Richard Fulco is the editor and founder of riffraf.net, an incredible music site, and his debut novel, There Is No End To This Slope is out now. It is a compelling and absorbing read, a book which draws you into the story of John Lenza, a text book sales man trapped in his own history and perception of it. Richard was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his book.
GreenSpotBlue: Music permeates the story of There Is No End to This Slope, either the making of it, or procrastinating making it, or as a reference point for certain events in the characters' lives. How do you see the role of music in the novel?
Richard Fulco: The novel’s protagonist John Lenza played one gig in a duo called Bong Lizard Gypsy in high school with his friend Joey Santone. They played three songs, “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Twist and Shout” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Music is just one of the many things John has tried his hand at but eventually gives up. Nevertheless, music is the soundtrack in his teeming head. He’s a walker and music – whether it’s a rhythm, a melody or lyric - is always playing inside of John’s troubled brain.
GreenSpotBlue: Was there any music you listened to while writing? And if so, what? Does music play any role in your writing routine, as in do you listen to certain music before you write, or while editing?
Richard Fulco: I do a great deal of writing in coffee shops and a person’s voice or a cell phone conversation intrudes with my creative flow, so I always have my headphones on.
I listen to all kinds of music too. My playlist ranges from Otis Redding to The Replacements and Chet Baker to Bach. Never any metal or hardcore and typically something melodic. Something that penetrates my brain but doesn’t interfere with the process. I enjoy the way a song, a lyric or a rhythm finds its way into the prose.
At one point, I was listening to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and lyrics from “Perfect Day” popped into the prose. We couldn’t acquire the copyright for the song so it didn’t make the final cut which really disappointed me.
GreenSpotBlue: The novel takes place in several boroughs of New York City. Could you describe how place plays a part in the story and what importance it has to the lives of the characters?
Richard Fulco: John is a native New Yorker. And like all native New Yorkers, he has a love-hate relationship with his home. He recognizes that he might not belong in Brooklyn, but is too frightened to move (or make a move of any kind, for that matter).
The wonderful thing about New York is that it’s always evolving and one of its drawbacks is that it’s always evolving. For a relic such as John who is detached from his surroundings, his roots, himself and is skeptical of the rapid gentrification of the late 90s/early 2000s and is afraid to let go of the past, change is something he will not abide.
John harbors a great deal of guilt, while he also idealizes the past. He romanticizes the notion that his childhood was a better time and that there was a better time in New York. John was raised in a New York that no longer exists.
GreenSpotBlue: One thing I noticed on rereading There Is No End to This Slope was the interesting juxtaposition between John's Emma and Emma Bovary in the opening. It seems to set up what follows especially in terms of Stephanie's disgust at Emma Bovary. Was this a conscious reference? How important are character names to you in transmitting some aspect of their role in the story?
Richard Fulco: When I begin working on something new, my male character is always “Stephen,” which I have stolen from James Joyce. Recently “Stephen” has given way to “Tim” or “Timmy.” There’s an implied innocence about the name “Timmy,” and I suspect “James” as well, that appeals to me. I’m interested in the manner in which a relatively naïve character navigates a hostile world.
When I started writing There Is No End to This Slope in 2005, the name “John Lenza” had been percolating. I wanted to write about an Italian-American, which is an underrepresented ethnicity in popular American literature, and the name Lenza was somewhat attractive to me, most likely because of the implication of the word “lens.” It’s through John’s “lens,” his distinct point of view, that we observe his surroundings, relationships, struggles, hardships, pain and suffering.
After years of rewriting, I discovered that John has some significant trouble with his Italian-American upbringing, so I gave him the name Gianni, not “Johnny.” John never wants to be called “Gianni.” It’s always “John.”
GreenSpotBlue: What books and/or writers have influenced you the most? Are there any writers or artists or music that you go to inspire or refresh you?
Richard Fulco: A partial list of works and artists that have influenced the writing of There Is No End to This Slope includes: Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Michael Thomas’ Man Gone Down, Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting For the Barbarians, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Samuel Bekett’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame, Harold Pinter’s Birthday Party, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Castle, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, Joshua Ferris’ Until We Came to the End, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the poetry of Robert Desnos, the songs of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Dylan, Paul Westerberg, Jagger and Richards, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and Lou Reed.
GreenSpotBlue: If there were one thing you wanted people to know about There Is No End To This Slope, what would it be?
Richard Fulco: I wouldn’t have finished the novel if it hadn’t been for my wife. Colleen supported me, at times financially, and not only cheered me on but proofread the entire novel and listened to me rattle on about it for the past six years. John Lenza could use somebody like Colleen in his life.