Ep 390 Meet Barry Divola, author of ‘Driving Stevie Fracasso’.

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In Episode 390 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Meet Barry Divola, author of Driving Stevie Fracasso. Discover great resources for writing authentic dialogue and tips for how to run an effective writing group. Plus, you could win a 5-book pack in time to curl up for some reading bliss this Easter long weekend.

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Show Notes

Our top 5 audio resources to improve the dialogue in your stories

How to run an effective writing group

Writer in Residence

Barry Divola

Barry Divola is a journalist and author born and bred in Sydney, currently living in Perth. He writes regularly for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review and Qantas Magazine. He was a senior writer for Rolling Stone (Australia), the long-time music critic for Who, and his work has appeared internationally in Rolling Stone, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Monocle and other magazines.

Driving Stevie Fracasso is his first novel, but he has published eight other books – four non-fiction books, three children's books and a book of short fiction (Nineteen Seventysomething). He has won the Margaret River Short Story Prize, the FAW Jennifer Burbidge Award, the Cowley Literary Award and the Banjo Paterson Award for Short Fiction (three times). Although he plays in three bands in two cities, he has been informed not to give up his day job.

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Interview Transcript

Valerie Khoo

Barry Divola, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

 

Barry Divola 

Valerie Khoo. It has been too long. I'm a long-time listener, first time guest, but any excuse to talk to you after so many years is a good excuse.

 

Valerie Khoo 

This is so exciting. Because one of the things when you are reading the book of somebody that you know, and when you're reading the book of somebody that you've known for a while, is you get really stressed out. I get really stressed out. I really do. Because you want to like it and you want to think it's fabulous and all of that. And I have to say, I absolutely love your book. I devoured every single word. I love the story. I love the characters. I cannot say enough good things about it. So congratulations.

 

Barry Divola 

Well, thank god for that, Valerie, because it would be a really embarrassing conversation if you really hated the book. So yeah, I'm glad my cheque cleared and you said those kind words. Thank you very much.

 

Valerie Khoo 

All right. So Driving Steve Fracasso, for readers who haven't got their own copy yet – and you all should, it's fantastic – can you tell us what it's about?

 

Barry Divola 

I can. Firstly it's called Driving Stevie Fracasso.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Stevie. Sorry, it is.

 

Barry Divola 

It is Driving Stevie Fracasso. I'll give you my elevator pitch. I've got two elevator pitches. The first one is if you're going from like the car park up to Cole's, like two floors, right. So this is first one. So Driving Stevie Fracasso is the story of two brothers who haven't seen each other in almost 30 years. And they find themselves stuck together in a stolen 1985 Nissan Stanza on a road trip from Austin, Texas to New York City in the days leading up to 9/11. You can get out of the lift now and go and do your shopping. So that's the short pitch.

 

And then if we're going a few more floors, I'd say the younger brother, his name is Rick, he's this jaded music journalist who has just lost everything He's lost his only paying writing gig. He's lost his long-term girlfriend who has broken up with him. And subsequently because of number two, number three, he's lost his apartment in New York, and this is all happens in the space of 24 hours.

 

But then he gets thrown this lifeline. He's commissioned to write a book about a guy called Stevie Fracasso who was the front man in a 1970s band called Driven to Distraction. And he pretty much blew his chances in 1980 and blew his mind, kind of went crazy.

 

There's one small problem, one small complication. Stevie Fracasso is Rick's long-lost brother. So that's how they end up stuck in this car together. Rick's got to drive him from Austin to New York to do this last gig and to write a book about him and interview him about his life.

 

So they drive from Austin to New Orleans, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Philadelphia, getting into all sorts of scrapes along the way, trying to piece together their fractured past and figure out where their future is gonna go. And meeting an array of pretty crazy characters along the way too, with a soundtrack.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Yes, with a soundtrack. There's a lot of music in this book, but we'll come to that. So it's a very, very specific and unique premise. How did this idea come into your brain?

 

Barry Divola 

It came into my brain, well, for a start, it came to my brain about ten years ago. So it's taken a long time to get onto a bookshelf.

 

I suppose, Valerie, there are one, two, three, four main areas that inspired the book. The first one is New York. This is, a large part of the book is my love letter to New York in a way, because I just love New York. It's not just my favourite city. It's one of my favourite things, really. And I've never lived in New York, but I visit New York every year apart from last year and probably this year, and possibly next year with COVID. But since 1991, I've gone almost every year and I write about it, I do interviews there, I write travel stories, I interview musicians, I interview store owners, all sorts of people.

