An interview with the author of THE PRESIDENT SHOW, a new feminist dystopian novel out this March.
Facing rejection is a huge part of being a writer. Whether that’s submitting an article proposal to a publication you are passionate about or sending your first book off to a literary agent. Writing a novel is no easy feat, but often, getting past that stage is the easiest.
This can be particularly hard if you’re a young, debut author, trying to convince experienced publishers why your book stands out and why they should publish it. Part of the beauty of being a writer in this day in age is that anyone can self-publish their work, which was the route this author decided to take after experiencing a few setbacks.
I spoke to Costanza Casati about what it was like to write her first book, the publishing process and where she draws her inspiration from as a writer.
About the Book
“We must not fall in love with another Lover, we must not leave the Golden Palace, we must not get pregnant, we must not reveal any classified information we overhear in the politicians’ rooms.
In the totalitarian nation of the Great States, producers roam the streets of poor districts in search of pretty girls to send to the reality show The President, where they will become Lovers, “entertainers” of high-profile politicians. 19-year-old Iris is caught stealing and forced to join the show. Once inside, the only safe way out is to win, but Lovers are desperate, ambitious women and politicians are ruthless when cameras are off. How far is Iris willing to go to escape and go back to her family?”
Costanza Casati is a writer, screenwriter and freelance journalist. Born in the US and raised in Italy, she gained a first-class degree in English and Film Studies from Queen Mary University of London in 2017. After, she went on to gain a distinction in writing from the University of Warwick in 2018.
She has covered the 75th and 76th Venice Film Festivals for HOLR Magazine, as well as authoring a set of short stories appearing in Nothing in the Rulebook.
THE PRESIDENT SHOW is her debut novel.
Could you tell us in your own words what your debut novel, THE PRESIDENT SHOW, is about in a nutshell?
THE PRESIDENT SHOW imagines a dystopian totalitarian nation where young, pretty women are taken from their homes and sent to the reality show The President, where they have to entertain powerful politicians. The novel follows one of these women as she is thrown into the brutal world of politics and entertainment and does everything in her power to protect herself.
What is one thing you would like readers to take away from in this book?
I want people to think about the blurring of morality in de-humanised contexts. I want them to ask themselves — what would I do in this character’s place? How would I react to this injustice?
I also want readers to remember that not all women are victims, and not all men are bad characters. I think it’s very problematic to write female characters that can be easily put into boxes because then those same boxes and tropes are applied to women in real life. So the female characters in my novel might be highly sexualised by the men around them, but I wanted to show how they responded to that kind of sexualisation, each in her own different way.
Was there a specific moment in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer, or you wanted to write this book?
I’m pretty sure I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I recently found a birthday card from one of my best friends when we were little, where she wrote that she couldn’t wait to read my books in the future!
As for THE PRESIDENT SHOW, I had my first idea a few years ago when I read an article about the blurring between politics and reality TV in Trump’s political campaigns. As I wrote my first draft, current world events kept influencing me — the rise of the #MeToo movement, the fall of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, sex political scandals…
I love reading about the routines of different writers; what is yours like? Do you have a specific spot/time/place that you like to write in, if so, why?
For me, it’s important to be alone when I write. I have a pretty messy mind and, when I work, I need to think about the story and nothing else. I usually read a while before, just to get inspired, and then write for a few hours. So all I need is a room with books and a shut door. And coffee.
When you sit down to write, do you set yourself a target, like a word count? Or do you go with the flow?
I do set myself a target, though never a word count. I try to write every day and don’t slow down unless I really have to. So even on days when I don’t feel like writing, I won’t leave my desk until I’ve worked on something, whether that is completing a scene, jotting down bits of dialogue, researching.
Did you have the complete plot outlined before you sat down to write for the first time, or was it more like a rough skeleton, that you filled in as you went?
I’m not very good at plotting. If I figure out what is going to happen before writing, then I’m not invested in finishing the manuscript.
I have also been heavily influenced by Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, where he talks about his belief that ‘stories make themselves.’ This must sound weird taken out of context, but his idea is that when you write a book, you should start with a situation, put a group of characters in it, and see how it plays out. I’ve found that extremely helpful. Then, as I edit my first draft, I’ll draw a detailed plotline to make sure the story works.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Reading! There’s nothing more inspiring than reading a good book. I’m also very interested in the people around me and often use them as inspiration — not in the sense that I actually write about them, but I often ask myself questions such as ‘what would a person like him/her do in a situation like this?’
The publishing industry is a tough one to break into — period — but it can be particularly hard as a debut author. What has your experience been like?
You’re right, and I feel that often people don’t realise how tough and competitive this industry is. Writing the book is the easiest part, I might say, and the hardest is getting it out there. I submitted The President Show to a few agents and got rejected — all rejections were very nice and encouraging and weren’t necessarily about the book in itself.
That is something that writers often forget: rejections aren’t about you.
There are a thousand factors in the industry that agents need to consider, so most of the time, they’ll reject your manuscript simply because they already represent something similar or because maybe they are looking for a different genre the moment you send yours. The President Show is also a very controversial story — it features strong female characters that are victims of abuse and that do unethical things themselves – and that didn’t help.
I was a bit disheartened after the rejections, put the manuscript away and started working on another. But my friends kept asking me, ‘When can I read your book?’ and ‘I really want to know how it ends.’ So I realised that people were actually interested in the story and decided to self-publish.
Many writer’s — myself included — may feel that they have many ideas and the dedication to sit down and write. However, I think self-belief plays a massive role in this. Did you ever have any doubts about your own work during the writing process? What gave you the confidence and motivation to keep going?
Absolutely! I keep having doubts now, and I’m sure I’ll never stop having them. Publishing a book is a very vulnerable process, and writers often feel a strong need for approval… When I submitted one of the first scenes of THE PRESIDENT SHOW for my MA — a sex scene from the protagonist’s POV — a couple of classmates kept criticising it because they couldn’t understand whether it was rape or the protagonist was enjoying it.
I tried to explain that it was much more complex than that, but they didn’t care. In the end, I had to brush it off because not everyone can get what you write, and not everyone can like it. And one must certainly not stop writing just because of other people’s comments. Eventually, what keeps me going every time I have doubts is just the joy of writing stories: when you find something that you love, you keep doing it no matter what.
Who are some of your favourite authors, and how do they inspire your own work?
I read across all genres, and Sally Rooney, Margaret Atwood, Madeline Miller and Elena Ferrante are my all-time favourites.
Books that inspire me are usually the ones with unforgettable characters that can make me cry and that will stay in my mind for long after I’ve read them — The Song of Achilles and My Brilliant Friend are great examples of this. More recent favourites in this respect have been Rodham, Half of a Yellow Sun, Homegoing.
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’ve just finished My Dark Vanessa, which was incredible, and I’m currently reading The Confessions of Frannie Langton, another great debut about a Jamaican woman accused of murdering her employers in 19th century London.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring writers?
I still have much to learn myself, but if I had to give some piece of advice, it would be to focus on what you care about and write as truthfully as you can. Also, it may sound cliché but don’t give up only because someone doesn’t like what you write or because it’s hard. Hard work always pays off.
Please note, this article was initially posted on Medium.com