Vermont has long been a refuge for writers like my neighbor Vincent Panella, a Vermonter By Choice, who says that Vermont allows him the quiet and solitude he needs to write.
Even though he lives in Vermont, he often writes about Queens, where he was born to parents, who were first-generation immigrants from Italy.
Panella has arranged his entire adult life around writing. “When I’m writing, I’m happy,” he says. “When I’m not writing I’m not happy.” He wrote his first novel when he was twenty-three, while he was in the army. “I drank six pots of coffee a day and the book poured out of me. But my writing was better than my character, I didn’t have any knowledge of form.”
He burned the manuscript –and wrote five more novels – or maybe six; he’s lost count. At one point, he had an agent; at another, he sold a novel to Simon & Schuster, but they never published the book. “I’ve had a lot of near successes,” he says – and he keeps writing.
After graduating from the Iowa Workshop in 1971, Panella spent a year as a reporter for a daily paper – a job he loved for what he learned, but it kept him too busy with daily dead lines to write fiction. He switched to jobs teaching writing at law schools in Iowa and Florida before landing in Vermont.
Despite growing up in Queens, Panella found life in New York City too distracting for writing. “You create a world you inhabit and you think about it all the time,” he says. In the course of his career, he has written in a closet, in a small cabin, and in now in a comfortable outbuilding on his Vermont farm. “ I don’t care if I’m snowed in,” he says. “It’s even better.”
Panella starts every day in the studio, where he writes by hand. “I don’t turn the computer on until later in the day. I try not to check email until I finish writing.” His work originates in his journal, and what he writes immediately morphs into fiction. “As soon as I start writing, I lie. Memoir? It’s a lie. As soon as I start writing I create a scene or dialogue.” He also says, “I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I can stay stuck for a little bit, but not long. When I get stuck, I take a nap.”
Ten years ago, Panella took a year off from teaching to write full time. He never went back. Since then, he’s published two books and written countless stories.
Cutter’s Island (Chicago Review Press) came out in 2009 to critical success. In 2010, Panella self- published Lost Hearts, a collection of stories, also to great reviews. While he’s glad he brought the stories out, he says, “I don’t have the energy for that any more. It’s too much of a hustle, and I just want to write.”
Now 76, Panella is currently concentrating on novellas and short
stories. He’s now more concerned about writing than selling his work. He says, “I have more stories to write than I have time and more work than I can really accomplish, and I think that’s a good thing.”
An earlier version of this post appeared on Live to Write – Write to Live.
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