 

And I always wanted to write a story that's got New York as its heart. And especially 9/11, because in 2001, on my regular trip, I landed ten days after 9/11 and got to experience what was going on and what the people were going through. And I'd hang out in Union Square every night, where hundreds of people would gather. And they were arguing horrible arguments. But there were also people linking arms and singing, and kids signing these huge sheets of paper with messages of hope and drawing pictures, and Buddhists chanting and people trying to get signatures for peace marches, and people just wanted to talk, you know. I think it sort of broke the shell of New York. And people just thought, how are we going to deal with this, you know. We're gonna have to talk to each other. Everyone was talking.

 

So I knew I wanted to write about New York just as the city I love and everything it contains. But also, I wanted 9/11 in there. So that was the first thing.

 

The second thing is – you've already alluded to, Valerie – is music. And you know, music's obviously a huge part of my life. And I was a total music nerd as a kid and as a teenager. And then I ended up becoming a music critic and journalist and making it my life. So I wrote the whole book to a soundtrack. And actually, I'll send a link to the Spotify soundtrack. I've made a playlist for it that your listeners can all listen to.

 

Valerie Khoo  

Great! We'll put that in the show notes. That's great.

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah. And so a lot of those songs actually seeped into the narrative. And if you've read the book, you know that there's a bunch of songs in there that actually are integral to the story. So that's the second thing.

 

The third thing is brothers. I really wanted a brother story. I do have a brother, but he's younger than me, and he's a boat builder. So this story's got nothing to do with me and my brother, or my mother and father who stayed together until they died and didn't have the horrible relationship that the parents in this book have.

 

But I really wanted to talk about a brother relationship, because I just think it's such a deep and at times fraught relationship, but at the same time, it's a very strong one. And I was a senior writer for Rolling Stone for a while, which basically means I was bald. That's what you have to be a senior writer there. They certainly don't pay you any more money, I can tell you that. And within the space of a year in about 2010, I interviewed two sets of brothers. One was Roky Erickson, who was in a band called the 13th Floor Elevators and his brother Sumner. And the other one's Jeremy Oxley from the Sunnyboys, his Sydney band from the late 70s, early 80s. And I interviewed him and his brother Pete. Now, both Roky Erickson and Jeremy Oxley had severe mental health issues that basically derailed their careers and derailed their lives. But it was their younger brothers who brought them through. And they both had revivals in their careers as a result of their brothers helping them. And although Rick and Stevie isn't about Roky Erickson and it's not about Jeremy Oxley and their brothers, interviewing them sort of gave me an extra spark, and helped me sort of ground the idea and made me think, “where can I take this fictional story of these fictional brothers in the music world?” So that really helped a lot.

 

And the final, the fourth thing, sorry, this is a long answer about inspirations, but the fourth one is US road trips.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Oh, yeah.

 

Barry Divola 

Because I've taken a ton of them in the last 25 years. And I just love them. I mean, just the sense of possibility when you hit the road, the romance of it, the freedom of the open road, making decisions every day about where you're going to go and where you're going to stop and who you're going to talk to, and what bar you're going to walk into. And I love road movies, too.

 

And so, as I was – I've written a lot of short fiction, and I've written nonfiction books. This is my ninth book, but it's my first full length novel. I had one book of short stories, short fiction. And I thought, “this is such a massive undertaking” as you would know. “I need signposts along the way, and stops so I can make.” And I thought, “well, why don't I take that literally, and make it a road trip?” Then I know I'm going to stop in certain cities and meet certain people and have certain things happen in the story in these cities. And so I mapped out the route and tried to make it cities that I'd been to that I knew, so I could have that grounding in them as I wrote them. And I just found that really, really helped with the writing of Driving Stevie Fracasso, because it gave me literally a roadmap that I could follow.

 

Valerie Khoo 

And you thought all this through before you even started writing? Because that's really logical and really, really smart.

 

Barry Divola 

It would be nice to think that I was that logical, Valerie. But like I said, I had this idea in 2010. So these ideas sort of coagulated slowly over the years. So I wrote a lot in 2010, 2011, a bit of 2012. Then I had two kids, I had a mortgage, my journalism really started taking off and getting really busy. Like, like I said, I'm a freelance writer. So you know, you just got to say yes to everything. And you've got to really push, push, push. So I just had so much work on that the space for creative writing became smaller and smaller, and it kind of went by the wayside for a while. I wrote lots of short story stories. I won a few awards and got published a lot. But I thought, well, that's me. I'll just be the short story guy.

 

But this was niggling at me that I had this idea. And I had a bunch of it written, but it was just sitting there and every now and then I'd go back to it. Christmas holidays, I'd sit down with it again, when I'd get a spare moment, I'd sit down with it again, but it just, you know, I needed a kick in the arse. Can I say kick in the arse?

 

Valerie Khoo 

Yes, of course you can.

 

Barry Divola 

Oh good. I'll say it again. I needed a kick in the arse. Do you know who gave me the kick in the arse?

 

Valerie Khoo

Who?

