Writer V. Joseph Racanelli’s story “Thanksgiving in Black and White, 1979” was featured in Issue #8 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. You can follow him on Twitter @respectthetroll.
What is your relationship to Queens?
I am Queens bred, having spent my formative years growing up in Woodside and Whitestone, both basically immigrant neighborhoods. As an adult, I moved to Brooklyn (at a time when the taxi drivers refused to go there). Now I’m living in Manhattan, where I was born, but planning to return to Queens. I look fondly back on my years there. I’m hoping to get more stories out of my Queens life, past and future.
What is your favorite memory of Queens?
I’m not sure I can give you one favorite memory. There are many. Let’s say I had a happy childhood, for the most part. Lots of friends, stickball, touch football on 64 St., and hardball games on abandoned highway utility field near the BQE. Lefthanded batters couldn’t hit the ball too far as it would end up on the highway and then we’d have to dodge cars to get the ball back. We only had one ball. Queens made me a Mets fan, and I’m still not sure that was a good thing. I went to my first dance at 12, sponsored by the nuns of St. Sebastian. I’m a proud graduate of Queens College.
When I lived there, Halloween was a day when kids could go out on their own to trick or treat. It was a neighborhood of both middle class folks in two family homes and working class families in small apartment buildings. The loveliest times were probably when I was in grammar school, in St. Sebastian’s, Woodside, a time before all those teen hormones kicked in and life became far more complicated. I also remember the influx of drugs in the late ’60s and early ’70s and watching my older friends shoot up.
How would you describe the writing you do?
My fiction–I am a journalist by day–is sometimes autobiographical, sometimes not. I explore both family issues that I’ve experienced, but also ones that are completely made up. The story that appeared in Newtown Literary is partially based on a real incident, but is mostly fiction. I also am moved to write about (fictional) people whose choices are limited to bad and worse. That’s a big theme, perhaps because I’ve been lucky enough (so far) where that hasn’t been the case for me, though I know plenty of people where it is a fact of life.
I spend part of my year in Sullivan County, which is pretty hardscrabble. I run into people and situations that have affected me deeply and they have found their way into my short stories.
I am working on a novel now that is partly set in Italy, where I lived for four years in the 1990s. My parents are from there, and there’s plenty to mine from that, too.
How did you come to writing?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, writing came to me. I might be one of the few writers who can tell you exactly how and when. I remember that I was in the 7th grade of St. Sebastian’s when our teacher asked us to write a fictional one page story. I was a fiction virgin. I wrote something silly about the dust mites in our classroom organizing into an army. After that, I couldn’t stop. I have never veered from the path.