Philip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE; CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com
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Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
My novel, The Bronx Kill, is about a drowning death and the effect it has on those involved in the incident. When, on a hot August night, five teenage friends challenge each other to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens, one boy drowns and the body of the only girl among them is never found. The three survivors take a vow never again to speak about the incident. When they reunite five years later, they find themselves at the mercy of the drowned boy’s brother, an NYPD detective, who holds them responsible for his brother’s death and vows to bring them to justice by any means possible. Now, Danny Baker, one of the three survivors, must fight not only to preserve his childhood friendships but to save himself and his friends from the detective’s brand of vigilante justice.
My inspiration was that I wanted to write about the complexity and durability of friendship. The apparent and not-so-apparent ties that bind us, the debts we owe one another, the divisive factors that can tear a friendship apart, the loyalties that can supersede everything, even ethical and moral principles—these are my concerns here.
In particular, my focus is on friendship that originates in childhood, that continues to hold us together long after childhood ends, friendship that develops and matures over time, that changes as the dynamic of the relationship changes, friendship that allows us at its best to be individuals within the larger framework of the we.
The characters in this novel have been friends since grade school. They have experienced the small triumphs and defeats that occur in playgrounds and alleys, on handball courts and ballfields. They have endured the mean streets of the Bronx, faced hardship, humiliation and loss; but it isn’t until their mid-twenties that they must confront the most severe test of their loyalty to one another. I wrote it as a suspense thriller because I thought that was the most effective way to engage the reader in this story.
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
My publisher, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama, is a small Indie publisher dedicated to publishing novels of exceptional quality. They have published all of my books, and have proven to be extremely professional and supportive.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing the story, or did it come later?
The title came before I began writing. The Bronx Kill is a channel of water that runs between the Harlem River and the East River, so named by the early Dutch who settled the area. Once I came across that name I knew I would one day use it as the title of a book. Besides its literal meaning, it invites metaphorical interpretation. Of course it refers to the drowning death that begins the novel. Its other references I’ll leave for the reader to discover.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
I thought it should be dark, gritty, and urban to reflect the setting and help set the tone for the reader.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
Amanda Nolin. My publisher hired the cover designer, and showed me the projected cover early on. So normally I don’t have direct contact with the designer. For this book, the designer chose a photo I’d taken while doing research for the novel. It shows a river-like body of murky water in an industrial Bronx setting—which was perfect for the book.
How was your experience working with the designer?
The designer did the lettering which was a dark red against the grey and black tones of the river and shoreline. I loved what she did, though I didn’t have access to her directly.
What has been the readers’ response to your cover?
So far, it’s been very positive.
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
Make sure they read the book. Discuss your feelings and ideas about the kind of look you want the cover to have. See if they have a feeling for the emotional content of the book.
Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
I feel the cover design reflects the emotional intensity of the story in a vivid way, which is what I most want from a cover design.