Fred Venturini, author of The Samaritan, was kind enough to join me for an interview. The Samaritan is a fantastic read that follows Dale as he discovers he has the ability to regenerate parts of his body and most of his organs. Sadly for Dale, this doesn’t mean that the rest of his life is going to be as healthy as his body. The Samaritan is part comic book and part fantastic novel – together, a deadly mix. Thanks for joining me, Fred.
The Samaritan can be purchased from Amazon (US) and from Amazon (UK).
Interview is as follows:
1.) I’ve read that you read a lot of comic books. The Samaritan follows the discovery then rise of Dale Sampson; would the novel be a different experience if it wasn’t for the influence of comics?
Most of my comic awareness comes from films, which have often gotten men interested in the world and canon of those worlds. Which then drives me into the comics themselves, or articles, or getting lost in Wikipedia. I mention this so I don’t present myself as a true comic buff when I’m not. But the one aspect that has popped up recently, whether it be in graphic novel form or in the movies, is the “serious” nature in which the material is treated—compare the camp of Adam West’s Batman to the gritty reality of Bale and Nolan’s interpretation of the character.
In any case, I’m far more fascinated with Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne than I am with their alter-egos. Thing is, once Spiderman is jumping around or Batman’s kung-fuing someone in the neck, they’re elemental, simple characters. The depth comes from their humanity. I never wanted Dale to lapse into that one-dimensional “super” category. So if the comics influenced one thing for me, it was to treat the fantastic with a human and realistic edge—one of the reasons I started the book so early in Dale’s childhood, a sort of “origin story” if you will. I wanted to focus on the reality of his condition, how it affected him and his relationships. The regenerative powers are almost a cosmic laugh in his face, considering the constant injury, both physical and emotional, that he endures throughout the course of the book.
2.) Dale Sampson and Mack are best friends from school. Their adventures along the novel never ruin the close bond of friendship that they share. Are any of the stories or events that happen in the book linked to your childhood?
The short answer is yes. I wanted to root the fantastical elements in a real world, so in the vein of “sell what you know” I went with a small town (I’m from one) and rolled up some of the more interesting behaviors of all my crazy friends to help create a guy like Mack Tucker.
One of the book’s origins is from one of my friends, Deb Garwood, who opened a discussion in our writing group about how guys stay friends forever, long after they should have outgrown each other. In some way, the book explores that—how these guys, who weren’t a “match” in the first place, continue to change and twist and grow as strange things occur, yet the bond is always there. Perhaps dormant at times, but always around. And you get the feeling it always will be.
3.) Out of all the powers to give a lead character, what made you decide to choose regeneration and do you think the novel would have worked as well if Dale had a different power?
For the longest time, I had a note that said, “Guy can regenerate organs and limbs, gives away on reality show.” So I had the power and a piece of the premise long before I had a character or a story. Getting the characters together, choosing a person to inhabit this power took the longest—quite a bit of exploration, stops, and starts.
I couldn’t imagine Dale having any other kind of power. The whole hook for me, the thing that made it interesting to think about and write about was that a guy who can just continue getting hurt, time and time again, continues to regenerate, only to get hurt again. It’s the healing process that I really wanted to dig into, so any other power wouldn’t have fit that arc. He was built specifically to wrap around that regeneration ability.
4.) With the emergence of Kindle and E-readers, what’s your view on the electronic vs print debate?
My view is, the debate is over. E-readers are here to stay, embrace them, market to them, enjoy them. I just got a Kindle myself, and love it. You’d be surprised how much I love not having to turn pages. You can get an instant book fix. It’s like playing a video game that involves reading. In the publishing world, it’s adapt or die, and luckily, I think we’re seeing a lot more adapting recently than we have as e-readers first took center stage.
I also feel that print books will always be around, that book lovers will always have the feel and smell of pages, tight binding, crisp print to have and to hold. I just think that they will be more of a collector’s item down the road. You know when kids buy Call of Duty games (well, kids and me) and there’s the “prestige” edition with some sort of helmet from the game or something? I think hardcover books are going to be like that. You can get the full meal deal and the hardcover will come bundled with an electronic edition, but the bulk of sales and readership are going to come electronically. Will it shake out like this? Who knows. The next big change could be around the corner. But I’m sticking with this prediction. For now.
5.) Did you encounter difficulties when writing from the perspective of Dale, a character who ultimately is depressed the majority of the time with little optimism?
I won’t sit here and say it was easy, but I wouldn’t call the voice itself difficult. I enjoy operating in the first person, so I could sort of be the most cynical parts of myself throughout the text. I would often listen to depressing or downtrodden music to keep the narration from getting too bright and cheery.
6.) What are your writing plans for the future?
Three words—write more stuff. A new novel is in progress, and I still lapse into the occasional throwaway essay or blog subject (which you can enjoy at www.fredventurini.com). Producing work is what got me this far, so producing work will obviously help me progress. You can’t be a working writer unless you work.
7.) If you were in Dale’s position, how would your hero’s journey progress?
Let’s take this from the point of the tragedy he endures in high school—it’s tough to put myself in those shoes, but for the most part, I try to have a growth mindset and take a lot of pride in working through setbacks. I don’t see myself lapsing into the clutches of paralyzing doubt and fear like Dale does. But it was easy to see how someone could succumb to that, and can’t totally rule it out if that was my hurdle in my own “hero’s journey.”
8.) In The Samaritan, it was a case of Dale not changing but the changing of the people around him. Was it difficult to change the secondary characters but keep Dale the same?
I tried to make sure each major character had an arc, so I wasn’t intentionally trying to stunt Dale while flipping the other characters. At the end, I think everyone is different for the journey. Dale has wanted all along to have a normal life, and when it’s handed to him, does it change him? Or does he miss the life he just left behind? Mack is changed—but is it by choice, or by circumstance? Questions that as an author I explore, but don’t intentionally try to answer. I like letting things take their course and there’s just a feeling of being finished, that these guys are done with this part of their lives and its time to end the book.
9.) What advice would you give to writers who want to include a fantasy or supernatural element in their story but keep the rest of it realistic?
Focus on character. Develop characters and backstory. Search for a context in which the element occurs. Too much, someone comes up with a sweet hook and throws some work together, but it’s all about the hook, it’s all glossy, all flash, but no lasting substance. The film equivalent of this for me in recent years has been the Transformers series. Do people really care about Sam or Optimus Prime? Do they know them and their motivations at all? Or do they just like loud noises?
10.) If you had a super power, what would it be?
In keeping with the context of a writerly interview, the ability to have ideas pop out fully formed and perfect as a three hundred page manuscript would be nice, just sprouting out of my forehead like the birth of Athena. But really, who the hell wouldn’t want to fly or be invisible? The best would be to fly around invisible. Stealth bomber superhero—that would be cool.