Thursday, November 10, 2022

Roger A. Canaff

Roger A. Canaff is a former special victims prosecutor and author of crime thrillers including Bleed Through, second in the ADA Alex Greco series and the 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin silver award winner for Mystery and Thriller.

Canaff's newest novel is City Dark.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think City Dark takes the reader well into the story, or at least the literary backdrop, which is the 1977 blackout that struck New York City in July of 1977. The title itself comes from a series of communiques between leadership at ConEd (Consolidated Edison, the power company that serves NYC). The communiques described various markers as the crisis unfolded due to the strong storms in the area (individual power plants down, overload notifications, etc.). The last communique, at 9:37 p.m., was by some accounts “Consolidated Edison Power Down.” From that, I added a final, if obvious endnote: “City Dark.”

What's in a name?

Most of the names of the characters were chosen because they struck me as appropriate at the time of creation. But there is one exception: One of the principal antagonists in the story is a notorious physician, pedophile and genius. His name is Aaron Hathorne. Hathorne has completed a prison sentence for serial child sexual abuse and is now facing further confinement as a mentally ill sexual predator under New York’s “civil management” law. Joe DeSantos, the protagonist, is the Assistant Attorney General responsible for the case against Hathorne.

Aaron Hathorne was born into a wealthy family with the last name “Hawthorne.” But the character changes his name to “Hathorne” in a gesture designed to emulate the opposite of one made by the New England author Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, 1850). Hawthorne the author added a “w” to his name to distance himself from his ancestors, in particular the infamous Judge John Hathorne who in part presided over the Salem Witch Trials. The evil character Aaron Hathorne purposely does the opposite and drops the “w” so to present as more sinister and provocative.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings harder to write, simply because it’s about tying together all the threads of the story theretofore. For detail-oriented readers in particular, all the clues left must play a part in the end reveal; all non-essential description or story material should be eliminated or made relevant; everything should be consistent and aim toward the conclusion. I can begin a complex story very easily, understanding that I will likely write material that won’t make the final cut. I usually start with threads, weaving them closer and closer together until I’m satisfied with the tightness and texture of the plot.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Without a doubt, I see myself in most of my characters. The adage “write what you know” is useful, especially when the author is younger and less experienced in life. My first book was a coming-of-age story written in first person and very autobiographical despite the fictional story. This made perfect sense as I started the book as an adolescent and polished it years later. Then as a career special victims prosecutor, my work informed my writing. Utilizing more of my professional experience, coupled with maturing and thus having more personal life experience, I was able to separate myself more and more from the characters I create. There are still aspects of myself and my personality in them—Joe DeSantos in City Dark is exactly my age, for instance, and a Staten Island native. But beyond that he is a very different person. It’s a challenge to draw a character significantly unlike oneself, and I enjoy it.
Visit Roger A. Canaff's website.

My Book, The Movie: City Dark.

The Page 69 Test: City Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue