Interview with Luca Pesaro - Author of crime thriller: Zero Alternative.

I’d like to introduce you all to an emerging and wonderful new author – Luca Pesaro, the writer behind the upcoming action/conspiracy thriller Zero Alternative.

Welcome Luca and thank you for giving us a chance to get to know you a little better. You must be like a child in a sweet shop – waiting to see your book appear on our shelves?

Hi Danl, it’s a pleasure to be here! Yes, as you say it’s a very exciting time - Zero Alternative is out on April 25th and the weeks are flying by. Publication day is gorgeous and scary at the same time: the novel you’ve been thinking about and working on for so long is finally out of your hands and ready to go and face the whole wide world all by itself. It’s a little like sending your child away to for the first time: you hope you’ve done all you can to prepare it, and make it as good as you could. At the same time there’s always a nagging feeling that an extra tweak could have made the book better and more interesting and so on... But it’s also a relief, because it’s been sitting in your mind and your computer for so long, and you’ve gone over it so many times that you really want to know what other people will think of it. Of course everyone won’t like the story, and there will be unpleasant critiques, but it’s all part of the learning process. You can share a tale you’ve wanted to tell for a long time, and there’s no better feeling than that – people will get a chance to live in your world for a while and see it through their own eyes. It’s great, and it does make the hair on the back of your neck stand up a little.

I can only imagine! Can you give us a brief overview of the story behind Zero Alternative? At first glance it conjures images of the fast-paced Wall Street Markets, with its cut-throat yuppies and somewhat manic culture. But there’s more to it than that...

Yes – at the beginning of the book I wanted to give people a real feel for what high finance and its culture can be when lived from the inside, all its fake splendours and many warts, while giving readers a glimpse of how many of the events of our crisis times are sometimes shaped and influenced behind a veil. What happens in secret rooms can truly have an impact on everyone’s life. But I mainly wanted to entertain and thrill, with a tale that hopefully rushes along and leaves you a little breathless, with characters that are more than clich├ęd shadows. I wanted to tell a story that keeps you guessing and excites you, but makes you think a little as well. The novel is of course a work of fiction, but many of the events I depict are as realistic as I could make them, and even the technologies and extrapolations are based on reality. 

A reality that’s scarier and more advanced than people think.

I don’t even know what an extrapolation is, sounds painful? – I’m guessing that you have made all the tech and buzzwords involved in the financial arena accessible to those who are unfamiliar?

Absolutely. The book is aimed at people without any financial knowledge, and though I have tried to keep a little flavour of the vocabulary and speech of the Finance world, it’s been written to merge the few technical bits deep within the story, so that they remain in the background of events. Hopefully it will entertain while helping people learn a thing or two that they hadn’t known before – though the focus is always on the thriller side. 

Extrapolation is key because what I use in the novel is a fictional device that’s based on stuff that already exists and could well become reality a lot faster than people expect. It can be a scary world out there, and the recent Snowden/spying scandal has shown everyone how little we understand of the impact of the technologies we use every day.

Ah yes, and nowadays people are so much more open to conspiracy theories and whistle blowing – it has become more of a reality than most would care to admit, but none the less,  possible.

That is what makes your book so appealing... it’s as though you have opened a Top-Secret File, burning a hole in your hands, making you glance over your shoulder and then it draws you into a world of lies and over-stepped boundaries – it’s very tense and fraught with responsibility. You really have something special between the covers of Zero Alternative, starting with the first line in your book - which shot me with an arrow. It reads:

The trading floor was drowning in blood and fear. You pretty much had me hooked, there!

