John Caligiuri

John Caligiuri joined our Greece writers’ group years ago when he was writing his alternate history novel Red Fist of Rome (recently republished under the Insomnia label and available at the library, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.) Since then, John has written another alternate history novel with the intriguing title Last Roman’s Prayer. 

John is a terrific writer and the most prolific among us. Aside from his novels, he has published several short stories and won 1st place in Lilac City Rochester Writers Group’s short story contest with “Waiting for the end of Time.” (With John’s gracious permission, a copy of the story is available upon request in the comment section below.)

For the last few years, John has immersed himself in his four- book, Science-Fiction Cocytus series, where we follow Dante Carloman as he becomes king of a band of humans, and other creatures, on another planet. Meanwhile, ancient enemies of humans renew their determination to destroy the earth.

Here is John’s description of the second book in his series, Cocytus: Sanctuary in Hell, which is coming out tomorrow, September 30.

Latest book in Cocytus series: Sanctuary in Hell

Dante Carloman is the king of the humans, not a job he wanted. That title earned him leadership of a small colony clinging to life on a bleak world named Cocytus, and a death sentence by the dominant species in the galaxy, the Ipis.

On this desolate planet, Dante uncovers unnerving clues linking humans to the Ipis dating back to Earth’s early civilizations.

Captured and sent to a world designed for the slow tortured death of the Ipis’ enemies, Dante discovers astounding truths about mankind’s role in the galaxy. With only his wits as a weapon, he must overcome an enemy who has not known defeat for a millennium. Failure would not only doom everyone he loves but guarantee humanity’s annihilation.

A bizarre melding of the needs and expectations of a polyglot group of misfits results in a gripping adventure laced with humor. It is a fast-paced novel that redefines what we think of as life as Dante attempts to create a sanctuary in hell.

About the Sci- Fi Genre

I have learned much about writing science fiction since our writers group has been critiquing his Cocytus series. First, the Sci-Fi author must create a realistic universe that is consistent within itself. Creating this new world is a tall order — there is the environment, atmosphere, creatures, gravity or lack of it, light/darkness, rulers, and means of communication. You get the picture. Furthermore, one cannot deviate from the established milieu, or it will bounce readers out of the fictional bubble that immerses them in the story. John deals with tons of detail as he writes.

I believe his first career in engineering at Kodak prepared him to create this believable alternate universe. He faced a decision when his position disappeared. Do I get another job and possibly relocate, or start a second career and write? I think his readers are glad he chose writing.

John’s Writing Practices

  • How many hours a day do you write?” He said he does no more than three hours at a time writing “raw” (drafting). More time than that, he starts to rush or cut scenes short. He will walk away and return later to his draft. He usually gets only about four hours each day to write because real life has a way of intruding.

John begins his writing sessions with editing and then “jumps into raw.” “I’ll spend more time editing. I’ll rewrite the same scene a few times until I get it the way I want. I jog in the morning, and when I’m jogging, this is what I’m thinking about. I’ll rework the scene… Characters talk to me and tell me what they want the scene to look like. Sometimes they’re very insistent.”

  • If your characters are so insistent, do you write from the seat of your pants, rather than one who outlines everything first? Definitely not a “pantser,” John says. He lays out his universe in diagrams, pictures, and describes it in unwavering detail. At this strategic level, John plots carefully.

But then those pesky characters come alive (as they do in all good yarns) and at a tactical level insist on driving the story. Some characters serve minor functions and are “throwaway straw-men for a couple of scenes.” But in two cases, they became major characters. Mara, a robot, was such a character and she became the narrator for all his stories.

  • Every unpublished writer wonders how authors get their break and find that publishing house willing to take on a new author. How did you find Insomnia Publishing? “It’s all networking. One lady I worked with at Kodak knew someone who was a writer about my level who knew these folks that were doing editing.” John hired them to edit his book. They told him they were establishing a new publishing company and asked if he would like to be one of their authors. John said until then he could paper a wall with all the rejection slips he received.

“It was pure coincidence, the right time, the right place. You have to submit this stuff because you never know what will catch someone’s fancy.”

Although many excellent writers self-publish, so do not-so-excellent writers. Self-publishing is a big change in the industry. “Literally anyone can publish. There’s probably some real gold out there, but a reader can’t tell looking at a title or synopsis. Not all writers are budding Shakespeares,” John said.

Life as a Published Author

While he describes being published as “a hoot,” marketing is often left to the author and the publishing house that assists with this aspect is a writer’s dream. Writers must find ways to reach the public. John is on Goodreads (website for avid readers), and occasionally writes a blog or book review for the site. He enjoys “just talking to people who enjoy reading the type of fiction I write” at his book signings. He enjoys the prospect of speaking to writers or reading groups.

Marketing challenges aside, John intends to continue writing no matter what. The question “what if?” intrigues him and keeps him going

His interest in Roman history and his “what if” approach to it, resulted in Red Fist of Rome. A Roman general defeated all comers. The Emperor became so jealous he had the general assassinated. Without that general, two years later, Vandals sailed from North Africa and sacked Rome, because the Emperor had killed the only general the Vandals feared. John asked, “what if the general had survived the assassination?” and so his first book was born.

“History is not boring. It’s real people making watershed decisions that create history.”

What’s Next

What if…Rome meets Cocytus? Stay tuned.