Toxins (and other poisons) is a new collection of short stories by Silvia Romano, all with the same common denominator: a man with a hat and a turquoise scarf, and a merciless, inescapable feeling of being trapped.
The main characters, starting from a realistic condition, find themselves in situations that slowly begin to disconnect from reality, and become disturbing and weird, putting them in a condition of (sometimes dark, sometimes lighter and ironic) uneasiness.
Toxins (and other poisons), which will be published by Wrecking Ball Press on 21 June, 2021, is an overall story of glitches in the system, of individuals floating in a sea of social and technological stimuli, trying their best to fit in, yet failing because defecting of the skills that allow them to be suited to their world.
Silvia Romano was born in 1992 in winter, a season universally associated with quiescence, the harshness of nature, mud, murk, and sadness in general. Somehow she had to defend herself. She writes both in English and Italian. We caught up with Silvia to find out more about the collection, her writing process and the man with a hat and a turquoise scarf.
How would you describe this collection of short stories?
I think that part of the answer to this question lies in the book description on the Wrecking Ball website. I would just like to add that the title embodies the rest of it: they are tales of pollution, in its daily form, with the load of waste that comes with them.
When did you start writing these stories and how long did the collection take to come together?
I started writing the stories about two years ago, throughout 2019. Then everything came together in a whole package in early 2020.
There is a sense of menace in these stories, and, at times, they are disturbing. Where does that come from?
It all comes from reality, I suppose. Reality can often be much worse than any conceivable fantasy. You can think about the most absurd, shocking thing, and reality will always show up with something that exceeds expectations; but there is also a certain irony in all of it, don’t you think? The ridiculousness? So, from my part, I perceive a fil rouge of enjoyment in all the mess. Also, it might just come from the way I cope with life. I was born with a guilty conscience, so I think threat is the only natural conclusion for me.
Why short stories?
Because it’s always the time for a short story collection! (*smiling face with sunglasses emoji*).
What was your route into writing?
As the one to hell, it was a road paved with good intentions. But then, it turned out that the pavement wasn’t as strong as it seemed. It was all jagged and crumbly and seeped with waste liquid. So yeah, now it’s still a construction site.
Was there a significant person in your life who encouraged you to write?
As far as I can remember, I have always been inclined to the act of translating concepts and images into words and putting them on paper. You know, in the solitary alcove of my little gloomy dungeon. I had, and still have, a couple of extraordinary people who encouraged me to really pursue this act. Those who gave me the metaphorical kick in the butt. I owe them big time.
Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?
An event of this size and on these terms has inevitably given me either the food for thoughts and also the time to savour it. Then, naturally, you have to deal with the painful, slow aftermath of its digestive process.
What is the importance of place to you as a writer?
Place retains in its features the outward appearance of the inner reality. It gives concrete shapes to abstract feelings. This can happen in a form of total contrast, or the feeling can be supported by the material surroundings. Either way, it is never left to chance.
Could you tell us something about your creative process?
I came to think that self-discipline is everything, not only when it comes to writing. I’d love to rely only on those exhilarating times when the flood bursts its bank, but it is a capricious harmony, and it may end up with nothing but piles of severed limbs. The time will come when I have to sit at the desk and stitch them together with Prussian zeal; or simply get some work done when I only feel like banging my head on the table. I need to sleep at night.
You write in both English and Italian. Tell us more about that?
I write in Italian because it’s the language primarily spoken in the place I happened to be delivered and raised; I write in English because it’s the language I happened to learn and love, and which I find akin to express myself with. This strange sort of parallel balance has the effect of making me feel like a kind of impostor, in both languages, most of the times.
Who are your favourite writers and who are you influenced by?
The thing with me is that, when it comes to literature, I am not influenced by it. I am subjected to it. So there is a long list of astonishing writers who had enslaved me from the most tender age ongoing; but Franz Kafka is the one I have suffered the most.
Similarly, what is your favourite collection of short stories?
Gutshot by Amelia Gray is the last collection I read that made me think: “wow, this is amazing, that was quite the trip.”
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
Well, the thing is these sorts of things always kind of take a life of their own, don’t they? I may have had the intention to trigger this or that button, to mean this and to rub it in on that, but in the end I am really not the one who has the leash. Reading a book is an act of intimacy, and is tied too tightly to the unique personal experience for me to get in between.
Who do you think the audience for your writing is?
These are stories made of glitches, so maybe their natural ends are all the faulty cogs in the mechanism. But I might be surprised. Anecdote: when the idea of a collection was still non-existent, my teacher friend read the Italian version of a couple of the stories, and he was enthusiastic enough to give them to his middle school kids – as a Christmas holiday homework. I was very uncertain. I didn’t really think those pages were meant for anybody, let alone children of that age. I told him: “I am OK with that, as long as you are the one going down.” We had a little debate with the class, after the holidays, and I was amazed by how the kids took the core of the stories and then threw it in the context of their life, which is still so young when you’re in middle school, but no less intense. I remember at some point one of the children saying, in a very inspired tone: “I believe we are all being controlled, maybe even unconsciously.” Just like that. Like a twelve-year-old Gilles Deleuze. I am still waiting for my friend to be kicked out of school any moment for that stunt, but it’s been a while, and it didn’t happen, so I guess the book is middle-school proofed. But still, I am not suggesting anything.
How is your experience with independent publishers?
The experience with Wrecking Ball Press is my first approach to the publishing world ever. So, I feel like a dizzy traveller gazing at sudden, vibrant and very cosy surroundings.
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a writer?
Another manuscript is almost ready, this time in the form of a novel, and the larva of something even bigger is in its casing spun – on this regard, would you excuse me for the spit. I guess that, best case scenario, what the future holds for me on the very long term is total absorption by a big ball of extremely hot plasma. I only hope to have as much fun as possible in the meantime.
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
Nurture the urge, chisel the words, and always give the lighter back.
Can you tell us anything more about the man with a hat and a turquoise scarf?
He’s there because he exists. I didn’t write him, I only took the effort to describe him. He exists because, every time, everywhere a story is taking place, he’s like that slice of the pie on the table that has nothing to do with the rest on the menu. But still, you can’t pretend it’s not there.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Never in my life had I calculated the odds of potentially finding myself on a shelf next to a book written by Seneca. I daresay, put it like that, it is quite the enticing perspective.
Toxins (and other stories) can be pre-ordered online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/toxins-and-other-poisons/