Today I’m delighted to welcome Richard Fulco to Virtual Book Club, my author interview series in which authors have the opportunity to pitch their book to your book club. Richard’s debut novel, There is no End to This Slope (Wampus), was published in March 2014. His new novel, We are all Together, was published by Wampus on November 29, 2022. Richard’s other writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, American Songwriter, Gargoyle, Across the Margin, and The Daily Vault.
Richard received his MFA and was the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship in playwriting from Brooklyn College. His play Swedish Fish (Heuer Publishing) has been produced around the country. His other plays have either been presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, Here Arts Center, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, and the Dramatists Guild.
For six years, Richard wrote about music on his blog, Riffraf. He teaches at an independent school in New Jersey and interviews writers for his “5 Questions” series at www.richardfulco.com.
Can you start by telling us how you came to be a writer?
It’s just something I’ve always done. Ever since I can remember I’ve been doing some kind of writing. I was writing song lyrics and melodies at five-years-old. At twelve, I set out to write a war novel. In high school, I continued to write song lyrics but also wrote poetry. As an undergraduate, I became more serious about songwriting. In graduate school, I was writing plays. After graduate school, I turned one of my plays into a novel and turned my attention to fiction. Here I am. Novel number two, We are all Together, and I have novel number three cooking on the burner.
How much of a gap do you leave between writing projects and why? What do you do between writing projects?
Years ago, I read an interview with the playwright John Guare who said that before he finishes a project, he begins the next one. I do the same thing. This way when I’m asked, “What are you working on,” I have an answer already prepared. Thanks for the sage advice, Mr. Guare. I think it was John Guare who said that.
Was We are all Together inspired by any real-life events? How do you deal with the responsibility that comes with this?
There are quite a few real-life events in the book. I have fictionalized several. For instance, an enormous event takes place during the Monterey International Pop Festival. There were over 150 riots in the summer of 1967. White folks refer to the summer as “The Summer of Love, while black folks might refer to it as “The Long, Hot Summer.” Several of the riots, particularly those in Detroit and Newark, are referenced in the book. The Loving case is mentioned. Jack Kerouac and his novel On the Road is also mentioned. The Manson family is alluded to.
I have also included real-life characters in the novel: Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, George Harrison, Andy Warhol, Dan Rather and Goldie Hawn (to name a few).
Did you know the direction that the plot would take right from the start?
As a former musician, I wanted to write about a world that I was intimately familiar with. I was interested in a struggling musician who grapples with temptation, who is so desperate to make it big that he stabs his best friend in the back.
Armed with the Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd stories, I began with the premise of a famous rock star who drops out of the scene at the height of his artistic powers. You will see some of this in Stephen Cane’s friend, bandmate and foil Dylan John, though the novel eventually travelled in a different direction than I originally pictured. I just went with the flow. When I figured out the book’s ending, I just plugged in the events in the novel’s rising action and revised the beginning. Over and over again. I need to write the first chapter a thousand times before I can really advance the prose.
Can you describe your protagonist, Stephen Cane, in no more than five words?
Stephen Cane is a desperate, lonely, lost, naive opportunist.
At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
When I first began working on We are all Together, I thought it was going to be a book about a Syd Barrett-like character, Pink Floyd and the late 60s. The original working title was “Crazy Diamond” as in “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” the Pink Floyd song about Syd’s deterioration.
I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan, though I enjoy the Syd Barrett era quite a bit. However, I am enthralled with the band’s stories, so what really got me going is the one about how they fired Syd from the group. Guitarist David Gilmour was already in the group because Syd’s behaviour had grown erratic. On the way to a gig, someone asked, “Should we pick Syd up?” And they never picked him up. They played the gig without Syd. They never formally fired Syd, who was the band’s founder, guitarist, main songwriter, frontman and visionary. That story didn’t make it into the book, though a couple of others did. I won’t tell you which ones. You’ll have to read the book for yourself.
By the time I renamed the book “World on a String,” after the Frank Sinatra song, I had gone in a different direction. It was no longer about Syd Barrett or Pink Floyd. The book had morphed into an historical fiction of sorts. The Civil Rights Movement and the rebellions during the summer of 1967 became a major focus of the book. “I’ve Got the World on a String” is mentioned in the novel and several characters quote from it, but ultimately the title didn’t work.
We are all Together is also a rock and roll novel. I was listening to a ton of late 60s music while I was working on it. There’s a great John Lennon lyric in “I Am the Walrus”: “I am he as you are he as you are me / And we are all together.” So there you have it. Then the 2016 election happened and the Trump era was ushered in, and The United States is truly a polarized nation; hence, the irony in my choice of title.
Are you looking to entertain or illuminate?
I try my best to write the best book I possibly can. I would like for people to read my books, and if they enjoy them, that’s even better. If somebody locates something profound in them then that’s icing on the cake. If one of them becomes a great American novel, that would be pretty cool too. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want my novels to find a wide audience.
Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer? Or, more simply put, what is the question that keeps you writing?
I’m interested in coming-of-age stories. My first novel ,There is no End to This Slope, is a coming-of-middle-age story. We are all Together is a more traditional bildungsroman. The spiritual, moral and psychological development of the protagonist, Stephen Cane. Self-discovery. The lure of temptation. Dreams, postponed and deferred always interest me. The pursuit of dreams, giving up on a dream, what we do when the dream isn’t realized. Do we surrender? Do we form new ones? Loyalty is a theme in both books. The pursuit of art. The value of art.
Some authors have one particular person in mind when they write. Do you have a muse – or perhaps an imaginary ideal reader?
Kurt Vonnegut said, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” Mr. Vonnegut never states who that one person should be.
Meanwhile, Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Ms. Morrison implies writing for yourself.
When my children are old enough, I would like them to be proud of my books. “Hey, our old man did alright.” But I truly write for myself. I write books that I would like to read. I write because I have something to say, and I try to say something in a unique way.
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