Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
I’m originally from Rochester, New York, birthplace of Kodak and the instamatic camera as well as the famed “garbage plate,” a culinary concoction introduced to the world by Nick Tauho Hots, an eatery opened in 1918. I know what a garbage plate tastes like (painfully good), but Wikepedia helped with the ingredients, which are: two selections of cheeseburger, hamburger, red hot dogs, white hot dogs, Italian sausage, chicken tender, fish (haddock), fried ham, grilled cheese, or eggs; and two sides of either home fries, French fries, baked beans, or macaroni salad. Why I think this information will help your readers learn about me as a writer I have no idea, but as a person, I hope it conveys that I am a fan of fine art (photography) and fine cuisine, or, really, cuisine, meaning food in any shape, form or consistency.
There was never a “eureka” moment in my life as a writer, but there were nudges toward an epiphany that I wanted to be a writer, or at least pretend to be a writer. In fact, I think it a natural progression for most writers – to start in the fantasy and then make a move toward reality; meaning you visualize all the glory and gain of being a famed writer, riding that wave toward the reality that to be so takes commitment, hard work, education, the ability to endure rejection and, truly, a bit of luck, which can be had by being committed, working hard, getting the education, and enduring rejection. That said, I believe I became a writer when I first said openly I was to someone I was unsure would receive the news without mocking scepticism. I think that was the first step, voicing my internal identity to the world, and then, once that enchilada was out there, working towards becoming it. This all came together in my late 20’s and into my early 30’s, and from there I progressed to taking continuing education classes, joining a writing group, getting my Masters in Creative Writing from the City College of New York, and finally, publishing my first short story (in Fiction Magazine), 20 or so more in the decade after, and then, in 2013, publishing my first novel, The Book of Ash (Boxfire Press), and this year, my second, a collection of short stories titled Two Syllable Men (Vine Leaves Press).
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
I think I wandered in my own dream world as a writer, writing in my head, doodling poems and lines on bar napkins, scratching epitaphs on newly cemented sidewalks, until I finally took a writing class after moving to New York City at the Writer’s Voice at the 63rd Street YMCA. I was fortunate to be placed with a teacher named Carol Dixon, who, tragically, is now deceased. Carol was brilliant, funny, encouraging, and the first to tell me I had talent and something to say other than “Give me a garbage plate.” She also helped to get me into a writing group.
When did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)
My first novel, The Book of Ash, was listed as dystopia, science-fiction, and the new collection, Two Syllable Men, seems to have found traction on Amazon under the Dark Humor category, so I think my genre might be something in-between or around the edges. If anything, I think I’m a satirist, and as such I’m very much influenced by writers like Orwell, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, who told such wonderful stories while doling out the medicine of theme in sweet little (high alcohol content) sips.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
Someone asked me the other day how I get my ideas for my books and stories, and I stood as still as a log until I got an idea to write a story about a writer who is asked where they get their ideas from and doesn’t know how to answer. But if I have to pick, I would say it’s usually a visual cue that gets me thinking – something quirky I see that connects to some drama I am having in my life. I then sit and brood on the stew, figuring out ways I can tell it to a reader so it is as interesting as I find the concept, and then sitting down and banging it out. The only problem is that the original idea and the final product never are the same. Actually, maybe that’s not a problem at all.
What is your life like outside of writing?
I am married to a wonderful and beautiful woman, and we have a dog (Gonshi) named after a Chinese phrase roughly meaning “Happy New Year.” When I’m not with them, I like to do yoga, play basketball, garden, fish, watch Villanova’s basketball team win National Championships, and eat. I also like to listen to 80’s music and pretend I’m in the band Echo & the Bunnymen.
What makes you laugh?
I have a few friends in life that can make me laugh just by looking at me. I can’t say why this is, or even if they are happy about it, but it’s true. I also love Seinfeld, Will Ferrell movies, old John Cusack films (the scene at the Gas & Sip in Say Anything slays me) and anything SCTV ever did (look up John Candy as “Johnny Larue”).
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
If we’re eating a garbage plate, I wouldn’t mind noshing with Maugham, Greene, Orwell (they said he had a bad stomach, so we might have to bring in something bland), van Gogh (when lucid) and my favourite basketball player when I was a child, Nate “Tiny” Archibald.
For Two Syllable Men, Transmission by Joy Division.
And for The Book of Ash, Bring on the Dancing Horses by Echo & The Bunnymen.
What are you working on now?
A novel set in 1933, which uses real historical figures and events of the time to spin my fictional plot of an attempt by those in power to assassinate George Orwell before his stature as an author grows and his message of social and economic equality spreads to the masses. There’s a steady dose of Upton Sinclair in the book, the author of the “muckraking” novel The Jungle. Sinclair, in 1933, had moved to California and was running for governor under the Democratic flag. Basically, Sinclair was riding a wave of populist/socialist momentum, and his candidacy scared the pants off the wealthy and conservatives who did everything to besmirch his character and buck up the Republican candidate who won by a narrow margin. You might Sinclair was not much different than Bernie Sanders of today, except maybe he was a little balder and certainly a better writer. But the whole thing confirms that history does often repeat itself…or never changes.
Is there anything you would like us to know about yourself and your books?
I’m a lot of fun at parties, but sadly I don’t get invited to parties.
John McCaffrey grew up in Rochester, New York, attended Villanova University, and received his MA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York. He the author of The Book of Ash and Two Syllable Men. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
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