By Mark I. West
January 21, 2023
Misha Lazzara burst onto the Charlotte literary scene last fall with the publication of his debut novel, Artificial constellations. Published by Blackstone Publishing, the novel has been praised by various literary lions, including bestselling author Jill McCorkle who wrote: “Misha Lazzara is an extremely talented writer with a compelling story to tell. Her dialogue is perfect and her setting is so vivid that she feels like you’re there.” The reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book a “noteworthy debut” and concluded the review by saying, “Readers will enjoy this new entry.”
Artificial constellations it’s kind of a road trip story. The novel begins as Lo Gunderson, an alienated young woman from a small town in Minnesota, answers an ad for a “free car”. When she meets Blanche Peterson, the dying woman who is giving away the car, she discovers that she has a condition. Blanche wants Lo to find her estranged son, Jason. She accepts it and enlists the help of a young car mechanic named John Blank to get the car up and running. John ends up joining Lo about her in her quest to find Blanche’s son. For much of the novel, Lo and John experience the American landscape while learning a great deal about each other. The central characters become increasingly complex as the story progresses; they have secrets, difficult family histories, and desires that they don’t fully acknowledge or understand. As a reader, you feel like you’re riding in the backseat with these characters, and they’re truly memorable travel companions.
Lazzara’s auspicious debut belies the fact that it took her years to write this novel. In a recent interview, she traced the origins of her novel to her own childhood.
“I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was eight or nine my mother gave me the children’s book The Lives of Writers by Kathleen Krull, which highlights biographies of a dozen or two well-known writers,” Lazzara said. “It was really with that book in hand that I set my sights on the job title.”
Lazzara began writing a first draft of the novel shortly after finishing her degree, but she put the manuscript on hold after moving to Charlotte and starting a family with her husband Adam. As she put it, “Life got in the way. It felt like I only got my English degree before I found myself married and starting a family.”
Eight years after graduating, Lazzara decided to pursue a master’s degree at UNC Charlotte. She later recalled: “I was pregnant with my third child while my husband traveled for work. With all these responsibilities, I applied to graduate school with more logical intentions. The plan was to focus on English, so I could get a job as a teacher someday, once my kids were all settled in elementary school.
Lazzara’s plan changed after he started his degree program. She enrolled in a writing workshop taught by author and novelist Aaron Gwyn and her experience convinced her to shift her focus to creative writing.
After graduating with her Masters from UNC Charlotte, Lazzara entered the Creative Writing MFA program at North Carolina State University. “I was almost halfway through my MFA,” she said, “when i got the idea to rewrite that old story–Artificial constellations-from scratch.”
When asked to describe her novel, she said: “To me, the book is largely a story about home. And Minnesota is home to me. At least that’s where I grew up. Lazzara’s familiarity with the small towns and byways of her home state is evident throughout the novel. The setting is really an integral part of the story.
Although Lazzara has lived in Charlotte for nearly fourteen years, she has found she enjoyed writing about Minnesota. “It was cathartic revisiting those old gathering places: the lakes, the wood-paneled diners, and those flat stretches of highway broken up by yet more lakes.”
For the readers of Artificial constellationsvisiting the old haunts of Lazzara in the company of its bizarre characters is definitely a trip to remember.
Artificial constellations it’s available through your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop. For readers who want to know more about Misha Lazzara, check out his official website.
Mark I. West is a professor of English at UNC Charlotte. He also writes Storied Charlotte, a weekly blog celebrating Charlotte’s community of readers and writers.