Thank you. The reason I chose a powerful, emotional line has to do with the fact that the beginning of the book is set on a trading floor in London, before I take off on a rollercoaster across the world.  Most people expect such a place to be a high-tech, relatively sterile environment but it’s the exact opposite of that – it’s a locus of raw, powerful emotions that are often more undiluted than in other real-life situations. Because of the extreme speed and weight of the decisions that are made by the people who work there, Investment Banking grabs you by your emotional self – when markets are moving haphazardly in particular you are shaken to your core, spending hours oscillating between elation and despair. It’s a place of adrenaline above all. Markets are moved by greed and fear (and I would add stupidity, at times) and in a sense they are a great microcosm of humanity. For example, the power of a good or bad story is all-powerful, and it counts far more than sheer numerical analysis in day-to-day activity. Also, Zero Alternative is first and foremost a thriller, and the idea is that you grab the reader from the first line, and you never let go of him/her.

It sounds like a very flamboyant environment, crammed with eccentricities but also the basic forms of underlying human nature. 

With the recent and huge success of the film: The Wolf of Wall Street – I can only assume that this will be another wave of such brilliance that pulls in readers from all walks of life. Everyone loves to see how extreme people will act, if pushed. Are there any comparisons?

Definitely. Obviously WoWS , like ‘Wall Street’ a generation ago, talks about a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. Finance and the global economy have changed beyond recognition, in a way, but at the same time the basic emotions, the greed and success-at-all-costs mentality are still very much alive. Wall Street and the City are as ever dangerous, full of shadowy areas that often get exposed only when a crisis hits – like a few years ago. And the testosterone-driven atmosphere is unchanged, though there’s an extra patina of civility these days. It appears a little more grown-up, but below the surface the currents are still flowing in a similar way. Whenever and wherever large amounts of money (and power) are involved, skewed behaviour will inevitably appear.

Luca, this is your first book in English, but I understand you have worked on other literary projects, (including a movie) before Zero Alternative – in your native Italian. Can you tell us about a few of them?

Zero Alternative was written directly in English – after twenty-five odd years of living, studying and working in the US and UK, my written Italian is not quite up to scratch anymore... I consider it my true debut because of the difficulty and depth of the work. But yes, I started writing when I was still a teen, and I published several short stories in Italian magazines through the years, mostly in Science Fiction and Fantasy, two of my early reading loves. After attending a creative writing course at Harvard University I also finished a novel in Italian, a Heroic Fantasy yarn that did quite well, but it was a long time ago, when I was still a student. More recently I wrote the script (in English) for an Independent movie called ‘The Seer’, shot by a friend of mine in 2007. It’s a thriller/horror set in Sardinia, based on ancient legends and histories. Scriptwriting was a lot of fun, very different from writing a novel because of the sheer number of people involved in shaping the story (I also had a co-writer), and it’s amazing how writing for the screen, with a limited budget, pushes you along narrative roads that you wouldn’t have considered before. It was also a great school for keeping the tension high and structuring a tale that never stops moving – you have less than two hours, but can/must pack a lot of punch in it!

Considering your early interest in such radically different genres like Fantasy – how did writing Zero Alternative compare with regards to the discipline/drive and general enjoyment of your previous work? Do you prefer either one or are they too different to compare?

I found writing thrillers as much fun, if not more so, than writing Fantasy/SF. The thriller element forces you to be sharper with your story, and more economical with language. It needs a little more discipline because every scene must really count – and not just in revealing character but in moving the story forward. It does require more planning, especially at the draft/synopsis level, to keep the focus intact. But I like writing this way, and I once the story is clicking it might even be a little easier to handle.

Great answer, Luca. I guess just to be writing is the key when you genuinely love the craft, and each genre, although a new learning curve – is equally as challenging and fruitful as the last. I wonder, in your case, if living internationally has influenced your literary style...

I also wonder what your reasons were for moving to our damper shores and how long you have been with us, here, in England. And, if possible, please tell us about your wonderful country, in particular: Castel San Giovanni, Italy – and the things that make it home, for you.

