Michael DiLeo has a lot in common with Craig and Elisa. Like Elisa, he's a native Long Islander and a Yankees fan. Like Craig and Elisa both, he's a Beatles fan. He's also the author of two books. His novella, Images of Broken Light, opens a window into the lives of three New Yorkers in the days leading up to John Lennon's murder. It was a pleasure to work with Mike on this project. Here's what he had to say about the story, his writing process, and what it was like to live through that time.
Q: What inspired you to write this novella?
Michael: I’ve dabbled in screenwriting in the past (I wrote two screenplays in my 20s—unproduced of course!) and was reading an article on screenwriting a few years back. The author of the article suggested a screenwriting exercise: to come up with four, one-sentence movie ideas—the kind of one-sentence pitch that writers make to Hollywood studio execs. The lesson was that you don’t have a good movie idea if you can’t describe the story in one sentence. That is what Hollywood execs look for. Think of the one-sentence movie descriptions you see in TV Guide. The writer suggested coming up with four ideas and then picking one to actually write as a screenplay. So I came up with four ideas. The first three were high-concept, popcorn movies. An action movie, a science fiction movie, and a comedy. I thought they were all pretty decent ideas, but they weren’t necessarily original.
The fourth idea came out of the blue. My one-sentence idea was: “Three New York Beatles fans struggle with the dawn of a new decade in the days leading up to John Lennon’s assassination.”
So I looked at my four ideas and tried to decide which one to write. And every time I thought about it, my heart kept coming back to the John Lennon idea. It was the least commercial of the four ideas, but after ruminating for a while, I decided that the first three ideas were nice, but the Lennon idea was the one I had to write.
As a New Yorker who was thirteen when Lennon was killed, that whole period in New York after he died was so seared into my memory that it felt to me like it happened yesterday. And it always seemed to me that New Yorkers were affected by his death more than people anywhere else. The fact that John Lennon could have lived anywhere—but he chose to live in New York and had become a part of the fabric of his neighborhood in Manhattan. I don’t think to this day that New Yorkers who loved Lennon have ever gotten over it. That is what I wanted to write about. So I wrote the screenplay and then used that as the basis for the novella.
Q: Have you ever seen any of the surviving Beatles in concert?
Michael: I saw Paul in 1994 at Giants Stadium and then again a few years ago at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Q: Has John Lennon’s murder had a lasting impact on you? If so, in what way?
Michael: Yes, definitely. For one, it still makes me angry when I think about what happened to him. Yes there is sadness of course, but also anger in the way that he died. I’ve spoken to other Beatles fans who have said the same thing. Had John Lennon died of a heart attack, or had been hit by bus, the whole thing would have a different feel. That he was gunned down by a crazed fan who traveled halfway around the globe with the express purpose of killing him—that is where the anger comes from and what has always made the tragedy so much more painful. His death is also the thing that ironically made me a Beatles fan. I was a 13-year-old who was vaguely aware of who the Beatles were and I knew that the guy in Wings was a Beatle. What I didn’t know was that my Frank Sinatra-loving mother was a secret Beatles fan. And when I watched her almost faint when she heard the news of her death, it was a shock. That and the wall-to-wall news coverage in New York of Lennon’s murder turned me on to the Beatles. I used this scenario for one of the characters in the book.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Which aspects do you enjoy and which do you struggle with?
Michael: I wish I had a more set writing process than I do. I work long hours at my “real” job to go along with a long daily commute, so my biggest obstacle to writing is just finding the time to do it. And when I do, it is never at any kind of set time and place. It is really whenever I can squeeze in some time. Definitely not ideal! That being the case, I lean on my screenwriting training. When you write a screenplay you have to map out the entire script almost scene-by-scene before you write one word. And you very much need to know the ending of your story. So I’ve taken that into my fiction writing. I know a lot of writers who start a novel have a general idea of where the story is going and then they let the story lead them where it goes. With the limited time that I have to write, I really need to map out the whole story ahead of time. This way I can write the story in short bursts because I already know exactly where the story is going and how it ends.
When I sat down to write Images of Broken Light I actually wrote the last sentence of the book first. Then I went back to the beginning and started the book, always keeping that last sentence in mind, with everything I wrote building to that moment at the end. I recently read an article by Stephen King where he said he likes to have a general idea of where his story is going and then he lets the story take him along the rest of the way. But in the same article he said he knows a famous writer who always writes the last sentence of his books first! And I thought, wow, I’m not the only one!
Q: Aside from being a Beatles fan and a New York Yankees fan, you’re also quite the James Bond enthusiast. Tell us about your book The Spy Who Thrilled Us.
Michael: Yes, I am a James Bond geek and have been since I was about five years old. My brother and I are movie buffs. He has now written seven books on classic movies. When his first book came out and I went to his book party, everyone at the party kept asking me, “When are you going to write your book on James Bond?” And I thought to myself, why not? If anyone was going to write a book about the James Bond films, it should be someone like me. So I decided to write a “best of” book on the films that allowed me to sort of geek out and give my opinions on every aspect of those films. It was a fun book to write.
Q: What’s next for you as a writer?
Michael: I’m not sure yet. I have two ideas that I am toying with. One is an idea loosely based on my college days. I’ve made a lot of notes on it and I think there is a book in there. But it is a very personal story and I don’t know if I’m ready to write it yet. I’m also not sure if I should write it as fiction or non-fiction. The other one is an idea for a horror story that just came into my head recently. My wife is wondering why I can’t find a genre I like and just stick to it. Beatles? James Bond? Now horror? I don’t know, I guess I’m all over the place!
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