Anthony Diesso currently lives in Northern California with his wife and his two young children. He enjoys reading, playing the piano, and sleeping in (when given the opportunity).
Q. What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Do not be discouraged by negative reviews. It’s a good sign that someone out there thinks enough of your work to dislike it.
Q. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Yes, I, uh…I wish I knew how to answer this, but…Anyway, writer’s block, like most things relative to writing, is best dealt with in an irrational way. I find being lazy helps get the job done: if I’m struggling to make plot points meet, or trying to come up with a good way to describe a character, I’ll go take a nap, and while drifting off to sleep, my thoughts will unloosen, and ideas will often start suggesting themselves. Outside of that, it can help to read something in a genre completely different from the one you’re working on, since the contrast can stir you out of a more linear frame of mind.
I also think that writer’s block can be beneficial, in spite of its frustration: writing is often improved and intensified in the face of resistance, and it sometimes happens that writers are at their best fighting for their freedom and not as good once they get it.
Q. How do you develop your plot and characters?
I think the term that most accurately describes the process would be schizophrenia. One: me is coming up with all sorts of ideas, while the other me is telling the first me how they’re not any good and won’t work. It’s all about struggle. Outside of that, I think most of the characters and plots I come up with have had an unconscious gestation, so that by the time I’m actually writing them, they’ve been going through a process of solidification, often for a number of years.
Q. What comes first, the plot or characters?
Actually, I think they tend to come simultaneously, since my ideas usually center around the juxtaposition of a certain type of person with a certain type of situation, the proverbial cotton candy salesman on the wing of a crop duster. That is a proverb, isn't it?
Drummmmroooollll time. Tell us about the book!
The Haunted Spring is tragical-comical. While there’s loss and sadness in the story (along with a ghost), there’s also quite a bit of breezy humor.
But Anna's sudden death during childbirth leaves Jay to watch over their infant, born premature and requiring an extensive hospital stay. Grief-stricken, helpless, and alone, he is tormented by apparitions of his lost wife, recalling their love and ruined hopes. These apparitions, at times horrifying, at others pathetic, yet others darkly alluring, threaten to crack loose his grip on reality. Attempting to overcome such frightening occurrences, he struggles to piece together his life, to pull some sanity and hope out of the world around him, and to become a good father to his newborn son.
Knock, knock, knock.
From inside, in comfortable shadows, I just stared at my apartment door.
And jogged out of a late afternoon stupor, I put a mailed catalogue aside, hastily aligned a bowl of mushed bran-flakes upon the armrest, and stood up from the sofa. Its springs creaked abruptly with relief as I called out, “Who is it?”
There was a woman’s muffled voice. “I’m very sorry. I was looking for apartment seventeen.”
Pausing a moment without considering anything, I then turned the latch, pulled the knob, and found her waiting. She had auburn hair, which as she backed up from the opening door, was glazed with sudden sunlight, and her eyes, a soft, rich hazel, chilled me instantly. We waited for me to say something, ‘til, helping things along, she stepped forward under the eaves again and into the shadows before me. She wore a dark skirt and a smoky-colored blouse, and her lips curved slightly with embarrassment. I wondered if she could see the bowl of cereal from the door; I also wondered if it was about to tip. And almost looking back, I hastily put it out of my mind, trying to think of nothing as I waited politely.
“The numbers go from sixteen to eighteen,” she said in a more intimate voice, slightly tilting her head to one side, keeping her hands behind her back.
I grinned, nodded like a bobble-head, my own hands gesturing with theatrical intensity, my lips grown a bit stiff. “Yes, it’s on the way, other side of the building. Sharon McClean. I don’t know why they numbered it the way they did. Here, let me show you.”
“Oh, I’d appreciate that. Thank you very much.”
The day narrowed my eyes, along with a surface spangle on the swimming pool; and a reflected light cast wobbly shapes across the walk. I wasn’t much interested in any of that, but it was an excuse to avert my glance, and I fixed eyes on it while speaking, noticing peripherally her slow, legato steps. “So you’re a friend of Sharon’s?”
“Yes, we knew each other in Arizona before she moved out here.”
“Mmm. Where in Arizona?”
“From Flagstaff. I’ve come down for a couple of weeks.”
The walk began to warm my brain up. “Ah, I’ve been there once. A college, mountain town, with lots of forests, all shadowed green and pine. It smelled nice.”
“Some parts better than others, yes. Why were you there?”
“I was looking for my dog.”
“Really? What was it doing in Flagstaff?”
“I don’t know. He could have gone anywhere, so I decided to try Flagstaff. I crossed it off the list.”
She laughed with a pleasant familiarity, and I met her glance, if only briefly.
“Well, here it is.”
A woman waved from the window of apartment 17, a faded shape behind the sun-glare off of tinted glass. Having grabbed our attention, she disappeared into the dark behind the reflected white. Latches worked, the screen-door creaked, and before that nasty slam they make, she had gotten in several sentences.
“Finally! Anna, I thought you were lost. Are you all right? How was the traffic, was it bad? How was the drive?” Smack! “Did you get lost?”
“Yes, no, good, no.” The woman laughed while embracing her friend.
“I was ready to drive out to look for you myself. California has wonderful freeways, but like everything else here, there’s too much to choose from.”
“No, I followed your instructions. They were good. Your neighbor was nice enough to show me to your apartment.”
Sharon was a pleasant enough woman of about 24, rather short, and blonde, with black-rimmed glasses. Like a lapdog, she seemed to have a full-sized nervous system pressed into a smaller frame, and if you didn’t know her, you would think she was looking for someone to report some sort of disaster to. I moved into the complex after her, and she showed me where the mail drop was, the laundry room, the rear parking lot, the pool, all the things the apartment manager shows you in that first grand tour. We were amiable enough, but hardly close, and she probably couldn’t consider me a friend when I was already a neighbor.
But with her visitor, she seemed to view me in a fresh light, or at least to present me in a role I wasn’t expecting: “Jay, that’s nice of you. You’re the protector of travelers, like St. Christopher in cargo pants. I don’t think I even told you she was coming. Anna, this is Jay Bennett. Jay, this Anna LaMonica.”
We smiled awkwardly, as if we had just laid eyes on each other, and whatever corner table nuance our former looks and words conveyed was now entirely lost within a banquet hall exaggeration.
“Jay, would you help Anna with her bags?”
Her friend grinned, shrugged her shoulders. “I only have one bag in the trunk and it’s on wheels, with a handle.”
“Fine. While Jay is helping you to get it out of the trunk, I’ll set out the glasses.”
We nodded to each other, and I walked a step ahead of her, guiding her toward the parking lot.
Returning from the car, the two of us entered the small front yard space, and sat at a round glass table with impressions on it, like fingerprints, that made the two sets of knees and shins and shoes seem as if under ice. Sharon emerged from the apartment with a bottle, and seeing only part of the label, I noticed, in curling, vine-like script, the name of some sort of leaf. She poured the rosé into each of the scarlet-tinted glasses, then sat and watched. I pinched the stem, lifted it, declared, “Well, salute.”
“Salute,” murmured Anna.
“May the road rise up and smack you in the face,” Sharon piped in. “That’s an old drinking toast. At least that’s what my father said.”
I tasted the wine. It was light and sweet, with a slight carbonation that pestered my tongue. It was refreshingly cold for a late, summer afternoon, and would have been just the thing for an alcoholic’s tea-party.
“Anna, I’m glad you’re here. And Jay—thank you for helping with the bags.”
“No, not at all. Thank you.” I lifted my glass again and nodded.
The walk lamps clicked on, producing frail, golden auras. The dusky mood and, of course, the wine, stirred shadowy but pleasant thoughts in me, at least: a number of peculiar and buried recollections, like odors not inhaled for many years. When the conversation drifted toward our childhoods, I mused, “Oh, the things that I believed when I was small: that coins shook in the sunlit trees, and boughs were crooked spider legs. I’d peek out from the window and see those dangling things, and plead with Ma to sweep them from the tree. She’d take a broom, go outside, then come back in to say that everything was fine.”
I stopped talking, conscious that I might be drifting in my conversion, amusing only to myself. I glanced at Anna tenuously: her face was lowered in reflection, its expression cast upward from the table toward me, a lit veil of fixed eyes and slightly parted lips. She traced her finger in the moist imprint left by the base of the wine-glass, and spoke almost in a whisper, “My parents had a small statue of the Virgin, and at night, by the dim candlelight, she would move her eyes or change expression. I told my parents, and they smiled and said it was a miraculous sign.”
“At least they didn’t have to take a broom to it,” Sharon laughed.
“Have you outgrown it?” I asked Anna, after smiling at Sharon’s quip. Given the opportunity, I lingered over her delicate, oval face, her supple, curved lips, her brightly dark and almond eyes; her look turned upward from her finger, gliding as if on ice, to me.
“Mostly,” she replied. “Have you?”