We are definitely not at a loss for talent today, folks! A while back when I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them, I was elated with the responses I received. (And if you would like to participate, please feel free to contact me.) I asked thirty-five questions and gave the interviewee the freedom to answer only what they wanted. My friend and fellow-blogger, Alfonso (Al) Ajello, had some very fascinating responses which I’m sure you will find as captivating as I did. When you’re done reading the interview, please hop on over to his blog and make sure you follow him for more entertaining tales. And now, heeeeere’s Al…
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
My Name is Alfonso (Al) Ajello, I am a writer and guitarist who lives and works in northern Bergen County, NJ with my wife and 2 kids. I finance my writing and artistic pursuits by working 9-5 in the insurance business.
2. Please provide the link to your blog (and website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc.):
Author’s page / Blog: http://alkajello.wordpress.com/
Online Portfolio: http://cuttings.me/users/alkajello
3. How many books have you written?
I have written somewhere between 8 to 12 books, which are handwritten in spiral bound notebooks and stored in my basement. So far I have typed 2 of them into full length manuscripts.
4. Has any of your work been published yet? If so, please share the link(s) to purchase it:
I have not yet had a novel published, but I won 2 short fiction contests for magazines and have had numerous articles published. To see my published works please visit my online portfolio at: http://cuttings.me/users/alkajello
5. If you have been published, did you self-publish or use traditional publishing? Why? If you have not been published yet, what are your plans for the future?
I am currently working with a literary agent who is actively shopping my first novel. At this time I am working through the first re-write of my second novel. I am also promoting myself by publishing a blog each week on my author’s page.
6. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I’m not sure of the exact age, but the fulcrum was when I decided to transfer to William Paterson College as an English major with a concentration in writing. When I saw Creative Writing 1 & 2 on the curriculum I was inspired. I couldn’t wait to get in there and get started. I not only excelled in those classes, but I developed a passion for it. After that I knew I needed to keep writing.
7. What would you say motivates you to keep writing?
Writing is therapy for me. I find that when things bother me the only way for me to get past them, to flush them from my consciousness, is to write them out. Writing keeps me sane and helps unclutter my mind.
8. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you currently reading (or what is the last book you read)?
My favorite author is Hubert Selby, Jr., also a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut, and E. B. Sledge. Generally, I am not a big reader. Rather than read (in my non-writing time) I play guitar and write music. In my downtime I prefer movies and/or some of the excellent TV stories of today (Breaking Bad / House Of Cards / Ray Donovan).
9. Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?
I write in third person omniscient, past tense. I find that this is the most natural way for me to tell a story, as if my narrator is telling the story over a beer. I can get into the mind of each and every character, and report facts as they occurred.
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK::
10. What is the title of your current work in progress of the most recent manuscript you’ve completed?
My title of my current work in progress is WEST (currently re-writing second draft). My most recently completed manuscript is entitled NUMBER ONE SON, which is currently being shopped by my agent.
11. What is your novel’s genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than other books in the same genre?
My novels are literary fiction. My vision is to produce highly personal stories that are engaging, entertaining and easily readable – yet gritty, brutally honest, and socially relevant. I love to focus on characters that are pushed to the edge of insanity. My novels are structured as a series of interrelated short stories that carry characters from an initial conflict through a journey of self-realization.
12. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
NUMBER ONE SON: Being betrayed, being put in harm’s way, by those in power who are supposed to protect us.
WEST: Watching a news report after an air strike in Iraq, of a guy who was my about my age who was crying in front of a smoking pile of rubble, pointing and cursing the sky. I could not understand a word he was saying but I understood his sorrow and his grief, and his anger. It made me wonder how I would feel, and how a person might respond if in his shoes.
13. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
I don’t necessarily target an age or gender. When I was in creative writing in college we were assigned to read our work to the class for critique. My content was offensive to most people, with the exception of the professor and 2 or 3 stoners who loved of my work. It is the strong response (negative or positive) I am looking for from the general populous, and it is those 2 or 3 outliers that are my target audience.
14. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story(ies)?
