Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Conversation with Suspense Novelist Philip Cioffari

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Philip Cioffari

We are delighted to welcome author Philip Cioffari to Omnimystery News today.

Philip's new novel of suspense is The Bronx Kill (Livingston Press; March 2017 hardcover and trade paperback formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk more about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead character of The Bronx Kill. What is it about him that appeals to you as the author?

Philip Cioffari
Photo provided courtesy of
Philip Cioffari

Philip Cioffari: The lead character in my novel is Danny Baker, a 24-year-old man who returns to his hometown, the Bronx, after a self-imposed exile of five years. The event that drove him away was an attempt by Danny and four of his friends to swim the East River. One of his friends drowns and another one’s body is never found. Those who survived agree never to speak about the incident again.

What appeals to me about Danny is that, five years later, he is still struggling to find himself; he is trying to understand the degree to which he is responsible for what went wrong that night. I appreciate his determination to find the truth in what happened that night, no matter how much that truth will hurt him and his friends. I appreciate the journey Danny takes, as all of us must, to find out who we really are, to take responsibility for our actions and the consequences of those actions. And lastly I admire the way he stands up to the NYPD detective who is now accusing him and his friends of murder in the drowning death of the detective’s younger brother.

OMN: Why did you choose to write this book as a stand-alone?

PC: I prefer the challenge of creating an entirely new world with new people each time I begin a book. I don’t like to feel I’m repeating myself in any way, although of course there is usually some overlapping of themes or motifs. When I create a character I like to feel I’ve done that character justice in the book that he or she appears. I like to think I’ve captured the essence of that character. Hence in fiction, as in real life, I’m ready to move on to meet new people and the challenge of capturing their essence on the page.

OMN: How would you categorize your books?

PC: My books have a strong element of suspense. That is very important to me, to create and sustain an enduring tension throughout the book. The Bronx Kill, I think, has that tension from the opening page. There is also a mystery at the center of it, and there is plenty of thriller-like action. So I might say The Bronx Kill is a suspenseful mystery thriller.

OMN: Summarize The Bronx Kill in a tweet.

PC: An obsessed detective seeks revenge upon three men for his brother’s drowning death.

OMN: When starting a new novel, which comes first: the storyline or the cast of characters?

PC: In this particular book, the characters came to me first. I saw these three men: one, bold and aggressive, an alpha male; one timid and shy; and one in between those extremes. I saw them as representatives of a male dynamic — how men relate to one another, and what draws certain men together as friends. What are the psychological underpinnings of those friendships? That was what I wanted to explore. I tried out several different story lines before I found the love triangle and the drowning incident which become the center that brings all the characters in conflict with one another.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

PC: I don’t work from an outline. I may begin with a few notes. As the novel develops, I keep making more notes as the story and the characters become clearer to me. Essentially, I begin with an impulse. Something is driving me to start this particular story. As I write, I discover the full story, the fuller dimensions of it. I don’t want to sound too metaphysical about it, but it’s as if the story was already somewhere inside me, waiting for me to dig it out.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

PC: Even though the incidents in the book are fictional, my aim as a writer is to make what happens sound real, as if it did in fact happen. So to that end I draw heavily on what I’ve seen and heard, the people I’ve met. As in a dream, my characters are composites of people I’ve known. And, of course, the setting is something I’ve experienced firsthand. The setting is real.

OMN: How important is the setting to the story?

PC: Setting, and its attendant mood and atmosphere, are extremely important to my work. I think place anchors a story, helps elucidate character, becomes — as many have said before me — a character in its own right. I try to depict it accurately. I write only about places I’ve been to, experienced firsthand. I grew up in the Bronx, so I knew the setting for this novel intimately. I may move the setting around a bit, bring elements of it closer or farther away to suit the story, but the essentials of place are as literal as I can make them. An important rule for me, though, is that capturing the feel of the place is as important as the literal physical details.

OMN: How did you come up with the title for the book?

PC: On the most literal level the title comes from a channel of water that runs between the Harlem River and the East River, what the Dutch named the Bronx kill. Of course, as soon as I came across that name, I knew it would become the title of a book of mine someday. It serves several levels of meaning in the book. Most obviously the drowning death, and whether or not it was a killing in the legal sense as the obsessed detective is trying to prove. The other levels I’ll leave for the reader to discover.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

PC: As a child I read a lot of mysteries, including the Hardy Boys, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and I read a lot of westerns. I liked adventure and excitement and the puzzle of the unknown — all qualities that I try to embrace in my own writing.

OMN: What's next for you?

PC: Not sure what’s next for me. But that’s what so exciting about the writing life. Waiting for, looking for, that next impulse which will lead to who knows what or where.

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Philip Cioffari is the author of five books of fiction. His short stories have appeared widely in both commercial and literary magazines, including Playboy, North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Southern Humanities Review, etc. He is the writer/director of the Independent feature film, Love in the Age of DIon.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at

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The Bronx Kill by Philip Cioffari

The Bronx Kill by Philip Cioffari

A Novel of Suspense

Publisher: Livingston Press Print/Kindle Format(s)

On a hot August night, five teenage friends challenge each other to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens. In the attempt, one boy drowns and the body of the only girl among them is never found. The three survivors take a vow never again to speak about the incident.

When they reunite five years later, they find themselves at the mercy of the drowned boy's brother, an NYPD detective, who holds them responsible for his brother's death and vows to bring them to justice by any means possible. Now, Danny, one of the three survivors, must fight not only to preserve his childhood friendships but to save himself and his friends from the detective's brand of vigilante justice.

The Bronx Kill by Philip Cioffari


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