Scarlet-infused light bulbs illuminated the depths of the West Village’s Le Poisson Rouge lounge as an intimate audience awaited the arrival of veteran writer and Queens College professor, Richard Vetere.
Flashes of camera phones erupted as Vetere walked on stage.
Vetere is not shy on stage. His experience as a character actor showed as he took to the microphone and read from his new novel “The Writer’s Afterlife.”
The novel tells the story of Tom Chillo, a semi-successful writer who dies of a stroke and is transported to “The Writer’s Afterlife,” where all writers go when they die. There he mingles with those known as the Eternals, famed writers such as Shakespeare, Wilde, Keats and The Bronte Sisters.
Although he can interact with the greats, he is condemned to dwell in a place known as the Valley of Those on the Verge, a destination for the almost famous. However, he is permitted to return to earth for one week to make himself famous and join the Eternals.
The idea for the novel came to Vetere while reading an article on Vincent Van Gogh.
“I was thinking about the idea of fame in Western civilization,” Vetere said. “How did Van Gogh become famous?”
A posthumous story of fame applies to both Van Gogh and William Shakespeare. When Shakespeare died people continued to perform his plays but they began to change, Vetere said. Romeo and Juliet lived. The original works lost their former strength. 50 years later a man named Samuel Johnson published a literary criticism commenting on Shakespeare’s plays. That was when Shakespeare really became famous.
“I was interested in why this happened,” Vetere said. “These are the things you don’t learn in school.”
Vetere has had his own experience with fame over the length of his career. He broke into Hollywood writing the 1983 cult film, “Vigilante.” He also found success in the publication of his novel “The Third Miracle” in 1998, later adapted into a film produced by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Ed Harris.
What began with a master’s degree in poetry led to a life of work in screenwriting, playwriting and prose. Those who have worked with him agree that there is something special about his work.
“He takes these ideas and makes them into something fabulous,” friend and Queens native Sherry Cleator said after attending the reading. “His use of language makes everything beautiful. It’s all artistic, from the heart.”
Every Wednesday night, Vetere shares his knowledge of his craft with QC students in an undergraduate screenwriting course.
Media studies majors are able to workshop their own screenplays with Vetere and classmates. He not only teaches his students how to write a screenplay, but teaches them what makes something good.
“Anyone see any good movies?” he asks before each class.
This opens up the floor for students to discuss films or television shows they may have seen in the last week. Often times Vetere brings in his own personal anecdotes, displaying his skills as a master storyteller.
When it comes to work shopping, students cast their script and it is read aloud, providing a visualization of a film. Vetere provides valuable constructive criticism and his students appreciate his words.
“He truly wants us to improve our writing and be able to compose realistic, quality screenplays,” said screenwriting student Rena Levin. “His years of experience in the field make his advice and critiques invaluable. He’s also enthusiastic about his own and his students’ work and always makes sure to spend sufficient amount of time on each person’s work to properly guide them.”
With incoming critical success of “The Writer’s Afterlife,” Vetere may be returning to his desk to start a new screenplay.
For now he will enjoy the ride of promoting his novel, in which he hopes people will find a deeper meaning.
“I want people to think about the meaning of life, the meaning of fame, the meaning of art,” he said.