started with something I knew, and researched on the internet from my chair. Twice so far, I interviewed somebody. I lived in the Kakchiquel area of Guatemala and in Mexico. I’m married to an Italian-American of the other gender, and I’m more familiar than I want to be with how that gender thinks. I’m an artist, surrounded by gay and lesbian couples. And I once helped raise a couple goats.

And thus springs the imagination, using your eclectic knowledge gathered over a lifetime of being a curious intellect, and putting it into your work to create something new and engaging for readers to dive into.

How do readers get Touch or keep up with you?

Twitter is @caseycostra. The web page and semi-blog is caseycostra.com, You can contact me through it, or buy the book. My email is caseycostra@gmail.com

Thanks for dropping by, Casey! Gang, be sure to check out Casey’s novel Touch. 

 

 

Bad Sex Awards

“Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel.”Literary Review

Well, that’s all you need to know, right? These are OUTSTANDINGLY bad sex scenes.

I found this article on The Guardian – sorry, I hate that rag, but some friend of mine liked it on Facebook or something and it ended up in my feed and caught my eye. (Guardian got it from LR, I guess.)

Here are the contenders for 2016 (below), and they are awful.

I’m showing you these for two reasons. First, it’s kinda fun to read them and chuckle at how bad they are.

Second, to let you know it’s okay to write a sex scene that isn’t great. You won’t die. Nobody reaches through the internet and punches you in the nose.

Don’t worry that people will read your scene and laugh. These steps will help you do it right:

  • write your scene as best you can – and then
  • let your trusted critique partners read it, and
  • tell them ahead of time you’re scared it is terrible and to please advise you. They will.

Also, sex scenes are in lots of books, so

  • go to the library (or discreetly buy some on line) and
  • read examples of ones that work.
  • Ask friends and CPs for examples from stuff they’ve read.
  • There may be some in your online critique group. My online critique group has an erotica section. I’ve heard.

Read several examples of sex scenes (lots if they’re good) and learn how the good ones are done. Listen to the input of your CPs. Then put your scene out there. Because

there’s only one thing worse than people reading your scene and not liking it: people not reading your scene at all.

As a writer, to be unread is to not exist. Do the homework; then you won’t embarrass yourself. Writing requires guts, gang. Be bold in your writing. But be good if you can – and you can. Then you won’t be on this list.

Here they are. Enjoy.

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. She liked to do it more than once, and he was usually able to comply. Bourbon was his gasoline. Between sessions, he poured it at the counter while she lay panting on the sheets. Sweat burnished her body. The lean neck. The surprisingly full breasts. He would down another glass and return.

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

He closed his eyes and heard himself make a gurgling sound. And as his trousers slipped down his legs all the burdens of his life to date seemed to fall away from him; he tipped back his head and faced up into the darkness beneath the ceiling, and for one blessed moment he felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty. How strange they are, he thought, life and all of these things. Then he felt Anezka slide down before him to the floor, felt her hands grab his naked buttocks and draw him to her. “Come, sonny boy!” he heard her whisper, and with a smile he let go.

Men Like Air by Tom Connolly

The walkway to the terminal was all carpet, no oxygen. Dilly bundled Finn into the first restroom on offer, locked the cubicle door and pulled at his leather belt. “You’re beautiful,” she told him, going down on to her haunches and unzipping him. He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo.

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

When his hand goes to my breasts, my feet are envious. I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below. His finger is inside me, his thumb circling, and I spill like grain from a bucket. He is panting, still running his race. I laugh at the incongruous size of him, sticking to his stomach and escaping from the springing hair below.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Once they were in that room, Jason had slammed the door and devoured her with his mouth, his hands, which were everywhere. As if he were ravenous.

And she remembered standing in front of him, her dress a puddle on the floor, and how she’d started to shake, her knees knocking together, like she was a virgin, like this was the first time. Because had she allowed herself to hope, this was what she would’ve hoped for. And now here it was. And that was terrifying.

Jason had taken her hand and placed it over his bare chest, to his heart, which was pounding wildly, in tandem with hers. She’d thought he was just excited, turned on.

