Rosanna Staffa, Playwright-Author-Episode #290

Apr 9, 2024 | 0 comments

Rosanna Staffa is an Italian-born playwright and author.  Her debut novel, The War Ends At Four, is a beautifully rendered tale about an Italian acupuncturist in Minneapolis who returns home to Milan and rediscovers all that she left behind, who she is, and what her life is really about. I’ve read The War Ends at Four and found it to be a moving and poignant personal story about a woman trying to find herself.  I highly recommend it to you.

Rosanna’s work has been featured in Gargoyle Magazine, the Brevity Nonfiction Blog, The Sun Magazine, The Examined Life Journal, and JuxtaProse. Her essay, Holy, is a prize winner in the TSR Review and nominated for the 2022 Notable in Best American Essays. Other writing can be found in the Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021. She received an Honorable Mention for The Tiferet Journal’s 2019 Writing Contest. She’s also a Short Story Finalist for The Masters Review Anthology, the 47th New Millennium Writing Awards, and a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Rosanna’s plays, which have been seen on stages in Tokyo, New York, Seattle, and other cities, include: The Biggest Little House and The Innocence of Ghosts which was staged Off-Broadway in New York and filmed for inclusion in the Lincoln Center Theatre on Film Library.

Rosanna also happens to be a licensed Acupuncturist from the California Acupuncture College in L.A. and The Zhejiang College of Acupuncture in Hangzhou, China.


Rosanna Staffa

Rosanna Staffa on X


The War Ends at Four


Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat:

Rosanna Staffa: For me, storytelling is asking a question with the reader and I create a situation where the reader is willing to see themselves. You start perceiving which parts of you this person could be, and it’s a way of letting you backstage in story. And I would like the reader to want to come in to be curious and look at the house, and maybe the house is a little untidy and they perceive what is this about?

Announcer: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and Entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, Rosanna Staffa, is an Italian born playwright and author. Her debut novel, the war ends at four, is a beautifully rendered tale about an Italian acupuncturist in Minneapolis who returns home to Milan and rediscovers all that she left behind, who she is, and what her life is really about. I’ve read the war ends at four and found it to be a moving and poignant personal story about a woman trying to find herself. I highly recommend it to you. Rosanna’s work has been featured in Gargoyle magazine, the Brevity nonfiction blog, the sun magazine, the examined Life Journal, and juxtapose her essay Holy is a prize winner in the TSR Review and nominated for the 2022 notable in best american essays. Other writing of Rosanna’s can be found in the best small Fictions anthology 2021. She received an honorable mention for the Typhorette Journal’s 2019 writing contest. She’s also a short story finalist for the Master’s review anthology, the 47th New Millennium Writing Awards, and a push Cart Prize nominee. Rosanna’s plays, which have been seen on stages in Tokyo, New York, Seattle and other cities, include the Biggest Little House and the Innocence of ghosts, which was staged off Broadway in New York and filmed for the inclusion in the Lincoln Center Theater on film library. Rosanna also happens to be a licensed acupuncturist from the California Acupuncture College in LA and the Zhejiang College of Acupuncture in Hangzhou, China. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s my great honor to welcome the brilliant writer Rosanna Staffa to storybeat today. Rosanna, welcome to the show.

Rosanna Staffa: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Steve Cuden: The pleasure and the privilege is mine, believe me. So let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. When did you first become interested in storytelling? When did that first strike you?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I was very young. I was very little and I lived. My family moved around a lot, so I was from Naples. I arrived in a small town in the venetian district. It was a magnificent town, but I felt very lonely. And, you know, in Italy, there are different dialects in different regions that are like a language. So I had to listen. I learned to listen, which is not a bad thing as a writer. But I was a little bit lonely and the winters were long. And, I was given a journal. I was very young, and I said, what would I do with my days and what would I write in this, nothing is happening. I tried to think if there was an attack, a police, nothing. And then I was so frustrated. And I wrote in this journal, I want to go to Padua. I’m going to catch the bus by myself and go to see the big windows. And then writing it, I was on the bus and I started to describe the smell and I was seeing the windows. And at that moment I went. Writing was a little bit magic.

Steve Cuden: It’s a lot of magic.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. But I was a kid and I went, oh, wow, look at these.

Steve Cuden: Were you always a reader as a kid?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah, I was. And as a child, there were always books around the house and I read them all. And, some took me, some didn’t. But it was fascinating. It was like another. Remember, you know, with Kafka, I was a spider on a ceiling. And, I mean, as a child, you identify completely. You don’t even pull back.

Steve Cuden: As a child, your imagination is wide open completely.

Rosanna Staffa: And I actually would encourage people to have kids read very early, not just children’s books. I read books that were no children’s books.

