Monday, November 9, 2015

That's Me All Over: An Interview Online

The literary journal 3288 Review published an interview with me online today.
            The journal's editor, John Winkelman  was generous with space and gave me a lot of scope to talk about "Suosso's Lane," my recently published "history/mystery" novel on the Sacco-Vanzetti case.
           Here's an excerpt:           
           QUESTION: Can you give us some background on your novel? How and when did you decide to write a story based on Sacco and Vanzetti? Did it grow out of a general interest in that era, or did it grow from interest in the event itself?
          ME: Timely question. Suosso’s Lane (https://www.web-e-books.com/index.php#load?type=book&product=suosso), my story on the Plymouth, MA origins of the Sacco and Vanzetti case was, published recently as an ebook, with plans to eventually have it published in print.
          The idea to write a story about the case developed from moving to Plymouth and then going to work or the community newspaper group that covered Plymouth and neighboring towns. I had learned about the case long ago, and continue to be mildly shocked that like other labor-oriented and progressive causes it has disappeared from common knowledge, had long lived in Massachusetts, but only after living in Plymouth for a few years did I learn that Bartolomeo Vanzetti was living in the town at the time of his arrest. Plymouth’s self-image is all about the 1620 Pilgrims, but the town, like much of the Northeast, became an industrial center after the Civil War, its factories luring immigrants from Europe. Vanzetti found his way to Plymouth in the early years of the 20th century and lived with an Italian family from his own region (the Piemonte) near a big factory in North Plymouth. The town takes no public notice of his existence or of the world-famous Sacco-Vanzetti affair. Because he was found guilty and executed? Because his anarchist views were wildly unpopular with Yankee Plymouth? In fact, the Massachusetts establishment hated everything about Sacco and Vanzetti – including their immigrant status – and aside from a flurry of interest during the Dukakis administration, no one has ever wanted to re-visit that century old judgment. And misjudgment.
An anniversary issue of the community paper I worked gave me the opportunity to research the local angle on Vanzetti’s story. A few years later a nonfiction anthology on 20th century Plymouth history enabled me to stretch that work into a magazine-length piece (“Trial of the Century: Local Amnesia”).
         From conversations with my wife, Anne, I developed the idea of a ‘history mystery’ story centered on the efforts of a current day history teacher to dig up some lost piece of evidence that would establish Vanzetti’s innocence of the crime (a payroll robbery-murder) he was convicted of. But as I worked on the book, it became clear to me that I had to inhabit the person of Vanzetti and his circumstances more fully. There are scores of books about the case, examining the trial, the evidence, the legalities, but remarkably little on the record about Vanzetti the man, aside from the letters he wrote from prison. I do think that the issues of his time, a hundred years ago, have become our issues again. The exploitation of workers by a super-rich class – the robber barons of Gilded Age compared to today’s “One Percent”. The fear-borne prejudice against immigrants, or “others” – Southern and Eastern Europeans (Italians, Poles, Jews, etc.) were regarded as an inferior race. The use of the police, and secret police (“intelligence”), to protect the status quo. The FBI was invented to deal with Italian anarchists like Vanzetti and his “comrades.” Today the current head of the FBI tells us that criticism of the unjustified police killing of black men keeps police from doing their job.
              So as I worked on Suosso’s Lane, the book came to feel increasingly relevant. One of its current-day characters is an African immigrant trying to keep from running afoul of the law. My Plymouth history teacher finds that one of his American Indian students is homeless, because of quarrels over a piece of property his family still owned. The real estate bubble of the early 21st century leads another of my contemporary characters to commit murder to protect a deal that will make him rich. (He’s unmasked by my nosy local reporter.) Do Americans care about anything today but money? The history teacher comes to feel that the demonization of the voices on the left – anarchists, socialists, populists – is one of the reasons that contemporary American society has lost its balance.


This is probably more than enough. But if anyone wants to hear more about me, the full interview is at http://www.3288review.com/2015/11/09/interview-with-robert-knox/