 

Barry Divola

Trent Dalton.

 

Valerie Khoo

Really? How?

 

Barry Divola 

Okay, so I was moseying along at my stupid slow pace, not doing anything on this book. And I interviewed Trent for the Sunday Times Magazine, which is the Sunday magazine here in Perth, where I live. And I mean, you've had Trent on the show, haven't you?

 

Valerie Khoo 

No, we haven't actually.

 

Barry Divola 

Oh, he is the most enthusiastic person on the planet, probably. Definitely the most enthusiastic writer I've ever met. And he just, talking to him just put a bolt of electricity through me. And he told me with Boy Swallows Universe, he wrote it from 8am, sorry, 8pm to 10pm every night after doing a full day as a feature writer at the Australian magazine. He's got two daughters, much like myself. He's got family duties, responsibilities, a wife who wants to talk to him every now and then. You know, all the stuff I had. And yet, he punched out this book, this phenomenal book. And did it.

 

So I thought, I got off the phone from him and thought, you know, come on, Divola. Pull your finger out and get it done. But more importantly, meeting Trent, doing that story, I had to do secondary interviews, which your listeners probably know what they are. But just in case they don't, when you're doing a big feature, this was a 4000-word feature, you have to talk to other people around your subject to get the story. So I spoke to Trent's publisher, Catherine Milne at HarperCollins, about Trent and she was lovely. And we chatted for ages actually about lots of stuff apart from Trent. And at the end of the interview, she said, “have you got a novel in you, Barry?” And I said, “Catherine, actually I've got one about two thirds of the way out of me.” And she said, “when it's all the way out of you, why don't you send it to me, and I'll have a look.”

 

Valerie Khoo

Wow.

 

Barry Divola

And that's all she said. So I sent it to her on Christmas Eve 2019. I gave myself till Christmas to send it. So I went right to the deadline. And then in January, I went to Sydney to visit family and she said let's have lunch. And this is, okay, this is a great story because this is like, it was like a date. You know those dates when you think you're going out to dinner with someone and then they call you and say, “Ah look, something's come up. Can we just have a coffee and maybe a bite to eat at lunchtime?” It was that. It was that call. And I thought, Okay, she's letting me down gently. She had meetings all afternoon, could only meet me in the lobby of HarperCollins in Sydney at the coffee cart for toasted sandwiches and coffee. My big literary lunch was gone out the window.

 

I met her, we sat, we talked for like 15 minutes about everything but the book, and then she said, “Barry, let's talk about your manuscript. I love it. I want to acquire it.” And that was it. I was off.

 

Valerie Khoo

That's fantastic.

 

Barry Divola

So that 10 years was just culminated in most what eight words that Catherine said. And then of course the structural edit started and that's what I spent nine months of last year doing. That was my Covid year, it was the structural edit.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Now I want to come back to the book. But I'd just like to give listeners a bit of an idea of your background. I know that we've mentioned you're a freelance journalist. But way, way long time ago, you started life off in teaching, but then because, now correct me if my memory serves me, I mean, let me know if my memory serves me correctly, but while you were teaching, you were really into music, and you started doing reviews. Like, can you just tell us how you got into it? And then some of the, you know, career milestones up until this point, just so we get a bit of background?

 

Barry Divola 

I can, I can. This is the best job interview ever. So yes, I was just casual teaching, and then I was special needs kids teaching. I taught kids with visual impairment, as well, and reading difficulties, which was actually really rewarding. But I knew I wanted to be a writer. And that I didn't really want to be a teacher.

 

So as we've established, I was a complete music nerd. Or you could chop off the music, actually, I was just a nerd. But I was really into music. So I started writing for the free music papers that were everywhere back then, or every capital city in Australia had a free music paper. And in Sydney, it was called On The Street in the late 80s. And it ended up becoming Drum Media after that.

 

So I started, I just wrote three record reviews on spec and just dropped them, this is so long ago, that I tied them to a carrier pigeon and flew the carrier pigeon over the… No, I actually went in with my typed-up thing and handed it in very nervously. And I picked up the paper the next week at the record store, and all three of them were in there. And I called them and said, “Oh, thanks for printing my reviews.” And they said, “Yeah, when are you coming in to pick up your pay.” I went, what? I get paid as well?!

 

And I went in and met the editor, and she said, “so what else are you going to write for us? Do you want to do some stories? Do you want to do interviews?” And that was just, it opened up this whole new… I wish I'd done it five years before, but I do everything too late. And so that was my start.

 

And so I continued to write for the street press. Even when I started getting jobs at glossy mags and, you know, reputable, quote marks, reputable magazines, but the street press honestly was such a great start for so many writers I know, great writers I know. Mark Mordue who's just published the Nick Cave book, he was writing with me at On The Street. A lot of us grew up doing that stuff.