NUMBER ONE SON: Delmo sacrifices his marriage as he falls victim to the lure of wealth and power to join forces with his father, a vicious and powerful mob boss. Delmo regrets the heinous crimes he commits on his father’s behalf, and ultimately realizes that his father has betrayed him repeatedly throughout his life. He must devise a way out alive, gain redemption in the eyes of his wife and win back his family.
WEST: Wes loses his only son in an alleged terrorist bombing. When he realizes that booze and sex is not enough to ease his suffering he joins forces with a disgruntled Marine veteran who lost a brother in the same attack. The two forge a plan of spectacular revenge.
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
15. How often do you write?
I write every single day without fail.
16. Approximately how many words do you write at each sitting?
I write no less than 5 minutes as a starting point, which accounts for about 250 words. I refer to this as free-writing. The key is that the 5 minutes can be 5 minutes or it can expand to 3 hours. Either way, I open that pathway to my creative consciousness.
17. Do you do your own editing or send it to someone else?
I do all my own editing up to a certain point. I will then forward “clean” work to my agent who will edit further and give me critical feedback.
18. What is your method of writing? (i.e., Do you write the entire manuscript, then go back and make changes? Do you plan chapters as you go along or write the story then go back and add chapters? Do you re-read as you go along or after you are done with the first draft?)
My stories are fully conceived in my head, and play as movie scenes. I then describe each scene in detail during free-writing. I then gather these hand written scenes and organize them into chapters. I type these hand-written chapters into a first draft of the manuscript. The first draft then gets re-written as many times as necessary until I feel that it is completed. This re-writing is critical. While doing this I will edit, add chapters, cut chapters, kill characters or bring them back to life, and even re-structure the entire story.
19. Do you have a muse? If so, please elaborate. If not, what inspires you?
I have many muses that take many forms. Many times they are close friends and fans that have encouraged and supported me since the very beginning. An example of a muse is my agent who believes in me and “gets” what I’m doing. If you see me talking to myself, I am having an internal dialog with a muse – and the way for me to stop is to write it out. Inspiration can hit from anywhere, it can be born of conversation with a friend, or come from an everyday situation, or even come from something I see on TV. This interview questionnaire is an inspiration. I can’t move on until I write it out and finish it.
20. How long does it take you to write a full manuscript?
Approximately 6 months to complete a 90,000 word first draft (see question 24).
21. Do you give yourself a word limit for each day or a time limit to finish your novel? If so, please elaborate.
Yes, I go for 5 pages per day – assuming 250 words per page which equates to approximately 1,250 words. Assuming you work a 5 days week it should take about 15 weeks to knock out a 90,000 word manuscript. This is not counting the time dedicated to conceiving the story and the re-writes.
22. How do you come up with your character names and geographic location business names?
I’m always on the lookout for ironic and humorous names.
23. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
Yes, a piece of paper and a pen…cup of strong black coffee (optional). I’ve tried a glass of Irish whiskey, but I find I do better when I’m sober and wired.
24. Does your real life ever get neglected because of your writing? If so, how do you feel about that?
Absolutely, yes…my wife wants to drown my laptop in the bathtub. Unfortunately, even when I do step away from the physical work of writing, many times I’m still a million miles away in the middle of some crazy scene within my imagination. Being a novelist is a solitary existence, and the pursuit has cost me. It is very difficult to completely withdraw and work when life is going on around you, and sometimes it is even harder to tamp away the creative impulse to be present in the real world. No matter how hard it is though, it is rewarding to live your dreams. When the people you love recognize your sacrifice and talent and continue to support you, it makes it all the difference.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
25. If you have written more than one novel, which is your favorite and why?
NUMBER ONE SON, probably will always be my favorite because it is my first. This novel has taken so many forms, so many years of my life, so many re-writes, and so many rejections. Whatever happens with this novel it was my novelist’s education and that is priceless – and I have the black eyes and broken bones to prove it. I am satisfied that I have puked my heart and blood into this piece of art…and that I have achieved something great.
26. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
My narrator, my characters get beaten-up way too much. Second choice would be one of my female characters. They are by far the strongest and smartest characters in my novels.
27. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your books?
28. What is the most difficult thing you have ever researched for one your books and why?
Terrorist tactics. Irrational fear that the FBI might flag me, and I’ll have a SWAT team knocking down my door.
Thank you, Al, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and your work as much as I have.