James Mustich interviewed Richard Price, author of seven novels including the newly released Lush Life, for Barnes & Noble.
One exchange from the interview:
JM: After your first four books [Editor's note: Ladies' Man and The Breaks followed The Wanderers and Bloodbrothers], you took a hiatus from fiction and did mostly screenplays, before coming back with Clockers. You've often talked about how exhilarating it was to discover, through screenwriting, a way to write that wasn't autobiographical.Read the full interview.
RP: Right. Writing screenplays sort of forced me to leave my autobiography. I was a hired pen, and they weren't interested in my story. They want you to write about Paul Newman being a pool hustler, say, which means you've got to go out and learn about this stuff, and you've got to write about it in such a way that it looks like you know what you're talking about. You've got to go out and learn about the world, as opposed to sit at home and sort of look in a mirror and write what you see. At first, it was a very intimidating proposition, but I found out I could do it, and it opened up the whole world to me.
But I also discovered that you still have to find the story. When you're writing novels, and it's your call what to write about -- not "This is what the market wants right now in terms of big-ticket screenplays" -- you still have to find a subject that rings a bell, that in some way intersects with the things that you care about. It might not be you. I mean, it might be cops and robbers. I'm neither a cop nor a robber, but there's something in that environment that attracts me -- that's connected to The Wanderers and stuff like that. What I got from doing the screenplays is that somebody kicked me off the diving board, and I found out that I could swim, and I've never stopped swimming since.
That's the reason I stopped writing novels to go into screenplays: I was so tied in to feeling like I could only write about what I personally knew that I ran out of things to write about. The screenplays got me past that, but the problem now is that every time I start a new book, it's daunting. So with this new book, which is set on the Lower East Side, as with Clockers , it was very intimidating to me to try to encompass the material, just know it well enough to fashion a fictional story from it.
But I always feel like the best work comes when you're a little scared of what you're about to do, because you don't think you can quite do it, and therefore you have to bring everything you have to pull it off. It's like the old saying, "terror keeps you slender." Scared is a good way to be.
Read Price's interview with Mark Athitakis of Washington City Paper.
See my 2006 post, "A novel for fans of HBO's The Wire."