Steve Cuden: Well, some parents, I think, are afraid of it, aren’t they?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I don’t know why. I didn’t see anything that ever upset me. I only saw the pleasure of it. And I was in the company of other people. The writers were people, were friends, were people I could converse with.

Steve Cuden: You converse with them in your head?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes.

Steve Cuden: And when did you start to get interested in theater? Because you’re also a very fine playwright.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, thank you. Well, what happened is that when I arrived to America, my English was not very Good. I mean, my british English, my written English was excellent. But then having a conversation or understanding was very different. So I think the dialogue came to me in a more natural way. And also, I was in New York, and the subway, was magnificent. There was all these interrupted conversations. I was sitting in this subway, and this woman was saying about Joe, and Joe was terrible, and this other woman was weeping. But I was very taken by Joe. And, I wanted to say a little more, and I really missed my stop to know a little more and said, there is a lot of subtext in conversation.

Steve Cuden: So did you go to the theater a lot?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes, I went to the theater a lot. And I actually married a theater director.

Steve Cuden: Oh, is that right?

Rosanna Staffa: I had to.

Steve Cuden: You had to. Did you then realize that writing dialogue was really your strong suit at that time?

Rosanna Staffa: Did it? I interpreted things that way. It came to me more natural. And I was in a workshop at the marc de parforum, where I studied with Maria Irene Fornes, who was magnificent. I actually wrote a short story about that other magnificent writers. And it was organized by Oscar Eustace, who now is in New York. And, So you organized this. It was magnificent. And we were all doing these exchanges, and I learned so much from Maria Irene Fornius mentors.

Steve Cuden: So then you just started to write plays? Just to write plays, yeah. You didn’t go to school for it somewhere?

Rosanna Staffa: No, that was the school. The mentors and we exchanged work.

Steve Cuden: and there’s nothing wrong with having mentors and just doing it. It’s one of those things. The theater and movies and so on do not really require a formal education. But it’s Good to learn something from people that have been there before.

Rosanna Staffa: Yes. These mentors were amazing, I’m telling you. I mean, Maria Rene Forness, first of all, made us stand up and do yoga every now and then. That’s enough now with all this scribbling. Scribbling? She wanted to keep our minds alert and always surprised us with something. She told us the monologues, can be deadly, because then you get into the. And you fall in love with your words. I forgotten that.

Steve Cuden: What I believe William Faulkner once called, you’ve got to be able to kill your darlings.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, yeah. We all do it. We have to.

Steve Cuden: Well, you do. You have to be brutal as an editor of your own work.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. But I suspect, if I may say, that we also get attached to those parts because they’re safe.

Steve Cuden: that’s a very Good way to look at it, which is not Good. It’s not Good for it to be safe. It needs to be a little bit on the edge, a little dangerous.

Rosanna Staffa: Once you’re safe, what are we doing?

Steve Cuden: The point of art, I think, is to challenge people’s thinking.

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. Especially your own. Keep you on your toes. In fact, I also write short stories. I wrote an apple. I write short stories. I, even wrote a poem recently. But I think it’s like juggling. To keep my mind centered on writing. But not too eased into it. Keep going. Keep it going.

Steve Cuden: Do you have a preference? Do you prefer writing plays or novels or short stories? Or do you just like it? All the same?

Rosanna Staffa: I have a real liking for short stories.

Steve Cuden: Short stories.

Rosanna Staffa: They are so rigorous. And I have to create a world and create it fast. And keep it exactly and precisely the way it is. And, as short as they are, they cannot disappoint, which is a, very important thing. But now, of Course, I got passionate about writing a novel. So, of course, I’m writing another one. You know how it is.

Steve Cuden: Of course. Well, once you’ve written one, you’re probably going to write more. That’s the likelihood. But there’s no question for me, and you’re sort of voicing it. That writing short stories is the most challenging kind of writing there is.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I think, again, poetry. Rumor has it, but I will go insane. I mean, I did write a poem, but it was a prose poem. And so stories, I don’t know.

Steve Cuden: They’re hard. They’re difficult.

Rosanna Staffa: Yes, they are the motorcycle. But they have to be perfect, or they crash.

Steve Cuden: That’s absolutely right. Are there stories? There are kinds of stories that you tend to gravitate toward.

Rosanna Staffa: No, but, sometimes they come to be. There was one story that I absolutely didn’t want to write. And it was so stubborn that I had to.

Steve Cuden: It was so stubborn. What does that mean? Does that mean it just wouldn’t let you alone?

Rosanna Staffa: It wouldn’t leave me alone. And I would say, I don’t want to write this. It was about my terrible grandmother. I don’t have a sweet, gentle grandmother.

