The ‘Write’ Move
by Holly Tsang
Nov 24, 2009 | 17576 views | 0 0 comments | 349 349 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Queens-based writer Richard Vetere. (Photo by AnneMarie Poyo)
Queens-based writer Richard Vetere. (Photo by AnneMarie Poyo)
Richard Vetere enjoys penning works of fiction, but his latest novel Baroque is based on real figures in history: the young painter Mario Minniti, his much more famous friend Caravaggio and their companions who lived in Rome at the turn of the 16th century.

Fiction or not, Vetere, who has written dozens of plays and two novels, will admit that he pours a little bit of his soul into every single piece he does.

"I think everything you write about is about you. Sometimes it's you working out things in your life about who you are," said Vetere. "With The Third Miracle I was questioning my own faith, and that's what the priest does. In my play 'Caravaggio,' I was dealing with my faith as an artist. In the book Baroque, I was dealing with what it must be like to be an artist and see successes that aren't yours."

Baroque explores the concept of the starving artist, which is essentially what the main character Minniti is. His claim to fame is his friendship with Caravaggio and the fact that he was painted by Caravaggio.

"I wanted to write about what young artists do when they move to a big city. They want to be famous and it's how they start to tear apart the authority of the artists before them," said Vetere.

He related it to his own experience in the '70s, when he and other writers worked hard to do something different from that before them, to get out from under the shadow of playwright Neil Simon, much like Minniti tried to establish a reputation independent of his relationship with Caravaggio.

Vetere’s fascination with Minniti began when, in his youth, someone showed him a photo of the painter and he realized they shared a strong physical resemblance. The connection grew stronger when Vetere started relating to Minniti as a fellow struggling artist.

He explained that the word 'baroque' means confusion dignified by a certain central idea. The characters in the book are in Rome for their own reasons and in their quests for love and fortune, they create a living, breathing city that makes sense to them.

"Rome was like New York a bit in the '70s; dangerous, violent and yet artists still came here. They still come here," he said.

Over three decades later, Vetere is enjoying his share of successes. In addition to the recent release of Baroque, The Third Miracle was made into a movie, he's acted in movie roles and he's just finished writing his television pilot. He hopes to show his play “Caravaggio” in New York in 2010, the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death.

"When I was writing plays in the beginning, I had friends that were jealous. They were like, 'How'd you do that? How'd you get to that producer? How'd you get to that agent?' That must have been hard for them," said Vetere. "I've been on both sides of that."

Vetere's level of fame is at the point where he receives ballots to vote in the Oscars, but he prefers not to live extravagantly. He lives in Queens, just miles from his hometown of Maspeth, and teaches screenwriting and playwriting courses at Queens College, Monclair State University and New York University.

He knew from the time he was five years old that he wanted to be a writer. As a young adult, he took jobs filling graves, unloading UPS trucks and worked as a security guard for some time. Success came later, but it was definitely worth the wait.

"You have to be self-assured, self-involved and selfish," said Vetere. "I've made a lot of good and bad decisions, but I never put it aside for anyone."

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