Dennis Villelmi: Welcome to B.A.D. Press, Valentina. We’re happy to have you here to chat for a moment as we’ve seen some great things from you since you began carving your way onto the literary scene. How have you been lately?
Valentina Cano: Thanks so much for having me virtually here to chat a bit. The past few months have been a bit rough, haven’t they? I’ve been keeping myself out of trouble, mostly, and my isolated home in Italy has kept me and my family safe from the rampaging virus.
DV: When did you first receive the calling to become a writer?
VC: I’d always dabbled in writing, but it wasn’t until around 2010 that I felt the pulsing need to write. I’d been fighting my way through one of my periodical bouts of depression and couldn’t manage to free myself completely. I picked up a random notebook and wrote the first thing that came to mind, without allowing my pen to stop as I wrote and wrote. It turned out to be a poem, hidden among all of that wordy brush. And the processed offered such relief from the depression, even if only for an hour, that I began a daily regime of it. One poem a day. There was no stopping after that and I began to branch out into short stories, chapbooks, and then novels.
DV: How long was it then before you were first published? Was it a poem, or a short piece of fiction?
VC: The first piece I had published was a poem. It was probably a couple of weeks after I started writing every day that I had the thought to try and see if I could get one of them out there. I sent a few batches of poems to some small presses and was fortunate enough to have a few bites.
DV: In 2014, you saw the release of your novel “The Rose Master,” which you followed up with 2017’s “Of Bells and Thorns.” Tell us about these books. What inspired the plotline ?
VC: Gothic fiction has always been my love. I was raised on a diet of Poe, the Brontës, and fairytales, so it really didn’t come as too much of a shock when the idea of taking the seeds of Beauty and the Beast and planting them into Victorian England (perhaps my favorite time period and location) first demanded my attention. The first line of The Rose Master popped into my head while on one of my daily walks and, with it, who the protagonist, Anne, was. August, the “Beast”, was more complicated. I knew from the start he’d be a magician of some kind, but I had to dig around a bit to find his personality and what kind of dynamic I wanted between the two of them.
Of Bells and Thorns came about a bit differently. I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to write a sequel. My agent at the time had wanted me to leave the ending of Rose Master open-ended and I am grateful for that suggestion, because I had a romping good time writing the sequel. I decided to do so for two reasons: because I kept getting emails and messages from readers who wanted more and because I would find myself thinking about Anne and August at odd moments, wondering what they were up to. When I felt the need to quickly jot down the first page of dialogue between them, the conversation that starts the sequel, I realized that their story wasn’t quite finished yet.
DV: What themes do you typically enjoy exploring in your work?
VC: One of my favorite aspects of Gothic fiction is that the setting, be it a manor, the moors, a castle, or anywhere else, is always another character. That is something that I explore in each one of my novels. It’s probably a by-product of having spent the first year of my life in a bona fide haunted Victorian home in Uruguay that my parents had to sell because it was just a tad bit TOO haunted (a story for another day) and of having been born into a family that tends to anthropomorphize and name antique furniture. If you hear us speak of Mrs. Fairfax, for example, we’re speaking of our Victorian parlor stove.
Duality is something else that I find myself writing about. My characters are, I hope, never easily pegged as “good” or “evil”. Even (or especially) my villains. I love flawed characters and anti-heroes, and I love the idea of redemption.
DV: Is there a certain process you adhere to when you’re writing?
VC: Writing a novel requires discipline, at least for me. My typical day when in the midst of writing a novel is sitting down with coffee to write one thousand words. Once I’ve reached that count, I take a break until after dinner, when I sit down to edit what I wrote earlier. Polish it up a bit or erase part of it if I realize it doesn’t work. Then I plan what I’m going to write the next day in minute detail because I need to know where I’m going before I sit down to write. Repeat and repeat and repeat, and I end up with a pretty coherent first draft in about three or four months. This strict schedule works for me and the people around me know that during those months, very little will get in the way of my writing. There’s nothing magical about the process. It’s just hard work and lots of hours of sitting at my computer.
DV: Which authors have inspired you most over the years?
VC: All classic Gothic authors, most which I read during my teenage years. Recently, Sarah Waters has been an inspiration, as has been early Margaret Atwood, and Barbara Kingsolver. My favorite genre is horror, so I’d be remiss in not mentioning Stephen King, especially his earlier novels. He has a way of writing stream-of-thought that is really striking and effective. Horacio Quiroga, an Uruguayan author, was also a master of the horror short story and is someone whose writing I highly recommend.
DV: And now you have a new book coming out this late September. From what little I’ve seen already it definitely looks enticing. Please, tell us, if you will, about “Aleister Blake.”
VC: Affectionately dubbed my “Devil book”, Aleister Blake is my take on the Faustian bargain. It’s a Gothic horror (I know, shocking) that takes place in Victorian London. The protagonist, a rat catcher and pickpocket named Nora, has to make a deal with the titular character to save her brother’s life and things quickly begin to spin out of her control. It’s a novel I truly enjoyed writing and I hope that readers love both Aleister and Nora as much as I do.
DV: Originally, you’re from Uruguay, but you’ve made your home Italy. What drew you there?
VC: Practically my entire family on my mother’s side is Italian. Most of the family emigrated to Uruguay after World War I, but by birthright, we are Italian citizens. When I was a child, we moved to Miami, Florida and lived there for twenty-three years, but we always dreamed of moving to Europe. When a certain character appeared in American politics, we knew it was time to make that dream a reality. We didn’t know where in Italy we wanted to go until we saw the Victorian mill where we now live. We knew it was home from the moment we came across it in a real estate page, water damage and all.
DV: Do you travel extensively? What have been your most memorable destinations?
VC: Not extensively, though I would like to rectify that when the virus slackens its hold on the world. I’ve been to England and Scotland, and I am planning on a trip to Venice and Florence in the near future. There’s so much to see just here in Italy, that I get overwhelmed with the mere thought of it!
DV: When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
VC: Apart from reading, I am obsessed with everything textile-related, so I knit, crochet, embroider, spin fiber, and weave on my beautiful looms. I’ve recently learned how to extract fiber from stinging nettle, which grows everywhere on my land, and I’ve been doing a lot of that preparation. Most of my days, I spend outside doing a bit of all of these things.
DV: Beyond your forthcoming novel, what can we perhaps look forward to?
VC: I’ve just finished revisions for my latest horror novel, one based in Italy and that my mill inspired, and which my agent is getting ready to send out to editors. Beyond that, I have the first inklings of what my next novel will be about but that’s still out there, unformed, and will remain that way until I recharge my writing batteries.
DV: In keeping with our “End of Days” mission, I at last have to ask you something. We see that the world around us now is in pretty sore shape; if this indeed becomes a bona fide apocalypse, what would we find Valentina Cano doing in the midst of it?
VC: Probably taking in every animal left abandoned by the apocalypse and making clothes. We’ll need weavers and knitters if the world falls into chaos, so that’s probably what I’ll be doing. And, no matter what kind of shape the world is in, the human psyche always wants to be spooked. Telling scary stories around the proverbial campfire is always going to be “in”. I can knit and scare you without dropping a stitch.
DV: Valentina, it’s a been a true pleasure! We wish you all the best with your new book (I know I’m eager to read it), and hopefully we can have you as our guest again. Ciao!
VC: Thank you so much and stay safe, everyone!