Richard St.Ofle interviewed in ‘Burnside’
No Wolf (the waygoing compromise) author Richard St.Ofle was recently interviewed by Stephanie NikolopoulosÂ of Burnside Writers Collective. In the interview, St.Ofle discusses his motivation for writing his personal memoir, the influence that Jack Kerouac had on his life and his connection to Guadeloupe:
Richard St. Ofle Is No Wolf
(note: the original article post can be found here:
I kind of hated Richard St. Ofle when I first started reading his autobiographical debut, No Wolf.Â Â I turned page after page, mad at the narratorâ€“and consequently, by virtue of the genre, the author.Â From there, I quickly made the jump to the male population as a whole.Â That might sound unfair, but the story centers around a passionate young man who leaves his wife for another woman, a story weâ€™ve heard time after time in novels, celebrity tabloids, and conversations with friends.
St. Ofleâ€™s writing is visceral, thoughâ€“a fast-paced, raw travelogue into the heart of Guadeloupe and the mind of a young man trying to figure love out.Â I soon found myself caught up in Richardâ€™s story.Â He wasnâ€™t afraid to bare his heart on the page.Â He wasnâ€™t bragging nor justifying; he knew he wasnâ€™t the good guy in the story.Â Rather, his self-awareness revealed the frustration, pain, and, yes, the beauty of the human condition.Â We are all searching, stumbling, yearning, and St. Ofle, well-read and indie cultured, has the literary verve to express loveâ€™s complexity.
I asked the publisher, Ashbury Way, how he came to publish No Wolf, and he said heâ€™d known St. Ofle for close to a decade.Â â€œBy chance one day I decided to check out his website,â€ says the publisher.Â â€œ[T]he sample [of the book] heâ€™d posted was riveting,â€ and so Ashbury Way asked to see the manuscript.Â Soon after, Ashbury Way had offered to publish St. Ofleâ€™s book, and then for two weeks, whenever they werenâ€™t at their day jobs, the author and the publishing house labored â€™round the clock, editing, typesetting, and developing the cover.Â The hard work paid off. No Wolf is an excellent debut by an author whom I hope weâ€™ll be hearing from again soon.
Rather intrigued by Richard St. Ofle, his life story, his terse-yet-absorbing prose, and his Kerouac obsession, I had to find out more about his writing process and if he is working on another book.
Stephanie Nikolopoulos: Why did you write â€œNo Wolfâ€?
Richard St. Ofle:Â I realize how this sounds, and donâ€™t mind sounding clichÃ© if thatâ€™s how it comes out: The book totally wrote itself. Itâ€™s a story that was born out of the hardest experience of my life, and itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve been analyzing and hashing over ever since, both in my mind and with friends, so it was just there all along.
I knew, going into it, that it was going to be something Iâ€™d want to remember, for better or for worse, so I bought a notebook that I took with me everywhere, for the duration of the story. I was kind of obsessive about details, because itâ€™s only when a story is over that you really realize which details are the ones that mattered, so I wrote everything down. When the story was over, I opened the notebook back up at the beginning, and whittled it down to the story in the book.
I think I say something like this at the beginning of the book, too: The story, for me, had to be told. I didnâ€™t feel like an experience as hard as the one I went through could go untold. It would have been a waste if I didnâ€™t do anything with it.
The narration is raw with emotion.Â How did you allow yourself to be so vulnerable on the page?
Itâ€™s funny, a lot of people that know me personally are really surprised by that too, Iâ€™m not a very revealing person in real life â€” I have secrets, and Iâ€™m typically very personal and guarded about my feelings and emotions.
In writing the book though, early on, I decided that it would be a terrible story if I didnâ€™t make it a point to be as honest as I could be, and throughout I kept pushing myself to be honest and uncomfortably detailed with how I felt and what I was doing. I think the story only really works if Iâ€™m the villain, and if my motivations and flaws are really exposed, and to do that, I had to write a story that was as uncomfortably vulnerable and as honest as possible.
You reference Jack Kerouac (â€œOn the Roadâ€œ) a few times in the book.Â Your book certainly emulates Kerouacâ€™s spontaneity, his â€œfirst thought, best thoughtâ€ approach to writingâ€”and perhaps even life.Â Your feelings appear unedited, and yet certainly there were moments when you must have censored yourself.Â When you were writing, did you consider how the relationships you portrayed would be affected by your writing about them?
Yeah, Kerouac really changed my life. I found a copy of On the Road in my grandparentsâ€™ basement when I was 12, and even though a lot of it was way over my head, the emotion and energy were right there on the page and couldnâ€™t be mistaken, even as a 12-year-old, I felt it.
Iâ€™ve always dreamed of writing a book like that, with that fervor, and really tried to do that with â€œNo Wolf.â€
To answer your question, I really was painstakingly careful about editing myself, and tried to open the book by telling the reader that Iâ€™d be as honest as possible. With a story as emotional as this one, though, youâ€™re right, there were secrets that simply werenâ€™t mine to tell. I mean, I think I have the right to tell all of my secrets, but itâ€™s obviously unfair to tell (in print no less) other peopleâ€™s secrets, so I was careful about which details belonged to whom.
Iâ€™ll give you an example: There was a character in the book that during the time the story takes place was in a lot of trouble, just like me. Trouble that, though of a very different nature than the trouble I was in, really would have made a nice parallel, and I think I could have played with it a bit as a plot device, but I decided that I couldnâ€™t because that secret wasnâ€™t mine to tell.
