Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, novelist, actor, playwright, screenwriter, poet, storyteller and native New Yorker, Richard Vetere. Richard was born and raised in New York City and received his master's degree in Comparative English Literature from Columbia University.
He then went on to write
plays in NYC's Off-Off-Broadway world. The first feature film he was
hired to write, Vigilante, was named one of the best Indie
movies of the 1980's by BAM just last year.
His novels include The
Third Miracle (Simon & Schuster) and he co-wrote the
screenplay adaptation starring Ed Harris, directed by Agnieszka
Holland and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
His novel Baroque
is about the painter Caravaggio. His other movies include The
Marriage Fool, an adaptation of his published stage play, for CBS
TV Movies starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett and John Stamos.
He has have over twenty published plays produced around the world.
He was made a Lifetime Member of the Writers Guild of America East in 2010 and elected to Council for a two year term in 2012.
His novel, The Writers
Afterlife, garnered rave critical acclaim. His plays have been
performed globally and include Machiavelli, Caravaggio, Gangster
Apparel, and the critically acclaimed, One Shot, One Kill.
His most recent novel Champagne and Cocaine will be out May 17, 2016.
Norm: Good day Richard and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going? As a follow up, what genre are you most comfortable writing and why?
Richard: I have been
writing poetry since grammar school. A fellow student showed me a
poem written by her boyfriend in Vietnam. Reading it triggered
something in me. I went home and wrote a poem about my friend’s
father who was terribly wounded during D-Day at Normandy. It was
titled D-DAY and when I showed to the girl who showed me her
boyfriend’s poem she showed it to the nun and I was brought around
to every class to show me off. I was then known as the ‘poet.’
I started filling journals and note books with poems all through
school. I read everything I could get my hands on. In high school I
entered and won a poetry contest. And then in college I entered and
won another. Later on I recalled how I put on an Easter play for my
family. I wrote, directed and starred in it. I did the same in my
backyard. I was no more than ten years old.
Last year I was
inducted into my grammar school hall of fame at St. Stanislaus in
Maspeth, Queens and at the dinner I was reminded by several people
there that they were in my original stage productions put on
in backyards. So funny.
What kept me going and what keeps me
going is that I love the craft of writing. Also, I want to say
something and share it. Mostly to share what I am thinking or
feeling when it comes to poetry or what my characters are thinking
and feeling when it comes to plays, films and novels. I was made a
Lifetime Member of the Writers Guild of America East in 2010.
What am I comfortable writing? In all honesty I enjoy writing them all equally meaning theater, film, fiction and poetry.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Richard: The most useful
tool in learning how to write -- reading. Back then I read
everything I could get my hands on. I still see the way great
writers crafted their work. Novels by Dickens and Faulkner and
Hemmingway and Fitzgerald I read decades ago are still alive in my
brain. I can still see the rhythms of their scenes, their dialogue,
their characters and their plots. I never took a writing class in my
The least useful and most destructive when it comes to writing? Probably when a writer tries to emulate the current trend. I have seen styles come and go. You have to write what you feel is true to you in form, content and style otherwise you might be asking for trouble and failure.
Norm: What inspires you and what is the most difficult part of your writing process? As a follow up, how has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Richard: I am inspired by
everything from a story I read in the paper, to an idea that I come
up with or a character, real or imagined. My The Third Miracle
was inspired by the idea of ‘what is a saint.’ My novel Baroque
was inspired by what it must have been like to be Caravaggio’s
roommate, Mario Minniti, in Rome in 1600. Also I put myself in every
story. Some aspect of myself. In a way it’s me dealing with some
issue, some intellectual question, some emotional dilemma I am
struggling with. The most difficult part of my writing process is
when I am done and finding someone who believes in what I have
written enough to champion it. I can do just so much.
The writing itself is usually all engrossing and mostly all satisfaction from the stumbling to the accomplishment. Of course there are somethings I spend a few days on and then realize that either there is not enough there or I need more time to think about it. I think about something I am going to write sometimes for years before I write a single word. Other things come to me in a flash.
Either way I write in a fever.
It only takes a couple of months before I complete a first draft. My
upbringing was working class though I was highly educated. It was an
interesting contrast since I have many friends who are still from
that world. Then I have friends who are successful artists.
It’s a very interesting contrasts of points of view of the world and its meaning sometimes and it intriguing to write about. I believe you write about who you are and where you are from for sure. You write about what you see in front of you. Or imagine. That is always a fascinating question. The difference between those who write about the world they know and those who write about the world they imagine. I know I write about the world I know. Even when I wrote about Rome in 1600 it was a world I know.
Norm: Where do you get your information or ideas for your novels, plays, screenplays and your poems?
Richard: I think I answered that already. They are all so very personal. I am in all I write.
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Richard: I use intuition
when it comes to the idea itself meaning the plot, the character and
the setting even if I am hired to write it. I use my intuitive
thinking in asking myself ‘is there a story here and if so is it
for me?” If the answer is ‘yes’ I then use my disciplined
logic to structure the story. When I started out writing I was all
feeling and no structure. It took me years to learn structure. Now
I feel very confident with it.
My writing process is this – I find an idea, a character and ask, is there a story here? Once I figure out the story, I devise the plot. I think about all this for a long time before I sit down to write a single word. Of course, the great fun in writing is that the voices of the characters take over. The voice of the narrator (the author’s voice) takes over. I sometimes have no idea where it’s going. To paraphrase a great quote writing for me is like “A drunk on a horse moving through the woods in the middle of the night. The drunk has no idea where he is going, but the horse is going somewhere.” That sums up my writing experience.