 

Anyway, so then I travelled for a while. And then when I came back, I got a job as a sub editor at Dolly magazine. Which was a great gig. Because it taught me how magazines work, being a sub editor, I learned about production.

 

Valerie Khoo 

And you got lots of free mascara and lipstick.

 

Barry Divola 

I did. And to this day, my wife still laughs, I know how to apply moisturizer around the eye area with the ring finger of your hand so it's not too hard on your eye, the soft skin around the eye. She was convinced I was gay when we met by the way when I shared that titbit of information with her.

 

So yes, Dolly was great. I stayed there for a year and a half or two years. Then I got a job for a year at Countdown Magazine when it still existed. I was deputy editor and feature writer. And then I went freelance. So from about 1990, I've just been a full-time freelance writer with great gigs along the way that have kept me going. I was the music critic at Who magazine for 24 years, which was just the best gig. At the same time, I was reviewing for Cleo, where our association begins, I believe, Valerie.

 

Valerie Khoo

Yes, that's right.

 

Barry Divola

And yeah, I was writing for The Sydney Morning Herald, which I still do to this day, writing feature stories for The Sydney Morning Herald and Rolling Stone.

 

Valerie Khoo 

But you write a lot more than just music. You know, you write features about all sorts of things these days, right?

 

Barry Divola 

I do. I do. Yeah. And I started that a while ago because I figured… It was great, you know, and I still love writing about music, and I still do write about music, but back then, we were kind of unicorns. There weren't many of us around, really. So it was great. You could actually cobble together a freelance career just writing about music. Those days, people, I'm sorry to inform you out there, it's gone. You pretty much can't do that anymore. You've got to diversify. So I quickly did. And it started with writing about film and TV. I had a TV column in one magazine under a pseudonym actually, and film, books and general features. I wrote for the Sydney magazine for a long time. I had a couple of columns in there and I wrote feature magazines before that closed. And for the Sydney Morning Herald, I write about everything from arts to entertainment to podcasts, I'm the podcast writer there for Spectrum, and general features as well.

 

Valerie Khoo 

And so writing fiction is very, very different. It's a very different process and a very different practice to writing nonfiction, which is kind of a little bit more restricted, obviously, because you're restricted to fact. What was the experience… Because as you've said, this is your ninth book, so you've written eight other long pieces, long books. What was the experience like writing fiction after being so used to writing nonfiction in all its forms?

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah, that's a really good question. And I think, first, I'd say there are commonalities between the two that I could take over from my life as a journalist into fiction, and some of those things, I guess, would include great openings. You know, when you're writing for a magazine, or a newspaper, if you don't grab a person in the first sentence, no one's got a gun to their head saying, “you have to read this magazine story.” You know, if you don't grab them, they've flick the page or, you know, on phones, it's even worse, you're gone, right, in a click. So that really taught me a valuable lesson about that opening has to be killer, you really have to grab the reader by the lapels and say, “You need to read this.” And that's why the opening for Driving Stevie Fracasso is less than a page long and just throws you into the action straight away. I really wanted to do that.

 

Similarly, endings, whether it's not just the ending of the book, but the ending of a chapter, I find what we call in journalism, as you would know, the kicker, the lede is the beginning, LEDE, and the kicker is the ending. Ledes and kickers, ledes and kickers, we get it drummed into us. Your lede's not strong enough, you've buried your lede, it's in the fourth paragraph, bring it up. Your kicker is not strong enough. Can you link up to the to the lede somehow with your kicker?

 

So they were really valuable lessons for when I was writing fiction. But you're right. It's a different discipline. And even though I've written lots of short fiction, writing the novel was like the difference between a 200-metre sprint and a marathon, you know. And you have to keep up the thread of the story. You've got subplots, you've got all these different characters you've got to think about, you've got flashbacks, because even though my story is set in 2001, I go back to the mid-90s. I go back to the early 70s.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So let's unpack that. Let's unpack that. Because this is a road trip, as you say, and there are signposts in that they visit certain places. But as you say, it actually, and it's told from Rick's point of view, but he does go back to his childhood, he goes back to different points of his life. What did you do on a practical level to work out where these threads, these timelines, these bits were going to be, these scenes were going to be in the overall story so that it made sense?

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah, I what I did try to do, Valerie, was make sure that I only gave people or the reader information when they needed it. So I'd think, okay, if I want to get across here something about Rick's relationship with his  big brother Stevie, I'm going to have to put in something here about their childhood in the 70s to explain that, otherwise this is gonna have a big payoff when this big emotional thing happens when they're on the road.

 

So then I'd have to go back to the 70s, put on my flares, and go back to the 70s and think, “Okay, what was happening back in the 70s in their family that makes this moment here in 2001 such an emotional thing?”

