Welcome to Introducing…,a feature from Wallace Publishing that highlights our authors that have new, recent or forthcoming releases.
Here, we would like you to meet Christopher Calcara, author of the tense LGBT thriller Squealer which was released on 26th February 2021.
Told from the viewpoint of ‘Pete Casanova’, a Midwestern Catholic Italian man hell-bent on revenge, Squealer provides edge-of-the-seat suspense delightfully mixed with dark humour from start to finish. Dealing with such intense topics as physical, sexual and mental abuse, child abuse, homophobia and prejudice, the book delivers new revelations and twists with every chapter that you read.
Below, Christopher Calcara gives us insight into what inspires his writing.
What inspired you to write Squealer and include in it so many powerful topics?
The incident depicted in the novel in which young Luca is inappropriately touched by a male teacher actually happened to me. Unlike Luca’s story, my own experience did not involve overt sex. It can be argued that it was the teacher’s intention to prevent me from attracting the abuse I suffered from other students by alerting me to my effeminacy, but it didn’t feel that way as the unwanted attention occurred. Through my writing, I sought to exact revenge on bad teachers and bullies who harassed me when I was naïve to my own orientation. As an impressionable high school freshman, I had neither the voice to speak out nor the capacity to act that I have now as an adult.
Educated in the Catholic school system for 13 years, I was thoroughly acquainted with other forms of student abuse by religious teachers. Their various physical, mental and emotional punishments went part and parcel with the sanctimonious indoctrination. Luca’s and his antagonists’ stories could not have been told without these topics since they contributed so powerfully to their growth—more accurately, to the stunting of it.
The characters in this book are very memorable, and most people can easily identify with at least one of them. How did you first create these characters and how hard was it to form their personalities on the page?
Once I established the genesis of a plot, the protagonist and his antagonists followed instinctively. It was not at all difficult to flesh out their personalities and behaviours, particularly in light of where I imagined their actions would lead them—to the antagonist’s retribution via the protagonist’s revenge.
You have balanced the humour and suspense in this novel perfectly. What techniques did you use to achieve this?
Thank you. I wanted there to be humour in the book to soften the harsh and dark sides of abuse and criminal activities. It certainly helps to possess a healthy sense of humour, to enjoy writing humorously, and to be simultaneously intrigued by all things nefarious. Separating the two by rotating their themes in alternating chapters was one technique. Or combining them in the same passage to achieve the unexpected, to surprise or amuse the reader, or to lay the groundwork for the novel’s provocative twists and turns.
Squealer focuses heavily on Italian American life. As an Italian American yourself, did writing this come easily or was there any nervousness in portraying something so close to home?
It was easy and natural to bring those attributes of my ethnicity to bear on the story because I live(d) them. There was a bit of uneasiness in portraying real life mobsters (thankfully dead) and in sometimes criticizing the negative aspects of my culture. But it’s nonetheless an honest portrayal of both its good and evil. Additionally, there is frustration associated with old friends and family members who believe they see themselves in the characters and must be reminded that Squealer is a work of fiction.
Parts of Squealer take place in a religious institute, and tackle the very difficult subject of sexual abuse on youngsters by those in authority there. How hard was it to deal with this kind of subject, and what was your biggest worry whilst tackling it?
Since it’s well documented that it happens, religious authoritarian sexual abuse wasn’t a difficult subject to navigate. Priests aren’t the only offenders, however, and from experience, I know this to be true. Telling the story in a unique and authentic way that hadn’t been told before in the way I chose to tell it became the task. My only worry was that the novel would find its way into the hands of a highly-placed devout Catholic who’d condemn it publicly. At the same time, I harbour a hope that this happens because the publicity would bring attention to my novel and wouldn’t necessarily do Squealer’s sales any harm. The ironic revelation is that despite the Roman Catholic Church’s current position on gay marriage, what it did to me and countless other defenceless youth, motivating me to eviscerate religious teachers, I remain a practicing Catholic. Still, to be excommunicated from a struggling institution that can’t seem to extricate itself from the dark ages would not be the worst thing to happen to me.
Your book has an LGBT main character. What response would you love to have from the LGBT community in response to this book or this character?
I want my community to be thoroughly entertained and moved in some demonstrative way by the novel. I want its themes and situations to inform and remain with the reader long after the last page is turned. As for the main character, I want them to relate and see the best parts of themselves in Luca because I created him as a complex character who seeks overdue payback on his enemies for all the right reasons.
Which LGBT/thriller writers do you admire the most?
I don’t know of many, since it hasn’t necessarily been a preferred genre. Squealer fell fortuitously into that category by virtue of its plot and themes. I read and write in multiple genres. I did, however, just finish reading The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. The former (published in 1955) has become a classic and was the first in a series. Its LGBT themes are not as pronounced as its thriller elements, but they are exquisitely and subtly exposed. The latter (published this year) is heavy on the LGBT and rather light on the thriller, yet it’s being hyped as a “A gut-churning, heart-wrenching, blockbuster of a first novel”.
If you could be any famous fictional character from the world of literature, who would it be and why?
Particularly in short stories by masterful male and female authors, I often encounter wealthy, worldly, intellectual, creative, accomplished characters in whose shoes I vicariously picture myself. If I had to pick one, however, it would be Howard Roark from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It’s widely believed that Roark is based on Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m a fervent FLLW enthusiast who always yearned to be a seminal, sought-after architect.
Finally, please tell us about other works you have written?
I have written numerous short stories, many of which have been published by literary journals and which I post regularly on my website http://chrisjcalcara.wixsite.com/website. I’ve written several plays, a few in collaboration with composers to become plays with music and lyrics, and have recently added screenplays to my repertoire. I’ve authored several novels (as yet unpublished), including a comical LGBT series (of three) that follow a friendly group of gay men through the AIDS-ravaged 80s and 90s, into Y2K 2000 and beyond. I’m currently working on a serious novel about a gay man and his sister who suffers from mental illness and is forced to give up her child to be raised by her brother. I’m currently calling it The Marchesi Girl, but of course, that may change many times before it’s finished.
Follow Christopher Calcara on social media: