I’ve been writing for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I was working on my latest novel, The Bronx Kill, that I began to articulate for myself the subtle ways how truly thrilling the writing life actually is. I’m not talking about thrilling in the sense of glamor, fame or prestige; I’m thinking of the easy-to-miss kind of thrilling. What I like to call quiet thrills.
For example, the thrill that comes with sitting down each day at the computer, the comfort of a daily routine, of having a purpose for the hours to come, of finding sanctuary in the treasures of the mind. And what treasures they are! So unpredictable and dream-like in the way one idea leads to another, one visual image rolls into the next, one word stumbling into another until there is the miracle of a sentence rich and evocative with feeling—all of this taking us to God knows where, places we’ve never visited before, places that never existed for us before, that would not have existed unless we invented them.
While writing The Bronx Kill I was entertained, startled even and, yes, thrilled by the way the story unfolded, piece by piece. Maybe because it took so long to manifest itself. Maybe because there were such long periods of not being able to figure out how to move the story forward.
When I began, I had only the title and a few of the characters. I knew the story would be about friendship, in this case three male teenage friends—Danny, Charlie and Johnny—who had known each other since childhood. I had tried to write their story several times and had given up. Something compelled me to try again. So I did and the idea to place a female character, Julianne, in their midst—someone they would all be in love with—came to me. But she evinces no romantic interest until I thought to include a fourth male character, a beautiful boy— Timmy Moon—whom she falls for and who becomes the object of jealousy for the original three friends.
But I was stalled there until I thought of an incident that would lock them all together forever: on a dare one hot August night they decide to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens. In the attempt, Timmy Moon drowns under questionable circumstances and Julianne’s body is never found. The three survivors vow never to speak of the incident and go their separate ways.
But what then? I was stumped. I needed another “miracle” to move the story forward. Finally it came in the person of Timmy Moon’s older brother, an NYPD detective, who believes Timmy’s death was far from accidental and who then wages a campaign to bring the three friends to justice by any means possible.
The way each new idea came to me did, in fact, feel miraculous, coming as each one did after weeks and months of my being in despair and feeling at a dead end. That, I feel, is the ultimate thrill of the writer: wandering about in despair and then experiencing that sudden miraculous idea that rescues you, and the story you’re writing.
Philip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE; CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His latest novel is THE BRONX KILL (Livingston Press, 2017). His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com