 

And I have a lot, I have to completely thank Catherine Milne, my publisher and editor for this. She gave me a structural edit that was just… I feel like framing it, it was so good. It was 12 pages long. Because what people, maybe some people know this, but maybe some don't, when your publisher says, “I love your book, I want to buy it. Here, sign on the dotted line, here's a bit of money so you don't die before it gets published. So you can eat.” Then the structural edit comes which is this thing saying, “We love you. Here's how we'd like you to change a bit.” But it was so good because she was saying, “I need this bit, can you explain this a bit more? Can you deepen this? Can you tell me more about this character?”

 

Valerie Khoo 

Can you give us examples? Like maybe a real-life example, without giving anything away, obviously.

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah, I can. This thing actually we've been talking about that led us to this part of the conversation is actually a really good example. She said to me, “Look, I love where it ends up with Stevie and Rick, but I just feel we need something in the past.” And her exact words in her edit were “a big brotherly musical moment from the past. That's what we need to make this pay off work.”

 

And so I went back and thought, Okay, what can I do here? So I sent them back to their childhood, and I sent them back to New York City, to a night they had together in New York City where they had an epiphany at a concert and ended up in Greenwich Village, a wonderful moment for them both. And I really wanted to make it big. So I really went for it.

 

So that's an example of how sometimes flashbacks are terrible in books because it's like, “oh, can you just get on with the story? I don't need to know this.” But Catherine was telling me, she needed this to explain this. So it was really important to have a flashback here. So that was an example of how it really worked well to go to a different time era.

 

Valerie Khoo 

But with that, for example, you've got a 12-page structural edit from Catherine. But I imagine that in your last eight nonfiction books, there would have been, there would not have been that level of change required. And they wouldn't have been much of a structural edit. I mean, am I right? And so was this a shock to you when you got the 12 pages?

 

Barry Divola 

It wasn't a shock to get the edit. I must say 12 pages, at first, it was like, What? That's what without a ‘T' at the end. Wha?

 

But then I started reading it and I went, “Yeah, I kind of knew that. Yeah, I kind of knew that too, in the back of my head. And then oh, my god, Catherine, that's, that's fantastic. I didn't even think of that.”

 

With one thing, I'll just give you one example, Valerie, one thing she said was, “I feel like we need something else about three quarters of the way through. Just something, a sort of curveball that gets thrown in there.” And she put some examples of what these curveballs could actually be. And one of the things that she listed was, they get a dog. It was literally that. They get a dog. And I thought, “what?” And then I started thinking about it, and I thought, “Wait a minute, I've got this scene that I completely cut in a bar.” But I loved this scene, but it kind of didn't work in the book, it just, I took it out. And it really didn't make much difference, apart from the fact that I loved the scene and I thought it was funny. And then I threw a dog into it that they end up adopting on the road into this scene that I already had. And it just completely worked. I got to fulfill that bit of the edit and I got to reinstate this scene I loved with this extra element of a dog.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So music is throughout, but I want to say to people, even if you're not into music, this book is just fantastic, compelling, you don't have to be into music to love it. But if you are into music, you're gonna just be relating to so many things. So music is in it? How did you plan that? Did you kind of just as you went along, kind of threw in the kind of music that would be relevant at the time? Or did you have specific things that you knew you wanted to include for whatever reason?

 

Barry Divola 

The answer is a little of both, actually. I listened to a lot of music while I was writing it. And certain artists too really were kind of touchstones for me. The Velvet Underground worked because to me they represent New York music of a certain era. The Replacements who were an 80s US band. The singer from that band was a bit of a patron saint for me, just the songs he writes are almost like Raymond Carver short stories in a way, that hard bitten sort of character study that that he does. And then the problem is, I'm terrible at writing music, writing fiction while I'm listening to lyrics. I was listening to all of that while I was thinking and writing notes and coming up with ideas. When I actually sit down to write, I'm hopeless. I just get lost and think and then I want to Google something, you know, to do with the band I'm listening to and all that kind of thing.

 

So I listened to a lot of jazz, actually, and instrumental music. So and I love Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Now, anyone that reads the book will know that not Miles Davis so much but Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane end up, their music features in the book quite heavily in two scenes that are quite pivotal. And that totally came from me listening to it all the time as I was writing.

 

And a lot of these songs, although they informed the mood and the atmosphere for different sections of the book, I'd have different types of music I listened to, some of them literally did that and entered the book and became plot points or diversions.

 

One song I got permission to quote the lyrics, Nada Surf's song “Paper Boats.” I got in touch with the singer who owned his publishing and said, “Go for it, just send me a copy of the book when it's done.”

 

Valerie Khoo

Oh wow, that's great.

