Dean Italiano is a Canadian writer, artist, musician, parent and librarian, but don’t let that fool you. Dean knows how to pack a creative punch that will send you reeling all the way to the bookstore to devour whatever else he has published to date. Although not quite a household name as compared with best selling contemporaries who thrive in the big publishing houses, Dean has been writing in the trenches for many years, carving out his own niche as an independent creationist worthy of your time and purchase.
Honing his skills publishing several short stories, Dean broke out with his first novel, Pain Machine, written under the name of Marcy Italiano in 2003. Dean’s sharp wit and talent for capturing real life experiences, both harrowing and beautiful, and then squeezing them out of his pen for all their worth can be found in 2008’s Spirits and Death In Niagara, and again in 2009 with Katrina and the Frenchman: A Journal From the Street in which Dean portrays his and his spouse’s story of survival upon having barely made it out of the horrors of hurricane Katrina.
With The Starving Queen, Dean is back in full form with a riveting novel about inner demons and personal evolution written from the point of view of someone who has battled his own share of inner demons. Packed full of scares, humility, and raw emotion aplenty, Dean once again takes us on a journey which promises to leave us altered for the better having read it.
Join us as we discuss how The Starving Queen was born, Dean’s struggles and triumphs with his own inner demons, and a few things in between.
Hell Notes: Dean, thanks for taking time out of your very busy life to discuss your most recent novel, The Starving Queen, with me. Let’s get to it and start at the beginning, shall we? How did the concept and eventual writing of the book come about?
Dean Italiano: Ha! You are unknowingly cutting me to the quick with this question. It started in a therapy session. I was battling one of my familiar demons and it was suggested, since I write, that I describe what this particular demon would look like. To embody and visualize a very complicated problem, was surprisingly quite easy. Once I had the Queen, I sat back and decided what to do with her. This was a short story at first. Back when I was able to go to more conferences, I met up with one of the editors who had turned down my submission. Some of those reading this might know Tom Monteleone, who told me, “This isn’t a short story.” I was confused at first, but when I went back to work on the story some more, I understood what he meant. There’s more to it, more layers, that needed to come alive in the story. There were many horrid versions since then, it was hard to find a balance that worked between the other characters and the Queen. Once I found a balance I liked, it was difficult to edit as many of the scenes jabbed at the original demon I battled in therapy. Thankfully I have not had to deal with that for a few years; I’m with the character “Bev” now, standing above the demon.
HN: As far as I’m concerned this is a book which could hold a candle to any of those being published by the big houses today. Can you walk us through the process of deciding to publish The Starving Queen on your own terms and the rewards and challenges that came with publishing under your own banner?
DI: P.I.C. Publishing was actually created for the music side of our creative output. In Canada, when royalties are collected, a percentage goes to the “publisher” and a percentage to the artist. If you’re both, you need a company name to collect full royalties. It was this name that we started using as an umbrella for all of our creative work, including art, music, and in this case, The Starving Queen. During the years when ebooks crashed into the scene, self-publishing became a heated topic, and some mid-level publishers were disappearing, I sat back and looked at my options. I have many friends in the industry, and Shikhar Dixit offered to edit for me. I also found Mary Madewell, a fantastic artist. There’s a printing shop in town, and I’ve done this journey before with my earlier book, Katrina and the Frenchman. I knew exactly how much work was involved, and the quality of the print shop.
So whaddaya do? Despite the busyness that comes with kids, a job, and my own personal transformation, I wanted to handle this one myself. I had faith in my editor and artist, so G (spousal unit) and I decided to have a triple release for the book, a little one-act play I wrote called The Narrowing, and our new horror/Halloween-based CD called From Skull Tavern.
HN: The tale of The Starving Queen really hit home for me on several levels as I believe it will for many readers. Considering all that the Queen represents, was there anything that surprised you as far as what the book meant to you in the beginning compared to what it might have mean for you along the way or even now as you reflect back on it?
