It has often been said that writing is a calling. When one finds the time to actually answer that call is an entirely different matter. But after 12 years of working in the record business, burnt out on a career path divergent from his dream of being an author, Andrew Cotto decided to make time.
So he quit his job and moved his family to Italy for a year.
And so it was that after more than a decade of half starts and stops, Cotto said he was able to throw himself fully into writing while living in Bagno a Ripoli, just a few miles outside of Florence.
“It was there that I really found my voice as a writer,” he told Patch over coffee at a local café one Friday afternoon.
Though the family eventually returned to the United States, settling in Carroll Gardens, just around the corner from , the overseas adventure produced Cotto’s first novel, The Domino Effect, which he immediately began shopping around to different literary agents.
At first it was slow going. But when he met Jennifer Carlson, of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency, he found a champion who he could “trust as an editor as much as an agent.”
Together, they fine-tuned The Domino Effect and ultimately sold it to Brownstone Editions.
“It’s sort of a contemporary version of Catcher in the Rye, set in early 1990s,” said Cotto. “It’s not really a YA book filled with werewolves and vampires or anything that teens like to read. But the protagonist is a teen. The closest resemblance might be Stand by Me.”
In the meantime, for the past six years Andrew has taught composition courses and creative writing workshops at St. Francis College, ASA College and at the Teachers and Writers Collaborative.
He’s also contributed dozens of articles to national publications, including The New York Times, Men's Journal, Salon.com, Teachers & Writers Magazine, and the Good Men Project.
Not to mention, he’s a family man. I ask if it’s difficult to find time to write books in between so many other responsibilities.
“It's hard,” Cotto acknowledged. “The last couple of years have really been more about journalism, short-form work, than novels.”
But somewhere in between articles, coursework and family events, he was able to finish his recently released second novel.
Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery is a noir thriller that takes place before the borough had undergone recent gentrification. The narrative is set in a fictionalized version of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in the early 1990s, and follows a drifter who must come to terms with some inner demons as he helps a mysterious young woman.
“It’s a mystery,” he described. “There are thematic threads between Outerborough Blues and The Domino Effect, such as class, race, father-son issues, and the prevailing theme is identity.
“I think the search for determining who you are is really the hallmark of the best literature,” he went on. “And that’s something that I definitely am interested in and find myself writing about often—these characters coming to terms with who they are.”
The book, which is available at Court Street’s , has so far received very positive reviews, with Publisher’s Weekly praising, “Cotto, shows a strong sense for character and place in a novel that reads like Raymond Chandler taking dictation from Walt Whitman.”
But perhaps the best compliments Cotto receives come from those who have watched him put in so many hours behind the keyboard.
“Maybe the hardest part of being married to a writer is watching the challenges he faces in getting his work out there,” said Cotto’s wife Pamela. “There is so much time required to promote and network, and I know that he'd love to spend more time on the actual writing.
“That being said,” she continued, “he manages to find a huge chunk of time for our family, too. We're lucky.”
And when it comes to grassroots PR efforts, Pamela Cotto is definitely campaigning Hollywood on behalf of her husband—if only for the new member to their family that success could bring.
“From the first time I read Outerborough Blues, I truly loved it,” she told Patch in an e-mail. “I saw the characters vividly and raced through each chapter. I can see it on the big screen. In fact, we are all actually hoping for a movie deal, as for some reason we promised the kids a dog should that happen.”
Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery is in stores now. It is published by Ig Publishing in Brooklyn.