Author Richard Fulco on Writing His NovelRichard Fulco is the author of There Is No End to This Slope, and the editor-in-chief of Riffraf, his music website. There Is No End to This Slope, Fulco’s debut novel, follows John Lenza, a middle aged textbook salesman struggling to navigate the waters of his dysfunctional person life. Held back by the guilt he still feels for his part in the death of his best friend Stephanie in high school, his journey brings him in contact with an interesting cast of characters who each play a role in the ebb and flow of his bizarre, often funny, sometimes sad existence. You can find Fulco’s novel on Amazon or support your local independent bookstore by purchasing it at Word Bookstore in Jersey City.
I had the pleasure of talking to Fulco about the writing of his novel, his writing playlist, and what he’s got in the works.
It took you seven years to write There Is No End to This Slope. Obviously novels don’t happen overnight, but what’s it like to spend so much time on something like that? What kind of stages did the novel go through?
RF: Yeah, man. I didn’t know it was going to take that long. I’d written plays and short stories and stuff like that so I didn’t think it would take that long, but I didn’t know how to write a novel. It took like three years of apprenticeship to figure out how to write a novel, and actually—I told this to someone at a book club I was talking to—I wrote a bunch of short stories to try to help me with the form while I was working on the novel. The novel’s similar to the play. I had written a full length play, a one act play and I had a play in the New York Fringe Festival in 2007 and I thought, “You know what man, I really need to work on a project by myself—no actors, no directors—go into seclusion, just me and the laptop.”
And some of the themes that were in the play — it was called “Get Out of Jail Free” — just kind of evolved into the book. I was really ambitious in the beginning. It was going to be like three different perspectives—Emma’s perspective, and Dawn’s and John’s—something like “The Hours,” Mike Cunningham’s book. So it had three different perspectives, a kind of love triangle thing, and I couldn’t pull it off. I just didn’t have the chops, especially for the first novel, I didn’t have the chops. And a friend of mine said, “You know, you have John’s voice down,” so I went from three different perspectives, three different points of view, to just John’s point of view.
In the beginning, like the first two or three years, it was such a melodramatic piece of crap, it was so over the top. And it had to be that way because I was so close to it. I was so close to the events, that it was a book I needed to write in the beginning and I’ve said this time and time again: I used to sit in coffee shops crying my eyes out while I was writing this thing. I was crying for several reasons, because it was so damn hard to write, and I was reliving a lot of my past, but once I became more familiar with John’s voice and the story and the story that I wanted to write, it became a book that I wanted to write. That was much more fulfilling than a book that I needed to write. I didn’t want memoir, I didn’t want creative nonfiction. It’s a novel, although the book club the other night wanted to know what happened. A lot of it did, a lot of it didn’t.
Was the hardest part of transitioning from plays to prose, finding your narrative voice?
RF: For this particular one. In early drafts, it was my voice. I had to really distinguish myself from the character. You could still hear my voice in certain parts of the novel. When Pete, his landlord, talks about white flight and a lot of New York stuff, that’s me. I love talking about New York, about how it has changed. I tried to make John—he’s very critical and judgmental, as am I—but I tried to make him funnier, more universal, and I hope I was successful. The hardest part about writing the novel as opposed to the play was just that I had no idea what laid ahead. I didn’t know what was awaiting me. It was a journey and the journey was filled with my kids coming, and I was racing against time, I was leaving New York, I was buying a house, my computer was breaking. It was kind of crazy. All the fears were manifesting in my computer. The touchpad was collapsing, I couldn’t close the cover. I told myself I was going to finish before the kids come, and before the computer breaks down. I didn’t think it was going to take seven years. I’m glad it did, I learned a great deal about it. You know, with playwriting I have an ear for dialogue, and it’s great for dialogue in the book. I always rely on that. My plays always start from things I hear on the street. I’m a peeping tom, you know. I listen in on conversations. I love doing it. I love watching people and that helps with the novel, but you can’t wait for inspiration to strike with the novel.
Whenever you hear stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez waking up every morning and writing eight hours. Or Mark Twain writing most of the day, having people over to his house, leaving to write for a few hours before going back down to his dinner guests. You really have to do it, that’s the only way it gets done. It doesn’t get done any other way. That’s why writers have manuscripts that aren’t completed. Because if you don’t sit down every day for whatever number of hours you can commit to, it’s not going to happen. If you get the rhythm of it, and I’m such a musical guy, once I’m in the rhythm I can keep going, but if I have a drummer and he’s not giving me the rhythm, in the sense of writing, if those keys aren’t being rhythmic, oh man, it’s hell. And you can spend eight hours and only the last hour might be fruitful or just the first, and the other seven are just painful. That’s what I learned. Not waiting until inspiration strikes, but just sitting there and taking the punishment.
You just mentioned music. You were in a band. Your character John loves music, he was in a band at one point in his life. There are many music references in the novel. What’s your writing playlist look like?
RF: A lot of the songs that were in the book were songs that I was listening to. Velvet Underground stuff, Wilco stuff, some Beatles—that stuff is always in my playlist. Man, sometimes if the music, like Jimi Hendrix, really demands your attention, that can be really intrusive on the writing. Not that music I listen to is background music by any means, but I can absorb some of Lou Reed’s lyrics or maybe some of Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics and Dylan is always on the playlist. You know, I’ll listen, like a turn of phrase and it will find its way into my work. James Brown, and I love James Brown, but he’s hard to listen to while writing. A lot of the Motown stuff I listen to, and R&B and Soul that I grew up on, is hard to listen to while I’m writing. It’s either mood rock, folk, and then something that can be fairly aggressive, but short, like The Ramones or something like that. Something short and sweet, but there is always music playing.