 

Barry Divola

And that became, you know, a line of dialogue in the book and everything. So yeah, music soundtracked the book for me as far as atmosphere and feel and place, and it also affected the book as well, and took it in a couple of different directions. Just tweaked it a little bit in different directions I sometimes didn't expect.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Was it sometimes a bit, because the book is infused with music, and as you say, it's infused in not just the mention of certain musicians, but the mood, the sense of place and stuff like that. Did you find it frustrating? I mean, because you got permission from that one artist, but did you find it frustrating that you couldn't, that you wanted to include lyrics that must have been in your brain? Because lyrics are so connected to our experience with a place or a time and events, but there are so many restrictions with quoting lyrics in a fictional novel like this?

 

Barry Divola 

Yes, yes. And yes. It's totally frustrating. It's a total minefield. And for any aspiring novelists that are listening to this right now, can I say something to each and every one of you: don't quote lyrics in your novel. It's just not worth it. It's a total pain. You'll probably have to pay. I can guarantee you'll have to pay for it. And you're not going to get a lot of money for your advance, believe me, I can speak from experience. It's just, you've got to deal with music publishers, and it's a minefield.

 

So I know that I wanted to quote so many lyrics, obviously. And I know a lot of people that write books do, especially books that are set in this sort of genre. But just find a workaround. You can find a workaround. I found a workaround. So you can do it. And I know it's sometimes easy just to quote a lyric to get a mood or to get across something you want or just to sound cool. I know I wanted to sound cool. But it's much easier to just throw that idea out the window right now. And free yourself of a lot of pain later on down the line.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Yeah. A friend of mine wanted, she wanted to quote… So she won the Vogel. And this was quite some time ago, though. And she wanted to quote just the lines: “Skyrockets in flight, afternoon delight.” Which is only a few words.

 

Barry Divola 

But man, if you're going to quote a line, come on. That is a great line.

 

Valerie Khoo 

But it was going to cost $20,000. And that was years ago. So imagine what it's like now. Anyway, so…

 

Barry Divola 

Wow, they were having a lend of themselves, weren't they? $20,000? Give me a break. I mean, everyone loves Afternoon Delight, who could not love that song?

 

Valerie Khoo 

But crazy, right?

 

Barry Divola 

Ridiculous.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So you write about obviously real… You make reference to real albums and songs, but you have obviously made reference to fictional ones as well. And when you do, do you have particular either fictional songs in mind or real songs in mind so that you can write about these fictional songs with authenticity?

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah. This is a question, I've been hoping someone would ask me this question, Valerie, so thank you. I knew you'd do it. So yes, yes. Driven to Distraction is the fictional name of this band that Stevie Fracasso was in in the 1970s. And I wanted this long-lost album that only came out years after the band broke up and became this cult album, hardly sold any copies, but became hugely influential. So that was the idea. So I thought, “Well, I better create what this album is in my head. So I've got a good idea about it.”

 

So I came up with a title, which is Future Tense. I envisaged the artwork, the back cover, they were photographed against a wall at CBGBs. I figured out what Stevie looked like. Then I thought, “Okay, I need a tracklisting.” So I started, I made up 12 track names, song names. And then I wanted to review of the album. So my fictional music critic, who's kind of the Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda figure for Rick, this older music journalist Elliot Toastman. I've got him writing this 2000-word fictional record review about a fictional album by a fictional band, and he's writing about fictional songs. So as I wrote the review, I started creating these songs in my head, what the lyrics were and what they might sound like and what they mean, what they're based on. But here's where it gets, here's where the rabbit hole really gets deep. You ready?

 

Valerie Khoo

Okay.

 

Barry Divola

So I play in a band here in Perth called Radio Radio. I knew I'd get a plug in somewhere. We're great. Best power pop New Wave post punk band in Perth, let me tell you, for the over 50s set.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Do yourself a favour everyone and go see them.

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah, exactly. So I started writing and recording the actual songs on the album. I haven't done them all. There's 12 songs in the album, but I've done three.

 

Valerie Khoo

Oh, my God.

 

Barry Divola

Yeah. One's called Avenues Without Numbers. One's called Please Find Me, which is, you know, having read the book, is integral to the book. And the last one is Why Don't You Come Back to New York City, which my band actually we played at my book launch. Craig Silvey very kindly launched my book here in Perth at this amazing bar that looks like the inside of Ernest Hemingway's brain after he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. It's like just this nautical, it's got sharks and swordfish and fishing rods everywhere. And my band played at it. And we played a bunch of songs that influenced the book. And I would talk between songs about how the songs relate to the book. And I played Why Don't You Come Back to New York City, which is a song I wrote about a fictional band and a fictional album in the late 1970s.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So you know what's got to happen now, right?

 

Barry Divola

Album?