Norm: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Richard: Spelling and grammar. In a way it’s why I like writing plays. For the lazy it’s great to go to rehearsal and hear the actors bring up the typos. I have had this problem all my life. A very smart TV producer once told me, “You write. That is your job. I will edit it for you. That is my job.” I loved her for that.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
Richard: Wow, I can talk
about that all day but I will keep it short. Yes, I take liberties.
I use the historical character’s life as a starting place to make
my point or theme.
The argument is who knows what was exactly said? How can anyone say that they know? However, I try to stick to what happened I like to write about the thinking behind the action. That makes it fun to write characters. I always remember that fiction is the creating of characters that seem as if they are real people. When you write historical fiction you are writing about people in the historical memory and making them characters.
Norm: Your most recent novel, Champagne and Cocaine Original is about to be released. Could you share with our readers a little about the book?
Richard: Champagne and
Cocaine is about a struggling writer, high school English teacher
living in NYC in 1980 who has two problems. One, he loves to gamble
and two he likes doing coke. Both bring him deeper in the world of
small time mobsters. When you get too close to the dark side you
increase your odds of paying the price for entering into that world.
The character, Danny Ferraro, is a very good poker player and has illusions of being a writer. The allure of pretty women, the night club scene, staying up all night and fast cash entices him and distracts him from being a writer. If you were growing up the boroughs at that time there was a lot of cash around, a lot of drugs around and not a lot of policing. Crime was on its way to being the highest levels ever in the city. I wanted to capture that world through the eyes of someone who actually thought about it. Then came crack and the world spiraled down.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Richard: In the ‘80’s I hung out in the NYC club scene. There’s a lot of me in Danny Ferraro. I had friends like he does, I partook of the night life and its charms and I was struggling to make my living as a writer. There are many scenes that are as true to life as I remember them. I share those with Danny. However, I never taught in high school, I didn’t play much poker then and I only heard of some of the very dark events that happen in the novel.
One other thing Danny and I share is that my grandfather did work the Brooklyn Navy Yard docks as a security guard during WWII and he did kill a Nazi trying to blow up a boat. The rest is the thin line where fiction and reality meet.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Richard: I wanted to
capture that time period because I lived it. Plain and simple. I
wanted to write about what I experienced so I found a plot and a
structure to do that. There are many intentions. I wanted to show
how a working class writer is going to have a hard time getting a
publishers attention. I wanted to show how the allure of a world of
champagne and cocaine and its consequences. People are ruined and
destroyed in the novel.
The city was on the verge of ruin. Looking around now there’s no way I would have been able to tell you back then the city would be so much different today than it was then. It was decadent, gaudy and scary. I believe I accomplished that by telling Danny’s story.
Norm: Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book and what are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
Richard: Visage was the club mobsters and their friends hung out in. It was pure decadence. The waitress wore the most revealing outfits, swimmers swam nearly naked in a huge pool hung from the ceiling. Everyone did coke in the bathrooms, champagne was the drink to have and despite all the glamour outside the streets were dangerous. I remember sections of the city were dark.
Abandoned cars were everywhere. Street hookers walked around nearly naked, your car could be broken into anytime, anywhere. Everyone who could carried a gun. The police only responded to a crime. There was no active policing like we saw in the decades following. It was the wild west. Most of the characters in the book are based on bits and pieces of people I knew back then. Most importantly I was Danny and he was me. However, I made it out of the ‘80’s. Not sure Danny will.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Richard: Champagne and Cocaine was not a difficult book to write. I wrote what I experienced. I play poker so I know the game. I had friends like Durrico and Lou. I dated women like Rebecca and Nancy. If I had to say the ending was toughest to write mainly because I was never happy with the original ending. But then while we were editing the novel and I was rewriting, I found it. And I really like it.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work? I am all over the internet.
Richard: On Facebook, twitter, and I believe there are nearly five pages of my work on Amazon and of course you can go to Three Rooms Press’s website for sure.
Norm: What do your plans for future projects include?
Richard: I have written
several drafts of a new novel The White Envelope. Probably my
most unusual novel to date. A murder that goes unsolved for fifty
years and how the murder and its aftermath and investigation deeply
disturbs the man who found his murdered aunt when he was ten years
old. Like Champagne and Cocaine it’s based on my own life.
I thought about it for decades before I wrote a word.
When I was ten years old my parents made me pick up a white envelope from an ‘aunt’ and deliver it to them after school. I never knew what was inside it. So, I wrote a story about a Michael Forte who is me back then and all that he learns about his own life and how the murder has all to do with him.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Richard: You have to
learn to enjoy living the creative life. Yes, it’s difficult and
you have to make tough decisions and find a way to pay the rent. I
have been fortunate in making my living writing nearly all of my
adult life. What made it especially tough for me was that I wanted
to write what I wanted to write and that isn’t easy to achieve. I
had to sit in many TV writing rooms, takes notes from people I didn’t
respect, live in LA for a while, work with directors who are hacks
and producers who were only looking to rip me off.
I suggest writers to find a few people who they trust and share your work with them. You need smart people in your life who are there for you and who you can trust your ideas with. Also take counsel with yourself. Know your limits and what you can take. When anyone crosses that boundary put your foot down. It only gets scary when someone puts a real gun to your head, literally. Other than that, it’s fine. If you believe in your own talent you can make it work for sure. Just give it time. And have a plan. And write, every day. Learn the craft. You will always only get better at it.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Richard: Probably -- why I wrote Champagne and Cocaine. And the answer is, I lived it. I had to share it.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors