Stephanie Laterza is the author of the feminist legal thriller, The Boulevard Trial. Her short fiction has appeared in The Nottingham Review, Writing Raw, Literary Mama, and Akashic Books. Her poetry has been published in Newtown Literary, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Literary Mama, and Meniscus Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.
Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?
Stephanie Laterza: I probably first recognized the power of language and its resonance while reading Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein as a child. I was around eight years old when my cousin gave me a copy of the book for Christmas and never before had I read a collection of poems that was so irreverent yet familiar and lyrical in a way I hadn’t experienced up to that point. I love reading the book again, this time with my Kindergarten-aged son. I realize how much Shel’s work likely influenced my own writing and understanding of the power of language to reach and give voice to the human experience in all its tragedy and comedy.
MR: If you could do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
SL: Reading is inextricably linked with writing, so I would have read a wider, more eclectic selection of books overall, despite considering myself an avid reader as a child. I enjoyed Nancy Drew books along with the novels I inherited from my older sister. But while I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I never read any of Tolkien’s work, for example. It wasn’t until high school that I even heard of The Lord of the Rings and I felt I was missing out on something other kids my age loved. I often wonder whether Tolkien’s trilogy would have inspired me to write fantasy one day. Maybe there’s still hope for me in that regard. As a teenager, it would have been invaluable to me as a young writer to have read the work of my favorite Latina authors as part of my high school curriculum, like Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, or Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had to wait until college to read those and other books by Latina authors I admire. As a side note, Isabel Allende is visiting the Brooklyn Public Library on November 7th, so I am ecstatic to say the least.
MR: What does literary success look like to you?
SL: Having readers learn something valuable from my writing, in particular about the intersectionality of class and multi-ethnic identity in America. It would be nice to eventually buy a house by the Adriatic Sea too. I can dream, can’t I?
MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?
SL: With respect to the heroes or generally kind characters, a balance between sensitivity and authenticity. With respect to illustrating villains, although I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I refuse to be censored. As Anne Lamott wisely said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That pretty much sums it up for me.
MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?
SL: I think writing male privilege has been a challenge for me in terms of first-person narration. Could I write a Holden Caulfield-esque male protagonist? I guess to do it effectively, I’d have to put myself into the head of some of the guys I dated in and after college. But seriously, although on the one hand I might be concerned with maintaining authenticity in writing from a so-called “male” perspective, I think the fact that most of the characters I write, male or female, end up being amalgams inspired by different people would help me to create a third-dimensional male protagonist rather than a mere stereotype. In terms of narrative structure, when my male protagonists differ substantially from my personality or direct experience, I’ve sometimes illustrated them through third person narration. Another helpful approach is to start from sources of conflict, which, on the one hand might be influenced by gender, but on the other, are ultimately universal and identifiable to anyone, however they identify. In my short story, The Weight of Figs (The Nottingham Review, 2016), for example, my protagonist is a middle-aged man coming to terms with the decline of his mother’s memory as his father denies his wife’s condition. Although my protagonist isn’t a cis female writer like myself, and I didn’t go through that particular struggle, I can certainly feel the pain of his internal and external conflicts, as anyone could. Pain is part of what unites us as human beings. I suppose we read to know we aren’t alone in that regard.
MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?
SL: Interpreter of Maladies, the Pulitzer-Prize winning short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. She paints existential loneliness and the fleetingness of human interactions with both technical precision and emotional abandon in a way I had never seen before reading her book. The only book that came close to creating that feeling for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which still remains my favorite novel of all time. When I read Interpreter of Maladies, and Lahiri’s subsequent collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I identified with her characters’ profound sense of loneliness and loss on a personal and universal level. I also felt challenged to delve that deeply into my own characters when writing my stories. After reading Lahiri’s work, I realized how much reading inspires writers to take chances with technique, perspective and character development with respect to their own work. Of course, every writer will do this differently, influenced by their personal experience, worldview, and training, if any. It’s just nice to know we’re allowed to traverse the complex terrain of the human psyche because great writers before us have done it.
MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do you help each other become better writers?
SL: Besides having the pleasure of getting to know my gracious interviewer over the past several years, I’ve been buddies since college with writer Jack Lugo, who is a James Bond aficionado and podcast co-host. Jack and I read and critiqued each other’s short fiction and poetry as English majors at Fordham and I’m psyched to see that Jack is still great at his craft. In recent years, I’ve become good friends with poet Sandra Proto, with whom I’ve shared featured readings in Queens. Also, my dear freelance writer friend, Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, and I have supported each other’s creative writing for many years. It especially rocks that we both live in Brooklyn now. Showing up for our fellow writers is crucial, whether at readings, book festivals or workshops. We’re in this together, and that means a lot.
MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?
SL: It led me to explore the power of narrative structure and forced me to edit on a larger scale. I always say I appreciate structuralism much more now than I did as an English major in college. So there’s a reason The Boulevard Trial begins with third-person narration of the young attorney Helena’s predicament and ends with her speaking for herself. I actually approached the narration surrounding the defendant Francesca and the prosecutor Alexandra in a similar way, but, as readers soon discover, one lives while the other dies by the end of the book. The trial scene is also an exercise in form as social commentary. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat in court transcript form, it’s narrated from the perspective of the court reporter, whose subjectivity comes through despite the seeming objectivity of the scene’s format. Another lesson publishing my first book taught me was the importance of revising multiple times before being comfortable with a finished product because, as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t worry too much about the quality of my first draft (or my thirtieth) anymore since I know I’ll be spending a lot of time refining the book to become something awesome. I also learned the importance of a good editor in connection with subsequent work I’ve written.
MR: What did you edit out of The Boulevard Trial?
SL: The Memorial Day office party where Helena confides her violent secret concerning her ex-fiancé to her unscrupulous colleagues, one of whom betrays her confidence to her law firm partner boss, thereby setting the book in motion. I enjoyed writing that scene, and it even had some karaoke in it, but ultimately I felt it was better to start the book the following week when Helena gets called into the Partner’s office.
MR: What are you currently reading?
SL: Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende.
To learn more about Stephanie Laterza and her works, please visit:
The Boulevard Trial on Amazon
Facebook author page:
Short Fiction Link from Stephanie Laterza's Wordpress Blog
To learn more about Sandra Pronto, please visit:
To learn more about Jack Lugo, please visit:
To learn more about Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, please visit: