Talking to Novelist Andrew Cotto About His Brooklyn Gentrification Noir

08/16/2012 9:00 AM |

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Andrew Cotto is the author of the fast-paced noir novel Outerborough Blues. In it, he tells the story of the drifter Caesar Stiles, who makes his way through the seedier side of Brooklyn in the 90s, searching for a beautiful stranger’s brother while getting himself mixed up with dangerous players with high stakes in the rapidly changing borough. He sat down with us to talk about the book and about Brooklyn.

You’ve been living in Brooklyn for a while now: about 15 years, right?
Yeah, I moved here in 1997.

How does Brooklyn inspire or affect your writing?
I think any city is inspirational because I’ll be immersed every day in different neighborhoods and different people just by being out and being active. But Brooklyn in particular is inspiring because it just has so much going on. From various perspectives of race and class on human levels, but also in architecture and different topographies—from the lushness of the park to the grit at the boat yard, there’s just so much going on here that, as a writer, inspires me in finding subjects and ideas. I’m a huge believer that a writer should incorporate enough sensory images to coax the reader into the feel of the story. And Brooklyn provides a plethora of that.

Your last novel was set in Queens. Why choose Brooklyn for this book?
It came about for this story because I was living here for quite some time. Much of the general narrative came to me while living in Clinton Hill. I never mention the name Clinton Hill in the novel, but it’s pretty implicit that’s where it takes place. I was leery about that, to be honest. I didn’t want to give the name of a specific neighborhood. I was afraid that all the people who were privy to the neighborhood would question it, saying “this is not right, that’s not right.” I didn’t want to have to deal with the crap.

I was really inspired by the way Dennis Lehane handled Mystic River. He created a neighborhood, gave it its own name, and didn’t have to adhere to the actual specifics. I was thinking along that line and then the publisher really didn’t want me to be that vague, so we pushed the specifics into the edits that really did give it away, like Myrtle Ave. and Clinton Ave. Regardless, I was living there at the time and was fascinated by the way gentrification was creating a level of tension in the neighborhood. I understood, as the minority in that neighborhood, the perception that our presence created… I thought it made a great setting for a story. It’s such a deeply rooted neighborhood, too. Clinton Hill-Fort Greene had been a predominantly African-American neighborhood for a long time. As a result, there were so many different layers. There was an upper-class element and a solid middle-class, and also some really lower class elements. It really ran the gamut of class. That lent itself to some great storytelling. And finally, the architecture was a great backdrop. It’s a really beautiful neighborhood, historic in its buildings and its streets. A beautiful place to set a story.

An interesting, beautiful backdrop for a decidedly unbeautiful, or gritty and bloody story.
I thought that was a nice juxtaposition. Some of the seedier things happening in the city are not going to be stopped by gorgeous buildings and bucolic blocks.

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