Guest Post & Giveaway: Vincent N. Parrillo’s Writing Space

Yesterday, I reviewed Guardians of the Gate by Vincent N. Parrillo, a historical fiction novel about Ellis Island set in the early 1900s.  The novel is heavy in facts and even includes so historic pictures of Ellis Island at the time; Check out the review.

If you’re anything like me, I love learning about author’s writing habits and writing spaces.  And today, we’ve got a special look at Parrillo’s writing space.  Please give him a warm welcome.

As an author of numerous sociology textbooks, I am often asked, first, how I came to write an historical novel, second, why Ellis Island, and third, given my responsibilities as a professor and graduate director at William Paterson University, how I found the time to write it.

I’ve always liked the challenge of expanding my horizons, and—in writing—that desire led to 1) creating academic books on different subjects (cities, diversity, immigration, social problems); 2) becoming co-lyricist for a show (see www.hamlettherockopera.com); and 3) scripting two PBS television documentaries (I’m working on a third right now). Guardians of the Gate evolved as my desire to explore a new genre, using imagination to create characters, a setting, and plot that, hopefully, would result in a compelling read.

The genesis for choosing Ellis Island as the setting was my documentary work in 1991. I had the good fortune to be there before its restoration. Walking up the original staircase with steps deeply grooved by millions of immigrants, and seeing the examining rooms and corridors in their abandoned, deteriorating condition, all combined to create a haunting effect in my mind. I keenly felt the history of the place as a touchstone for the many that came in pursuit of the American Dream.

It occurred to me that, although much is “out there” about immigrants in photos, films, family histories, and nonfiction, little exists about the people who worked at Ellis Island. These were the first Americans the immigrants encountered. Who were they? Well, many were immigrants themselves, mostly Germans and Irish. Some were caring, dedicated workers; some were just doing a job; and some were scoundrels exploiting the greenhorns. So, I decided to focus mainly on them. Furthermore, most people know of Ellis Island only in its twentieth-century manifestation, but little about dramatic and provocative events occurring there in the 1890s. That was the story I wanted to tell. To spice up the narrative, I knew from the outset that I also wanted to include a good love story, one filled with challenges and passion.

Naturally, any writer of good historical fiction must research the subject fully. I had a head start with what I learned years earlier in writing my documentary, but now much more investigation was necessary. I sought and read anything I could find: memoirs, newspaper accounts, and histories. From these I created a timeline to incorporate actual events into the novel. I made my protagonist a young doctor, because he would have freer access to different work areas on the island (the inspection stations, hospital, and dormitories) and thus enable me to give a more complete portrait of immigration activities.

With my teaching and professional responsibilities consuming only three days a week, I could block out significant amounts of free time for research and writing. My work station, set in an alcove, includes good overhead lighting and a comfortable swivel chair. What I like best about this arrangement is that it’s downstairs (I live in a townhouse), away from all window views and other distractions in the upstairs living quarters.

On this lower level is the family room with sliding doors out to the patio, but my back is to all that and so I can easily concentrate on what I’m doing. My re-energizing breaks from writing are either a power nap on the nearby couch or a half hour on the treadmill. An occasional cup of hot green tea is another good, healthy stimulant to keep me going.

Over the years, I’ve had many different types of writing spaces, but this one is by far the best.

Thanks, Vincent, for sharing your writing space with us.

To enter to win Guardians of the Gate by Vincent N. Parrillo,

You must be a U.S. resident and leave a comment on this post about what interests you about Ellis Island.

Deadline to enter is June 22, 2012, at 11:59PM EST


  1. Anita Yancey says

    Everything about Ellis Island interests me. I love the history of the time, and the fact that I probably had some relatives come through Ellis Island. This book is so interesting, and I’d love a chance to read it. Please enter me. Thanks!

  2. No need to enter me. Just wanted to say that I really like his writing space. I need to create a space for myself that’s away from all the distractions, but there’s not nearly enough room in our small townhome.

  3. No need to enter me, but I wanted to comment on his writing space. I must say, that is a wise use of space. I have a space like that but they put a close into the space instead. My writing space is in the garage and it slowly being added to with ideas from Pinterest.

  4. Beth Hoffman says

    Thanks for the interesting guest post. I always enjoy getting a peek into the places where fellow authors create!

    Happy weekend!

  5. This giveaway sounds fascinating. Love reading about immigrant experiences and this historical is memorable.

  6. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’ve read several novels about the immigrant experience. Recently I was able to visit Ellis Island and tour the restored facility with its educational aspects. I’m looking forward to reading this book, and hopeful that I might win it. Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. What a great way to maximize your space!