Steve Cuden: Are there kinds of stories that you avoid?

Rosanna Staffa: M no, I don’t think so. I don’t go too over personal. I’m, starting to be a little strange about essays. I mean, I do write them. And this story about the grandmother was an essay. But I should say that for me, it’s a little strange to make this distinction between, essays and short stories. Because in Italy, they don’t exist. It’s a narrative.

Steve Cuden: Any narrative is a narrative.

Rosanna Staffa: Because the writer always writes about themselves. I mean, a story I write is different from a story you write. Let’s face it. A writer is always interpreting what is going on in a particular way that is part of their lives. So I actually took a class to understand what was an essay. because it was so mysterious, I.

Steve Cuden: Thought the war ends at four. Felt very personal to me.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, it is. It has very strong references to my life, but the authenticity is in the emotions.

Steve Cuden: Well, I think that’s what I meant. Personal. It felt very emotional and like it was happening to Renata, your protagonist. It felt like it was her story. And you really felt what she was feeling.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, thank you. That was my joy, to make a reader come in and, feel with the protagonist, not feel for the protagonist, but with will be, for me, the greatest pleasure.

Steve Cuden: I’m just curious, how many languages do you speak? Even a little bit?

Rosanna Staffa: Speak. Speak. I speak English and Italian, but I could do some Spanish. I could get away with some Spanish and some French. And, once upon a time I knew German, but now I don’t know it. And I was in love with Russian. Can you believe I forgot it? I studied Russian because I wanted to know exactly the sounds that were in the head of Chekhov.

Steve Cuden: Oh, my favorite writer, Anton Chekhov. You don’t speak any Chinese from having lived in.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, yeah. Well, but medical terms and a little bit. And what was amazing for me about the language was, you know that there is no word for goodbye in Chinese.

Steve Cuden: There’s no word for goodbye.

Rosanna Staffa: I did not know that is zhajang.

Steve Cuden: Zhajang.

Rosanna Staffa: I say it with the accent of zhajiang. Zhajang means see you.

Steve Cuden: I did not know that.

Rosanna Staffa: I loved it.

Steve Cuden: So I asked that specific question of you, because obviously you’re not from America, but you speak excellent English. And so the question that I have is, how important do you think it is for a writer to be able to think and speak other languages?

Rosanna Staffa: It is very important because it makes you flexible inherently. You just feel that it’s not so stern, so firm. You can play with things.

Steve Cuden: You’re seeing things from different perspectives. Having another language.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. Like Italian. It’s very soft. All the words start and end with a vowel. So there is a melancholia. And of course, that’s why it’s the language, of opera, because you start full of vowel. For me, English is so fascinating. Full of consonants and gerunds, and it’s jazz. It’s pure jazz. And having love jazz, it’s just insane. It’s a gorgeous language and it can be clipped and, it does so many things.

Steve Cuden: It’s a melting pot of language.

Rosanna Staffa: It is. That’s true.

Steve Cuden: And even though it comes know mother England and there’s british and so on, American English is filled with all kinds of melting pot languages and references to other languages.

Rosanna Staffa: I love that. I absolutely love that.

Steve Cuden: So I think you’re excellent with setting tone. Tone is not an easy thing to do in a story, I think. And you’re very Good at setting a tone. Can you define for you what story tone is and how you achieve it?

Rosanna Staffa: For me, storytelling is asking a question with the reader. I want to ask questions that I ask myself. And we are in there together, and I create a situation where the reader is willing to see themselves. They also see themselves. And as I would say, that it doesn’t matter that she’s Italian and a woman and whatever, you start perceiving which parts of you this person could be, and it’s a way of letting you, I would say backstage, to use a theater term, backstage in story, in someone’s private thoughts. And I would like the reader to want to come in. It’s like welcoming them home. I wish they don’t stay in the hallway taking their shoes off and stuff. I wanted to be curious and look at the house, and maybe the house is a little untidy, and they perceive, what is this about? What is this home like?

Steve Cuden: Storytelling tends to be about conflict and friction, tension. And people want to see other characters in conflict and dealing with how they get in and out of those situations. And so, to me, that’s what makes storytelling so exciting. What for you, makes a Good story Good?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, exactly. That actually, a particular personality with their little quirks that I’m fascinated by. Quirks like they don’t like this. Their little fears that are challenged to confront something that they wouldn’t normally confront unless it happened. And that’s, for me, the perfect conflict. The conflict I love.

Steve Cuden: I was always trained that that is what makes a character character. When they’re put into that challenging situation and how do they respond to it? That’s what makes character character.

