This interview has been edited for readability, clarity and conciseness.
What was the inspiration that led you to write The Latecomers?
I wanted to write a novel about aging in America, about how I believe our society no longer treats our elders with the respect they deserve or values sufficiently the wisdom they’ve acquired over their lifetimes. Rather than tell a story about a couple in decline, as has been done many times, I decided to tell a story, couched as an adventure, about a couple who find their true destinies in the last third of their lives.
1) My first question is, where does the title for the book ‘The Big Wide Calm’ actually come from?
I believe there’s this place underneath all emotions that is the source of creativity, of true and deep love, of almost everything we do to fully live our lives. That’s what I call The Big Wide Calm. There are many ways into TBWC, but one of most difficult is to learn to go into your pain, your fears, your sadness, and use those things as a doorways. So the book is really Paige’s journey into The Big Wide Calm at one level, and at another the name of the album she’s working on in the year she spends with her mentor, John Bustin.
Rich, you have such an interesting background of being a musician, songwriter and author. Can you share more information about how you developed all three talents?
Music came first, and was the result of a tragedy. When I was twelve, my father died suddenly and violently. I was with him at the time and blamed myself for his death. One of the main ways I grieved his loss was through music. I taught myself to play guitar and piano shortly after he died, and I’ve been playing ever since. I remember spending whole days learning songs by ear at a piano or playing guitar until my finger blisters wouldn’t allow me to continue. The writing started when I was in college. I had a professor who saw potential in my writing and offered to teach me how to write novels. I was broke at the time, so I opted to make some money instead. But I continued to write on the side, and about four years ago I left corporate America to write full time.
As this is your second book, were there things you wanted to do differently with this book as opposed to your first?
Yes and no. Since this is the second of three books I’m writing about different kinds of love, thematically I tried to remain consistent. On the other hand, The Big Wide Calm has a young female protagonist, Paige Plant, and is written in first person, present tense. I spent a great deal of time speaking with women, young and old, to make sure Paige’s voice was true. As a writer, it’s important for me to be able to characterize both men and women of all different ages and backgrounds. Naturally, it’s a little harder to characterize a women, especially one as strong as Paige, but I’m happy to say I’m really proud of how she turned out.
On Today’s Episode, you will meet…Rich Marcello
If Rich Marcello could choose only one creative mentor, he’d give the role to Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers. This is not only because he currently resides in New England, where Jonathan started, but because of his life as a contemporary fiction author, poet and songwriter, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs he’s written. Rich grew up in New Jersey surrounded by song and word.
What authors inspire you?
Thomas Pynchon. David Foster Wallace. George Saunders. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Alice Walker. Kay Ryan. Audre Lorde.
You came to writing after a career in high-tech. Can you tell us a little about becoming a working writer? What inspired the transition? And how did you approach learning the craft?
In a way, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve written songs for over thirty years and poetry, as well. When I was in college, I was writing short stories and even had the resident novelist at Notre Dame offer to mentor me. But I was broke and in debt at the time, so I made a decision to go into hi-tech.
About five years ago, after a lot of soul-searching, I realized I’d accomplished what I wanted to in hi-tech and decided to come back to writing. For the first couple of years, I took as many classes as I could to help perfect my craft. I also was fortunate to be mentored by Mark Spencer, who won the Faulkner Award a number of years ago. I’ve probably learned the most about writing a novel through my interactions with him.
The Big Wide Calm
Q. What made you decide to leave corporate life behind to persue a writing career?
A. About four years ago, I got an idea to write three novels about different kinds of love. The first, The Color of Home, was published in 2013 and is about romantic love. The third, The Beauty of the Fall, will be published in 2015 and is about love within your sphere of influence. The Big Wide Calm, just published in July, is about platonic love. I left to write those three novels which was one of the best decisions I ever made. After that, I have ideas for another ten or so novels, so I’m planning to write for the rest of my life.
Looking back at both of your publications, What do you think you did that makes your books stand out above the rest?
I try to infuse my books with a great deal of emotional intimacy. In addition, because I’m also a songwriter and poet, I try to incorporate poetic and song elements into my writing. Sometimes I’ll spend a couple of hours on a paragraph until I get the words right. The combination of emotional intimacy and poetic writing is what helps the books stand out.