Chuck Augello


Chuck Augello 
lives in New Jersey with his wife, cat, dog, and a gang of unnamed squirrels and birds that inhabit the back yard.  A graduate of the MFA Program at Queens University in Charlotte, he is the publisher of The Daily Vonnegut, a website exploring the life and art of Kurt Vonnegut, and is a contributing editor for the online journal Cease, Cows. His novels include The Revolving Heart  and A Better Heart, both published by Black Rose Writing. 

Follow him on Twitter at: @Chuck2315Books

The Interview

Tom Kulesa: Hi Chuck, thanks for spending this time with us this evening. I just want to start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer, give us a little sense of your background.

Chuck Augello: Sure. Well, I’ve lived in New Jersey my whole life. I know you’re focusing on New Jersey authors. I’ve been, if not actively writing, at least thinking about writing for as long as I can remember. The first thing I remember completing was something called the Scribble News, which I wrote in an imaginary language I created called Scribble, and I would write in Scribble about the activities of my stuffed toys. I sold a subscription to my mother.

Tom and Michael: Laughter.

Chuck: Since I was the only person who could read Scribble I would have to be the interpreter of it too. So, going back before I could even write I was thinking about it. As an adult, as a writer, I think I started to seriously write around the year 2000, mostly with a focus on short stories. I wrote a novel I never did anything with around 2003. My first novel, The Revolving Heart, was published in 2019. I probably started it back in 2010 when I was a student at the MFA program at Queens University, Charlotte. I kinda mark that as the beginning of taking myself seriously as a writer. I published some short stories before then, but by my own admission I was not as committed to it as I needed to be. 

The things that have excited me as a reader are what helped create me as a writer, going back to the first introductory figure, who would be Stephen King, who was a gigantic influence for me, as for so many others, even though I don’t really write horror. Then it switched over to John Irving. When I read The World According To Garp, I was a sophomore in high school, and I had a feeling that something had switched, that I had stepped up into a different league as a reader. That inspired me to write. 

I see my life as a reader and a writer being the same. If you’re not reading, you’re not going to write well. 

Michael: Yes.

Chuck: I could at some point probably stop writing, and I’d be ok. If I stopped reading I would not be ok. 

Tom: Yep.

Chuck: It’s just been an incredible part of my life. I’ve always been a day dreamer. I’m a quiet person by nature. I can entertain myself with stories in my head, and sometimes I put them on paper. And I hope that they entertain others too. 

Michael: You said that your book The Revolving Heart was published in 2019 and you started writing in 2010, correct?

Chuck: 2010, yes.

Michael: So that’s a nine-year process, it sounds like. Can you talk about that process? That’s a long time.

Chuck: That is a long time. I won’t say I was working on it continually for those nine years. I began it in 2010, when I started at the MFA Program at Queens because I was going to a workshop and I needed something. So, I wrote the first chapter. And a lot of that first chapter survived. Not much of what I wrote after that survived.

Tom: Laughter.

Chuck: I’d say those first ten pages held up pretty well. I worked on it for about a year and there were some things I couldn’t figure out, so I put it aside. There were so many different drafts and different approaches, first person narrative, third person, serious tone, comic tone. So many different tries at it. And then, I let it drop for about two years, and worked on something else. Then I came back and wrote 90% of what ended up being the published novel. There were some tweaks along the way, but I think I captured it as it needed to be. Then it was just a matter of getting it right. Once I had the structure and the ending down, I’d say from that point it probably took about a year of revision, and after that year of revision, what I call the clean-up. Going in and—making word changes, seeing the things you want to—I almost call it the nitpicking process, which is absolutely necessary. 

Michael: Sure. 

Chuck: Then, you reach a point when you’re going back and changing something you just changed and you say, wait a minute, this is where it needs to be. From there it was about a year and a half process to find a publisher. 

Michael: So daunting. It’s like you finish the book and then are like, ok, I haven’t even begun my journey.

Tom: I do write myself a bit, and I can completely relate to the way you approach a project from one perspective, one point of view, and then you change your mind and shift and change it to another. I admire your being persistent through all of that shapeshifting that the story took. 

And to shift to your other book, A Better Heart, which is really very good—there’s a lot in there about animal rights and familial relationships. So, I’m curious to know, are there themes in your work that you keep coming back to, and do those themes lead you through the different shape-shifts that your work might take? 
Chuck: Right, yes. The themes are not intentional but they come out anyway. If we’re trying to hide them, what’s important to us tends to leak through. For A Better Heart, I knew I wanted to write something about animal rights, which has been important to me throughout my life. I started that novel with a third person approach, worked on that for about six months, realized it wasn’t working, then, when I switched over to a first-person narrative, this character of the father emerged, this a failed Hollywood actor who is a larger than life personality who has essentially abandoned his son. He basically walked into the story carrying a Capuchin monkey. Once that happened, I finished the novel in nine months. 