Rosanna Staffa: Exactly. And it’s so charming. He starts being very precise, because suddenly the character acquires, clarity by what they refuse to do. They are afraid to do, would like to do. They become absolutely defined.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s exactly right. That’s how we define them, is by what a character does or does not do.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. Perfect. Yes.

Steve Cuden: So let’s talk about the war ends at four. Tell the listeners what it’s about. Pitch the story to us.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, the story follows Renata, an Italian woman living in Milan, who’s from the south. But lives in Milan. she’s married. And unfortunately, this is an actor who’s as fascinating on stage as he is off stage. So this creates a conflict. And at this moment in her life, she’s questioning her know we all do. And her clinic, small acupuncture clinic. She came to America driven by the passion to study acupuncture. This idea that there is this energy under our skin is fascinating for her as a healing m possibility, even in the universe. But she has to question this clinic. She’s not doing very well because she’s very generous with her customers, and she’s called to Milan by an emergency. Her father is very ill, so she leaves abruptly. And once she arrives in Milan, she meets old stories and the old stories as a force and war comes back and old loves come back and new things arrive in her life that she has to make decisions. Will she go back or not?

Steve Cuden: That’s the big question.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. What is home? And I wanted to say, and I hope I said it, that home is not just nostalgia. Home, can be a place where you belong, where you discover that you belong. I mean, nostalgia is marvelous, and we all have it for this and that, but maybe we created a nest where we belong. And that is home for.

Steve Cuden: Well, the old adage, of course, is, you can’t go home again. But in fact, she does go home and finds out it is a little different than what she was expecting or remembers, and she has to deal with that.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. And you know that the novel is also. I wanted to go home. I had no gone on in a while. And, the novel is full of smells and the taste of fog because I wanted to go home. Not now, but the home that I knew, I wanted to take the readers with me, but I wanted to go. Honestly, I wanted to go home. I love the fog and I wanted to share that and all these things that people figure out home is, if I go now, it’s a little different because it’s like I left the conversation mid sentence. When you’re at the table and everybody’s laughing and this, and then you go make a phone call, you return the conversation. It changed and you have changed. I wanted to go back.

Steve Cuden: So you are an acupuncturist. Renata, in the book, is also an acupuncturist. And your name is Rosanna. And her name is Renata.

Steve Cuden: And I’m wondering how much she’s based on you.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, a lot of her is based on me. Very much. The name Renata actually comes from a writer I love, Renata Adler. And I met her and she told me she lived in Milan. So I went, well, I’ll bring you to Milan. It was a very sweet encounter. Once upon a time, when you started.

Steve Cuden: Writing this book, which is going to be a little different than writing a short story because you know you’re going to be in for a much longer haul, where do you begin? Where does your process begin? Is it developing characters, or is it plot? Or where do you start?

Rosanna Staffa: It’s character. For me, plot is. Character is driven by character. if she’s shy, well, that’s a little different. And also, I wanted to say that being a layered person with conflicts doesn’t mean you’re not strong. People who make decisions like this, they’re not necessarily strong. Maybe they are weak, actually, they can’t allow questions to breed with them. So I wanted her to let questions breed. If you let them breathe and you don’t rush to conclusions, I believe that, they acquire a clarity. So that’s what I did. I was a little restless with her and the plot. But you have to trust the character at a certain point.

Steve Cuden: Do you prescribe to the notion that the characters begin to speak to you?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, yeah, I wish they would speak more, but the thing is this, I can say that I don’t know if this answers your question, that at a certain point, I’m not sure what the character would do or say. I, still have to follow a certain flop, but I know what they would not say and they would not do. And the characters speak to me sometimes by resisting, and I have learned, by resisting what I want them to do.

Steve Cuden: By resisting what you want them to do. You’ve got a thought in your head. I think I want the character to go in this place or that thing.

Rosanna Staffa: Wouldn’t that mean marvelous? She encounter X, y and z and they fall in love. No, the character resists. And I have learned, actually, from being an acupuncturist, that when you resist understanding a syndrome, you just pull back and look attentively and let them speak more and let them come to you. So when the character resists so much, I get upset, of course. Terribly upset. But then I think, have I lost maybe the core, the drive? Why? Maybe I haven’t do something that is not attuned to what I had in mind. I got plot. You get plot, anxious.

Steve Cuden: well, because you may not know exactly where you’re going, but the characters sometimes do. They don’t always know, but it’s very important that the audience doesn’t know where you’re going.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, yeah. And in fact, my favorite stories are the one that are very beautifully written and everything is clear. But there is this elusive under text emotion where I go, And in fact, I don’t know you, but the books that I reread are the ones that have that magic where not everything is explained, but there are intuitions and a sense of emotional fullness.

Steve Cuden: There’s nothing better than having the reader fill in all sorts of imaginative things for you.

