Questioner: Hello. We’re back once more with the extraordinary R. J. Nello, interviewing himself. It’s now three months since his last self-interview, and comes shortly after the December 1st release of his new book, Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996. Mr. Nello, welcome….
R. J. Nello: Uh, thank you. You’re making me nervous. That was actually a reasonable introduction. How am I supposed to make fun of you now?
Q: I thought I’d throw you off a bit. It’s an old interviewer ploy, trying to make you comfortable before I go for the jugular. But I also did figure you deserved at least a little respect after another nearly 100,000 words. A second book makes you a real, ongoing novelist. Big stuff, you are. I’m trembling in your mere presence.
Nello: You got that right. After nearly another year of struggle. I suppose it’s also time for me finally to give in and appear on Jay Leno. When they ring, I suppose I’ll tell them I’ll do it. I don’t really want to, though. I’m very shy. Why do you think we’re doing this interview in the Catskills? Woodstock is just down the road. That town, wow, they got people walkin’ around who think it’s still 1969….
Q: Leno’s not on the air any longer. He left the show.
Nello: What? No Jay? What happened? Geez, you miss lots living in Britain.
Q: There are other people doing U.S. late night TV now.
Nello: Who watches those programs anyway? 12:30 AM? Can’t be anyone with a day job?
Q: I think it’s mostly college students.
Nello: Figures. Then they become exchange students and represent America throughout the world among people who have never been to the U.S., and perhaps never met an American in person before. Then get themselves arrested and convicted of murder in Italy. Delightful.
Q: Not all of them are that bad.
Nello: I know. But still, if I see another 21 year old given a Guardian column I may jump through my skin. “People with more money than me suck.” That’s what passes for deep thinking today.
Q: But the young do tell us….
Nello: They’re allowed to be young. We all were. I remember being 21 and thinking, “Oh, I’ll put the world to rights! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” Within a few years, I grew up.
Q: What about idealism? Where would we be without it?
Nello: Indeed. But “Dude, everything stinks!” is a 5 year old’s worldview. We’re also blessed – if that is the right word? – with aging former comedians given cable shows. They can’t even fall back on age as some excuse. But eventually they say something so rude and over the line that they get fired. Until then, we learn from them the likes of, “God ain’t up there in the clouds,” and “the Pope wears a funny hat and doesn’t like birth control.” How groundbreaking! I’m supposed to pay HBO for those insights?
Q: If you’re talking about who I think you are, some think he’s funny and has interesting things to say.
Nello: Sorry, I’m more challenged by that porcupine that’s been chewing at the edge of our house. You’d think someone would’ve told me they like the salt in our wood stain? Ah, the Catskills. Some people also think Elvis is alive. Some also see aliens in woodwork. Here, this is in our house. Check this out:
A main support in our house. Catskills, New York. [Photo by me, 2014.]
I don’t see Elvis. Sorry, I see an empty wine rack….
Nello: No, no, look at the post, not the rack. That’s right, you’re being watched. Two aliens are living in our woodwork. Definitive photographic evidence.
Q: What does this have to do with that guy on HBO?
Nello: Nothing. I just thought I’d mention it.
Q: Uh, very impressive….
Nello: Or that other guy on Comedy Central. Let’s be honest: he’s just like uncounted other back of the room smart alecks we all went to school with. Make a funny face at how idiotic ___________ is! Yippee! Pay me millions! Well, why not? As the Irish would say, in the long run we’re all feckin’ doomed anyway. [Shrug.]
Q: Hmmm, you aren’t some secret conservative?
Nello: Don’t get me started on the right. I just want to say one thing about Fox News. I remember over the summer seeing some woman on a group jabber show on there. She’s about, oh, maybe age 12, and she was lecturing millions of viewers around the world about the so-called “Islamic State” and how the Middle East is, you know, all so complicated and messy. It was like sitting through a 7th grader’s book report. Look, I’m sure she’s a nice person. I think I heard she has a radio show. Of course she does. Everyone has a radio show. Why not her too? Yet for all that I’d have given her a C+. True, I wouldn’t have pressed her on where Aleppo is on a map, or about Hezbollah’s intervention. But at least she seemed to know where Syria is. Yet it all makes you want to ram your head through a wall.
Q: So you’d never promote your books on TV?
Nello: One of my relations is a TV news producer on a program you might recognize. Like on “The Newsroom,” except it’s actually crazier than that in real life. Years ago, she told me her boss used to wake up and the first thing she did every morning was throw up. Does Emily Mortimer do that?
Q: That’s disgusting. Anyway, your point is?
Nello: “Pointless!” Not everyone wants to be on TV. I want to write books people will like, not mug for a camera. Besides I’ve noticed my hair is thinning a bit on the top of my head in the back. Oh, well, I’ve made it into my 40s. Not bad. Have you seen Mr. Armstrong on “Pointless” in Britain? A great voice. Pleasant host. But on no account should he ever turn his back to the camera. It’s thin back there.
Q: Yep, you’re evidence for sure that pen names are a good idea at times…..
Nello: They’re freedom. So is independent publishing. Don’t kid yourself. It would be nice to make some money, but you don’t write to get rich. So what I do is going to be mine. One of my proofreaders is a published children’s author. I had told her I was adamant that I would indy-publish because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to write. Like anyone told PBS TV painter, the now late Bob Ross, “Oh, put another tree in there, Bob. You know, it also really needs more spice? Hmm, how about a half-naked woman?”
Q: I can’t….
Nello: But writers are supposed to be edited? Really? In whose rulebook? You could give the same manuscript to ten different editors and be left holding your head at what each of them decided wasn’t necessary and what was.