 

Valerie Khoo

Not only album: listen. Because as I was reading this book, I could totally see the movie, 1000 percent. So not only is the movie going to get made this, the fictional album that you're writing, that you're actually writing the rest of the songs to, is going to be the soundtrack to the movie, and it's going to be huge.

 

Barry Divola 

Can I tell you something? I want Netflix series, I think. But the movie's fine, but I've already cast it in my head.

 

Valerie Khoo

Are you going to tell us? Who have you cast?

 

Barry Divola

You want to hear who I've got? That's in my head. I haven't asked them yet again.

 

Valerie Khoo

That's okay.

 

Barry Divola

So Stevie is, and he's gonna have to bulk up a bit for the role, but John Cusack as Stevie.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Oh, my God. You're not going to believe this. That's who I cast!

 

Barry Divola

Oh, come on. It's got to happen.

 

Valerie Khoo

I'm not kidding.

 

Barry Divola 

Can you get Cusack's people on the line?

 

Valerie Khoo 

I'm not kidding. I'm not even kidding. That is exactly who I cast.

 

Barry Divola

Fantastic. We're on the same page, Valerie. He'll come on as executive producer. For Rick, I've got Paul Rudd. We're going to rough him up a little, old Paul. But I think Paul would be great. He's a bit of an every man and he plays hangdog really well, I think.

 

Linda Cardellini as Jane. Actually Jane's in her mid-30s. Linda Cardellini is now 45 but she doesn't look 45, but the biggest reason I want Linda Cardellini is I've got a huge crush on her.

 

Valerie Khoo

Okay.

 

Barry Divola

So that'd be great. But that could go to another actress, but we'll see.

 

As the crazy fan that they visit along the way, Zach Galifianakis.

 

Valerie Khoo

Oh yes.

 

Barry Divola

Have I got that name right?

 

Valerie Khoo

I'm not sure but I know what you mean.

 

Barry Divola

That's completely who I envisaged as I was writing it. I thought he's perfect.

 

And as Elliot Toastman, the older wiser music critic, actually he has acted but he's a film director, but in my head this is what he looked like – Jim Jarmusch, the film director with a big shock of white hair, tall, chain smoker, always wears a black suit. So that's my cast.

 

Valerie Khoo 

I had not cast him in my head. But oh my god, that's perfect. Yeah, John Cusack.

 

Barry Divola 

Let's do it. Let's do it.

 

Valerie Khoo 

That's done. This is so exciting. Okay. Oh my god. There's so many questions, so many questions. But um, just take us through… Because I know that we've probably run out of time, but there's so many questions. So just take us through, when you're actually in the depths of writing, so I guess not in that break period, but when you were getting back into it, what did your day look like? Were you as structured as Trent Dalton by writing, you know, between this time and this time every day? Or how did you achieve, like getting the words on the paper?

 

Barry Divola 

Well, firstly, no one is as structured as Trent Dalton. So I can can't even pretend that I was. No, my routine is not really a routine at all. It's pretty crazy. I think I mentioned I got two daughters under the age of 10. My wife works four days a week a pretty demanding job. So she's out the door at eight and not back till quarter to six. So I do a lot of the drop offs and pickups. Then I've got my journalism career, for what it's worth, to pay the bills. So yeah, there's a lot of journalism to do. There's a lot of family stuff to do and just a lot of life to do.

 

So I find on a good day, what I do is get up by six o'clock, and get a good hour and a bit done before my daughters actually wake up and the day has got to begin. And I find that an hour at six o'clock in the morning is worth about three hours in the middle of the day. There's just not as much distraction, everything's quiet, and you just sort of get down to the task at hand.

 

And that thing when you're waking up and your mind's still not quite there, I think it's a good time to write because I think you can access something going on in your subconscious a bit better.

 

And then I try to grab time during the day. But you know, I'm easily distracted, A. And B, I've got a lot of deadlines, magazine and newspaper deadlines. It's like, well, I could take today off and just write, but hey, that story for the Sydney Morning Herald is due tomorrow morning, and you haven't finished it. So yeah.

 

So today, for instance, just as an example, I've got a record review to write, that's due in two days, I haven't started it. I've got a podcast story to write that's due in, oh, I've got a week to do that one. And that's not too bad. And I've pitched a couple of things to Good Weekend magazine. I write a couple of things for them, too.

 

So yeah, it's just, this is constantly on the back burner. And then, Oh, wait a minute, there's that section of your brain that's meant to be writing a novel, or a short story or whatever. So somehow, you've got to fit that in as well. And like I say, six o'clock is good.

 

Valerie Khoo 

It sounds like you fit it in? As in, it sounds like you kind of, the bread-and-butter work is scheduled in, and you have been fitting in the fiction writing around it.

