Although we were well into March, the winds of winter gave a cold bitch slap to the windows at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. It was here, over one of Sherman’s famed oatmeal scones that I met Somerville novelist Ilan Mochari. We sat down to talk about his writing life and his new novel: Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press).
Mochari is originally from Long Island, NY–the town of Great Neck to be exact. He is a big man, in his late 30’s, and an engaging conversationalist.
Mochari moved to Somerville in 2004, and lives on the Somerville side of Cambridge City Hospital. I asked him if he liked living in the Paris of New England. He reflected: ” It’s fantastic. There are so many writers in the community. I am sure sure when I walk down the street after our interview I will run into an artist or writer I know.” He lists poet Tanya Larkin, and writer Ralph Pennell, as a couple of his favorite Somerville scribes.
Mochari also confided that he is a denizen of many of the coffee shops our burg has to offer including: Sherman, the Diesel in Davis Square, True Grounds in Ball Square, and Bloc 11 in Union Square.
This Somerville writer worked as the first managing editor of the Somerville Scout a monthly magazine that focuses on the ‘Ville. He worked at this gig from 2009 to 2011. Mochari said of his experience: ” It was a wonderful excuse to call people up–to get to the heart of the matter. It was also a great way for me to learn about the city and its residents, not to mention having my work out there, even though I was writing in a different genre.” Mochari now has a full time gig with Build- a business media outlet based in New York City.
Not surprisingly, like many writers I interviewed, he worked as a waiter for many years. It paid the bills, and it gave him the flexibility to write in his off hours. He also met many fellow artists, and made connections, through his job. And in spite of making a living as a writer now, he is glad that he has a job that he can fallback on.
Mochari’s novel Zinsky the Obscure concerns a 30 yer old man, Ariel Zinsky who is recovering from an abusive childhood, and has set out to write an autobiography as a form of therapy or healing. He recasts himself into a Holden Caulfield-like character in this coming of age story.
I asked the author how his story differs from so many stories of this genre. He replied: ” I tried to write a story that tells how this character moves forward after the trauma in his life. The novel is essentially about Zinsky overcoming the world’s indifference to his trauma.”
Of course much of fiction is loosely based on the author’s real life experience. I wondered how Mocahri’s family took to this novel that might have touched on some painful familial history. Mochari smiled thoughtfully: ” I have been writing for a long time now. My family understand the dynamics. My dad has long been out of the picture and is basically illiterate–so there is no issue there. My mom was a high school English teacher–she understands the art of fiction.”
According to Mochari he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in the tony suburban town of Great Neck, N.Y. His family rented and did not own, and the budding writer didn’t have the name brand clothes, etc.. that the other kids had. Mochari doesn’t think he could live the suburban life again. He feels he is a creature of the asphalt–he is a walker in the city, so to speak.
At Yale University where he got his degree in English; he studied with noted critic and scholar Harold Bloom. He loved studying with Bloom. Bloom, according to Mochari taught Shakespeare using contemporary language, not the rarefied academic-speak he was afraid he would be subject to. To this day Bloom plays an influence in his writing.
After our talk Mochari gravitated to the next table. It seemed another writer friend of his just sat down, and he decided to chat. Form my perch he seemed to be off at the races again, with both writers speaking in a rapid fire cadence about their work. And that’s the way it is in our artistic mecca in Union Square, in Somerville, on any given day… Mochari will be reading from his work in the near future; a listing is below…
May 5: Muse & The Marketplace Conference, Boston
May 30: Porter Square Books, Cambridge
June 5: Harvard Book Store, Cambridge
June 13: The Book Shop, Somerville