You were independently published by Wampus Multimedia. Did you send your book around to a bunch of publishers? How did you ultimately get published?
RF: While I was writing it, I was querying agents, and I’ve been rejected by a hundred agents at this point. Several of them wanted to see the manuscript, they asked for excerpts, several of them didn’t, several of them did and I never heard back from them. I had the biggest agents in the country looking at it, and didn’t get them. As a matter of fact, I just got a rejection from the William Morris agency last week. So you just live with the rejection and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I’m agent material anyway. I had a publicist for this novel and I’m just a grassroots kind of guy. I do book clubs and readings. I read at the Montclair Public Library last week. Although it wouldn’t be bad to sign a million dollar advance on a book.
At some point while I was writing, my friend who’s a novelist said that I should just finish the manuscript. Not to worry about getting an agent or getting it published, just finish it. So I said, okay, I’m going to do it, I’m going to finish this thing I set out to do, I’m going to make it the best book I could possibly make at this moment in my life and then I’ll see where it takes me. So, I finished it and I met Mark Doyon from Wampus Multimedia through Riffraf, my music site. He and I just had a very similar music background. We just like similar kinds of musicians, Marks a musician as well and a producer—Wampus is also a record label. We would just go back and forth on Facebook or whatever, we’d talk about the Kinks, we’d talk about Wilco, the Stones, just all these discussions about music. Then I realized Wampus was publishing musical fiction. So when I was done with the manuscript, I said, “Mark, would you be interested in publishing literary fiction,” and he said, “Well, oddly enough, we’re thinking about branching out into literary fiction.”
I sent him the book, he’s the only person I sent it to, and he loved it and he’s been my best collaborator other than my wife. Mark and my wife are my biggest collaborators, and I think one of the reasons I left playwriting is because I couldn’t find a worthwhile collaboration with actors or directors. So Mark and Wampus have been behind me 100%. We don’t have much money so we don’t have a big publicity campaign, nobody’s sending me out on book tours or stuff like that, but Mark is a renaissance man with a wealth of knowledge about literature, he’s a writer himself, he wrote a book of short stories, so he gets me and you can never take that for granted, when someone really gets you and your book, knows what your purpose is, knows what your goals are. So there has never been any discrepancy with regard to edits, revisions, anything like that, he just completely understands, and he’s looking forward to the next book, so maybe he’ll take on that one as well.
Tell me about your music site Riffraf. How did that come about?
RF: I’m just obsessed with music. I’ve been more influenced by three minute songs than I’ve ever been by a teacher, a preacher, a friend, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist or anything like that. So my wife knew of my obsession, she knows how important music is to me, so she said, “Why don’t you blog about it? You’re not playing anymore but why don’t you write about it, you’re a writer.” I didn’t know the first thing about blogging, I’m kind of a luddite. So I learned how to blog, I taught myself all this stuff, and now it’s going on five years that I’ve had Riffraf and the thing has gotten, for me, so overwhelming four or five months ago—with the staff of writers, with being inundated with emails from publicists of indie bands—that I can’t keep up with it.
I don’t make any money on Riffraf, it’s just a labor of love, and I started featuring bands I couldn’t give two shits about and that’s not who I am, so I really pulled back. It’s like, synth-pop duos, I’m not featuring you. Good luck in your endeavors, but I’m just not interested in synth-pop duos, dreamy pop, you know, a chick who thinks she could sing and a dude with a computer, it’s just not for me. And I was getting inundated with stuff like that. I just want to feature bands that have influenced me, so it’s been great and it’s led me to the publication of my novel. I’ve always been looking for a community of similar music minded people, so I’ve found that community and now I’m trying to figure out where it’s going from here. I don’t know where it’s going, it might just be another limb in my writing life.
Are you working on a new book or anything else currently?
RF: Yea I’m working on a book. It hasn’t really been fun. It was fun in the beginning but now I’m struggling to find time to write it, but it’s a music book, based on early Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett. I realized yesterday, I had this epiphany, that I’m writing a version of Amadeus in which Salieri is in competition with Amadeus and in the end, helps him compose the funeral dirge, so that’s a similar thing with the story of Syd Barrett and how he checked out, and how David Gilmour replaced him, but Syd remained a muse to Roger Waters and David Gilmour in their writing. Also, the guilt that they felt and how influenced they were by Syd and if Syd really checked out or decided he wanted to check out. I find all that stuff really intriguing, although it’s set in New York rather than London, and somewhere in ‘67, and precedes Pipers at the Gates of Dawn just by a few months or so. I’m taking some liberties, but still doing a lot of research, a lot of reading, a lot of listening, and what’s been really fun recently has been some of the slang terms from the 1960s. I had no idea that I still used some of the slang terms from the 1960s in 2014, like “bummed out,” “freaked out,” “the man,” stuff like that. People no longer say “groovy” but they did for a long time, though people still say it kind of ironically today, but that’s really fun.
That was one of my favorite things about reading On the Road, all that interesting late 50s slang that sort of sticks to you after a while.
RF: Obviously, On the Road, is not dated by any stretch. As a matter of fact, the name of the band in my new novel is called Red Afternoon which is taken from that excerpt where Kerouac, or Sal I should say, was in Iowa and he’s sitting in a hotel room, and he sees the red light and he’s thinking about who he is, where he’s been, where he’s going, and all this stuff which struck a chord with me and that’s the name of the band, Red Afternoon. The beats were a big influence on me, Kerouac and Ginsberg in particular. I feel like a bohemian band in the sixties would be heavily influenced by Kerouac and those guys.