I donâ€™t doubt that I offended people by writing about them the way that I have, but, and I mean this, in every case, these are amazing people Iâ€™ve written about, and they can surely take it.
Also like many of Kerouacâ€™s works, â€œNo Wolfâ€ is in part a travelogue.Â You take us into the culture of Guadeloupe, describing in detail the foods and music.Â Toward the end of the book, you refer to one of your relationships as the catalyst for the other.Â Do you think, though, that perhaps it could have been place or travel that served as a catalyst?
Yeah, there was a question that I kept asking the first few people who read the book, and that was â€œDoes Guadeloupe feel like a character, or a place?â€ I really didnâ€™t want it to be a setting, because sometimes books that are set in very specific locations tend to be taken over by that location. Think of reading â€œThe Old Man and the Seaâ€ if it wasnâ€™t set in Cuba, or â€œTo Kill a Mockingbirdâ€ if it wasnâ€™t in Macomb, Alabama! Not that thatâ€™s bad, but I just didnâ€™t think that was where I wanted to take the story, so I really tried to intertwine Guadeloupe with the character of Corine. I tried to describe them similarly, and to mention them at the same time, to really tie them together in the readerâ€™s mind so that Guadeloupe came off the page a little more.
I read an interview once, in which Kurt Vonnegut was saying that, by the end of the book, a reader should be able to respond to simple questions about characters, such as â€œwhat does this character want?â€ or â€œwhat would so-and-so do ifâ€¦â€ and I hope I gave Guadeloupe that sort of voice, even if itâ€™s just in an abstract way.
I do think that Guadeloupe had a huge hand in the outcome of the book, but because the Corine character and the Guadeloupe â€œcharacterâ€ are â€” in my mind at least â€” intertwined, it really doesnâ€™t matter. Jimi Hendrix talked about that a lot, actually. The song â€œLittle Wingâ€ was about the city of Monterey, and he decided to describe Monterey as if it were a woman â€“ Iâ€™ve always liked that idea.
Music also plays an important role in your book.Â You talk about The Beach Boys, Mogwai, and Karen O. You even created a soundtrackâ€”August Hellâ€˜s â€œBeautiful Teethmarksâ€œâ€”to the book.Â What is the significance of music in your book and how does it help shape the story?Â Why create a soundtrack?
Yeah, thatâ€™s another part of the notes I was talking about making â€“ Iâ€™d make really careful notes about the music I was listening to, and the correlation with where I was in the story, how I was feeling, and what I was listening to. I think itâ€™s incredibly important, not just in terms of what it means to me, but when Iâ€™m reading a book, I always imagine the music that I think certain characters would listen to, and I thought it was kind of a favor to my readers to answer that question for them.
The soundtrack came about because a good friend of mine and I were talking about what went on that summer, and so I sent him the book â€” back when it was just notes and sketches in a word document. He read the entire thing in an afternoon, and called me up, and we talked about it some more. He really understood how I felt, how everything in the book affected me, and what it would sound like to be there. Heâ€™s one of my favorite musicians, and so I asked him to make a soundtrack for the book â€” just because I felt like he understood it so well.
Now, because it takes an hour or so to listen to the soundtrack, and days to read the book, theyâ€™re not meant to be played in conjunction, consecutively. I think itâ€™s just the same story told with a different medium. Theyâ€™re meant to go together. Oh, and the soundtrack comes out on iTunes in a couple of days, too. We had it streaming up on the site until recently, but now people can go to iTunes and get it directly, which I think is a lot better. I think that everyone that has read, or will read the book should get it, it adds to the experience for sure.
In the book you say that you are not religious and yet you reference the Christian religion several times.Â In the beginning of the book, you talk about the sad eyes of Jesus.Â By the end of the book, though, youâ€™re invoking the term â€œborn again.â€Â Why did you choose to use religious terminology?
Yeah! I like that you asked this; no one yet has really picked up on it, but it was definitely intentional. As I was working out the story, I was reading Joseph Campbellâ€™s â€œThe Hero with a Thousand Faces,â€ which really breaks down and defines the heroâ€™s journey by comparing mythologies.
I reading it, I was drawn to these hero journeys, and really wanted my journey to have parallels to the archetype of the hero, just to sort of tell Joseph Campbell that I was listening to him. I picked the Christian story because I think itâ€™s the most accessible. Everyone knows the basics of the story, which is what I wanted: that specific kind of calling out to another story and instant recognition that would never have happened if Iâ€™d used the story of Osiris from Egyptian mythology, or Prometheus from Greek mythology, or even the Buddha story. I think I would have just come off as really pretentious, and my point would have been lost.
What projects are you working on now?
I often get asked if I ever relaxâ€¦ Â Â and itâ€™s true, I tend to avoid sitting still for too long. I typically function best when Iâ€™mÂ overwhelmed. Â Â Iâ€™m writing another book now, told in the same uneasily true vein as No Wolf. I also have an art book thatâ€™s in the editing stages. Last year, I mailed out disposable cameras to friends, acquaintances and unknowns all over the world. And asked them to take a roll of photos for a week. We all did it the same week, and Iâ€™m making a book out of it, highlighting the similarities and differences in peopleâ€™s lives.
Finally, I had a baby â€” with one of the characters from the book â€” youâ€™ll have to read the book to see which one, and of course that keeps me happy and busy, too!
UPDATE: This article was edited on August 24, 2010.Â Certain details were removed but the content remains true to the reviewerâ€™s opinion.Burnside, Collective, No Wolf, Richard, St. Ofle, St.Ofle, Writers