|(Photo Credit: Janet Parlato)|
Who is Steven Parlato?
Why is this such a difficult question? It's like those quizzed where they ask you to describe yourself in three or four words. Steven Parlato is-to his surprise!-a published author. He is still somewhat floored by that reality, and by the honor of being interviewed here. He is also blessed to be the husband of Janet and the dad of Ben and Jillian. He is a poet and teacher who still harbors dreams of being a professional actor, having spent many hours on the stage, in roles including Macbeth, The Scarecrow, and Bambi's emotionally-distant dad, The Great Prince of the Forest. He is a lover of lilacs, Indian food and giraffes.
How did the idea of wanting to become a writer come into play?
It's hard to say. I've always been a huge reader, and as a kid, I wrote stories. I also come from a line of great storytellers so, in a way, it seemed natural to want to tell stories of my own. Just after college, I started a novel, but back-burned it into oblivion because it seemed so unlikely I could actually do it. I had this loud "Who do you think you are?" voice in my head, saying it was ridiculous to believe I could succeed. Luckily, I also have the most supportive wife in the world, who always believed I could.
What authors, if any, inspire you. Along with some of your favorite novels/authors.
I tend to read all over the map, from Shakespeare to contemporary, adult and YA. I also LOVE picture books. Though I'm terrible at favorites of any kind, authors I hold dear include Harper Lee, John Irving, Stephen King, Maya Angelou and Markus Zusak. Zusak's The Book Thief is definitely one of my all-time favorite novels. It is a transformative read, and his poetic language is incredible. Speaking of poetry, some of my other influences are poets, like Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds, both courageous in form and content. And Edwina Trentham, the poet and teacher who changed my life.
If you were given the chance, would you allow your novel to become a movie? Would you prefer theater movie or made for TV or what?
What could be better? I'm a major movie fan, and as a visual artist, I tend to think of my novel in terms of scenes, rather than chapters. I think The Namesake would work really well as a theatrical film. My friend, Joe, who works as a writer/producer in LA, and was one of my early readers, has encouraged me to write a screen adaptation of The Namesake, which is a definite goal for me. I think it would make a powerful film, and could certainly provide a breakout role for the actor who plays Evan. I'm hoping for a small role myself.
How did the idea for The Namesake come about?
Sadly, the inspiration came from life-specifically, the suicide of a family member. When my relative took his life, I couldn't stop thinking what it would be like to lose a parent that way, especially during adolescence, a time when life is upended anyway. I was in my first graduate class, Studies in Adolescent Fiction, at the time, and I took the opportunity to write a sample chapter instead of a response paper. My professor encourage me to continue the story, and it eventually grew into The Namesake. So what began as my attempt to process real-life grief became a novel; perhaps that core of "truth" is part of what resonated with readers.
Were you afraid of handling such a tough and heavy subject in a YA novel and being criticized for it being so?
Great question! Actually, yes, though I don't think I necessarily set out to write about a heavy topic. Evan's story sort of unfolded-I worked without an outline-and I was honestly resistant to telling such a dark tale. It was difficult to write, and at times it took an emotional toll. But once I committed to telling it, I knew I had to be frank and unflinching in the portrayal of abuse. It was crucial that Evan Sr.'s experience be horrifying to the reader because, honestly, that level of betrayal should horrify us. At the same time, I felt it was important to have humor and hope.
As for fear of criticism, it's always a risk to send something you made out into the world, and I did fear people's reception of the work. For the most part, reaction has been positive, and I've been thrilled and humbled by the way readers have embraced my book. I have also been bothered by a couple of reviews that seemed to insinuate my novel exploits or sensationalizes abuse as a plot point. While I realize it's not a story for everyone, I feel strongly it's a topic that needs to be addressed because abuse is so prevalent, has destroyed so many lives, and its victims still feel such shame. I do believe The Namesake is appropriate for mature teens. My hope is that it might even be healing for a reader (teen or adult) who has experienced something similar in his or her own way.
Is there any part of the novel you wish you could take out or something that you could add in, now that it's published?
This is a really interesting question. I tend to focus on the flaws in anything I create, so there are probably some changes I'd make if I had the chance. That said, I stand behind the book, and there's not really anything major I'd cut. It's funny because some readers have called the book "too graphic," and while I agree there are very dark moments, I think much of that graphic stuff actually takes place in the reader's imagination rather than on the page, so I guess that's a success. As for what I might add, in my initial vision of the book, the pages of Evan Sr.'s journal mimic actual journal pages, with a handwritten-style font, scribbled corrections and drawings. I still think that'd be a cool addition, but I'm really happy with the novel as-is; Merit Press did a wonderful job with the design.
What do you honestly think of your finished novel?