Rosanna Staffa: yes, it’s a dream. That’s a dream.

Steve Cuden: So explain for the listeners what the big differences are aside from length, what the big differences are in writing a novel versus writing a short story.

Rosanna Staffa: I don’t think that there are such big differences. Maybe the rhythm, there is an accelerated rhythm in, writing a short story. It can still be a bicycle ride and you look around, but the energy has to be really strong.

Steve Cuden: In a short story, it’s an intense burst.

Rosanna Staffa: Yes.

Steve Cuden: And in a novel, you can kind of lay it out over a longer period.

Rosanna Staffa: It’s like music. There is a kind of music, there are changes and a different pace and this. But you can ease into it. And a show story has to keep you nervous, frankly.

Steve Cuden: It’s got to keep you on the edge of your seat really fast.

Rosanna Staffa: You have to come in and go, oh, my God, I’m in.

Steve Cuden: Are you a big researcher? Do you like to research things? Like, I’m sure you went to Milan before you started to write the book. Didn’t. No, no, you didn’t go.

Rosanna Staffa: That’s why I wrote it. I wanted to go back, but I did look at. I see, I did look at photos. I look at photos, I look at maps. I stay with them. Stay with them. Stay with photos a lot and let them speak to me. And I look at paintings. Yeah, that’s my kind. Emotionally, I have to reconnect.

Steve Cuden: Is that your form of research is to go look at photos and to absorb imagery and get back into your head with sight, sounds, smells, et cetera?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes, I would think so.

Steve Cuden: And what would you say is the most challenging part of that? Is it gathering the pictures so that you have what you need to really get yourself into that mind frame? Or is it the development of the story after that? What’s the biggest challenge for you?

Rosanna Staffa: I think the connection, the developing after that. Is this full picture interesting right now, or does it have a staying power, an energy that will disturb me, not only feed me, but disturb me and reassess things? That I was thinking you need the.

Steve Cuden: Characters to disturb you in some way. Is that what you’re saying?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes. I don’t want to ease into it. I want to be surprised.

Steve Cuden: You need the characters to not, be what you’re expecting when you start.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I mean, they develop, hopefully with the, harmony and they make sense, but I don’t want to weigh them down by over describing. And I, want to let them free, like in life, to be a little surprised.

Steve Cuden: Yeah, for sure. And the book does that.

Rosanna Staffa: Thank you.

Steve Cuden: You don’t know where you’re going? I didn’t know where it would end up for sure. So how long did it take you to write? The war ends at four.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I started and stopped, started and stopped. A few years.

Steve Cuden: A few years?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. And then at the end, zoom, I was centered on it.

Steve Cuden: Did you work from an outline or.

Rosanna Staffa: Did you just go, no outline. I knew what I wanted to do. The characters, and I made them move, towards each other. So that’s why it took so long. I should change, but never mind.

Steve Cuden: Well, I think you’re doing what many writers do, so I don’t know that you need to change at all. How do you figure out which characters to put in the story? Is it something that you think about for a long time and the characters come to you, or do you sit down and work at them?

Rosanna Staffa: I think it’s a middle of the road. Sometimes there is a character, and I’m interested, and I have a little moment with this character. It’s like having a coffee and then do I want to have lunch? I’m not sure this is a character that has the staying power for lunch.

Steve Cuden: That’s a wonderful way to put it.

Rosanna Staffa: Thank you. I didn’t know if I made any sense.

Steve Cuden: You made a great deal of sense. That was a very Good metaphor for what the process is like. Do you have a particular method for thinking through the structure of your story? Or again, are you just going, do you know what the structure is before you start?

Rosanna Staffa: It’s like building a trip, a journey. But sometimes you get not so strict. Sometimes you go, actually, I don’t want to stop here. Maybe I’ll go that way. But I want the reader to feel that this is a journey. But I have the map, the writer has the map. I don’t want the reader to feel disoriented.

Steve Cuden: Well, there was never a moment when I read it. There was never a moment where I didn’t feel like you knew what you were doing.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, thank you.

Steve Cuden: It felt like you were very much in control of the story. And so that notion of this is just meandering or something? No, it felt like you had worked it out, which is why I wondered whether you worked the structure out ahead of time or it just came to you as you went.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I start working on it after, I add the characters, I start having a sense of where they could go, what could happen. So a structure starts forming.

Steve Cuden: Can you tell as you’re going that the story is working? Can you feel that as you’re working through it?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah, and I can feel when it doesn’t. And then I go, Wait a minute. What happened here? it’s like playing music if it’s off or on.

Steve Cuden: So when it’s off, what do you do? Do you back away from it for a little while?

