[Interview] Emilio Corsetti

Emilio Corsetti is a professional pilot and an author. He lives with his wife in Lake St. Louis, Missouri.

His work has appeared in publications that include the Chicago Tribune, Multimedia Producer and Professional Pilot magazine.

In this interview, Emilio Corsetti talks about his writing.

What is your latest book about?

35 Miles From Shore tells the true story of a 1970 airliner that ditched in the Caribbean Sea and the efforts to rescue those who survived. I spent a year-and-a-half researching the book and another year-and-a-half writing. I spent an additional year or so rewriting.

The book was independently published by Odyssey Publishing and was released April 2008.

I had an offer from a European publisher, but I ultimately felt that they were asking for too much and offering too little. Had I gone with this publisher, the title would have received almost no promotion and would have been relegated to the backlist almost from the first day.

The route I chose of publishing under my own imprint and retaining all rights is a costly one. My risks have been somewhat lessened by having signed with a major distributor. I have also benefited from a great deal of free publicity in the Caribbean where the accident took place.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Without question the most difficult aspect of writing this book was finding the right balance of background information in the story. If I had too much background information, I would lose the reader in a sea of detail. If I had too little, then I risked confusing the reader. I think I found the right balance, but only after reading a lot of other nonfiction books to see how other authors handled it.

I had readers give me feedback on early drafts. My early drafts had too much background. Subsequent drafts had too little. Through all of this I continued to read other author’s work. I learned that the most important thing in providing background information is that you should only include things that help describe a character or event. If it doesn’t help define a character, then it doesn’t belong.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Writing a book is hard work. The actual writing and rewriting is tedious and demanding.

I did enjoy the research and interviewing the actual participants.

The most satisfying moment in the whole process was the completion of the first draft. For a brief period of a few months, I was the only person in the world who knew this story. Even though there were hundreds of people involved in what took place, no one had ever pieced it all together into one complete story. All that existed prior were story fragments.

One of the most frequent comments I receive from the people whom I interviewed is that they had no idea the extent of all that took place.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

All of my previous writing has been short articles. Writing a book length manuscript that holds the reader’s interest from start to finish is a challenge. I think I’ve succeeded.

In what way is it similar?

I published an article on the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo 13 space flight. This was several years before the movie and book by Jim Lovell.

I also have written an unpublished novel that took me five years to write. While that book will never be published, even by me, the experience I gained was invaluable.

When did you start writing?

I don’t have the typical background of most writers.

I had never read a book for enjoyment until I was twenty-three. I was among the many people who looked upon reading as a chore that was to be avoided at all costs.

It wasn’t until my wife, who is an avid reader, gave me the book The Shining by Steven King to read. I read it and liked it. So I decided to go to the bookstore and see if I could find something that would interest me.

The book I picked out was 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. It was the first time I had ever been transported to another place and time by a story. From that moment on I became an avid reader.

Over the years my tastes have drifted towards nonfiction narratives, though I still enjoy reading fiction now and then.

I didn’t try writing something myself until I was 30.

How and when did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I independently published my book. I made the decision to go this route after the book was accepted into the small press program at Independent Publishers Group.

Being selected by IPG meant that the book would receive worldwide distribution. Still, I was hesitant to mention to people that I published the book myself for fear that it would be dismissed as not good enough.

What I found is that non-writers and most readers make no distinction between an independently published book and one that was published by a major publisher. It’s no different than an independent filmmaker producing his own film or a musician releasing a CD on his or her own label. The end user is only interested in the final product. If it meets the standards that have been set forth by the industry, you can compete equally.

How would you describe your writing?

I don’t have to rely on writing to provide my income, so I choose to spend my time on projects that interest me.

My favorite books to read are true stories. Over the past several years I have read numerous true stories that have surpassed anything that I have read in fiction, yet for some reason very few of these books make best seller lists. I am completely baffled by this.

The target audience for my book 35 Miles From Shore is readers who enjoy stories of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

Who influenced you most?

I don’t have any favorite authors. I do have some favorite books.

Three of my favorite fiction books are: Angela’s Ashes, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and To Kill A Mocking Bird.

Some of my favorite nonfiction books are: In the Heart of the Sea, Ghost Soldiers, The White Cascade, Seabiscuit, Magellan, The Perfect Storm, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Manhunt.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main goal is to tell an interesting story.

In nonfiction, I am very careful to be factual. I may write a scene that might have been elaborated in order to enhance the readability, but the underlying facts will be true.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think I have a good feel for selecting topics that make good stories.

A while back, before the movie Apollo 13, I pitched the idea of a film on the Apollo 13 space flight to a studio executive with Touchstone Pictures. He told me that people didn’t want to go see movies where they know the ending. This same executive greenlit the movie Encino Man. I haven’t heard his name since.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

In the book 35 Miles From Shore there were several major challenges.

For one it was a complex story. The accident involved two different airlines, there were problems before the flight began, and the story involved numerous individuals: the flight crew, the passengers, the rescuers, the investigators, and numerous airline officials. Each individual saw the story from a slightly different perspective. In some cases, there were multiple perspectives of the same event.

Another problem was how to balance the background information. There are three ways to handle this. The most popular method is to begin with the heart of the story, then introduce the background material in the middle section before resuming the main story. The second option is to intersperse the background information throughout the story as characters are introduced.

Neither of these two options was suitable for this story. For this reason, I decided to split the book into three parts. The first part would set up the ditching by providing the necessary background information. The second part would describe the ditching and rescue uninterrupted. The last part described the events after the accident.

Do you write everyday?

I don’t quote other people very often, but I have two quotes from Mark Twain on this subject. Here is the first one (paraphrased in case I don’t have it exactly right): Writers who write every day write tired and they tire the public who has to read them. The second one is my favorite: Whenever I get the urge to write, I lie down and it usually passes.

When you do write, how does each session start? How do you proceed?

I’m usually good for about one to two hours of writing, depending on how late I start. I start by reviewing pages that have already been written. I’ll rewrite these and then start new pages. If I get stuck, I’ll sleep on it and come up with a solution over the next few days.

What will your next book be about?

Getting this book published has been such a frustrating experience that I would have to think very hard before I would tackle another book. It would have to be a heck of a story and one that hadn’t been told before.

I have written another screenplay, which I’m excited about.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Starting and completing this book, despite the many obstacles, is a significant achievement. Having the book be as well received as it has been is vindication of my effort.

How did you get there?

I have had no second thoughts of shelving the novel that I wrote. But I couldn’t see me doing the same thing with this book. The story is too good to not do everything I can to get it out there. I won’t have to look back and wonder what if? I can now look forward and wonder what’s next?


Emilio said…

Thanks for the post and interview. I enjoyed answering your questions. I did notice that I incorrectly listed one of my favorite books as a work of fiction. Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading Frank McCourt's book Angela's Ashes will no that this book is a memoir and not fiction. My bad.

Anonymous said…
great interview! can't wait to read the book.

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