The Guglielmo D’Izzia Interview

Guglielmo D’Izzia is the author of The Transaction, his first novel which is on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards here at The Miramichi Reader. Guglielmo D’Izzia was born and raised in Sicily. He’s an actor, writer, cinephile, and traveller. He’s a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. He’s currently working on his second novel. Guglielmo resides in Toronto.

The Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

GD: I come from a very small town in the southeast corner of Sicily, but I spent the first few years of my life near Milan, where my family relocated right after I was born. In 1984, following a short interlude in Germany, we returned to Sicily due to a financial downturn. I was nine years old at the time and didn’t even understand or speak Sicilian. That was a pretty stark transition for me, but fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to adapt.

Soon, I started showing interest in the arts. My first foray into writing was in middle school. I was eleven or twelve years old when I wrote a theatrical adaptation of one of Giovanni Verga’s stories, Rosso Malpelo. However, I quickly shifted my attention to the performing arts and enrolled at the drama school in the neighbouring town’s theatre. There I met my first acting teacher, to whom I still credit my lifelong passion for the craft. So, I was basically attending high school during the day and studying acting at night. Meanwhile, Sicily was going through some dark, turbulent times. The Second Mafia War, also known as the Mattanza (The Slaughter), which had already caused the death of hundreds of people, was ramping up and about to turn even more brazen and violent. In the summer of 1992, judges Falcone and Borsellino were assassinated.

“The atmosphere was explosive and beatings were almost a daily occurrence. For that reason, among others, I quit university and concentrated on pursuing my acting career.”

Three years later, aching to pursue a professional acting career, and also wanting to get out of Sicily, I decided to move to Rome. I took advantage of the then mandatory military service and managed to get transferred to the capital. There—for some mystifying rationale, I enrolled in Political Science at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, and briefly studied with one of the most controversial historians, Renzo De Felice—an expert in Fascism. His re-reading of Mussolini caused quite a stir. At the time, the campus and in particular the faculties of Political Science and Law were a battleground for opposing political views. The atmosphere was explosive and beatings were almost a daily occurrence. For that reason, among others, I quit university and concentrated on pursuing my acting career.

After a successful stint as an actor/voice-over, which included a highly praised two-year theatrical tour of Amadeus starring one of Italy’s premier personalities and designed by four-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero, I resolved to further my craft and, just a couple of months before 9/11, relocated to New York City. There, despite the fact that I barely spoke English, I enrolled at The Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute to study Method Acting.  

Once I got a taste of life in New York, the nine-month sojourn I had initially planned turned into a six-year stay—perhaps one of the most exciting and challenging periods of my life. Eventually, in 2007, when my visa was about to expire, I had no choice but to return home. But just as I was preparing to leave the Big Apple, I met someone—a Montrealer. And that is how my Canadian journey started. We moved to Montreal at first, and finally, for artistic reasons, to Toronto, which is where I now reside and thankfully re-discovered my passion for writing.

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

GD: Many authors have inspired and, in some way, influenced my writing. Franz Kafka and Albert Camus have had a major impact on me, and not solely as a writer. Other authors such as Peter Handke, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Bernhard, and Leonardo Sciascia, whose 1961 debut novel The Day of the Owl courageously exposed the Mafia mentality, have also played a significant role in my writing journey. However, if I were to choose one author that made a pivotal difference in my life, especially early on, that would be Harold Pinter. When I first read The Homecoming—arguably Pinter’s most cryptic, grotesquely funny, and ferocious play, I was stunned. His ability to create an asphyxiating sense of menace out of mundane situations, to find striking poetry in everyday speech, to turn a seemingly innocent silence into an existential threat was astonishing to me.

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

GD: I have several books that I revisit often: Kafka’s The Castle, Camus’ The Stranger, Sciascia’s To Each His Own, and pretty much the entire oeuvre of Thomas Bernhard. It’s the single-mindedness, histrionicism, and idiosyncrasy of Bernhard’s voice that draws me to his work time and time again. The maddening style of his obsessive, repetitious prose—misanthropic, lyrical vitriol laid out in one unbroken paragraph—is, in my view, the most exquisite marriage of themes and form.

MR: I quite enjoyed reading The Transaction, and it was very different from what I expected, to say the least. Can you tell us where the idea for the story came from? Is any of it based on some true event?

GD: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

The Transaction has taken quite a few people by surprise, which is what I had hoped it would do. It was designed to keep the reader off-kilter. From the onset, I knew that the story was going to blur the lines of conventional categories of fiction while flirting with cross-media narrative modes. The jumble of absurd, surreal, and darkly humorous images, which haunted my imagination for a long time and ultimately inspired The Transaction, clamoured for a freewheeling, cross-pollinating approach. The result is a cinematic, heady mash-up of genres. I love subverting media and genre conventions. The inherent friction of fusing differing narrative modes can create tension, unpredictability, and latitude.

