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An Interview with Dan Coglianese, author of Still Water

coglianese

I have a BA in English from Governors State University, where I was editor in chief for the school’s semi-annual literary and art journal. I have won second place in a recent Reedsy Weekly contest, and have slowly climbed the ladder among the other writers in several NYC Midnight contests for short stories and flash fiction. My WIP, a psychological thriller, is called Still Water.


Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have always loved gothic and horror fiction. I always tried to get my hands on the darkest, strangest, and macabre fiction I could find. Poe, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and Mary Shelley, to name a few. But I found myself always wishing some stories went in a different direction or answered questions I had. And one day I read a quote by Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.” That kind of triggered something in me, and I began writing a story.

I like exploring the darkest impulses we all have. Common decency stops us from hurting other people or doing things that we know are immoral. I like to fill my stories with characters who know this, but they simply don’t care. These people exist somewhere in the world, and many of them have “gotten away with it”. I want to write about those people, the ones you see on the news and only know part of the story but you’re glad you don’t live next door to them. That’s where the really good stories are. With the people you don’t really want to know, but you want to know what makes them tick. Like watching a tornado approaching, praying it doesn’t destroy you but secretly enjoying watching it destroy everything else.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I saw the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and wondered what would happen in the story if the person with the technology was a psychopath. The question “What if?” has inspired so many of my stories. And this one grew into a full-blown idea quickly. I had the basic characters and plot trajectory planned out within a day or two. This story has been one of those special ones that seems to write itself.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The title of my book changed only once. For the first few drafts, it was called “Blood in the Water,” but that title never fit quite right. During my most recent round of edits, it just hit me. One particular pivotal scene I was working on slapped me in the face with the real title of this book—Still Water. It fit perfectly without giving anything away.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Don’t Say You Love Me” (Depeche Mode), “Only When I Lose Myself” (Depeche Mode), “Un Autre Que Moi” (Fishbach), “Lady” (Chromatics), “Whispering Your Name” (Alison Moyet), and “Play Dead” (Bjork).

Describe your dream book cover.

It would be the outline of a small body of water within a dense forest. The view would be from a few feet above the water. From the bottom of the cover we would see two arms outstretched with the hands plunged under the water, wrapped around a woman’s neck. The rippling water obscures the woman’s face, but her own hands are wrapped around the other person’s forearms, scratching them. It goes against the title of Still Water, but that is for a very specific reason that my readers will have to discover for themselves.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I am an accountant right now actually, and have worked in the accounting field for over twenty years. When I used to commute to downtown Chicago for my job, I would spend the train ride either reading or writing. Observing other commuters and imagining fictional situations for them inspired many of my characters over the years.

Writing became an escape from the monotonous trudge of my life as an accountant. I was starving for art and literature. I dreamed about the next scene in my work in progress while at my office all day. And I would rush straight to my PC when I got home to write it. Coming up with short stories, and now this novel, is exactly what I feel like I am supposed to be doing. It’s no longer what I want to do, I have to do it. An unwritten story in my head is a pest who won’t let me sleep. So, I sit down at my computer and simply open a vein (to paraphrase Hemingway).

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis), Searching for Memory (Daniel Schacter), Listening to Ayahuasca (Rachel Harris), The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson), The Keep (Jennifer Egan), and Ordinary Monsters (J.M. Miro).

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope they will appreciate the depths to which people will go to get what they want and hide their misdeeds from others. My perfect reader will enjoy all of the surprises and twists of this story without trying too hard to figure them out beforehand. I hope my readers will be delighted, horrified, and thrilled by how conniving seemingly innocuous characters can be, and entertained by this trek into the darkest recesses of one’s mind where they will see just how far some people are willing to go to get what they want, or WHO they want. And what they will do to keep them.


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