“I look at everything as a story,” an interview with Christina Consolino

Christina Consolino, senior editor at Literary Mama, freelance writer and editor, and author of the award-winning novel Rewrite the Stars, shares what it was like to launch her first book during the pandemic, what she’s working on now, and why writers should always, always pay attention to the world around them. Thanks, Christina!

Q: Happy Book Birthday! You launched Rewrite the Stars during the pandemic last March, a novel that has landed as finalist for several awards and garnered an impressive list of blurbs. What was that experience like? What were the highs and lows of debuting when the world was (and still is) knocked sideways?

A: Thank you so much for having me here! It seems hard to believe so much time had passed! I signed a publishing contract in April 2020, after much of our world had effectively shut down, and my novel debuted in March 2021. Because Rewrite the Stars is my first novel, I had no experience to compare its launch to. In retrospect, I think that’s a good thing—my bar was set pretty low! (Which seems like a horrible thing to say as I strive to be an optimistic person.) Everything I did to get the book ready for publication and beyond—approach authors for blurbs, submit to awards, pitch to podcasts and the launch itself—was done virtually. As an introvert, I found the virtual route easier than if I had to do anything in person. As a woman with many obligations, I also found it easier to plan for a Zoom launch because finding an hour to do something is far more palatable than finding two hours.

Because I debuted a year into the pandemic and the world was used to the virtual platform but not completely fatigued by it yet, my launch was well attended and held an abundance of energy. I consider that launch a highlight! Having never had a novel out in the world, it was wonderful to see readers, supporters, writing partners, friends, and family with my book in their hands. A low point for me involves the lack of interest by the library and bookstore in the city my characters visit on vacation. The library especially plays a role in the story (and in my life when I visit), and I would have loved to find my book there or even hold a virtual reading. And while reader reviews have been positive, because the number of in-person events has been limited, the connection I’d love to forge with the reader has been dampened. (Thankfully, some readers feel comfortable emailing with a line or two about how the novel affected them. These words mean so, so much to me!)

Overall, the experience enlightened me to what an author must do to launch a book and keep the book present. It also showed how adaptable (or not) the book industry can be. I hope to apply everything I learned to the next book.

Q: I am always interested in a writer’s “other selves,” and the way those interests and lifestyle facets work together. You are a scientist as well as an author, having taught anatomy and physiology at the college level for years. How does writing affect your scientific brain, and how does your knowledge of science affect your writing?

A: Writing has always been near and dear to my heart, and years ago, I grappled with the choice to pursue a creative degree or a more practical degree. With guidance from well-intentioned parents who wanted me to be able to support myself fully, if necessary, I chose the practical route and earned a doctorate in physiology. But even as I lectured on the cardiac cycle or the structure of skeletal muscle, a little voice spoke to me. “Write,” it said. While my children—I have four—were little, that meant blogging; it’s all I had time or energy for, and capturing snapshots of our lives then, maybe inserting snark or finding the humor in them, fulfilled me. A decade ago, though, the voice changed from the generic one prodding me to write to a full character telling me their story. As you might know, it’s difficult to ignore a voice that’s constantly pestering you!

That’s a lot of (perhaps unnecessary) backstory, but I share it because the answer to your question took me years to fully realize. When I reflect back on my time in graduate school—even just the application and interview process—signs pointed to my true desires to write. At my interview with the graduate school chair at the time, a gastrointestinal physiologist, he said, “Your essay is quite different from what we normally see. It’s a beautiful story.” I often think back to that hour I spent with him. What if I’d recognized then that my stories needed to be told? Would I have left the physiology department with a polite “Thank you for your time,” and applied to English or creative writing instead? Who knows?

My point: I look at everything as a story, and I want to connect the dots, find a structure, and produce a storyline. When I taught, my lectures had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the “story” flowed, and I chose my words carefully, much like a writer does. And now, though I don’t teach science, I use that background every day, either in writing or in freelance editing. Being able to formulate questions, make suggestions, dig deeper, and test hypotheses serves me well in the writing arena and allows me to ask questions or hold a perspective that not everyone else has. Furthermore, most of my fiction revolves around some physical or mental health issue—the science lover in me still exists—and knowing the disease processes, how the body works, and what questions to ask puts me at an advantage when it comes time to do research.

Q: What project or projects are you working on right now? Why are you excited about it or them?

A: My work is mainly categorized as women’s fiction, and my next novel, The Chocolate Garden, is no exception. The story centers on seventy-seven-year-old Frank Raffaelo, a retired serviceman who loves his family but doesn’t always understand them or their motivations. An accidental fall forces Frank to face a fear—that his memory might be failing him—and rely on his three children: Gabe, the oldest, who’s overseas; Nico, the youngest, who is keeping a secret from his family; and Marissa, the middle child, who wants to feel like she belongs and matters to her family. Marissa is also a nurse practitioner, and with time, she realizes that while Frank might not show any abnormal cognitive changes, his wife of forty-two years, Angie, does. When Angie’s denial of her symptoms results in dangerous consequences, the Raffaelo family understands that life as they know it is about to change.

In 2015, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. That summer, I spent many hours with my parents, and I sat with my mother as she was assessed for cognitive changes and diagnosed with “changes consistent with Alzheimer’s” (definitive diagnosis can only occur upon autopsy). Since then, I’ve taken on the role of point person for her health and well-being. This book reflects my experiences since that summer and exposes the toil and hardship that dementia can cause for partners and families. I hope it resonates with readers who have had similar experiences and helps them realize that they and their loved ones aren’t alone.

Aside from The Chocolate Garden, a few other projects are also in the works, but it’s a little early to divulge any of their secrets!

Q: Finally, I believe the writing community thrives when writers support one another and share their experiences. What advice do you have for the rest of us for hanging on to our creative selves when life is so messy? What techniques can you share with us for finding energy when we’re running low on it? 

A: Finding solace in writing—which, for me, is usually a solitary affair—is something I do every day. Shutting off from the real world is integral to maintaining my personal health and well-being (and sometimes, those characters just won’t be quiet!). Times exist, though, when my virtual writing friends are just what I need. Despite my ineptitude with social media and my dislike of the venue, there’s a draw there, and it comes from the writing community. They are a generous, welcoming, safe lot that understands why you’re stressed about life. They know how difficult it is to find minutes to write between parents or kids or grandparents or jobs or partners or bouts of loneliness. They understand that messiness and offer you a listening ear, advice, encouragement—whatever you need. So one tip would be to involve yourself in a good writing community and become involved. And by involved, I mean don’t just lurk there (though that’s a good start!). Participate in whatever way you can. Comment on a post, share a post, read a book and review it. Make friends! These folks will be your lifeline through the whole publication process.

As for hanging onto creativity and finding energy . . . I think it’s important to have other creative outlets that bring us joy. When a story just isn’t working for me, I often bake. The process soothes me, I enjoy it, and I always have a finished product (that usually tastes great). Somehow, being able to hold something concrete in my hands energizes me and clears my head. Walks outside also help; the air and nature rejuvenate my cluttered mind. Lately, I’ve also relied on my fifteen-minute solution: I set a timer and concentrate for fifteen minutes on the task at hand. At the end of the time, I celebrate (usually just a mental high five) what I’ve accomplished. The task can be anything from my own writing project to a client’s manuscript to dusting my home or weeding the garden, and I get a lot accomplished in fifteen minutes. That sense of accomplishment helps fill the empty vessel within once again.

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