Monday, July 27, 2015

An Interview with Lou Gaglia

An Interview with Lou Gaglia, author of Poor Advice, and other stories.

AFI: First, congratulations on the publication of Poor Advice Second, thank you for participating in this interview.

LG: Thank you very much, Anthony. I feel honored.

AFI: As we get started, I have to ask: how do you feel about Poor Advice now that it's a finished product? This is a short story collection, but in many ways it reads like one single narrative. Did you write the short stories with the overall product in mind? Do you have favorites among these short stories?

LG: The process was pretty grueling at times, but it was the fun kind of grueling. Now I’m a little proud and a lot relieved. I enjoyed choosing the stories for the book, but I enjoyed even more deciding on the order of the stories. Thinking gets me in trouble sometimes, so I tried to arrange the stories according to feel, wanting to mix some of the more serious stories around the “funnier” ones. I’m glad I decided on “This Is My Montauk” as the final story, though. It seems to fit there. Lucky that my subconscious mind chose the order of stories. If I had to rely on my conscious mind, I’d get nothing done.

“Montauk,” is one of my personal favorites, but I had the most fun writing “The Spy and the Priest” and “With Doleful Vexation”. “Letters from a Young Poet” is special to me, too. It retraced the steps I took when I visited Italy alone a long time ago, although most of the experiences of the main character were different from my own. I did get lost in Rome many times, as the main character did, and I was tossed out of a coffee shop in Zurich because I didn’t want to pay for a too-expensive coffee, and I did live on crackers and peanut butter my last few days in Zurich because I ran out of money. Otherwise, that guy wasn’t me…I hope not, anyway.

AFI: From the acknowledgments page in Poor Advice I see that all of these short stories have appeared in literary magazines. Out of curiosity how many rejects did you get in the process of getting individual short stories published? It's a work ethic question, or course. Which short story got the most rejections?

LG: Oh boy, I don’t know if I should admit which stories were “losers,” but I’ll give it a try. “Hands” was rejected a whopping thirty-three times, but then Waccamaw, an excellent journal, published it, and later it placed second for the Million Writers Award. So you never know. Even with those thirty-three rejections, though, I didn’t consider reworking that story. I was stubborn about that one. But I have reworked other stories that received a number of rejections. “This Is My Montauk” and “Letters from a Young Poet” were accepted without being rejected, so they were lucky, and “With Doleful Vexation” was rejected only twice, and “Craving Honey” only once. Most of the others, though, fell somewhere between zero and thirty-three rejections.

Rejections really don’t bother me, though, because there are only so many stories that can go into a magazine’s issue, and editors all have individual tastes. It all depends on finding the right fit. If I’d been smart enough to send “Hands” to Waccamaw in the first place, maybe I wouldn’t be here admitting that it was rejected thirty-three times.

AFI: You and I became acquainted a few years ago when Umbrella Factory Magazine (Issue 8, December 2011) ran your short story “Little Leagues.” I doubt I told you at the time, but the entire editorial staff loved that story. It seems from your last name that you come from Italian heritage, is that true? I grew on the opposite coast, in San Francisco. I grew up with Italians. When I read “Little Leagues” (not to spoil the story for those who have yet to read it) I knew the scene too well. I know the old guys playing Bocce, and I know the angry dads around the baseball diamond. I have to know, how close to your childhood neighborhood was this story? And how much of your own childhood plays into these stories, “Little Leagues” particularly?

LG: Oh yes, I come from Italian heritage and love the language, not just the Italian language but the language of Queens and Long Island, where I grew up, and the Lower East Side and Brooklyn where I lived for many years. I enjoyed watching the old men play Bocce in Brooklyn. Their attitudes about games contrasted greatly with some of what I witnessed and lived through growing up, so I was finally able to write “Little Leagues”―which had been stewing in my mind for years―because of that strong contrast.

The baseball playing part of my childhood was wonderful overall, I have to say, but the best time I had playing baseball was in pickup games, or “stickball” games, or just throwing the ball around or playing pitcher-catcher. Later, I coached basketball and softball on the Lower East Side for a long time in a great school/neighborhood league run by a very good friend of mine. What a great league for kids that is! So I’ve seen both sides.

AFI: I think in the literary magazine world, especially on the editors' side of things, we love a story that makes us laugh. How do you think you've grown as a writer since “Little Leagues”? Your list of publications for the stories in Poor Advice is impressive. How do you think working with magazines and editors has influenced your writing? What was the best experience you had with a magazine? Which magazine was the worst?

LG: There are such great editors out there. I’m grateful for the chance to meet and work with editors like Nate Tower (Bartleby Snopes) and Ellen Parker (FRiGG) and Kathryn Magendie (Rose & Thorn) and Terry Rogers (Menda City Review) and Katya Cummins (Niche Magazine) and Mitch Waldman (Blue Lake Review) and Matt Rowan (Untoward) and so many others. They were very supportive, and some of them asked me questions about particular lines in my stories in such a way that they forced me to think more deeply about my choices. I love when that happens. They and many others have helped me become a better writer. I haven’t encountered any editors who were lemons. No unpleasant experiences, no, other than the occasional form rejection that reads, “Best of luck with all of your future writing endeavors,” which is code for “Take a hike. buddy.” Really, though, all of the editors I’ve encountered have been very nice and I wish I could meet many of them face to face someday. I appreciate them greatly because they’re doing what they do out of love for literature. It’s no surprise that they’re nice people.