On and off, I’ve lived in England since 1991 – I actually attended University here, at the LSE in London. Castel San Giovanni, where I was born (from Italian parents) and grew up, is a small town in Northern Italy – about forty miles straight south of Milan. It counts roughly twelve thousand souls, and it’s basically at the heart of the region that produces most of the great Italian chesses and hams (one of the things I miss the most...). It’s a quiet place, but it’s still home in a way because most of my family lives there. Like a lot of Italy it’s a little provincial, and it has kept its people about. Several of my friends from childhood have continued to live there, so whenever I go back they are all still around, going to the same pub and stuff.

Because my life has always been nomadic it’s been a great base – I might be away for months or even years at a time but whenever I went back I could slip into old habits within minutes and pick up the chatter like I’d never been gone. It’s always been a place of rest and fun – for a few days ­– though I doubt I could live there now.

I left because I won a scholarship when I was seventeen and spent two years in the States, at an international school. From then I moved to London for university because home had somehow grown too small – London felt right from the first day I set foot here, much more so than Milan ever did, and it quickly became my second home.

I understand you have children?

I have two wonderful children, a twelve-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, and they are growing at a terrifying speed. 

Both of them have basically lived in London for their whole lives, and though my wife is Italian as well, they are leaning more towards Englishness (though my son has said he will play for Italy when he’s called up for the World Cup in 2030).

We try and speak Italian at home, but even if they are both fluent it’s very much a second language for them, and so is a lot of Italian culture (and some cuisine, sigh). It’s a little odd to see them develop like that, but we go back to Italy often and I think it’s a nice way for them to retain a little of their roots.

I completely agree. It’s important for children to have both balance and adventure deeply seated within them – what a wonderful and multi-cultural upbringing they have. Because creativity is so vital for a child’s personal development, how important do you feel it is to read to a child – for their creative growth and general connection to this world?  Einstein has been quoted as saying – “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent – read them more fairy tales.” Do you agree with this?

Absolutely. One of the great gifts you can give your children is a passion for reading and a love of stories, stories of any kind. The greatest entertainment always comes from our own imagination, and nothing in the world will move you or teach you more than a good book. The sooner you expose children to the beauty of storytelling, the better it will be. In fact, maybe because they’ve seen me writing for the last eighteen months, both of my children are also starting to think about and write their own stories – even outside of school work. It’s something that makes me immensely proud and happy, because it will develop their intelligence and creativity, no matter what they eventually decide to do with their own lives. Children always learn by looking at adults and copying them, so yes – read to them, and tell them stories whenever you can!

Do you have any favoured authors, from childhood to now? Who inspires you – and do you have any aspirations with regards to other author writing styles?

When I was young my first great ‘author love’ was Isaac Asimov, followed by Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and similar high-fantasy tales). After that, Stephen King and the way he spun stories with a minimum of fuss had a big influence. In the thriller genre, I would definitely mention Grisham, Ludlum (for the non-stop action) and more recently Daniel Silva, who’s very good at adding great depth to his characters while building intricate plots based around current events, like ZA. Style-wise – but I know I’ll never be nearly as good – for thrillers the aim has to be LeCarre. And if I had to pick a writer to read and reread for his visionary quality, it would be Philip K. Dick. This is all on the commercial side of course; no point in naming all the greats we all love and enjoy, though Hemingway was always a particular favourite of mine.

That’s a pretty eclectic choice; I bet your bookshelves are very healthy and will provide your family with some great adventures as they grow.

Okay, so back to Zero Alternative. There are so many ways to get a book ‘out there’ these days. Can you firstly tell us how you are publishing? And what are your views on both Traditional and self-publishing?

The world of books is in an obvious state of flux, with eBooks rising and choking out some of the more traditional formats. A lot of book chains and independent stores have sadly had to close, and the number of traditional publishers is shrinking all the time, but because of new technologies/media, alternative avenues are opening every day. Zero Alternative is being published by Three Hares Publishing with what is an innovative hybrid model – it’s going to be sold in exclusive via Amazon (for a while at least), both as an eBook and a paperback. It’s not self-published because Three Hares, like traditional publishers, selects very few books from a wide variety of authors, but it’s not one of the Big Five that sell to high-street stores.

