An Interview With Fred Venturini
A few months back somebody recommended me The Samaritan by Fred Venturini. Then someone else did. Not one of the reviews I read had a bad word to say about it. Eventually I got my act together and bought the book. Have to say I’m glad that I did, for it is a fantastic novel. An odd mixture of reality TV and comic-book-world noir, it puts a brand new slant on the superhero story.
Dale Sampson is the guy with the superpower and he is a hero in his own way. He’s just not the bad-ass action man or the hyper-intelligent psychic you might expect. Instead we have a flawed and damaged character but one that feels refreshing human.
Dale can regenerate parts of his body, even after they’ve been surgically removed. He discovers this talent after a night of tragedy rips apart the lives of him and his school friends. The end result is him donating his organs to people waiting on transplant lists, all for the sake of a hit reality TV show. However, throughout his climb to fame Dale has an agenda of his own, an agenda with its roots in the fateful night that tore apart his teenage dreams. The one person he wants to save more than any seems to be the one person who won’t let him.
I came away from this book with was a real sense of having gotten under Dale’s skin, mainly due to the first part of the book being almost pure character build. The characters are likeable and believable despite the fantasy element. Once the action gets properly underway the pace quickens and Dale’s grip on his spiralling world of showbiz and exploitation grows desperate. For me supernatural characters are most interesting when we measure them with their weaknesses. Show me a perfect hero and I’ll show you a boring one. In this regard I found Dale “The Samaritan” Sampson to be fascinating.
You can find Fred online here.
Hi, Fred, and welcome to Solarcide.
So, whilst reading up for this interview I found a story called Love In Standard Definition that you submitted to The Cult’s workshop. It’s basically an embryonic version of The Samaritan, right? How did that happen, when did you realise there was so much potential to the story?
Wow, good find. I knew there was more to it when workshoppers (at both the Cult and in my MFA classes at the time) complained that the story was too much summary, that it read like a super-packed version of a novel. I wanted to see if there was more to it, so I started fleshing and extending the short story by starting in their childhood, and it stayed there for a while, and about fifty pages in I knew it would be a complete book and I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I’m finished. I think a lot of writers toy around with shorter stuff that ends up being a longer, more complete work. I’m just glad I had the feedback to nudge me in that direction.
*The building of Dale’s character spans over many years of his life. You manage to have him grow over time yet keep a sense of continuity. Was it difficult to write this way, to have such leaps in the timeline?
Timeline is a tightrope, because I think you have to find the right parts to linger when you’re moving along a timeline. If you don’t stop in the right spots, when you shuttle forward, you run the chance of leaping right over something crucial or leaving a reader pissed and confused. Tough choices abound, and I hope I made some good ones.
*The bond between Dale and his buddy Mack is a huge part of the story that matures alongside the characters. What made you want to examine this friendship in such detail?
Because I wanted to explore friendship, in general, especially male friendship, how the tender moments happen with a lot of hesitation, some silence, or wrapped up in a joke. How guys deal with jealousy, rejection, failure, and pain. I couldn’t really start the book until I knew it was about friendship more than anything else.
*You ever nailed a guy in the head with a toaster or was that part pure imagination?
No, but I’ve been nailed in the head with a toaster during our “hardcore wrestling” phase back in college. Just walked into a dorm room and wham, right to the side of the head. Collapsed the whole toaster, but you know what? Didn’t hurt that bad, no blood, no concussion (that I know of). Now if you swing it by the cord and the corner hits someone…
Where did the idea for the TV show originally come from? It was in the short story so I’d guess it’s something you’ve been pondering for a while.
I’m always coming up with weird reality shows and that was one of them. The entire story originated with a note in my Moleskin, “Guy can re-grow organs and limbs, gives away on reality show.” Didn’t touch that premise until I knew who this would happen to. Character is important to me. As for the Dedications reality show, I caught the pilot for a similar show on VH1 about ten years ago. Don’t think much came of it, but it was just the right amount of cornballishness to use in the book. I bet it would be a huge hit today, when most reality TV is vapid and engrossing in a car wreck sort of way.
*Would you agree with my previous statement that supernatural characters make for more interesting reading when they are measured by their weaknesses?
I think all characters are interesting when measured by their weaknesses. I search for weaknesses in everyone I write. It creates humanity, empathy, and most of all, suspense and conflict. The more powerful or supernatural, the more important it is to find the weakness in them. I mean, Superman would be pretty damn boring if he wasn’t vulnerable to kryptonite and Lois Lane. I think that’s a big reason the movie Sucker Punch sucked so bad, when they were in the “dream world,” there was absolutely zero danger to them because as a viewer, you know they’re in a state where they can’t be harmed.
*The book has been out for a little over six months now. What’s been the best part of the whole releasing-a-novel experience?
The best part? Getting to interact and engage with people about writing and reading. Bonus points go to interacting with people I was previously fans of, admiring from afar, never thinking I would have a discussion with them as a fellow novelist. Another cool thing is working on a new project, knowing you’re going to have some steam and momentum when it’s done.
*Finally, any other projects planned for the future? Where do you plan to go next in your writing adventures?
I’m tackling my second book jitters with some apocalyptic, four horsemen action wrapped around a love story with a gooey center of “what am I going to do with my life” college angst. I’ve always got some short stories I’m working on, but anymore, I feel like I’m cheating on my novel if I give them too much attention. Beats the shit out of writer’s block that’s for sure.
*Many thanks for your time, Fred. All the best!
Fred Venturini completed a B.S. in English and Journalism at MacMurray College in 2002 and his MFA at Lindenwood University. His horror stories have appeared in River Styx, Polluto, Writer’s Post Journal, Susurrus, Sinister Tales, and Dark Distortions 2. His debut novel The Samaritan, was released by Blank Slate Press. He can be found online at http://www.fredventurini.com