AFI: When did you first decide to become a writer? Was there one moment when you knew you were going to be a writer? Do you recall the title of your first short story?

LG: I knew in early high school that I wanted to be a writer, but of course I was told that people can’t make a living as a writer, so naturally I pouted, and when someone asked me what I wanted to do for a living after that, I shrugged and mentioned maybe becoming a garbage collector or a tree sap taster. I wrote very silly short stories in high school. I guess I haven’t changed much. The first story I remember writing was a spoof on the Samson and Delilah story for Literature and Religion class. My teacher kind of rolled his eyes at that one. Then there was one about an ankle-biting talking beagle that terrorized a small town. Maybe I was the only one who thought that was funny, I don’t remember. Later, my high school creative writing teacher taught me to write more seriously, and she introduced me to certain writing techniques. I’m forever grateful to her for her patience, her absolute kindness and acceptance, and her incredible expertise. She has influenced my teaching style as well.

AFI: Who are your influences? Who were you reading in the formative years as a writer? Who are you reading now? How do you think other writers influence you?

LG: I really liked Vonnegut and Salinger as a teen (still do), and then Dostoyevski and Huxley and Hesse. I was completely into Faulkner for a while. Then Sherwood Anderson and Virginia Woolf and Scott Fitzgerald and of course Ring Lardner, always. Now I love anything by Steinbeck and Chekhov and Tolstoy, and Katherine Anne Porter. Absolute masters, all of them. I try to learn all I can from them. I was blown away recently by Tolstoy’s The Cossacks. What a beautiful story, and Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is a masterpiece. Those are two stories to learn from! Anyway, I try to learn from everything I read, and I’m always reading―even Do Not Enter signs and Stop signs. Right now I’m reading The Book Thief and also Halle Butler’s Jillian, and I just finished Jason Ockert’s Wasp Box. All excellent books.

AFI: Going back to Poor Advice for a moment, I notice a few recurring themes in these stories. For instance, it seems that you challenge the idea of ineptness between the sexes in both “Correspondence” and the story, “With Doleful Vexation”. The structures of these two stories is similar too, each are built of smaller vignettes or as John Gardner may have called them: snippets or crots. This style seems to fit with the narration. Was this a choice when you initially sat down to write these stories or did they evolve into the finish product? Am I seeing more to this than you intended? Or is the narration simply there to progress the plot or perhaps leave us somewhat unsettled as readers?

LG: I’d never recognized a similarity between those two stories, but I see what you mean now. Both of them were about selfishness and lack of communication, and both of them were exaggerations of how sometimes individuals in relationships are only concerned with their own needs. Arty in “Correspondence” and Carly in “Vexation” were selfish and self-centered, and Karen in “Correspondence” and the narrator of “Vexation” were innocent and eager to love. I wanted to show that contrast in “Correspondence” by alternating the voices, and I wanted to emphasize the narrator’s innocence in “Vexation” by only writing short scenes and sticking with events that confused him, which was any scene involving Carly. Thanks for making that connection, it’s very interesting.

AFI: Are you a Mets fan?

LG: Oh yeah, I’m a big time Mets fan, and I enjoy mentioning them in stories whenever I can. I guess you’ve noticed that I love baseball, huh? I’ve loved that game since I was in third grade. No one influenced me to love it either. It was magic. I’d rather have a catch than do almost anything. I’ve always been that way. Lucky my son and daughter love having catches too―otherwise I’d be bothering the neighbors.

AFI: I enjoyed Poor Advice very much. When can I expect the next installment? Do you have another project in the works? Another collection or a novel?

LG: Yes, I’m putting together a second story collection called Difficult People, which should be ready by next spring, and I’m well into a novel.

AFI: Thank you very much for your time Lou. It was a pleasure reading your book. Where can someone find a copy of Poor Advice for his library?

LG: Thank you very much, Anthony. It’s been a pleasure for me as well. (See the links below) Poor Advice is available through Amazon for the print and Kindle versions, and then there’s Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Page Foundry for the e-version, or Oyster Books for those who subscribe with them.
Lou Gaglia is the author of Poor Advice (Spring to Mountain Press, 2015). His stories have appeared recently in The Writing Disorder, Per Contra, Eclectica, Pithead Chapel, Referential Magazine, Rappahannock Review, Blue Monday Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in upstate New York after many years as a teacher in New York City and is a long-time T’ai Chi Ch’uan practitioner who still feels like a beginner. Visit him at Contact: Lou Gaglia,


Anthony ILacqua holds a Master of Fine Arts of writing at Goddard College. His third novel Warehouses and Rusted Angels is forthcoming  2015. His former novels, Dysphoric Notions (2012) and Undertakers of Rain (2013) are both published through Ring of Fire Publishing.  He currently functions as editor in chief for Umbrella Factory Magazine that he co-founded in 2009. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Anthony,

    Thank you for this excellent interview with Lou Gaglia! I recently came across some of his short stories and think his writing is wonderful. I remember Lou well from our L.I. childhood and I can assure you that he ALWAYS had a great sense of humor.

    Wishing you both much continued success in your writing careers!

    Phyl Garlasco Dougherty