The advantage is that it allows for a much faster process, without the interminable time-waste and bureaucracy of a large house, but still maintains a standard of quality that sometimes is lacking in self-publishing. The main problem with self-publishing is in a way born of its strength – anybody can get a book out these days, but they often do it too early, when it’s not quite ready yet (or might never be...), so what good there is – and there’s a lot of it – can end up sinking among the more questionable stuff. I think what a hybrid like Three Hares is attempting (and others are/will be going down the same route) is a great solution for offering quality work that might not necessarily interest or could be missed by ‘Traditional Publishing’. Don’t forget that Harry Potter was turned down by twenty publishers, and might not have seen the light of day where it not for one smart little girl...

I must admit, there is still a part of me that desires that large Publishing House to run towards, it still feels like the safe and fruitful option, though Indie Publishers and Self-Publishing are cornering quite a significant scoop of the market these days – who knows which is the best way to go. Procrastinating certainly won’t get any books sold, that’s for sure.

Indeed. The best advice ever is just to get your head down and write. Everything else will come from there.

Okay, let’s have a fun question now. Because of your links between Italy and England, can you give us your favourite cuisine from both countries – and your most hated, if any. Also, as I am a born and bred British Citizen (but huge advocate of Italy) can you tell us which country has your heart when it comes to the dinner table? Be as adventurous as you like, sitting on the fence will fore-go a literary forfeit.

No sitting on the fence here – Italian food wins hands down for me. I do love the apparent simplicity of it – Italian cuisine is all about the quality of the ingredients, and the enjoyment of special flavours without the cook getting in the way too much. Food wise, I despise broccoli, artichokes and cucumber. My all-time favourite meal is a great pizza – I could eat one every day, or one of the carb-heavy pastas from northern Italy (not so much the stuffed ones, but I’m a sucker for cream-based sauces).

The big hole of Italian cuisine (unless you live in Tuscany) is beef – especially barbecue-type cooking. Maybe it’s because it was a poor country for a lot of its history, but it’s hard to get a good steak or roast beef in Italy. And that’s one area where English food is superb. Funnily enough, though I love potatoes in all forms, I’m the only person I’ve ever known who doesn’t like chips or fries.

What!? Chips are amazing, especially when smothered in cheese – ha ha! Although I do have to agree with you in regards to Italian cuisine, there is something very homely and comforting about the flavours and the way it’s prepared. It conjures many images of laughter around a big wooden table, everyone mucking in and putting real love into their efforts.

Lastly, Luca – what are your plans for the future? Do you have a plan even, maybe a second book, leading on from Zero Alternative which is already being grown inside your conscience? Or something totally different?

Yes, I’ve just started on a new novel – another thriller – a Bourne-type tale with the working title of ‘A game of kings’. It draws on one of my passions – chess – and it’s quite a complicated story, with several POV characters and a seriously troubled protagonist. I first wrote it as a script years ago, and I’ve been working to deepen and thicken the story, but because of the complexity it’s taking quite a long while to outline (I’ve also changed the ending). Hopefully I’ll get right onto it as soon as Zero Alternative is published, and I’d like to have a first-draft done by September, ideally. In general I’d love to be able to make a career of writing – there’s nothing else I’d rather do for the rest of my life. Lady luck will obviously play a grand role, but I want to give it everything I have and then we’ll see how the chips fall.

That’s great to hear Luca as I am sure you will have many supporters of your work, and I feel certain that once they have a taste of how eloquently you write (and he really does!) – Your readers will definitely want to see what else you are doing.

Thank you so much for sharing a small part of your life with us. I wish you all the luck in the world for Zero Alternative and I can’t wait to see how well it does.

*Who knows, maybe a review should follow very soon*

Luca is on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads – you can find all the relevant links below. Please show your support, keep up to date, look out for the book – and thanks for reading.

-     - Danl Tetley


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