It had not occurred to her that he might be terrified, too.

The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca

She pushed on my hips, an order that thrust me in. I entered her. Not only my prick, but the whole of me entered her, into her guts, into her darkness, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. My whole body had gone inside her. I went in with her thrusts and stayed still. While I got used to the quiet and the pulsing of my blood in my ears and nose, she pushed me out a little, then in again. She did it again and again, holding me with force and moving me to the rhythm of the surf. She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.

 

 

WRITERS BLOCK: Even Hemingway got stuck sometimes. How he got UNSTUCK, (and how YOU can)

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from A Moveable Feast

 

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going…

 

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

 

So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

 

…I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: The Movie Versus The Book

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your humble host

 

It’s always interesting to see how a beloved book becomes a movie, and to observe what the movie makers decided to leave in or leave out.

 

(I recently did a 5-part series on things  I learned from JK Rowling. You can read it HERE)

 

For example, in the beginning of the book, Harry gets in trouble a lot because things just seem to happen when he’s around. Strange things like, oh, the glass wall that keeps the pythons contained at the zoo. It kind of disappears.

 

Or how he managed to somehow fly up onto the roof of the local public school when some bad kids were chasing him.

 

In the book, Harry doesn’t know that he is causing these things to happen. He is just as surprised as everyone else. In the movie, he seems pretty aware that he has caused something to happen when it does.

 

Probably the best way to describe the difference between the book and the movie is this:

In the movie version, it’s like your good friend read the book – and then enthusiastically told you the story.

 

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you can almost hear the Harry Potter music, can’t you?

They loved it. They spend more than two hours telling you the whole story – as much as they could remember.

 

They don’t tell you every single detail, of course, and you wouldn’t expect them to. But they would emphasize the things they enjoyed a lot or things that stood out to them.

 

So a lot of the detail would get left behind, and other things would get shortened. In movies, they tend to do that, and to combine things.

 

I would say the movie follows the story pretty faithfully, really just leaving behind a lot of details that you might not need… (I’m sure some die hard fans of the book will disagree. In an interview, the director said he really wanted to please fans of the book, that he felt he needed to do that.)

 

The challenges Harry and his friends face at the end were more like Indiana Jones in the movie, whereas they were more like Alice In Wonderland in the book. There, the movie may have been better.

 

The overly bright colors in the movie make everything look weird. The scenes where they’re not overdone are much better.


Allison 2 will keep you guessing at every turn

Ya know, if you’re gonna complain about other people’s movies and books, you better be ready to write one that’s better. So I did.

$2.99 eBook or FREE with Kindle Unlimited http://geni.us/navigators Now available in paperback!


Also, attention all movie makers: CGI makes everything just looks like I’m watching a cartoon. A nice, really well drawn cartoon, but a cartoon. You can do better. So do better.

 

Was the movie was pretty true to the book? I would say yes. Things they left out and rearranged, they weren’t that big of a deal to have been left out and rearranged.

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I mentioned Butterbeer was an acquired taste, right? When does that appear in the books?

Some of the stuff they left out was good, though… There, the book was better.

 

But if they left them all in, it would’ve been a five hour movie instead of two and a half hour movie. And two and a half hours was plenty.

 

Apparently.

 

Because millions and millions and millions of people thought so.

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your humble host

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

5 Vital Tips For Starting Your Blockbuster Story

1. Most of the input we get about writing a story comes from people who are traditionally published, and traditionally published people are going to agents. Agents are effing lazy. So if you don’t hook the agent or publisher on page 1 paragraph 1, they don’t read much farther.

2. That’s… a lot of pressure for one paragraph.

3. On the other hand, the end customer is who we market to as independent authors. That means you have a much wider berth. 50 pages as opposed to one.

4. And that’s why it’s important to start your story quickly and hook your reader (I’m always gonna advocate that), but to remember it’s a rule that came from agents and publishers, not readers – so tell YOUR story.

5. Tell it well, but tell it the way YOU need to tell it.