Questioner: It has been over a year since R.J. Nello interviewed himself for us here. With his third novel, Distances, out now, and a fourth in the works, we’ve asked him back. So he’s in the studio with us now. We are a bit surprised, because we’d got the impression last time that he thought….
R.J. Nello: ….Uh, that I thought you’re a loser. That’s an acceptable expression now given a highly thought of, perpetually gracious and always dignified, presidential aspirant uses it constantly. Never since George Washington occupied the office himself has such a man….
Q: It’s morning! Are you drunk already? Or just being sarcastic? You can’t be talking about Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee?
Nello: I was being sarcastic. I’m completely sober. Gave up drink for Lent.
Q: Good. If you were drunk I’d hate to imagine what you might start saying….
Nello: I like your new on-set coffee table. Not made here in England, I presume.
Q: It’s from IKEA. Are you planning on going all angry author and overturning this one too?
Nello: Don’t mislead your viewers. I never actually did that, you remember. Anyway, I’ve matured in dealing with media types like you. I don’t take you all that seriously.
Q: At the very least I was expecting you to make fun of me again for not offering you a glass of pre-interview wine, like they assuredly would on France 24.
Nello: It’s a great channel. François Picard is a fantastic anchor, isn’t he? Oh, and Marjorie Paillon follows *ME* on Twitter.
Q: Really. Anyway, Distances completes the three-volume series you’d been writing about those 20-somethings in Europe in the 1990s….
Nello: For now, it winds it up, but they’ll be back. I’m proud of the books. I want to follow them on and introduce still more characters. There are three new characters in Distances, Bradley, Schéhérazade and Clémence, who we’ll probably see more of in a fourth novel. But as matters stand now, the Atlantic Lives novels are three books that I wouldn’t die regretting or embarrassed by my authoring effort. I wrote what I wanted.
Q: In a fourth book, do you actually plan to kill off a major character who’s been very important in the first three books?
Nello: I’m not telling you that. I know I’m more relaxed and comfortable being interviewed, but I swear if you push me too much I could still overturn this table. With three books written, I’ve gotten much better at being the arrogant author.
Q: Speaking of current Europe, Mr. Nello, there’s lots of talk about Europe over in America now. What with the ongoing refugee-migrant influx. And now Britons are going to vote in a country-wide referendum in June about whether to leave the European Union.
Nello: Europe is always in the news in the U.S. Our national being is directly a result of European colonization – and France’s intervening in the war of independence from England. Still, I don’t think Americans at home really give a damn about something called “the European Union.” I bet quite a few of them think that’s an upscale Seattle-based supermarket chain where you can get French cheeses.
Q: Your new manuscript is centered around the French Revolution.
Nello: More or less. Americans back in the 1780s and 1790s were fascinated by France then, too. Everyone in the U.S. thinks Thomas Jefferson was there for it, but he wasn’t. He left late in 1789 before things got REALLY ugly. Then from the U.S. he was issuing all sorts of detached, deluded pronouncements as Secretary of State about how, well, sigh, yes, bad things will happen in overthrowing kings. Long after, in 1820, he would write philosophically of how “the boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave,” but presumably in that nifty turn of phrase he hadn’t had mass drownings of innocent people, including children, in mind. I’m far more interested in those little-known Americans and diplomats who were there watching such horrors unfold. I greatly admire Jefferson on many things, but on the French Revolution he was so waaaaaaay off that when the full magnitude of its horrors sank in even he couldn’t explain it all away with a barrage of clever Jeffersonian words.
Q: You’ve lost both your mother and your uncle since we spoke last….
Nello: Yes, it was really tough. I miss her, which I’m sure isn’t a shock. I still haven’t quite internalized that she’s gone, but I suppose these things come to us as we move on in life. It’s inevitable.
Nello: And as you know my uncle was a well-regarded, much-published crime novelist since the 1980s. When I told him what I was writing, he was so encouraging, and loved what I was writing. While my dad’s still here, he nearly died of heart failure in 2014. I don’t come from a family of long-lived men, so I’m figuring I have only maybe another two decades or so. After I’m gone, my books will be here. I’d never write trash I wasn’t proud of “eternity” reading…. Uh, what are you doing?
Q: Just making some notes, and nodding along at your deep thoughts there.
Nello: Nice try. I think you’re checking your phone. Did your girlfriend message you?
Q: Don’t say that! I’m a married man! God, my wife will be watching this interview!
Nello: Okay, you can edit that bit out. Sorry. May I continue?
Nello: I’ll be mixing real-life 18th century figures in true situations with fictional characters and settings to move the story along and give it a unity. I dropped in a hint in Distances about two romantic real ones, but I’m not saying more than that here. It’s going to be built around a fictional young upstate New Yorker who travels to England and France on family business and meets a slew of historical people with whom he becomes friends, and unwittingly becomes part of events. I think that sort of an approach is a great way to tell a story and to share some history too. I’m really excited about this novel.
Q: You kinda hinted at that characterization in a recent blog post. It sounds familiar in that respect to the first three novels.
Nello: Funny, but I had not actually thought of it that way until recently. That it does reminds us that even when you aim as a writer to do something “different” you invariably come back to the storytelling premises that you know well. Still it is a challenge, a huge one. It will likely be a one-off effort, unlike the ongoing Atlantic Lives novels.
Q: So it’s a change, too.
Nello: It is. You know, the violence and murder are upsetting to read about even today. Did you know there’s a town in upstate New York not far from where we have a house, where they actually commemorate Bastille Day with a faux guillotine?
Nello: Yes, really. What a bunch of morons. Adrienne Lafayette, wife of one of our Founding Fathers, two of whose children were named “George-Washington” and “Virginie” after Virginia, came within hours of being slaughtered herself. She was probably saved only due to the intervention of an irate American diplomat. Using entirely his own judgement and initiative because there wasn’t time to confer with superiors in the U.S. before telephones and email, he worked his way through a maze of Jacobin “government” Paris ministries yelling at and jabbing at every so-called “official” he could get at, ranting that President Washington considered the Marquis de Lafayette’s young wife virtually his daughter, and if she were murdered he and most other Americans would go absolutely bats-it crazy – although naturally he didn’t use that exact expression, but if it existed you suspected he would have. He made such a nuisance of himself he was probably lucky he didn’t lose his own head. But butcher-in-chief Robespierre realized the American was absolutely serious and, fearing to make an enemy of George Washington, spared her. However, her mother, grandmother and sister were all decapitated and their headless bodies tossed into a mass grave. The guillotine was no joke.
Q: It certainly wasn’t….
Nello: I dropped in a reference to that “Virginie” name coming from “Virginia” in this Florida beach scene in Distances. I love slipping in stuff like this into my books:
Q: When can we expect to see the new book?
Nello: I’m in no rush. I want it to be as good as possible. Probably not before next year sometime.
Q: Back to the present. I have to ask because Europeans would love to know. Will Donald Trump be elected president?
Nello: I don’t know. This is an insane presidential election year. If Trump does win, he’s what most American voters want. Alas, not every president is going to be another George Washington…. or even, uh, Martin Van Buren…. who, ahem, by the way, will make an appearance in my coming book.
Q: Oooh, Martin Van Buren appearing in a romance novel? I’m sure your readers can’t wait…. but, uh, Mr. Nello, as you bring up our Dutch-accented, one-term, 8th president, who came from some tiny village somewhere in upstate New York, alas unfortunately that’s all the time we have for this interview. Thank you very much. And a good weekend to all of you patient and indulgent people who’ve joined us as well and stayed here to the end. You all deserve medals. 🙂