Interview with Mauro Casiraghi

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Of course. It was about a silver coin. My grandfather showed it to me, taking it out of a blue velvet case. It was part of his collection. I was nine years old. That silver coin looked so beautiful and mysterious that I wrote about it for an Italian assignment at school. I wrote a long story with plot twists and an emotional ending. The teacher gave me an A and read the story to the class. My classmates were impressed. The girl I liked looked at me with a new interest in her eyes. I guess that's when I first realized the power of writing...
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small town near Milan, in Italy. Cute little houses. Peace and quiet. Pretty gardens full of flowers. Around my birthday, in October, it suddenly got very foggy. Thick mist surrounded those houses and silent streets. As a kid, then, I had the strange feeling that the lives of my neighbors were not as peaceful as their homes would give to believe. I wished I could penetrate the mystery and secrets hidden behind those walls, and the fog.
Something else that influenced my childhood, I guess, was my parents splitting up.
I recently realized that I often write about break-ups, impossible love affairs, and mysterious forces that drive people to the very limit of their existence to find the truth about themselves.
Maybe all these things are connected. Maybe not. Literature moves in mysterious ways.
When did you first start writing?
Ever since I got my hands on books by Calvino, Kafka and Hemingway - I was about fifteen - I knew I wanted to be a writer. But it took me a while to learn how to do that. The stuff I wrote at twenty years old was not very good. Too brainy, I guess. I think my writing developed when I moved to Canada to study Creative Writing, but it was still not focused. After I returned to Italy, for a few years I concentrated on writing scripts for cinema and television. But the itch for writing novels never stopped. So, one day I sat down with an idea in my head, and in three months I wrote my first novel.
What inspired your first novel, "The Purple Room"?
It all started with an image. Most people are familiar with that moment when someone opens the shutters in the morning and the light wakes you up. You are still half asleep, a bit confused about where you are, and all you see is the silhouette of the person who opened the shutters. Well, I don't know why, but I became obsessed with that image. So I transferred my obsession onto a character and wove it into a story. A guy suffers from memory loss after an accident, and all he remembers is the image of a woman opening the shutters. A mystery of the mind that, if solved, could be the chance for a new beginning.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I love the idea of having my books always available to the readers. I want to reach as many people as possible, and self-published ebooks are the best way to do that.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a Kindle e-reader. One of the old models, with a black leather cover to make it more pleasant to handle. Since I live in Italy, for me the easiest and fastest way to get books in English is to download them as ebooks. It's great!
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
My favorite marketing technique is to give away my books for free.
My first novel was first published in Italy. It won a couple of literary prizes, got decent reviews and sold reasonably well. But after a couple of years it was impossible to find it anywhere in print. I didn't care much about sales. I just wanted readers to have access to it. So I got back the rights from the publisher and published it as an ebook on Amazon, first for free, and then at a very low price. In three years the novel sold thousands of copies in Italy and Germany. I used the money to hire a professional translator from the States. And now "The Purple Room" is available in English too.
What do you read for pleasure?
I like novels with spare, clean writing that digs into the characters' soul. I especially enjoy reading stories where the writer doesn't feel superior to his characters, but has the same level of understanding of the world he describes. I guess that's why I usually prefer first-person narratives. Richard Ford would be a good example of a contemporary author I enjoy reading. Recently, I was pleased to discover Kent Haruf's books. He usually writes in third-person about people living in the small town of Holt, Colorado. He takes you right inside their minds and their hearts just by describing what they do and say.
Describe your desk
It's the same desk I had when I was a student at school, even though I have moved many times since then; simple, beech wood, a lamp on the side, my laptop at the centre. The pencil holder is a glass with the face of the Incredible Hulk on it. It holds pens, pencils, a knife from Sardinia, and a black pebble from the beach. That's my good-luck charm. Before I start writing a new book, I rub the pebble in my hands, hoping for inspiration...
What is your writing process?
I'm a compulsive re-writer. I write the first draft. Then a second. Then a third. Then I realize some stuff was better in the first draft, so I go back and change what I had changed. Then I realize the previous version was better, so I change it back again. I go on like this for months. It can be rather tiring, time-consuming, and not very good for your mental health. But I must admit that every time I improve a paragraph, a sentence, or just a single word, I feel good about it. It's like an addiction. It's not easy, but at a certain point I have to stop and move on.
Published 2016-06-06.
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