Saturday, April 20, 2024

Q&A with Philip Cioffari




Philip Cioffari is the author of the new novel Night and Its Longings. His other books include the novel If Anyone Asks, Say I Died from the Heartbreaking Blues. He is also a playwright and filmmaker.


Q: What inspired you to write Night and Its Longings, and how did you create your characters Jake and Vera?


A: The inspiration for Night and Its Longings came in several stages. The first was my fascination with New York City in the hours after midnight when so much of the city is quiet and dark. Visual images abound: the roads and walkways of Central Park; the pathways along the Hudson River; deserted streets in SoHo. What I like to think of as Noir New York.


For me, those hours after midnight, when the external world recedes and we come face to face with ourselves, those are the times we see ourselves in the clearest light: what our life means, what we have and what we don’t have, the distance between what we desire and what we possess.


The second source of inspiration was a “what if” scenario. What if there’s a writer in Greenwich Village who suffers from sleepless nights because his life has never been right since his love affair with a woman ended 10 years before. He still loves her.


So he spends those hours from midnight to dawn writing; it’s only with the morning light that he’s able to face the troubled dreams of his sleep.


And what if the husband of this woman comes to him one of those nights and asks his help in finding her when she disappears. The writer, my main character, has now been thrust back into the world he thought was lost to him forever.


In this way, Jake the writer was born, as was Vera, the woman he has never forgotten—the two main characters of the novel.

Q: The writer Jonathan Dee called the novel a “marriage of a high-toned love story and a nut-and-bolts mystery plot.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think Jonathan Dee’s description gets at the basic structure and context of the novel.


The novel has all the elements of a love story (the details of which emerge as Jake begins his search for Vera) and his investigation itself plunges us into the mysteries of her disappearance.


There’s the external or surface mystery of what has happened to her; but more importantly perhaps the ultimate mystery of why we do what we do and how we make amends for a life gone wrong. Both Jake and Vera have to deal with the “mystery” of who they were and what they have become.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: No, I didn’t know how the novel would end until I got to the end. I never know when I begin a story how it will end. That’s part of the excitement of writing it: to see how things turn out. I want to be as surprised as the reader.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Well, for one I hope the reader will be entertained and fully engaged by the story.


For another, I hope that both Jake and Vera’s struggle to strip away the artifice of their lives and see themselves for who they really are and who they can be resonates with the reader. This is the struggle every feeling and thinking one of us is engaged in. It is a bond of our shared humanity.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently, I’m working on a third draft of a new novel, and on a full-length play I’ve adapted from one of my earlier novels.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If readers have any questions about the writing process or about my work, they may contact me via my website:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Philip Cioffari.

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