It's not a simple answer. Obviously, I'm thrilled to have a novel out in the world, and people have called it "brave" and "important," which is pretty amazing. At this point, I've read it so many times, in so many different drafts, I think I've achieved a necessary sort of emotional distance. On the other hand, there are still scenes (Lupo's "demuralization" project, Evan's discussion with Father Brendan near the end, and others) that make me emotional. Considering I created the story, the fact that it still has impact for me makes me pretty happy. All in all, I feel it's a success.
Do you plan on writing any more novels?
Absolutely! The Namesake has been a real affirmation, evidence that the naysaying voice in my head was wrong. That doesn't make the prospect of writing the next book(s) much less formidable, but I've begun work on a couple of others, and I have lots of ideas for future novels.
Could you let us know a bit about the future works?
I've been working on two very different stories. One is a contemporary novel with a female narrator. It was a Holocaust link, and will incorporate the story of the "lapins," a group of Polish women who were interred at Ravensbruck concentration camp. That one requires serious research to get the historical details right. The other is definitely lighter fare. It's a ghost story, set in Cape May, New Jersey-like seaside resort. [TheSubtleChronicler: GO NEW JERSEY!] That protagonist, Dexter Peregrym, is pretty bummed about being uprooted from life in Connecticut and forced to live with his great aunt in her supposedly-haunted B&B. I also have an idea for a story that revolves around a family store like the one my extended family owned when I was a kid. And some of the characters from The Namesake may well return in a future book or two.
While reading The Namesake, I was reminded very much of Ellen Hopkins and came to the conclusion that you were her prose counterpart. Would you consider writing more novels based on such heavy topics?
First off, thank you! Ellen Hopkins is a YA giant, and I really respect her work, so that's a lovely compliment. As a poet myself, I definitely feel writing poetry helps inform my prose. I try to be conscious of every word, paying attention to both layers of meaning and to sounds. To answer your question, I would certainly be open to other heavy topics, but only if they fit the story organically. I don't think of myself as intentionally controversial-nor am I actively seeking the next dark topic-but there are issues, such as the stigma of mental illness, that strike me on a heart/gut level. These topics to naturally surface in my writing, so I'm sure I'll go there at some point.
Was anything from the novel (characters and/or places) based on real people or inspired by actual people/places?
There are definitely parallels between Evan's world and real life. St. Sebastian's is a lot like my own high school, and Holy Family Merciful Wisdom Center echoes the retreat house where I attended encounter. Fortunately, my encounter experience was far less harrowing than the ones in the book! I've peppered the book with detailed of my hometown via street names and some locations. I actually wrote much of the mall scene at our mall, so it's definitely a case of literature imitating life. Some of the characters owe a debt to real-life folks, too; Gramp, for example, sounds a bit like my dad, and Lex was inspired by some of my close high school friends. And there's a fair amount of me in Evan: we're both artists, both introspective, and we share a certain dark sense of humor.
[These questions are "serious" questions that can be summed up in a word or two. They're very serious, though.]
Would you prefer humans living in the sky or underwater?
Gosh, since my irrational fear of shark attack outweighs my fear of heights, I guess I'll have to go with sky-dwelling. But I would require a safety harness.
If you weren't a writer you'd be a...
Anything but a Quality Management Representative. That is a job I held for far too long. I'd most like to be a successful actor. Who knows, maybe someday.
Bacon and Peanut Butter Shake or Bacon Ice Cream? (They both exist unfortunately.)
Okay, the shake idea seems patently disgusting, [TheSubtleChronicler: It's actually a peanut butter ice cream shake type of thing you eat with a spoon with bacon chunks in it.] like something one might be forced to consume on a sadistic reality show. I'd go with the Bacon Ice Cream. Enough hot fudge can salvage anything.
Top 5 countries you would love to live in.
Besides the USA? Well, I've only ever been to Mexico and Canada, and they were both wonderful. There are a few other places that have always captured my imagination. They are (in no particular order):
Thanks for the opportunity, Michael. It's been a pleasure "speaking" with you and your readers, and I really appreciate the support!
There you have it Chroniclers! The Author Interview with the amazing Steven Parlato! Both you and I have gotten to know a lot about Steven and I seriously can't wait for what he brings to us in the future. I wish you much success to you and your family and may this not be the end we hear of you. Even though, I know for a fact, it won't be the end!
I'd like to thank Steven for doing this author interview. So you all should go check out a few things and then buy his book down below! I'll see you all later Chroniclers!
Don't forget to check out some of his pages as well!
Like his Facebook: Steven Parlato
Follow his Twitter: @parlatowrites
Check his Website: StevenParlato.com
Add his Goodreads: Steven Parlato & The Namesake
Check his Amazon: Steven Parlato