Rosanna Staffa: I ask questions. I back away for a second. I have a little fling with a short story.

Steve Cuden: Little fling with a short story. So you actually get away from it? You take a break?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: And that gives you what, a little artistic perspective?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. Then I go back, I’m a little more objective. I don’t have all this dust going, oh, my God, it’s fallen on me. I don’t know what to do. it gives a little clarity.

Steve Cuden: It gives it clarity. And for you, clarity, obviously you’ve brought it up a few times, is really important. I know there are writers that clarity is not so important, but for you, clarity is.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh, Yes, it is.

Steve Cuden: It’s very important to me. By the way, I don’t like books and movies that are unclear. I like clarity. I like structure and I like all those things.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. I feel when I read something or see a movie that doesn’t have clarity, I feel like being teased.

Steve Cuden: Teased?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah, someone teased me into this story or into this movie and then never mind. And you say, what do you mean, never mind?

Steve Cuden: I get very upset when there’s no resolution. We don’t know what the outcome is. I need that. So what are the things that a novelist like yourself must do in order to attract a publisher? What are the things that novice novelists don’t do that frequently? Keep them from finding a publisher? Do you know what those things are?

Rosanna Staffa: I look at my work with a certain objectivity once it’s finished, of course, and I read. I go to bookstores, I make comparisons. I look for an affinity in novels that, either in theme or in language in the way they express themselves. Actually, I found my publisher, my excellent indie publisher, regal house Publishing, because I read novels by writers and I looked, who published them? It was regal house. I said, well, how about I try them? And they did accept my. But I suggest this literary citizen. Read, have workshops, converse with other writers so that you get a sense of yourself and them. and then you find if they are different, it doesn’t matter if they write like thrillers. We are writing. We all want to write. We all want to communicate a story. Just be a literary citizen. Go to readings, talk to bookstores. It’s fabulous. They’ll tell you. You say, what could I read? They’ll give it to you.

Steve Cuden: Do you belong to writers groups where you read each other’s work?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I had, ah, finished this novel at the loft. We were in a, one year project, and I was working with other writers. And now we stay together. We meet every now and then online and exchange work if we want to, or just talk about what’s going on. But that’s very important, I believe, to find the community. And again, it doesn’t matter. They could be writing whatever writing is.

Steve Cuden: Writing is writing.

Rosanna Staffa: And don’t buy this thing of the lonely writer. You’re alone when you write, but then you have a community. Go for it.

Steve Cuden: And it’s very important that you go out and find that community, isn’t it?

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. I would recommend it to everybody.

Steve Cuden: I recommend it too.

Rosanna Staffa: It’s just so important to acknowledge that we’re in this world of writers.

Steve Cuden: Well, when people talk about the lonely writer, when you are writing, as you say, you’re in a room by yourself, you’re not in a room with a lot of people. So sometimes you can get a little bit lost for the world. So it’s Good to get out into the world.

Rosanna Staffa: Yes. Have workshops with people you respect.

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s for sure. I think the war at four would actually make an excellent movie. Is anything like that in the future?

Rosanna Staffa: I would love that to be in the future. It will be fantastic.

Steve Cuden: But there’s nothing in the works at the moment.

Rosanna Staffa: Not at the moment, no.

Steve Cuden: Maybe there will, because I think it would make a really Good movie. And guess what? I think that it’s the kind of story that would attract really Good actors and actresses, especially Renata, will attract a very, very fine actress.

Rosanna Staffa: Thank you. It’s wonderful.

Steve Cuden: So let’s talk about playwriting for a little bit, because this is another part of your entire being. So tell us about your plays. What is it about playwriting, aside from what you already told us earlier about the notion of dialogue? But the theater is more than just dialogue. It’s not a movie and it’s not a novel. What excites you about theater?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, I’ll, tell you what. That the audience is absolutely part of the experience. You think you’re just sitting there. You are not. I have seen my plays twice in a row. Sometimes completely different.

Steve Cuden: Oh, totally. Each audience is totally different.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. This line that made people laugh.

Steve Cuden: Nothing.

Rosanna Staffa: No. And that’s the magic. It’s so unique. Theater is made by everybody having this experience. And that’s why I hope it never die. It’s fantastic.

Steve Cuden: I don’t think it’s ever going to die. It’s been around for, what, 2700 years?

Rosanna Staffa: The Greeks.

Steve Cuden: The Greeks. And people have often said that it’s on its deathbed. It’s not going away. We need it. That’s why humans need it.

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. You know, I read that clapping originated to disperse the enchantment.

Steve Cuden: To disperse the enchantment. I’ve never heard that before. That’s fascinating. So what then? We talked about the differences between writing a novel and a short story. Aside from the fact that a novel has a lot of prose in it and description, what are the differences in coming up with a story for a play versus a story for a novel or a short story?