Michael: Wow.

Tom: That doesn’t surprise me, because that character really leaps off the page. He’s just so much fun to read. So it’s not surprising that he came to you fully formed.

Chuck: Thank you.

Michael: I write too and I find the same thing, some stuff just pops out of your head. Isn’t that weird? What do you make of that?

Chuck: I’ve heard a lot of songwriters talk about waking up with the music playing in their head. And I think that’s part of it. There’s something in your brain, in your soul, for want of a better word, that is waiting to be picked. There’s probably a hundred ideas in your head in any one time, but there are some that say, pay attention to me. If you pay attention—at least I do—you make the leap. I don’t really outline, I don’t try to know too much about a story when I start. I like to have an idea of what the ending is going to be, but any time I’ve tried to outline it’s been a disaster. I get bored, it doesn’t work. I need to have the incident, let it happen—sometimes I have to go back and fix things, to make sure everything makes sense. But it’s very much about listening to the story in my head, and trying to capture it the best I can.

Tom: I want to ask, you mentioned some of your early influences as a reader. Do you have authors that influence the way you write? Also, what do you read? Do you read differently when you’re in a project versus when you’re reading for pleasure?

Chuck: Sometimes I’ll look for authors if I’m having a problem. I’ll maybe say, I’m working on a first person narrative, let me read some good solid first person narratives, and that will help. Tom Perrotta is an influence—I’d like to think my work has some resonance with his. 

Tom: I can definitely see that from having read A Better Heart

Chuck: Thank you. And, a lot of times ideas come from reading thing’s I’ve read. So, it’s like feeding the well by reading.

Tom: Absolutely. 
Michael: Is New Jersey an important part of your work? Does living here impact your work at all?

Chuck: I think it comes out in the characters more than anything. Marcy Dermansky, author The Red Car and Bad Marie, said that The Revolving Heart “captures the spirit of the Jersey Shore… it’s filled with wry observations and the unexpected smart and funny things people say.”  I’m not someone who writes about landscapes with any depth of description, but I think New Jersey shows up in the attitude of the characters. The way people in New Jersey tend to speak fast, are more blunt, more dramatic than other areas of the country. But this is the only place I’ve ever lived, so I’d have to go off to Kansas for a while to really compare. And I think the state gets a bad rap. I’m always surprised there aren’t more novels based in New Jersey.

Michael: What are the great New Jersey novels that come to your mind?

Chuck: Tom Perrotta has a book called Bad Haircut, a novel in linked stories. He does pretty good in that. There’s another writer Frederick Reiken, whose novel The Lost Legends of New Jersey I thought captured the state pretty well. 

Michael: Oh, I’ve got one. David Goodis the crime novelist wrote a book Shoot The Piano Player, an old one—the second half of the book takes place in the Pine Barrens, and the isolation is very much a part of the book.

Chuck: I think Truffaut made a film out of that. 

Michael: Yes, it’s wonderful.

Chuck: I didn’t realize that was set in New Jersey. 

Michael: David Goodis is cool, he was a socialist Philly weirdo.

Chuck: I’ve heard good things about him. 

Michael: And I’ll have to check Bad Haircut.

Chuck: You’ll love it.

Tom: Yes, it’s a lot of fun.

Michael: I have one last thing I want to say. Chuck, I first met you when you came to the store for an event and you ended up very naturally slipping into hand-selling books to people. It became clear to me then that you have a deep knowledge of literature, and an ability to convey what is important about books to people. Because people were taking your recommendations. And I think that same quality comes through talking to you now. 

Chuck: Thank you. I wish I lived closer to the store, I’d come in and help out more. 

Michael: We’ll get you in here again one of these days. 

Tom: Chuck, where can people find out more about you?

Chuck: I run a website called The Daily Vonnegut, which explores the life and art of Kurt Vonnegut, and has some really good interviews. And there is also a link where you can learn a bit about me. 

Michael: And, people can get your book A Better Heart here at the Asbury Book Co-op. They can order online or get it in the store. 

Tom: Thank you for joining us. 

Chuck: Thank you for having me. 
The Revolving Heart By Chuck Augello Cover Image
ISBN: 9781684334773
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Black Rose Writing - April 16th, 2020

A Better Heart By Chuck Augello Cover Image
ISBN: 9781684338269
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Black Rose Writing - November 24th, 2021