Q: Editing is very important….
Nello: Yes, has its place of course, but leave me the hell alone about my story. Everyone tells you what to write. Damn it, write your own book then! Since books exist forever, I’m not going to leave behind my (pen) name on anything someone else wanted me to write, but probably won’t earn me lots of money anyway. Why do that? Sell one’s soul for nothing? No! No! Non! Last time: I will not make “Isabelle” a vampire!
Q: Please, Mr. Nello, here, have a sip of water….
Nello: Whew. Sorry. Thank you. [Gulp, gulp, gulp.] Wait. This is actually water!
Q: Uh, I said that.
Nello: I thought you were kidding. You saw that empty wine rack. I thought it was white wine. But I’d prefer a brandy. Sorry, I forgot. You don’t work for France 24. Typical prohibitionist American.
Q: Now, to the covers.
Nello: Yes, please. If we can’t drink to escape, let’s talk about my novels.
Q: Your covers are intriguing?
Nello: They are my photographs that I’ve taken over the years. I suppose I could employ someone to do photography or artwork. I promise if I ever sell millions of books, I’ll hire lots of staff. We should all help each other.
Q: Specifically, the back cover of the new book, Frontiers. There’s no photo description anywhere. Ahem, now, uh, that young woman pictured, she is….
Nello: Nice try, pal. Not a chance. No way. I’m not saying who she is. Not ever. Not even if you spiked my water.
Q: Umm, you write about lots of people from various places. Can’t you at least tell us her nationality?
Nello: I’ll say only that she’s French. That’s all. Fin. Next question.
Nello: Stop now, or I’ll go all Gore Vidal on you. I mean it.
Q: Sorry, sorry, I forgot you have been practicing your authoring smugness and arrogance. You’ve much improved since September.
Nello: Ah, you’ve noticed. Good. I think I’ve about got it down now. I’ve also got pompous American expatriate down too. “Oh, daaaarling, everyone else does everything better outside of the U.S.” Actually, uh, they don’t. Take a train in central Brussels, and you’ll be wishing you were on Amtrak. Yes, they do some things better, but hardly everything. Like in The Winds of War….
Q: Please, not back to that book again. Mr. Nello….
Nello: I have vowed I will finish it! I will! All 1,100 glorious pages of it!
Q: In Frontiers, we learn a lot more about most of the characters. And “Uncle Bill,” well, he really makes his presence felt.
Nello: He deserved to. As you know, he is partly inspired by my real novelist uncle. But “Uncle Bill” is not him, you understand….
Q: Oh, yeh [wink, wink].
Nello: Don’t start with the wink, wink stuff. You suddenly turned into another know-it-all guy on HBO? I told you in September that no one in the books is a real person. They are drawn from people I’ve known over the years, but none are any one individual. These books are FICTION!
Q: There are some surprises. The beginning, well, with “Valérie,” wow….
Nello: Did it grab you? Good, that’s what I wanted.
Q: And by the end, you’ve got us all wanting to know what’s going to happen to them all.
Nello: Again, that’s the plan. That’s why it’s called “a series.” Geez.
Q: You do tackle some serious stuff. The fall of the Soviet Union. Israel. Lebanon. Racism. Immigration. And other things mixed in.
Nello: Fiction allows that in a way that isn’t necessarily preachy. The characters can get some facts wrong too. It’s not an encyclopaedia. My own views are not necessarily those of the characters. I try to write from behind their eyes. I actually disagree with quite a few things I’ve written.
Q: Gee, that was thoughtful. You aren’t as all arrogant, smug, expatriate author as you pretend to be. I think you’re hiding that you’re really a mush.
Nello: I just try to be realistic and, yes, I suppose, reflective. None of the characters are decision-makers, or heads of corporations or bazillionaires. They deal with the world the way we all do: Imperfectly. And this is supposed to be entertainment, after all. I remember reading about a famous director who was confronted by a fan who had spotted a minor inconsistency in one of his films. The director answered, “It’s only a movie.” Absolutely. We have to have fun too.
Q: It is the case that some people do take some things way too seriously.
Nello: Some of the new book is lighthearted also of course – like sharing a flight across the Atlantic and going through U.S. immigration. Always an “amusing” experience.
Q: So, on the whole, are you pleased with it?
Nello: Honestly? After I hit publish, I wanted to throw up. I felt a bit like a TV producer must feel. But I’d given writing it my best effort. When it’s over, as the Bangles sang, let it go.
Q: So it means a lot to you?
Nello: It does. A great deal. I know I have done three interviews with you often kidding about a lot of things. But when it comes to what’s in my novels, it’s no joke. I take what I do very seriously. I strive to do the best I can. Readers deserve the best you can give them. Yes, as with that director no doubt something must be “imperfect” in it. But that is life too. If I have one aim, it is to produce works I am proud of, and that readers will enjoy and want to follow in coming installments in years to come.
Q: Uh, that’s really two aims?
Nello: Sorry, I got a bit carried away. But you know what I meant.
Q: Just pulling your leg. Let me stop you there. Let’s end on a high note.
Nello: Oh, before I forget, one thing. No Good Morning America appearance. I won’t do it. I mean that. That program is in la-la land.
NOTE: The first two parts of this scintillating interview started here, back on September 13. ;-)
NOTE 2: Indeed we so often have to try to laugh. Try to have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)
UPDATE, December 5: Not everyone in Frontiers is fictional[ized]. One person was quite real and is portrayed in the book as herself. I explain why here.