Mary interviewed Italian crime writer, Sandrone Dazieri, best-selling author of Attenti al gorilla and Kill the Father, about his life as a writer and how it feels to have his books adapted to the screen. Dazieri has written eight novels and over fifty screenplays at the time of writing.
Mary Ann Mahoney: Thank you for speaking with me today!
Sandrone Dazieri: Thank you!
MAM: Are there any writers who inspired you to become an author?
SD: The first writers to inspire me were those from pulp magazines that I read as a child. Their heroes were my best friends: Doc Savage, The Avenger, Modesty Blaise… Around the age of twelve I moved to classic authors of crime, and science fiction of the so-called New Wave. But what really gave me the urge to write was Stephen King. His way of telling the characters, managing the plot twists and so on, enlightened me. I started my first novel after reading Misery.
MAM: What was it about thriller and crime novels that made you want to write them?
SD: It was a natural choice. I began to write, trying to tell the city where I lived, Milan, and the language of noir was the most functional. Although in my own way: my first character was in fact a schizophrenic detective who had my name and surname, nicknamed the Gorilla. All the characters I created for that series were “doubles” of real people. I was inspired to make that choice by the Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy.
MAM: Is there anything you wish you’d known about writing novels before you started writing them?
SD: Every novel I write teaches me something. Apart from the writing techniques, however, I did not know how difficult it would be to be accepted by the closed world of Italian publishing. I did not come from a wealthy family, I did not do regular studies, I lived on the street and ended up in prison. I was distrustfully observed by editors and reviewers, and my choice to put the “crazy” at the center of the stories (and not middle-aged commissioners) did not help me.
MAM: Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
SD: I’ve been in psychiatric therapy for years. According to my Doc, I am depressed with autistic tendencies, panic crisis, shutdowns, and so on. More than the writer’s block, I have a brain block. When I cannot write, I learned to give myself time. This is the reason why I do not produce more than one novel every two years.
MAM: Personally, I like to write everything out by hand before I type it up. Do you have any writing rituals?
SD: I just need a quiet place, with nobody around. And a laptop. My handwriting is so bad that I cannot read it.
MAM: What does your workflow consist of?
SD: I start with an idea in mind and write one chapter after another until I get about halfway through the novel. At that point I make a map to get to the end. I do not do it at first, because I need to run free on the keyboard. I need to be in the story I tell.
MAM: What does a day in the life of Sandrone look like?
SD: Busy, probably. I wake up at eight, meditate and exercise for an hour, check the social media, dispatch the work emails, prepare the episode of the radio program of true crime that I lead for Italian national radio, have lunch, then I write novels until 8pm. If I have a script to finish, I stop the novel at 7 p.m. and continue with the script until 10 p.m. I have supper, then I read and watch TV series until 2 a.m. This is my typical day, usually also Saturday and Sunday, except when I have a meeting with publishers or producers or actors. Sometimes I also teach creative writing.
MAM: Your novel, Kill the Father, originally published in Italy in 2014, was published in English by Simon & Schuster in 2017. Can you describe the plot for those who have not read it yet?
SD: I’ll take it from the publisher’s site: “When a woman is beheaded in a park outside Rome and her six-year-old son goes missing, the police see an easy solution: they arrest the woman’s husband and await his confession. But the chief of Rome’s major crimes unit has doubts.
Secretly, he lures to the case two of Italy’s top analytical minds: Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli, a fierce, warrior-like detective still reeling from having survived a bloody catastrophe, and Dante Torre, a man who spent his childhood trapped inside a concrete silo. Fed by the gloved hand of a masked kidnapper who called himself “the Father,” Dante emerged from his ordeal with crippling claustrophobia but, also, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and hyper-observant capacities.
All evidence suggests that the Father is back and active after being dormant for decades. But when Colomba and Dante begin following the ever-more-bizarre trail of clues, they grasp that what’s really going on is darker than they ever imagined.”
MAM: Did you come across any difficulties when translating it for English speaking audiences?
SD: I didn’t. I worked with the best of the best, Anthony Shugaar, my translator. I love him.
MAM: Did you have to do any research to write Kill the Father? If so, what sort of research?
SD: Yes, I did a lot. Cold war and mental illness, above all. For the most trivial things, there are my friends, policemen, criminals, spies, criminologists… When I do not find in the books what I need, I phone them.
MAM: Once you had the initial idea for the book in your head, how long did it take you to write it?
SD: Five years. My previous novel was not successful and I started writing for television. But I’m a novelist; I need it. So, I kept writing KTF during the night and in my spare time until the end.
MAM: Kill the Father was picked up by Entertainment One Television. Are you excited to see your book being adapted to a TV series?
SD: Very! But I warn everyone: up to the greenlight, you never know…
MAM: Who would be your ideal cast?
SD: It’s really too early for that, but I’d love Emily Blunt as Colomba. Her character in Sicario was very near to my idea of the character.
MAM: Will you be writing the script?
SD: If they will ask me to. But I doubt it. There are plenty of screenwriters around with English as their mother tongue.
MAM: This isn’t the first time you’ve had a book adapted to the screen. Your novel La cura del gorilla was also a film. What was it like adapting your own novel into a screenplay?
SD: That time was a nightmare. It was my first screenplay and I had to learn while writing it. I did not do a good job.
MAM: Kill the Angel was published by Simon & Schuster not long after Kill the Father. Can you tell us a little about that?
SD: It is the direct sequel to Kill the Father, the second book of what I imagined as a trilogy. Dante and Colomba investigate an attack by Daesh, discovering that it is not an attack by Daesh.
MAM: Are you planning on writing any more books featuring Colomba Caselli and Dante Torre?
SD: I’m writing the third one. Probably the last.
MAM: Are Colomba Caselli and Dante Torre, the boy in the silo, based on real people?
SD: Dante is more handsome than me, and younger and smarter… but we share the same kind of dysfunctional brain. Colomba came from a grave. I found her name on a plaque in Florence.
MAM: You’ve had such an incredible career in the publishing industry (editor, journalist, author, screenwriter, literary consultant etc.). What has been your favourite job and why?
SD: Author. It’s the only job were I’m completely free.
MAM: I heard that you worked as a chef before you became an author. Is cooking still a big part of your life? What is your favourite thing to cook?
SD: Well… I wasn’t a great chef, just an average one, but I still cook for friends and family. My best is Risotto alla Milanese.
MAM: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
SD: Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)
MAM: It’s been great speaking with you! After reading Kill the Father, I’m excited to see how it will look on the big screen!
SD: Thank you again!