 

Barry Divola 

A bit. I mean, I'm working on the next one. But it's stalled a bit because I'm doing so much publicity at the moment. And I'm finding that takes up a lot of time. Not that it's a chore, especially talking to you, Valerie Khoo. And, you know, I want as many people to hear about Driving Stevie Fracasso as I possibly can, because I've worked so many years on it. I want to give it as good a chance as I possibly can.

 

But yes, you've got to fit it in to really, you've got to force yourself to really do something every day if you possibly can to keep the flow happening.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So I'm looking at my next question, one of the questions I've written down, and I don't even have to ask it now, because I've basically said that Future Tense, which is the fictional album in the novel, was, you know, a big album, cult following. And in the book, it's an album that still that really resonates with people today. And I was gonna ask you what your real-life equivalent was of Future Tense, but you're actually writing it.

 

Barry Divola 

Except my songs aren't as good as Stevie Fracasso's will not be as lasting, let me tell you.

 

Valerie Khoo

Who knows?

 

Barry Divola

Although at the end of the book launch, my lead guitarist came up to me afterwards, we were having a beer and he said, “you know what Baz? Can you can you show me the other songs? I reckon we could do something with these. They're pretty good.”

 

So I've got one fan and he's in my band. So that's always a good thing.

 

Valerie Khoo 

So now that you've written your first fiction, your first work of fiction, well, published. I mean, I know you've written short stories. Have you caught the bug now? Is this a thing that you're going to incorporate as part of your portfolio career?

 

Barry Divola 

Oh, yeah. Yeah, that's pretty much all I want to do. Apart from weightlifting.

 

Valerie Khoo

Yeah, right.

 

Barry Divola

Sorry, that joke doesn't work because it is a podcast. I'm just holding up my puny arms in the air.

 

Yes, I definitely want to write novels, Valerie. This has been just such an incredible experience that I just want to keep doing them pretty much till I die or maybe til after I die, who knows? Maybe a posthumous one will come out that I hated. My kids will bring it out because they need to make a bit of money.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Well, I think the book is fantastic. So I want to conclude with what are your top three tips to aspiring writers who hope to, you know, be doing, who hope to be writing their own novels one day?

 

Barry Divola 

Yeah. Or I'll preface this, Valerie, by saying this is advice for myself. Okay, so if anyone else wants to take this advice, be my guest. But these are things that I've written down for myself. And I've just chosen three, I've got a whole list of them. But I've chosen three that I'll share. So I have to remind myself of these every day.

 

The first one is, if you want to write a book, don't wait until some point in the future, when you think, oh, I'll finally have the time then, or I'll have the brain space then, or I'll have a room of my own or the right desk, or my job will ease up or the kids will have gotten older and off my hands a bit. So in other words, there's no right time. Quote marks, there's no right time. It never comes. You've just got to do it. And you've got to do it today. Even if it's 500 words that you end up doing today, that's better than not writing 500 words today. I've got to tell myself that every day because I don't follow my own advice.

 

The second thing I'd say, and this is something I do do a lot, I started doing it for dialogue but then I started doing it for absolutely everything, including my magazine stories, and everything. And I'm sure I know other people on your podcast have said this one, but it's really important. Read your work out loud when you've written something. You'd be amazed, especially with dialogue, reading it out will tell you, “Oh my god, that is terrible. It just doesn't sound like someone talking.” But until you actually say it out loud, you won't know because you're reading it in your head and John Cusack's saying it to Paul Rudd. But when you read it out, it'll be obvious it's too long, because you're running out of breath saying it, and you're going, “Oh, man, this needs to be cut in half or three quarters of it needs to go.” So yes. And also you pick up mistakes really quickly as well. Like literals, and just other errors.

 

And the last thing I'd say, and this is one that only recently, after you've now heard my tale of the long and winding road to Driving Stevie Fracasso – by the way, people don't write a novel like I just explained how to write a novel, because that's not the way to do it. It takes way too long. Do a first draft from the beginning to the ending without looking back, don't edit it, don't look back, don't delete anything – is that once you get to the end of it, you get from the beginning through the middle to the end, will that be terrible? Yes, it possibly will be. Will it be not very good. Maybe it's as good as not very good. But you can make it better. And it's there. And no one's gonna see it: just you. You don't have to show anyone. You don't have to show your partner, you definitely don't have to show your publisher. In fact, don't show your publisher your dirty draft or your vomit draft or whatever you want to call it. But you can't make an empty page any better because it's just an empty page. You've got to have something there. So I'm learning that, at this tender point, after I've already finished the novel, that writing a draft from beginning to end is the way to go.

 

Valerie Khoo 

Brilliant. Brilliant. Okay. Congratulations on Driving Stevie Fracasso. It is just wonderful. And thank you so much for your time today, Barry.

 

Barry Divola 

Valerie, it has been a pleasure. And let's not wait another 20 years before we speak again.

 

Valerie Khoo

Absolutely.

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