Rosanna Staffa: I don’t see much of a difference.

Steve Cuden: No difference?

Rosanna Staffa: No. I see characters. I see a drive. I see irrational moments. The only thing in theater, you go from outside in, and with books, you go from inside out.

Steve Cuden: Well, certainly one of the real differences, this is an undeniable difference. And that is that a novel, you can go inside of a character’s thoughts without those thoughts being expressed to anyone else. But on a play, a character must express their thoughts or show it to us in some physical form. Otherwise we don’t know what’s going on inside of a character’s head.

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. And in a book, you can take your time. You can open it and close it.

Steve Cuden: Yes, indeed.

Rosanna Staffa: In theater, you stay with the experience, and it’s contiguous.

Steve Cuden: It plays straight through. Like you say, you can’t really stop. Although we have this funny things in musical theater in particular, and a certain amount of Shakespeare and older plays called an intermission. And we do actually stop.

Rosanna Staffa: Yes, but not arbitrarily. You stop. Right? Like when you’re reading a novel, you can say, oh, no, I have to call my cousin.

Steve Cuden: You can stop. Go get a drink of water, say hello to friends and go back to it. Two days later and it’s still there. It doesn’t go anywhere.

Steve Cuden: Someone once said to me that books and plays and so on are the greatest form of time machine ever invented. And that you are listening or thinking about or hearing in your head the words of someone who may have lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. And so that’s like a time machine. You’re actually hearing their thoughts in your mind’s eye from a long time ago, but you’re hearing it today.

Rosanna Staffa: Oh my God. Yes.

Steve Cuden: It’s true, isn’t it?

Rosanna Staffa: It’s totally true.

Steve Cuden: so, all right, you’re a dialogue person. You’re very Good with dialogue. How do you make great dialogue?

Rosanna Staffa: It’s dynamic.

Steve Cuden: What does that mean?

Rosanna Staffa: Imagine nobody says something. Dialogue is not a communication. Like I say, what time is it? And you say, it’s 04:00. No. A dialogue is always a want and a desire under the lines. And it’s a little bit of a skirmish. The Good dialogue has a skirmish. Inside there is subtext. There is a little jewel going on. I say this and I say that it’s never, what time is it?

Steve Cuden: And we teach that, by the way, I’ve taught screenwriting for, more than a dozen years. And we teach that that dialogue is not the unnecessary things. It’s only what you have to express. So you’re not coming in and saying, hello, hi, how are you? Nobody cares. You have to cut to the heart of it.

Rosanna Staffa: Exactly. And if it’s magnificent, if someone asks you something and you don’t want to really respond, but you have to respond magnificent. I mean, it’s just all about the subtext.

Steve Cuden: Subtext. I’m glad you said that. It really is all about the subtext, isn’t it?

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely.

Steve Cuden: Is there something you do when you’re writing a play or even dialogue in a novel? Is there something you do to find that subtext?

Rosanna Staffa: It should be driven by the characters. If I am struggling with the dialogue, then I didn’t set it up right.

Steve Cuden: You’re saying that the dialogue should flow easily for you?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, it has to create what it does in theater. It has to move forward the situation. You can’t just have, people talking about how they feel, as marvelous as that is.

Steve Cuden: But it has to move the storytelling forward.

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. There has to be a little movement. Of course, in a novel it might not be as turning point, but there has to be movement.

Steve Cuden: Well, in a novel and in a movie or tv show, you can go to these many numerous locations. You can take someone in a novel anywhere, and you can do pretty much the same in a movie today. Go anywhere but in a play. Usually, though, you can express it so that you’re going pretty much anywhere. Usually most plays are in one set, two sets, three sets, tops. So you’re a little bit more confined and you’re a little bit more expansive with the conversation.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. That’s why you, have to create a situation that is compelling so that the conversation is not a conversation, but.

Steve Cuden: Is it’s, a little bit above normal, isn’t it?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes, there is attention.

Steve Cuden: Definitely got to be attention.

Rosanna Staffa: You walk in and ask, where is Uncle Luigi? Uncle Luigi better be hiding somewhere and not wanting to be.

Steve Cuden: Unless his last name is Godot.

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah. Then we are.

Steve Cuden: That’s a different business entirely. So you have clearly been with regal Publishing. Describe that process. A little bit of working with a publisher. You approached them. What did you send them? An outline of your novel. Did you send them the whole novel? What did you do?

