Shelton resident Fred Musante, a former Huntington Herald and Connecticut Post reporter, has always been a storyteller.
Now he’s shifted from straight news to fiction with the recent self-publication of two novels that take place in Connecticut. “Night of The Witch“ is available on e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. “The Angel’s Messenger“ is available in paperback, or on e-readers.
Musante, 62, recently sat down with the Valley Indy to talk about life as a writer.
Valley Indy: You were a reporter in 1975 during the Sponge Rubber Products fire in downtown Shelton. What was that day like?
Musante: I went to a party that night, and I was out in Woodmont at the beach near a friend’s house. And I didn’t know it had happened until about 1 o’clock in the morning. I went out and got in my car, turned on the radio and immediately heard about it. And so that was long before cell phones. So I took off and drove down the highway at far over the speed limit, got into Shelton, stopped at my apartment, called into the desk (at the Bridgeport Post-Telegram) and told them I was heading down there.
And I asked them what they had, and they really didn’t have anything from the scene. That was about out an hour and a half after it started. They still didn’t have anybody really reporting on the scene yet. . .
I was dictating off my notes using pay phones. I was down there until about 4 o’clock in the morning. Wandering around stepping over fire hoses. It was a mess down there. It was a huge fire. Just incredibly big.
There was fire engines everywhere. I think they had mutual aid from about 35 fire departments. You can imagine, 35 fire departments, how many fire trucks that is. You must have had 40 or 50 fire trucks down there. And they were all kind of linked together pumping from one pumper to the next, just trying to get water to the fire.
Valley Indy: How do you think you would have covered that same fire today?
Musante: Today you would have had digital cameras and your phone cameras. You would have been able to send photos in right from the scene, and videos in right from the scene. It would have been a completely different thing. I mean there was nobody down there with video.
Valley Indy: I remember after several meetings in Shelton, you and Mayor Mark Lauretti got into some heated discussions.
Musante: It’s kind of my style. I don’t want to say I’ll bait people, but I’ll ask these kind of impertinent questions to see what people say. And Lauretti likes that kind of thing. He doesn’t mind. As long as he knows that you’ll report what he says and give him an honest break. He doesn’t care. He’ll get into a verbal thing with a reporter. He doesn’t mind.
Valley Indy: What’s the secret to a successful interview with Mayor Lauretti? That’s something I’ve been challenged by.
Musante: Trust. Really, you have to treat him with respect. You don’t walk into an interview knowing what you’re going to write. You have to listen to what he’s got to say, and report it. And I think he’ll appreciate that. I don’t think he’s had a very friendly relationship with the news media over the years. But he knows which reporters will treat him fairly and which ones won’t.
Valley Indy: That sounds like good advice for any interview, really.
Musante: Yeah. He’s a touchy guy about it though, because he’s had a lot of bad press over the years. And some of it was his own fault. But Shelton is a very political town. And people don’t play nice in politics. So you know. And a lot of reporters like to play the “he said – she said” game, which is an easy way to write a story.
That’s one thing that I never did as a reporter, was go for those cheap stories. I always liked to know more about it and get into the complexity of a story.
Valley Indy: Writing a book is a much longer form, but a different type of writing than news reporting. How has it been?
Musante: Oh, novels are fun! They are all kinds of fun. You get to create characters. And I have this sense of humor that I put into the book, the kind of wordplay that goes on.
Valley Indy: In the book “Night of the Witch” the two main characters are always getting into trouble, and they run into the same state police officer in almost every scene. I wondered, since this book is based in the Valley, did you have people in mind when you are framing these characters, like a police officer you worked with as a reporter?
Musante: No. I made it all up. I absolutely made it all up.
In fact, if you notice I kind of have the state police sergeant running the police department in Oxford. I don’t have any idea whether they do that. I know they have resident troopers up there. But I don’t know if the police department in Oxford is run by the resident state trooper.
Valley Indy: I think in Oxford that’s actually how it is.
Musante: Oh really? I didn’t even know that.
Valley Indy: As I’m reading, I’m picturing Sgt. Dan Semosky, the Oxford resident state trooper.
Musante: This guy (Sgt. Crawford, the officer in “Night of the Witch”) is tough. As the series unfolds, there’s going to be more to Crawford. You’re going to see, Crawford actually knows more about what the Realys (the main characters) are doing than the Realys do.
Valley Indy: So the “Night of the Witch” is a first in what is supposed to be a paranormal seriesof books. Do you have the whole thing sketched out in your mind?
Musante: I have the first five books, I know exactly what’s going to happen. . . I’m working on the second one now. The first one is a seance with a haunted house. The second one is going to be an exorcism.
I originally had the idea to write kind of a ghost hunters, sort of a paranormal version of a police procedural. And have it very realistic, like the reality shows.
Once I got into it, I realized that really isn’t going to be very interesting for readers. They’re really going to be more interested in the theatricality of it. So I abandoned that.
Valley Indy: In your opinion, what is the most haunted place in the Valley?
Musante: The most haunted place in the Valley is probably the Sterling Opera House, from what I’ve heard. I don’t know that much about it. But I’ve read up on ghost hunting — I’ve read 10 books on ghost hunting. I’ve got book knowledge about it.
Valley Indy: While writing, did you consult with Rich DiCarlo, the Derby resident who got “Ghost Hunters” to come examine the Sterling Opera House?
Musante: No. But I was going to put the Sterling Opera House in a scene in the book. But I ditched it because it was too long. I wanted a target length of about 80,000 words. And I went to 87,000 in the finished version.
Valley Indy: What prompted you to write about paranormal investigations?
Musante: It’s a popular topic. And if you’re going to write a series, what do you get your characters involved in? I thought two guys who are involved in the paranormal, they get involved in all sorts of paranormal activity, not just ghosts.
What’s going to happen is we’re going to get into ESP and aliens from outer space. The sky’s the limit. I made a list of things I could write about, and it went on and on and on. There’s plenty to write about. I’ll never exhaust it.
Valley Indy: Your other book is called “The Angel’s Messenger.” What is that about?
Musante: It’s about Paul Tinelli, who is visited by an angel, and he thinks he’s crazy. And everybody else thinks he’s crazy. And his church pastor even sends him to see a psychiatrist. Because if you’ve seen an angel, you must be crazy. . .
Paul Tinelli may not have actually seen an angel. I leave it up to the reader whether there’s actually an angel, or whether it’s a hallucination. But the effect is the same. He goes on this mission that this angel sends him on.
In most popular fiction, the angels are there to solve somebody’s problem. In the Bible, the angels are there to make the people solve God’s problem. They’re not taking no for an answer. And your life kind of gets upended, and it changes everything.
Angels are kind of a big pain in the ass.
Valley Indy: Fred, I’ve been at the Plumb Library a couple times, while I guess you were working on the books. And I’m always waving, and you never see me.
So my last question is: Since I have you here and I have your attention, can you recommend a book for me?
Musante: What type?
Valley Indy: I like Charles Dickens.
Musante: (After some thought). Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, which is absolutely an incredibly good book. I am in awe of that guy. But I have to tell you, you really have to read to page 170.
Valley Indy: What’s on page 170?
Musante: You’ll see. If you get to page 170, you won’t be able to put the book down.
Musante will be reading from his books at the Milford Public Library on March 26, after which he will give a lecture on self publishing.