Interviewed by Rachel Wild
Read Jayson Carcione’s fiction piece, I Love You, Mrs. Tresca
Rachel: What gave you the inspiration for this story of a young man and his love for his landlady?
Jayson: I live in Ireland now but New York, where I grew up, often appears in my fiction in some form or another. Last year, I kept thinking about the floods that swept through my old borough of Queens in 2021 and killed nearly a dozen people in their basement apartments. I couldn’t stop thinking of those people, many of them immigrants searching for a better life and living in squalid, sunless death traps. I wanted to tell their stories, but at the same time I was trying to write a story about a lonely Italian-American man in New York who falls in love with Death when she walks into his deli. The story was going nowhere until I put that lonely man in one of those mouldy basement apartments, pining for his mysterious landlady instead of madam Death.
I really like the juxtaposition of the glowing words the narrator has for Mrs Tresca, describing her beauty, and the damp and ugly environment he lives in. How important is the setting to you when you write a piece of fiction.
Setting is everything to me. I often imagine a setting first and put a character into that setting. Then I try to see what story forms around that. I love stories with a sense of place, with a setting that is almost a character itself. If you read Dickens, you walk through the dim, gas-lit streets of 19th century London. If you read Joyce, Dublin gets under your skin. I wanted the narrator to be shaped by his environment, perhaps be a victim of it. But I also wanted love to bloom in his lonely, dank apartment. His love is obviously misguided and somewhat creepy but I wanted him to have some beauty in the ruin of his surroundings, the ruin of his life.
The murky world of landlord crooks and union mafiosos lurks within this piece, but the narrator is a cheerleader of these practices, and the tone is a kind of 19th century gothic. Can you tell us a bit this?
I suppose I wanted an undercurrent of dread and menace in the story, something lurking in the shadows. Something unsaid and unseen. There is a flash of violence when the narrator shakes down the artist but it doesn’t explode into something worse. I also wanted Mrs. Tresca to be a shadowy figure—we never see her except in a flashback when she shares a drink with the narrator—looming over the story and pulling the strings (and heartstrings) of the narrator.
I wanted something illicit, something unsavoury and criminal in the story to add to sense of unease and despair I was trying to convey. I’ve always been interested in stories about old New York, the shady stories of the streets and tenements and I wanted to bring this into a modern setting. I wanted to tell a story about parallel lives, lives in the margins that most of us don’t know about—or don’t want to know about.
What are you working on now, and how is it going?
I know no writer likes to jinx him or herself, but I’ve had a productive year with about eight stories finding homes in various journals. I’m working on a new story right now which I hope will round out a collection. I’m also working on the second draft of a novel about Italian immigrant anarchists in 1920s New York.