A Man of Parts

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Featured writer, Alex Lotorto

 

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.

 

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The Man in Orange and Black

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             A poetry unit in school, taught by a soul-patched goateed English teacher was all it took to get Al Man writing.  He admits that, at age twelve, his poetry was “terrible” and melded into the expected romantic and pining poetry of high school, but his work now is honest, heartfelt, and inviting.

            Over an iced tea and chocolate-peanut-butter-cup iced coffee we chatted about how Al got to where he is today.

The Writing Process

            I began with the question of how Al goes about his writing.  His answer was simple:  “It starts as something in my head, and I have to write it down.”

            From there it goes from a notebook rough draft to a typed one in the computer where Al edits as he retypes it.  After taking it to one of his writing groups for feedback and a bit more polish, Al puts the new piece aside and waits. How long does the wait last?  Anywhere from “at least a few weeks” to as long as a year before he says he’ll “put fresh eyes on it.”  He often writes at home, joined by his dog, Link, on the couch.  Sometimes he’ll head out for a walk though, ending up with a stop at Main Bean Coffee after to jot ideas down.  He’s told me he used to write at work in the breakroom, but that ended when someone let the cat out of the bag about what he was doing in there (it was Al who told people he was writing). Now, his curious coworkers tend to interrupt, interested in what he has to say in his writing.

Inspiration

            He admits ideas come from everywhere for him—it could be a line or two or a character stuck in his head and he writes it down.  Inspiration comes from all parts of life, but lately he’s found more of a rush in the raw experiences of the common man, encountering much innovation from Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski.

            He doesn’t have a specific muse currently, but instead uses what pops up, or falls down, to start writing.  For example, he recently wrote about bird guano that ended up on his car’s windshield.  He says, “You can write about anything around you if it hits you in the right way.”

Getting Started and Sage Advice

            Al first started putting himself out in the Northeast PA writing scene in July of 2016.  He braved an open mic through a Poconos writer’s group and was asked to be a featured writer at the event the next month.  He’s continued attending local open mics and showcases for the last year, with one distinct high point being a headliner at the Writer’s Showcase a the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton where he shared not only his works, but a poem of his grandfather’s as well, who wrote during his time in World War II.

            When I asked Al what recommendations he had for local, new writers who need direction, his advice is simply to get out there.  “Rip it off like a bandaid!” he exclaims.  He says that while he knows it’s difficult to open yourself up to judgments on things that are personal to you (and, he adds, they should be personal things you write about, at least on some level), don’t be afraid of criticism because the majority of it is constructive.  He declares, “You won’t know what others think of you if you don’t get out there.”  And that is really the whole point.

The Kids He Works With and the Kids of His Brain

            Having been in the NEPA Creative Writers and Ink Writers with Al, I’ve heard many of his musings.  One of my favorites was his foray into the world of Thanksgiving with his children’s story of “Side Dishes on Strike.”  But, being a substitute for Bright Horizons Family Solutions, Al is often writing stories for the amusement of his wards, so a story about Yancy the Yam makes sense.  Another favorite story of the students, he says, is “The Very Grouchy Teacher” (That’s HIM!)

            He feels the best thing he’s written so far is his beautiful, nostalgic baseball poem called “Pitchers & Catchers” about a former girlfriend and their trip to see the Red Sox.  He says it’s not only his favorite, but it brings back good memories and celebrates the friendship with her that endures to today.

            The strangest thing he’s written, then?  Probably the one about the bird droppings.  He wondered why he thought about it for twenty minutes or so and then wrote it, but the point is—he wrote it.  And it worked.

Influences and Parting Comments

            Al says imagination was always his thing—even when he was young and demanded to be acknowledged only as Batman (costume included).  He is imaginative.  Still, naming J.D. Salinger, Bukowski and Ginsberg as some of his current favorites fits Al.  He’s up-front, forthright and conversational in his writing and in real life.  Like Bukowski said, “An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.”  Al’s direct, straightforward writing—whether illusory or otherwise—is approachable for all.  It’s really great stuff.

            Watch for Al around the area—he frequents Kester’s in Luzerne on Friday nights.  He’s often at the Wednesday night open mics at Adezzo’s in Scranton, and will be one of the performers at the Game Chateau’s Spooky Writer’s Showcase in October.

 

Know a writer near you who’s making their own space? Send word to Marcie at marciehriebe.ttw@gmail.com to help them be heard here.

Intro: The Writer’s Edge: Writers Making Their Own Page

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“Words are all we have.”–Samuel Beckett

Writing is like a greasy piece of pizza. Delicious, delightful, and dreadful. But it’s worth all it takes to birth something from within you.
“The Writer’s Edge: Writers Making Their Own Page” features writers on the edge of breaking out–people who want to spew sentences and wring words from life and scream them all from the steeple tops.
While “The Writer’s Edge” begins with NEPA writers, it knows no limits on its breadth.
Know a writer near you who’s making their own space? Send word to Marcie at marciehriebe.ttw@gmail.com to help them be heard here.