Saturday, 3 November 2018

A Sometimes Ridiculous Process - Umberto Tosi


Sometimes Ridiculous, a new collection of my short fiction in softcover, has hit the stands (as we used to say in the newspaper biz). I won't feign humility. I'm pretty proud of it, and hope that I will be in years to come. The title reflects the squirrelyness of the stories, which flit among the branches of the improbable. It also describes how I feel when I read my own writing, and even when at the task of writing itself.

My wry friend and colleague John Blades, the fiction editor of Chicago Quarterly Review and editor emeritus of the Sunday Chicago Tribune's Book World, and author of the surreal, darkly comic, Small Game, did me the honor of writing a foreword. "Reading Tosi, 'El Mago'," he wrote, "is like a vertiginous trip on a combination magic carpet and time machine, the passengers generously fuelled with complimentary loco weed."


I blushed under my beard at reading his amusing and generous observations. I've never gone for trippy effects deliberately. The weird twists in my tales are the result of flailing around trying to break through blocks, than of intention.

"Tosi's stories set off unearthly echoes of Ray Bradbury and Nathanael West," Blades added. Now I turned into a bearded beet, beyond flattered at being compared to two of my most revered literary giants. I'll take this with a thank you, to a reviewer whose literary acumen I've always admired.

The 294-page collection contains ten stories of varying length, three of them near novella-length. I included new, previously unpublished stories, starting with the opening piece, "The Klutz Soprano," a darkly humorous romp about a boy and his cousin plotting on-stage mayhem and murder in a self-assigned mission to rescue the boy's obliviously imperilled opera diva mom. Other stories therein have appeared previously in literary journals - including Catamaran Literary Reader and the previously mentioned CQR. - and serialised online in abridged form. Some have also been published as one-off ebook stories, but never in print, and have been revised and expanded for the Sometimes Ridiculous softcover first edition.


This is my first story collection in print. Back in the spring, when I began this process, I thought the job would be easy compared to writing a historical novel like Ophelia Rising. I could showcase some new short stories - including a couple that I was nearly done writing - and present them with the best of those I've done over the past several years. Sounded easy enough, but there turned out to be more to it conceptually as well as in the mechanics of presentation and formatting. It led me to re-examinging my work and to struggling with some revisionary insights, ponderous as that may seem.

My life flashed before me - or at least my writing life. I needed a title and some blurbs, and some critiques. Most of all, I needed a theme. I'm not a genre writer, although I sometimes aspired to that. One minute I'm playing detective, the next I'm sailing through historical romance, then next, political drama, the next memoirist fiction. My God, I thought, looking over my stuff. I'm all over the place here!

The process became like remodelling your house or moving and going through boxes of you possessions and photographs that get you to see your experiences from where you stand in life now, rather than when you collected them bit by bit.

Once I dispensed with preconceived notions, I began to notice commonalities connecting my stories - and offering me new insights into my own, unacknowledged creative themes..

One is indeed, memoirist. Although purely ficticious, nearly all of my characters are based upon people I've known over the years. (That's an occupational hazard of hanging out with writers, or raising one, I suppose.) Many are from childhood or my youth - relationships, friends, opponents, jobs, along with odd and charismatic personages whose paths I had crossed. The narrative and each of the characters in "Our Own Kind," the final story in the collection, for example, are based on real people and situations from my experiences as a writer at the Los Angeles Times in 1968 when the story takes place - following two reluctant lovers navigating the raging waters between the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations that spring. I keep trying for purely made up stories, but I assemble them from boxes of memory fragments like so many Legos in a child's closet. Perforce, almost all of my stories are set in Los Angeles or San Francisco in mid-twentieth century where and when I spent my childhood and early adulthood.


Catamaran, Fall 2018, "Daw Daw" opening spread proof
The second major tributary I discovered come out of aforementioned fabulism, or magical realism - the mystical mired in the mundane, the exalting arising from stretches of political muck, the unexpected transcendence of the tiresome and tortuous. This should not have surprised me given that I savour that literary genre more than any other. I say surprise, however, because I have not - nor would not consciously presume to attempt climbing the mountain where the giants of that genre that I cherish most appear to reside - where Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonegut, et.al. I wouldn't put myself in that class, but, thanks to the process of assembling this book, I acknowledge fabulism as my gold vein, edging over into political science fiction.

Come to think of it, my latest short story, "Didn't You Used to Be Daw-Daw?" which I'm happy to announce appears in the Fall, 2018 issue of Catamaran Literary Reader (on the stands November 11) also bears this out.

I'm breathing a sigh of relieve, frankly, now that "Daw-Daw" and my my new story collection are happily in print. I'm inclined to get off the real-world publishing train at this station and get back to the sometimes angst-ridden but ever-dreamy cosmos of creative writing. I have pieces in play - a 1940s detective novella based on my growing up among musicians and Hollywood bit actors in 1940s Los Angeles, my ongoing Einstein Express, and so forth. Some of characters are fine people. A few of them are Nazis. Thanks to the Abominable Orange Man, Hair Hitler and his ilk, fascism and its rise have come back into the limelight these days; 1930s Germany has a lot to tell us in the 21st century just when we had through its authoritarian, nativist horror (like the Spanish Inquisition) had been put behind so called civilised societies.


But it's not going to be all writing, skittles and beer for the writer who has a new book out. This is when the quotidian tasks of promoting one's title begins. This applies to authors of all types, whether published by corporate houses, or through indie channels. It's up to the author to spread the word far and wide as possible - not my forte, but I'll do my best. This AE blog posting in part of that - although part confessional too. I thank all those who have read this far for your interest and patience.

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Umberto Tosi is the author of My Dog's NameOphelia RisingMilagro on 34th Street and Our Own KindHis short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. He was contributing writer to Forbes, covering the Silicon Valley 1995-2004. Prior to that, he was an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and its Sunday magazine. He was also the editor of San Francisco Magazine and other regionals He has written more than 300 articles for newspapers and magazines, online and in print. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to several of its anthologies, including Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four grown children - Alicia Sammons, Kara Towe, Cristina Sheppard and Zoë Tosi - and resides in Chicago. (He can be reached at Umberto3000@gmail.com)

4 comments:

Rosalie Warren said...

Congratulations, Umberto, on the new collection - I look forward to reading it. And good luck with the promotion!

Griselda Heppel said...

To paraphrase a memorable Renee Zellweger line - You had me at 'From Cradle to Gravy.' Yup, I've been straight on to Amazon and ordered Sometimes Ridiculous, in which the second story bears this glorious title. I love the idea of the Klutz Soprano too, in fact I can't wait to get stuck in. Congratulations on producing what promises to be a highly entertaining read!

Umberto Tosi said...

Thank you for your gracious comments, Rosalie and Griselda. Hope you enjoy reading it!

Marsha Coupé said...

((( Applause))) Umberto!
Fabulous News, my talented friend.
Sounds like the perfect fireside read as we head into winter. Look forward to reading this new collection.