“Growing up in Sicily, my formative years were corrupted by the things I witnessed that I wish I hadn’t, the latent (and not so latent) sense of threat, and the polluted perception of moral codes.”

As per where the idea for the book came from, I still remember the first image that started it all: A candle-lit burial chamber, skeins of burning myrrh, shadowy figures standing along the walls, a catafalque skirted by rows of women fanning themselves, and next to the departed a sombre little girl with strikingly blue eyes staring intensely. Of course, I didn’t know at the time what this particular scene meant. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I also have to say that my upbringing played a big part in the shaping of the novel. Growing up in Sicily, my formative years were corrupted by the things I witnessed that I wish I hadn’t, the latent (and not so latent) sense of threat, and the polluted perception of moral codes. And even though the Sicily represented in the novel is fictional and metaphorical, it is nonetheless loosely based on my experiences. So as more fragments of images—seemingly uncorrelated—floated up towards my consciousness, motifs started to emerge. It became clear to me at one point that the novel was going to be centred around moral ambiguity, the fallibility of perception, but more importantly the erosion of the psyche.

The novel is billed as a Kafkaesque descent into deviancy—a nightmarish journey to self-discovery. I was particularly interested in atomizing the moment of self-realization and capturing the dissolution of the self.

MR: How long did it take you to write The Transaction, and did you consider any alternate endings for it?

GD: It was an intermittent process, but it didn’t take me too long to complete it. The first half of the novel took considerably longer to write than the rest. I started developing The Transaction at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies when I enrolled in their creative writing certificate program. The first one hundred pages or so were workshopped in the program and submitted as part of my final project, which would go on to win the Marina Nemat Award. As for the second half of the novel, I wrote it in about three months and in one draft, which brings me to the second part of your question.

I did not consider an alternate ending. Given the themes and elliptical style of the novel, a tidy ending would’ve ruined the overarching effect. It would’ve also required of me to make a clear-cut moral judgement, which goes against the very idea of the novel.

Before I even commence writing something, I need to know exactly how it ends lest I lose control of the story. This is not to say that I plan everything in advance when writing a novel—quite the contrary. I’m not one to rely heavily on outlines, charts, character profiles, and so on. Not that there is nothing wrong with any of these writing methods. That being said, I like to have a clear overriding goal, but a malleable framework—a loose structure that gives me the freedom to explore and allows the characters to tread freely, often in surprising ways.

MR: Can you talk about the cover image of The Transaction? Did you have any input on it?

GD: Yes, I was given the option to propose a cover image for the novel. I wanted something that would reflect the minimalist style and the menacing ambiguities of the novel. The thistle symbolizes danger ahead, and the fly represents an ominous sign of quick and abrupt change. The original is wood-burn art and was created by Dejan Radic. The finished book cover was beautifully put together by David Moratto.

MR: What are you working on now? Any plans for more writing?

GD: I’m currently writing my second novel, which deals with mental illness and memory. I don’t want to say too much about it, for it doesn’t exist yet—not until I type the last word. All I can tell you is that it’s going to be pretty raw. I’m also working on other projects, including a translation and a TV pilot.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

GD: I’m a film buff and a bit of a TV addict. This is probably not something to be proud of, but I’ve watched The Sopranos and The Wire so many times I could quote every single line of dialogue from either show.

When I’m not glued to the TV, I like reading up on my favourite subjects: archeology, philosophy, and psychology. But I also spend a fair bit of time researching random topics.

Travelling has always been very important to me. Egypt and Jordan are next up on my bucket list. I love discovering different cultures and learning new languages. I’m studying Spanish at the moment.

I also enjoy going on long walks, which is where most of my writing ideas take shape.

Thanks, Guglielmo!

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their dog.

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Guglielmo D'Izzia
June 4, 2020 21:31

Thank you so much for this interview and for the commendable work you and the rest of your team put into promoting Canadian indie authors.

Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
June 4, 2020 22:13

Wonderful interview! I also heard Guglielmo speak about The Transaction at his launch on May 9th (at the virtual Librissimi Italian Book Festival). Fascinating; I’ll be ordering his book. Guglielmo mentioned Giovanni Verga’s stories and other novels, which I have enjoyed. The Sicilian dialect is very close to my Calabrese dialect, which is not surprising, since we are Italian neighbours! I look forward to reading The Transaction!

Guglielmo D'Izzia
Reply to  Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
June 6, 2020 12:44

Grazie, Rosanna! I appreciate the support.

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