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In Conversation With Michael J. Coffino Author of Truth Is in the House
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

 

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Michael J. Coffino author of Truth Is in theHouse.


Michael has authored,co-authored, ghostwritten, edited, and coached in multiple genres,including memoir, business, and sports.  Truth Is in theHouse is his first work of fiction.

Before becoming afull-time author, he had two parallel careers: one in the courtroom,as a trial and business litigation attorney, and the other in thegymnasium as basketball coach, primarily at the high school level. Hewas raised in the Mott Haven and Highbridge neighborhoods of theBronx, served in the military from 1968-1970, graduated and earned aB.S. in Education from the City University of New York, and earnedhis law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School ofLaw. He lives in Marin County, California.

Good day Michael andthanks for taking part in our interview.

Norm: What do youthink is the future of reading/writing?


Michael: Provocativequestion. It is tempting to worry about the future of reading andwriting after the alarming disdain for truth and reality we’veendured in recent times. But I think that will pass.

Probably more importantlyis recognizing we live in a stressful world, which means we need awide range of escape avenues. Books, especially works of fiction andmemoir, should increasingly provide that vital outlet.

Those genres in particularaccord readers mirrors into their own lives, validate them as itwere, and that need is never going away. Also, the innate hunger forknowledge and new horizons will continue to thrive. In the end,reading and writing will triumph. They must. The alternative is toodisheartening to contemplate.

Norm: What is theone thing other people always seem to get wrong about you?

Michael: Ha. That I’mintimidating. I’ve never understood that, although in fairness weNew Yorkers get tagged as having socially sharp edges.

There is of course sometruth in that, but most of us, below the surface, are sentimentalsofties. We are passionate and have a healthy sense of loyalty,collegiality, and empathy. But, yeah, I’ve gotten the“intimidating” label on occasion, which shakes my head, since I’dlike to see myself as accessible.

Norm: How did you getstarted in writing? What keeps you going?  

Michael: My writing careerhas its deepest roots first in college and then my legal career. Incollege I became a voracious reader, which I believe is essential tobecoming a sterling writer.

It was then I began alifelong love affair with word play, inspired initially by thepolysyllabic ruminations of Charles Dickens. Legal advocacy writing—aquintessential form of storytelling—came next, accompanied by therole of legal writing coach.

I moved into creativewriting at the same time writing roasts for family and friends’celebratory events, like birthdays and anniversaries, where Ipredicted their futures in caricature. I eventually had a burningdesire I couldn’t resist to devote myself fully to professionalwriting, relegating my legal and basketball coaching careers to theback burner.

 

For me, writing is aconstant stimulant. It has an innate knack for delivering somethingnew and thrilling each day. It never disappoints, and it is hard toimagine that ever getting old.

Norm: Is your writingan art or craft or some combination of both? 

Michael: It is for sureboth, as it is, I dare say, for anyone writing in earnest. The twoare inextricably bound. For example, writing a scene with a singlecharacter POV (point of view)—a craft rule of thumb—cannot bedone effectively without describing the nuances of characterperspective and sensibility in the particular moment.

The same is true ofobserving rules of grammar and syntax. That alone will not producesmooth reading cadence that keeps the reader not wanting to stop. Youstill need deft word choice, imagery, and mood creation. So, too, forwriting dialogue, which on the one hand requires various technicalthings like formatting, punctuation, proper placement of quotationmarks, using ellipsis to indicate pauses, and Em dashes forinterruptions, and on the other, must be embellished with insertedaction words that enliven a scene, allowing readers to visualizespeaker interactions.

Art and craft, hand inglove.

Norm: How has yourenvironment/upbringing colored your writing?  

Michael: No question,growing up in the streets of the Bronx gave me a social edge andcocky confidence. To varying degrees, we all had to be that way tosurvive, psychically and emotionally. We got tested daily.

Most everyone had a wiseass perspective that manifested typically in tongue-in-cheek andsometimes biting candor and sarcasm. I come at creative writing withall that in play, admiring characters and dialogue with sharp comedicedges.

I eagerly look forward towriting more fiction in that frame of mind. I think it makescharacters more compelling and plot more captivating. On the otherhand, I am mindful of how much I don’t know and how much learning Istill need to grow my writing. When I wrote Truth Is in the House,for scene inspiration and to extract narrative authenticity, I readcountless books, watched countless videos, and interviewed aboutthirty people.

Norm: How did youbecome involved with the subject or theme of Truth Is in theHouse?

Michael: I set out towrite a work of fiction to honor my Bronx neighborhood, Highbridge. Ihad a gas growing up there, and remained proud of how we kids built asubculture removed from the clutches of traditional institutions likeschool, church, and family. I had planned to collect anecdotes fromas many of my childhood friends as practical and build a narrativefrom there. 

But the first interviews Idid set me down a different path after learning about a twin-homicideresulting from racial tensions at a local neighborhood bar. I was inthe military at the time, and by the time I got discharged, my familyhad moved to a different neighborhood and I didn’t know what hadhappened until fifty years after the fact.

I had known both boys whodied. The event took a hold of me, and I began researching andinterviewing down a different path. One thing led to another, and Icame across a well-reported gang attack about ten years before thebar tragedy in an upper Manhattan neighborhood, also the product ofracial tensions. I decided to connect the disparate events using twomain characters—one white, the other black—as vehicles to exploreracial themes reflected in my lifetime. The book grew from there. 

Norm: What were yourgoals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel youachieved them? 

Michael: From a literarystandpoint, I wanted to achieve a few things. First more thananything, I wanted to craft a novel that made me proud of thestorytelling. I fictionalized a wide variety of actual events,virtually all disconnected from each other. The challenge was weavingthem into a single coherent narrative. I am quite pleased with theresult.

Second, I wanted tocelebrate my cherished Bronx background. In that regard, I didprecisely what I set out to do, albeit I am curious to know howothers, whether those I know or those with similar backgrounds, willreact to that aspect of the book. Third, I wanted to address race ina different way. I wanted my characters to have a rough time of itfor sure, but I wanted them to enjoy a positive character arc.Consistently immersing myself in the world the characters inhabitedwas energizing.

I have to say this too, atthe risk of self-absorption. I love my book. I pick it up now andthen and read a random chapter to check the pulse of its stayingpower. Each time I feel sated.

Norm: How did you goabout creating the characters of Jaylen Jackson and Jimmy O'Farrell?Are they based on anyone you know?

Michael: Both characterscame to me early, not based on anyone I know, although they haveslices of real people in them, but based on what I wanted mycharacters to represent viz. their subcultures and communities. Mygoal with them was to distill the values of their separate worldsinto their personalities and become building blocks for theirpersonal missions. Of course, I drew on the life experiences ofothers and myself in setting up theirs. But in terms of theirpersonal journeys—their internal silent wars—they are for themost part crafted from whole cloth.

Norm: How much of youis in the novel? 

Michael: Severalexperiences (and related undercurrents) in the book come directlyfrom me, e.g., Jimmy O’Farrell dropping out of college and gettingdrafted, his father working at a Penn Station newsstand, thebasketball game where different races come together to compete in aplayground setting, Jaylen Jackson’s epiphany aboutclient-representation, and watching a junkie nod in mid-sentence, andso on.

The underlying dynamicsthroughout the book, however, the more subtle aspects of personalityand character perspective, are harder to parse. I often tried to getinside each of my characters and have them express what I felt asthem. To that extent, I am all over the place.

Norm: What was the mostdifficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most aboutwriting this book?

Michael: Honestly, thebook presented no noteworthy difficulties. On a relative basis, themost difficult part happened in the early goings when I worried abouthow some people might react to certain parts of the story, not onlyin how I depicted certain events, but as a white man writing aboutrace. But another writer of fiction set me straight, admonishing menot to compromise my art out of concern for how others might respondor feel, that I should write what I wanted to write, and let thechips fall. I took that advice.

What I enjoyed most wasthe organic nature of the storytelling. Once I decided on the racetheme, I gave my characters and the plot permission to unfoldnaturally, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, plot point by plotpoint. Routinely, I’d end a chapter and ask the question, what issupposed to come next? I loved that. 

Norm: Did you write thenovel more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?Please summarize your writing process. 

Michael: I think theguiding force was intuitive, feeling out the characters, placing themin situations, and finding ways to lead them along the path of thenarrative. Again, I spent much of my focus getting inside theirbeings, trying to understand them, help them make decisions, good orbad, so they could express themselves and confront their demons. Thiswas partly cognitive, but it had more to do with my “sense” ofthings. A more linear and fact-based approach occurred with certainhistorical aspects of the book that I didn’t fictionalize, like theVietnam War chapters or the seventh game of the 1960 World Series.But in the main, I wrote intuitively.

Norm:  Didyou learn anything from writing your book and what was it?  

Michael: I learned that Ilove writing fiction and that my writing style can vary within thesame narrative so long as it produces a smooth reading rhythm. I alsolearned how much fun it is to write dialogue. I learned too that I amwell served as a writer by having personal connection with mycharacters. I don’t have to like them. But I do have to know them,get inside their skin and see the world from their perspective.

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Truth Is in the House

Michael: MY  WEBSITE 

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads Author Page

Norm: Whatprojects are you working on at the present?  

Michael: I am working on afew memoirs for others—I ghostwrite for clients—and have begun mynext novel, based on an extraordinary hitchhiking experience I had asa young adult. 

Norm: As thisinterview comes to an end, if you could invite three writers, dead oralive into your living room, who would they be and why?

Michael: Oscar Wilde, forhis sharp wit, penetrating sarcasm, and elegance in depicting thehuman condition; James Baldwin, for his fluency and passion on allmatters of race and justice; and Richard Russo, for his unmatchedability to describe the nuances of human frailties.

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with Truth Is in the House and all of yourfuture projects.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Truth Is in the House

 

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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