DI: Surprises? Oh jeez, where to start with this one. Should I roll my eyes or just shake my head? When one discovers that they are transgender, very often a weight is lifted from their shoulders. Another thing that can happen, is the shedding of light on many issues from your past that at the time, you didn’t understand. To look back and think that the signs were so muffled, trickling out in this book in bits and pieces, is disturbing.
So many of us are very harsh judges of our bodies. We change, we evolve, we age, and we have far too many moments of hating our bodies. But to not know why, to not understand why I couldn’t accept myself, makes me feel sad for my “ex” who lived in such a dark place for so long. As much as the Queen needed to come alive, so did Jasmine. I needed her to to poke and prod at herself, to hide it from everyone, and then to smile. There are specific scenes in the book that I previously felt as if I was screaming them out, but now they simply scream at me.
HN: What aspect of The Starving Queen do you hope has the biggest impact on readers and/or the one thing you hope they take away from the book long after the final page has been read?
DI: You’re not alone. I can’t stress this enough. None of us are alone. Readers might see themselves in one or more of the characters in the story, and some readers might have completely different demons they’re battling. I personally believe invisible demons are the sneakiest.
When I wrote this book, social media wasn’t the powerhouse that it is now. But media in general has been dangerous for decades. We need to step back and see the messages for what they are, what they’re trying to sell us, and what they’re telling us to like, love, and accept. Because if you’re not good enough, you will buy what they’re selling to make yourself acceptable. If you watch how the media puts it’s SPIN on everything, it’s easier to tell yourself that you don’t have to buy into it all. You don’t have to keep up with the Kardashians. Be healthy, be strong, be the best you. Kick your demons in the face.
HN: Although you haven’t published any novels since The Starving Queen in mid-2017, you haven’t exactly been a slouch when it comes to your creative output. You’ve completed music projects, short stories and some really cool paintings along the way. What do you hope to unleash creatively into the world next in the foreseeable future?
DI: During the time I’ve been re-writing my life, my second sci-fi book has been put on hold. I just didn’t have the brain-space to finish it. I’ve got FIVE chapters left and G says I can’t quit or die before it’s done because he wants to know how it ends. I don’t know if it’ll be a trilogy yet, but I’m going to finish the whole story before I go back to edit and adjust for continuity. I’ll occasionally submit a horror short story to a market, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on that recently. I have a Haiku-length attention span for writing right now.
My artwork has gained some attention the last couple of years. Some friends and family insisted I share more of it, and I’ve since been in two juried shows, and an art gallery downtown for a season. I’m surprised people are liking my work as much as they are. There was one painting I was going to throw in the garbage and it ended up selling. So what do I know, eh? I’ll keep at it, and hopefully sell some more before we run out of wall/storage space at home.
Music… well this is the funny part of the story. G and I generally write music together. When you hear From Skull Tavern, that voice was more in the …Bonnie Tyler range? In the past year my voice has dramatically dropped and I’ve approached the Brad Roberts range instead. I think it’s settling in and we have to test out what we can write for this voice. G says he already has some ideas. I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl, it’s been kinda trippy. Will we keep the horror/Halloween theme for new songs? Very, very likely.
HN: And, finally, where is the best place for folks to enter the world of The Starving Queen and to further get their fill of your work?
Our website is https://picpublishing.ca/, and we’re on FaceBook and Twitter and so on. Our music can be downloaded on Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon Music, YouTube, Deezer… and we have CDs for the older folks like us. *wink* Some of my paintings and artwork are on our website, and some are listed online at Fine Art America: https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/dean-italiano.html
The Starving Queen is on Amazon and our website, and of course I’ll sign and send hard copies if people prefer a book in-hand.
Thanks so much for your interest in peeking into my world. It’s a zany one
HN: Thank-you, Dean! And for anyone who may have missed the review for The Starving Queen, you can check it out here: http://hellnotes.com/the-starving-queen-book-review/