Rosanna Staffa: I remember that they had particular timelines when they accepted submissions, and I did that. I think they require 30 pages in print, in print. So I went, and I remember going actually to office Max. I still have that memory in the snow. And the guy, asking me, what is this? I said, I wrote something. He said, well, isn’t that wonderful? And I went, I don’t know, but I remember it so vividly because it did, in a way, wish me well. And then I sent it out. And, then they said, yeah, sent us the full thing.

Steve Cuden: And then how long did it take them to read it?

Rosanna Staffa: I don’t think it was long. I remember that it wasn’t too long. And then we had a conversation, which I think is very intelligent, because you want to know who is this person you’re going to have a relationship with? Also, what connections in the business you have? I mean, do you have a group? Do you have a workshop? Do you have whatever the things that one asks, why did you choose us? I mean, it’s normal. You want to know each other.

Steve Cuden: Did they assign you to an editor?

Rosanna Staffa: Yeah, actually, the person who is in charge of Riga House was my editor.

Steve Cuden: Okay. And this is a woman?

Rosanna Staffa: Yes.

Steve Cuden: And did she give you notes that you went back and had to do revisions?

Rosanna Staffa: No, not really. It was mostly notes about we use an adjective here or we lose an adverb there, or, interesting things, but not anything. I mean, I sent a very done novel, if I may recommend this. Do not send stuff early. Don’t get all excited.

Steve Cuden: Don’t get all excited. Well, I think that that’s truly important advice. So I’ve been having the most marvelous conversation with Rosanna staffa. For the last, not quite an hour at this point, we’re going to wind the show down a little bit, and I’m wondering, in all of your experiences, can you share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or just plain funny?

Rosanna Staffa: All, of the above. At a certain point, I felt an affinity with a male character in my novel, and I brought him like me. I started being him. I had a lot of fun with that. And, reader or two said, God, it’s like I have met this character. I know this character. I will recognize him, and they’re staring at me in the face, and I go, great. You tell me. If you do, it will be magnificent. And they’re talking to the character, and.

Steve Cuden: You infused yourself into that character.

Rosanna Staffa: Absolutely. My jokes, my quirks. It was me, totally, absolutely.

Steve Cuden: But changed the gender to male.

Rosanna Staffa: I mean, he originally was a guy, and I couldn’t really relate to him. And I said, how about I make him me? And that was so fun and wonderful, and it became me.

Steve Cuden: So, last question for you today, Rosanna. you’ve already told us, some wonderful tips and advice throughout this whole show, and you also just told us this fantastic piece of advice about not submitting work too early. I’m wondering if you can expand on that a little bit as to what do you think happens if you submit work too early?

Rosanna Staffa: Well, if you submit it too early, first and foremost, it probably doesn’t have the chances that it could have if it was more mature. And it’s better to wait and get more feedback, get feedback, share with other writers. We all feel done, but also because we want to feel done. But make sure to let it sit and simmer for a second and then look at it again. Let it simmer. Do something else. Have a fling with a short story or whatever you do.

Steve Cuden: Write the poem, you’re back to having another fling with a short story. You have a lot of flings.

Rosanna Staffa: Only we read m the methods, and then, go back, go back with the fresher mind, more distant mind. I also recommend not to show it too soon to colleagues. because if it’s too raw, then you start over explaining.

Steve Cuden: So who do you show it to then, if not colleagues?

Rosanna Staffa: Not, I don’t mean while you are writing it. do it with a very chosen group of writers.

Steve Cuden: I see. And so when you show it to colleagues, it’s after it’s really well polished.

Rosanna Staffa: Well, usually I do, but I did work on it in a workshop, but we were all in the same boat. So it was another thing. But if you show it to someone who has already written, who not part of this process, then you start over explaining.

Steve Cuden: Well, you can’t sit there with the reader and explain things, so it has to all be there. Yeah, it’s the same thing with a movie. You can’t sit in theater with the audience and explain why that’s not there.

Rosanna Staffa: You turn around and, Wait a minute.

Steve Cuden: Yeah, they go, well, I don’t understand what happened to that character? Well, you can’t explain it in the theater. It’s either there or it isn’t.

Rosanna Staffa: It would be a great scene, though. Someone’s painting up and going. And let me tell you.

Steve Cuden: That would be a Good scene, a very Good scene.

Rosanna Staffa: The writer going, you don’t understand.

Steve Cuden: Rosanna Staffa, this has been an absolutely fantastic hour on StoryBeat, and I can’t thank you enough for your time, your energy, and especially your wisdom. And for those who are interested, please go out and find the war ends at four by Rosanna Staffa. thank you so much, Rosanna.

Rosanna Staffa: This was fantastic. I thank you.

Steve Cuden: and so we’ve come to the end of today’s storybeat. If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to? Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all, ah, major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartradio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable.

Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


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