5 Burning Questions with Marco Rafalà

Marco Rafalà is one of our featured writers at our December 10th reading. Check out our interview with his below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I think I fell in love with worldbuilding first. As a child in the 1980s, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and it opened up a whole new world. I’d spend hours not only playing through pre-written adventures with my friends, but also writing my own adventures. I built fantasy worlds with thousands of years of imagined history filled with ancient kingdoms in decline and mysterious ruins waiting to be explored. I learned how important it was to leave space for the characters (in this case the players) to move through the world and change it along the way. So, as I was running a game, I had to let go and allow the story to go in new and unexpected directions. Without even knowing it, this was my first lesson in writing fiction—one that’s still central to how I write today.

How many drafts = done?

It took me ten years to write my debut novel, How Fires End, and more drafts than I can remember. Every piece of writing is unique and comes with its own set of challenges. But when it’s done, you just know it. And even then, there’s probably another draft waiting for you. At least, that’s how it was for me with my debut.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite novel is A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellani. It made my own novel feel possible and helped me see how a story about ordinary Italians during the Second World War—the stories of civilians and the hardships they endured—might be something other people would want to read.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I like to be surprised as I write. I start with characters, put them in a situation, and then see what happens. The discovery is what gets me excited.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Most of my favorite words are Sicilian curse words. These profanities are theatrical, expressed with more than just words, but body language, too. Like Italians, Sicilians speak with their whole being in a passionate dialogue. There’s a weight and musicality to these words that English simply cannot convey. Translations often lose the colorful language and imagery that tell the full story of what’s being said. Take “mannaggia la miseria.” This is a common expression, considered not that bad in the realm of curse words from the south of Italy. But still, it cannot be translated as it is. It is similar to “damn misery” but it expresses so much more. There’s a rage and disappointment, sometimes even wrath, that simply saying “damn misery” does not convey.

Bonus question: what fictional wedding would you most want to attend, if any? This can be one you read about in a book, saw in a movie, or one you think would be really rad (like if Godzilla married King Kong, but something more creative than that).

This would obviously be a destination wedding, with the destination being Middle-earth. I’d have to pick the wedding between Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton because not only is Hobbiton a place I would love to visit if I could, but I imagine a Hobbiton wedding would be raucous fun.


Marco Rafalà is a first-generation Sicilian American novelist, musician, and writer for award-winning tabletop role-playing games. He earned his MFA in Fiction from The New School and is a cocurator of the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in New York City. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and LitHub. How Fires End is his debut novel.

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