Self-styled as fiction writer, activist, amateur historian, union member, and actor, Alex Lotorto does it all. We spent time together in the Electric City recently to talk about his novel, his plays and his philosophy.
Why Historical Fiction?
A history fan, Alex has always been fascinated by what happened in the past. Growing up in Pike County, stories of the Underground Railroad, the labor movement, and famous people passing through Pennsylvania have piqued his interest in the beginnings of Northeastern PA.
His novel in progress, The Deliverance of Charles Ball, touches on many of these historical occurrences, and builds on them with other issues and personages of the past. You’ll be surprised though—while the title references Mr. Ball (a former slave originally from Maryland who eventually made his way north to freedom) the protagonist of the book is Rachel, a young girl who lives with her sheep-herding family. When I asked why Alex had chosen a woman, he explained that he wanted history to be from a new perspective, and not the mostly male and autobiographical examples usually encountered in sources. His desire to give a new voice to history is refreshing and well-orchestrated. The novel begins in 1842—a pivotal year for Pennsylvania in many ways. Debtors’ prisons were banned in that year. The ban on slave catching was struck down, making Pennsylvania a sanctuary state no more—a similarity that makes one think of current immigration issues even today. But Rachel’s story and its parallels to today don’t stop there. Rachel and the town dwellers learn about Charles Ball’s plight through his writing and take on other conflicts of the day as well, such as labor unrest in the region and the question of the feasibility of utopia (with a guest appearance by Horace Greeley, who actually visited Pennsylvania around that time, and attempted a utopian socialist colony, Sylvania, near Shohola).
The three main topics of the work include these, according to Alex. In addition, in his work he wants to give the experience of the American slave, to show the plights of workers in the dawn of American capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, and to explore the treatment of women in this time period of national patriarchy. His narrator is written to have readers question, as she does, could people of these marginalized groups have been treated in a more humane way? Alex, through his characters, asserts that they could have, and that we need to be vigilant of these issues as history always comes back around again.
The Play’s the Thing
Novels aren’t Alex’s only genre. Acting and the theatre are in his blood, too.
After the Shots Were Fired—a play co-written by Alex in coordination with the mother/daughter duo of Margo and Marnie Azzarelli—is being performed throughout the area this fall. It tells the story of the Great Strike of 1877 in Scranton, featuring imaginations of several strikers in the riot that occurred on Lackawanna Avenue.
Alex has a screenplay in the works as well—and while a bit more light-hearted in nature, it still pulls from actual Commonwealth issues. Its working title is The Herd and it, too, focuses on Pennsylvania working heroes who save the rest of our citizens—this time not from coal bosses or slave catchers, rather the unfortunate villains are the State’s cervidae—the deer and elk.
To try to do it justice, Alex shared this summary of the trailer he envisions for the work:
A hunter, a bit hungover, is out on Opening Day of deer season. He drifts to sleep on his deer stand in the State Game Lands. Two does run by. He awakens—readied—and the buck is coming and faster than he expected. With no time to even grab his gun, the big-racked buck appears, honks, sniffs at the hunter, and then proceeds to charge right at him. Black out. Then, we hear a call from a worried wife telling the game warden about the hunter, her husband, who never made it home for dinner.
Not to give it all away, let’s just say the deer are not well, and a dark comedy in the vein of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Independence Day,” and “Snakes on a Plane” ensues.
Just remember—don’t feed the deer.
Parting Comments and Sage Advice
Alex’s enthusiasm in his work is contagious—I can’t wait to hear and see more from him. His passion is evident in all of his characters, and it’s clear that fiction is his strength. He knows this himself and says, “Fiction lets you do the things you couldn’t do in real life.” Who wouldn’t want to live it up like that?
Alex has advice for new local writers—get out there. Join a writer’s group such as NEPA Creative Writers or Ink and find all of the other writers in the area who are willing to help get you started and “talk up” your confidence. He says that they’ll give you the accountability you’ll need to continue. He states that writer should capitalize on the area itself, too. “NEPA is a great micro-laboratory for the human experience and existence,” and adds that there is “untold content” waiting to be written about from local history to current events in our region.
Alex truly has no shortage on storytelling and he wants to encourage others to take up the cause, too, because “there’s not a person anywhere who doesn’t have a good idea to share to help make the world better.”
Want to hear more from Alex Lotorto? See him in After the Shots Were Fired at Pittston’s Riverfest this month. He’s also a featured writer for the Writer’s Showcase at the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton at the end of September. He says don’t be shy about contacting him on Facebook or at the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) meetings at Café Sevda in Scranton the last Saturday morning of every month. He’ll be happy to help share ways he works to make Pennsylvania history—and more—accessible to all.
Upcoming events info:
Writer’s Showcase: Fall Edition: Saturday, September 30th from 7-9 p.m. at the Old Brick Theatre, located at 126 Market Street, Scranton, PA 18508.