New Novel Aims At Rockaway, Broad Channel
It’s the story of Riley Wilson, only child of devout Irish Catholic parents in 1970s Broad Channel. Riley is bound for a college education in advertising, but gets approached by a modeling agent and offered lucrative work. His subsequent rise to fame is soon curtailed as he finds himself hooked on drugs and alcohol. His college dreams now vanished, he loses his modeling job and begins a career in gay pornography.
Pizzo warns the novel may not be for everyone. “Broad Channel, to me, is a really conservative area, and most of the people who live there have been there their whole lives – they know nothing more than Broad Channel.” However, he says that the Broad Channel community is part of his intended audience (“I wanted to get people’s feelings out there, get them beyond their comfort zones”) and that Broad Channel served as inspiration for the novel. “As a child in East New York, we would go to Rockaway Playland, and my father would take the Broad Channel bridge. So we would always pass through Broad Channel, and that always felt like a vacation,” he explains. “Being an island, they have their own way of doing things. They’re more community oriented because they’re a small town, and it’s not something you usually see in New York City.”
Despite its racy content, Riley’s story is one to which many will relate. As a well-meaning youth who loses his way and finds redemption, he eventually enters rehab and becomes a born-again Christian. It’s a universal theme – and one particularly relevant to 1970s New York City. “Being young in the 1970s, New York City was both the best and worst place to live; the best in that it was the most happening place to live, while the clubs were rampant, the discos… The whole movement back in the ’70s was an exciting time for a young person,” Pizzo explains. “But it was also a time when you’re coming out at 21 years old, and you’re naïve, you can get involved in all the things that Riley got involved in.” The author admits the book is largely autobiographical. “In many ways, Riley is me,” he says. “The things that happened to Riley, most of them happened to me. And all the characters in the book are people I’ve known, people I’ve worked with.” Pizzo believes the ensuing sequence of events is still very much relevant today. “This book is about being careful what you wish for. It’s about redemption. Riley is really an example of what young people are. Especially in today’s day and age, you see people at 20, 21 years old … They’re naïve, they think nothing is going to happen to them – that if you’re having sex with a lot of people, you’re never going to get AIDS,” he says. “It’s great to have a successful life, but there’s also a responsibility for what you’re doing.”
Pizzo has been a Queens resident since his family moved to South Ozone Park when he was six years old. “Riley” is his fourth publication, self-published through Wasteland Press. His other books include a collection of poems published in 2003 entitled “Freedom Writer,” and in the same year a reflective memoir, “A Poet Among Us.” In 2005 he published his first novel, “Beyond the Rainbow.” While writing the novel his father passed away, which Pizzo says is reflected in the writing. The author decided to take a different approach with his latest novel.
My last book, “Beyond the Rainbow,” was really, really criticized for how conservative and boring it was. So I said, with my next novel, I’m just going to try to go out of the box, and try to be different to get people’s attention,” he says.
Pizzo is a member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA), and praises the group for encouraging his creative process. “There are so many talented artists in the Rockaway Artists Alliance,” says Pizzo. “Most of them aren’t very famous, or they may be known within their little circle. But when I see their work, I kind of wonder why they didn’t make a profession out of their art,” he says. “It’s a group of people of all ages, and it’s great to see people in their 70s get out there and do what they love. That, to me, is inspiring.”
“Riley” is available through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble online, and through the publisher, Wasteland Books.