Music blogger and playwright Richard Fulco has recently released his debut novel, There Is No End to This Slope. The book is equal parts love letter and bitter reproach to New York, as seen through the eyes of his struggling protagonist, John Lenza. Richard talks about the unexpected challenges of completing his first novel while balancing work and family.
Elford Alley: For years you were primarily a playwright who blogged about music on the side. What inspired you to switch gears and write a novel?
Richard Fulco: Actors. I'm kidding, of course. Seriously, after my play Get Out of Jail Free was produced at the New York Fringe Festival in 2007, I realized that it might work better as a novel. I also realized that I wasn't such a terrific collaborator and that I needed to work on a project where I was in complete control -- no actors, no directors, just me.
Alley: In recent fiction it seems there's a lot of emphasis on writing relatable and likeable characters. Did this influence your decision to make your protagonist, John, such an unlikeable character?
Fulco: You should have read an early draft. John Lenza was downright detestable. I worked diligently to make him a more sympathetic character. Sure, he's a delusional, pill-popping wannabe writer, but he's also coping with the loss of a dear friend, wrestling with a dead-end job, and struggling with a recent divorce.
John Lenza isn't for everyone. I knew that from the onset. Hate him. Love him. Don't feel lukewarm about him. It was my intention to create a "real" character replete with flaws and shortcomings that might make the reader feel uneasy.
Alley: With Havannah you created a character who seems self-aware and often breaks the fourth wall. Did you see her as a voice for the audience, trying in vain to knock a little sense into your protagonist?
Fulco: I don't quite see Havannah as the audience's mouthpiece, though I could see why you might think she is. Havannah is my version of the Greek soothsayer Tiresias. She is all-knowing, all-knowledgeable, even John Lenza's subconscious. I'm not even sure that Havannah is a person. She might only exist in John's head.
Alley: Music is a huge part of your novel, and John often reminisces about his one gig in high school. Is music a major influence on your writing style?
Fulco: This is such a difficult question for me to answer. Music is an influence on everything I do: my writing, my characters, the way I raise my own children, what I eat throughout the day. Three-minute rock songs have influenced me more than any teacher, preacher or Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist has.
Alley: Many of your characters offer contradicting views of what New York represents, but everyone seems to agree it's a city you love and hate in equal measure. What was the biggest challenge in representing such an iconic city in your novel?
Fulco: I think a true New Yorker has a love-hate relationship with his or her home. As a native New Yorker, I by no means consider it a paradise. It's home. I love the people, the food, the diversity, but the hectic pace of it all can wear you down. Still, it's my home.
The wonderful thing about New York is that it's always evolving. The most challenging thing about living in New York is that it's always evolving. For John Lenza the city's constant evolution can lead to nostalgia. And nostalgia can kill your dreams.
Alley: When you were writing the novel, your life was going through major changes, including the arrival of your children. What was the greatest challenge in completing a novel with newborns in the house?
Fulco: Thankfully, I completed the bulk of the novel before my twins arrived in July 2011. I remember telling my wife, Colleen, that I was racing against time. I felt a sense of urgency that was manifested by my laptop, which was ready to explode. The touchpad on my Mac was cracked down the center, and by the end I couldn't close my laptop entirely because the touchpad lifted up so high and eventually cracked in half.
I worked on the final draft from January to June 2013. Chloe and Connor were a year and a half. I worked full days while a babysitter looked after them. It depleted our savings account and placed quite a strain on the family, but I'm forever grateful to Colleen for supporting our family. She's our rock, and without her spiritual and financial guidance There Is No End to This Slope would probably be my desk drawer.
Alley: The "lost borough" of Staten Island features prominently in your novel. Why did you choose this locale to have such a huge bearing on John's life?
Fulco: I grew up in Staten Island -- born in Brooklyn, but my parents moved to Staten Island as part of "white flight." There Is No End to This Slope was the first time I was able to write about Staten Island in a fairly objective way. There are things you despise about your home, and there are things you cherish. It took me a long time to discover the ways in which Staten Island had shaped me.
Alley: John and other characters often complain about gentrification and the removal of the seedy element from Times Square and Brooklyn, as if something special was lost. Do you think a New York removed from the grime and crime of the '70s and '80s has lost a little bit of its character?
Fulco: Since Mayor Giuliani's administration in the '90s, New York has rather aggressively become a fairly generic city, a playground for rich people and college students. My wife and I think that if some crime crept back in NYC, the Midwesterners would flee. Not that I'm condoning crime, but if the "squeegee guys" came back to the West Side Highway, some of the investment bankers might go home.