Riffle Backstory: Q&A with "The Heart Does Not Grow Back" Author Fred Venturini

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Fred Venturini's novel, The Heart Does Not Grow Back, is out this month, and to celebrate we've got a Q&A (and giveaway) with the author. See what he has to say about superheroes, black market organs, and what makes an author great.

Describe your writing process—are you an outliner, or a pantser?

I hate to cop out with the “little bit of both” answer, but that’s what I’m doing. I’m not a rigid plotter, but I like to break down the big beats of a story before I start. I fill out a “beat sheet” much like a screenwriter would, trying to figure out the catalyst of the story, and the big breaks and twists, and the best ending I can come up with at the time. Then I just start writing, approaching those signposts, and often obliterating/changing them in the process. So I have an idea of where I’m going like a plotter would, but I still have the complete freedom of a pantser.

There is an abundant history of superheroes, from comics to film to novels. Did you draw on any influences for Dale and his abilities?

Not really. I’m not a huge comic fan. Most of my superhero exposure was movies, and I was working this before the wave of superhero stuff really started to crest. Mostly I just noticed that regeneration (like Wolverine regeneration) was a plot device to help extend fight scenes and add stunts. No one was really delving into the pain of perpetual healing, and since I was injured so much and so heinously as a kid, it was something I wanted to really explore.

Did the plot to The Heart Does Not Grow Back come to you all at once, or slowly over time?

Slowly over time. Daydreaming over time is how I’ve evolved anything I’ve ever worked on. The writing gets done while I’m driving or in the shower or taking a walk. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, I’m just transcribing the scenes I thought up between sessions. It helps me write productively when I get the time. This novel in particular, I had a ton of time to think about it, and when the opportunity arose to revisit the original, indie version, I was ready to start implanting some new twists, turns and a new ending.

During your writing, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you or turned out different than you expected it to?

Mack really softened from draft to draft. Even in the first draft, I was surprised at the depth of his friendship with Dale, and as the drafts kept going, the bonds got deeper. At first I thought he would turn into a full-blown antagonist or villain, but as it stands, he’s much more complex and loyal than I gave him credit for.

Is there a character in the novel that you think you’d get along with better than all the others (or would maybe want to hang out with)?

Mack Tucker is a mashup of all of my good friends, their jokes, their cadences, their bad decisions. Sure I put it all on fictional steroids, but I could get along with Mack because I’ve gotten along with versions of him in real life for years now.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned while researching The Heart Does Not Grow Back?

The black market for organs is alive and well, but there’s also a big demand for body parts. Apparently doctors don’t have enough bodies and parts to practice on. We simply don’t give our bodies to science enough. All of this useful tissue, we put it in the ground over and over again. And then we expect our doctors to be perfect! All of this was strange and surprising.

What authors inspire you?

I have favorite authors and I read their stuff and admire it, but I’m not so sure it’s inspiring. I’m inspired by authors who work hard even without being on the bestseller list every time or getting tons of fame, fortune and movie deals. Authors as prolific, talented and underrated as Stephen Graham Jones. Authors like Richard Thomas, who must have 36 hours in a day to do all of the writing and editing stuff that he does. Authors like Brandon Tietz and David James Keaton, who are the most entertaining guys in my social media feeds, with stellar work to match. That’s inspiring. Those guys make me want to work hard and treasure every opportunity I get. And oh yeah, their stuff is entertaining as hell. Hard work pays off.

People would be surprised to know that…

I think everything I write sucks, but I’m told that’s pretty normal. I’m actually so forthright about embarrassing stories, I don’t feel like I can surprise anyone I know. The folks in readerland may be surprised to know that I used to play a mean baritone saxophone in junior high or that I’m incredibly proud of my Mike Tyson impression.

What is that one book that has been on your "to-read" list for a long time but you still haven't gotten around to reading?

I have lots of books like this, but I’m going to say Lisey’s Story and explain why. I love Stephen King. I know that lovers of Stephen King have read all of his books, but I still leave a few unread. I own them all, but have probably only read 75 percent of them. Why? Because there’s no rush. I know I’m going to like most of his books, so I try to branch out and read other stuff, and if I have a “losing streak” of bad books I’ll grab something from King or maybe Chuck Palahniuk I haven’t read to break the streak. This behavior may make no sense, but hey, you asked the question.

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

Nothing evaporates productive hours like video games. Sadly, I have a couple of friends that are terrific at them, and always invite me to play. I can proudly say that I usually only play video games socially, but even then, you can torch an entire evening without blinking. I could have written another book in the time it took us to beat the raid in Destiny. But hey, we beat the raid in Destiny!

What books do you still enjoy re-reading/would you recommend to your readers?

You, random reader, are not reading enough short stories. Seek out Burnt Tongues and The Booked Anthology. Then read Laura McHugh’s Weight of Blood and Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper. I have a copy of Beat the Reaper that I’m still handing out to people. I love that novel.

  • The Heart Does Not Grow Back: A Novel

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off

  • Staring into the Abyss

  • Good Sex, Great Prayers

  • The Last Projector

  • Lisey's Story: A Novel

  • Beautiful You: A Novel

  • Destiny Limited Edition Strategy Guide

  • Burnt Tongues

  • The Booked. Anthology

  • The Weight of Blood: A Novel

  • Beat the Reaper: A Novel