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Novelist Richard Price

He is the author of the best-selling novels Clockers, about life in the inner-city world of drug dealing, and Freedomland. Price's new book Samaritan is about a man who returns as a teacher to the New Jersey town where he was raised, and the bad consequences of his good intentions. Price also is a screenwriter of such films as Sea of Love, Ransom and The Color of Money.


Other segments from the episode on January 7, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 7, 2003: Interview with Richard Price; Review of two recordings two new recordings, "The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever" and DJ Shadow's "The Private Press."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Richard Price discusses his novels and life

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is the screenwriter and novelist Richard Price. Several of his
novels have been adapted into films, including "Clockers" about crack dealers
and cops and "The Wanderers" about street gangs in the Bronx, where Price grew
up. Price also wrote the screenplays for the films "Sea of Love," "Mad Dog
and Glory" and "The Color of Money."

His new novel, "Samaritan," is about a guy who, like Price, grew up in a
housing project and became a successful writer. The character in the novel,
Ray Mitchell, has made a lot of money in LA writing for a TV series set in a
high school. After September 11th, Ray returns to New Jersey to be near his
daughter, who lives with her mother. He also returns to his old neighborhood
in the hopes of sharing some of his success by teaching writing at his former
high school and even helping some of the people there with their financial
troubles. But some of his attempts to do good blow up in his face. In fact,
at the beginning of the novel, Ray has nearly been killed by someone he knows,
but he refuses to reveal his attacker's identity, which creates two mysteries:
Who did it and why is Ray protecting him? Here's a reading from the chapter
in which Ray teaches his first creative writing class.

Mr. RICHARD PRICE (Author): `OK. Let me ask you, this is creative writing.
This is volunteer. Somebody tell me why you're here.' `Because I got
stories,' said Rashad(ph), his hand half raised. `Yes,' Ray said almost
gratefully, `I got stories. You all have stories whether you know it or not.
And here, right here, is where you're going to give them up.' He reached into
the shopping bag at his feet, pulled out seven of the 10 red-and-black writing
journals he had bought for them across the river in Chinatown, and dealt them
out like playing cards. `But, doctor, I don't have any stories.' `Oh, ho,
indeed you do, my dear.' Ray backsliding, doing voices once again, trying to
get them to laugh, although he was too jazzed now to care if they did or

`You have crazy mad stories, all of you. Everybody here. If I go around the
table and squeeze you a little, each and every one of you can give me six
great stories. That's six times seven kids equals 42, plus 14 between me and
Mrs. Bondo(ph) here, equals 54.' `Fifty-six,' said Epham(ph). `Fifty-six,
thank you, stories. They're about your friends, your neighbors, your
families. Most definitely your families. And these are very important
stories to you. Stories you've grown up with.'

`The time my uncle got so angry that... The day my grandmother left her house
thinking that... My parents--the first time they met, they... My
brother--just 'cause that other kid dared him I couldn't believe it when he...
Oh, man, my mother--I've never seen her like that when she... And all these
stories. They're up here,' touching his temple, `and in here,' touching his
heart--corny, but what the hell? `And we love them because they're ours.
Because even if they're not true--and believe me, at least half of these
stories are not--they've set up house in us. They're part of us. They are

`Yeah, OK. OK.' Talking to himself now more than to them. `This is great.
Great. OK. This class, forget it. OK? Don't even think of it as creative
writing. It's just stories. The writing assignments--stories. Telling
stories. Can somebody wake this guy up?' One of the girls punched the boy
Jamal, whose forehead was resting on the table. Ray's so happy now, stories
his lifelong lifeline to his daughter, to romance, to himself. Stories, the
ballast, the crash cart, the air. `And the thing is, what are you? Hopewell
projects(ph) kids? Neighborhood kids? Oh, man, nobody out there knows what
you know. But what you may think of as everyday, as boring, that's like nah.
That's me, when I want to read something, a book, a story, a newspaper
article, I'm thinking time is tight. Why should I read this? What does this
individual have to tell me that I don't already know?'

He then checked himself, something off in the message. `Not that what you
write has to be a show-stopper, mind-boggling or, you know, can you top this?
All I am saying is, believe me, you're all so much more interesting, so much
more special than you might think. So every week, you're going to write me a
few pages. Doesn't have to have a beginning or an end. Just some kind of
snapshot. Word picture. Bring it in and read it to the class or I'll read it
for you and we'll talk. Questions?'

Jamal, the sleeper, raised his hand. `Does spelling count?' The girl with
the big-framed glasses, Mira(ph), clucked her tongue in irritation. `Spelling
is good. It's good to have spelling.' His disappointment in the question was
neutralized by this Mira. Something cooking there. `Can we write in pencil?'
`Pencil, pen, blood, as long as I can decipher it.' `Do they have to be
true?' `Fool me.'

GROSS: Richard Price, do you think that was a good lesson that he was

Mr. PRICE: It worked for me.

GROSS: Yeah, I figured.

Mr. PRICE: I mean, you have--that's how I started wri...

GROSS: Where did you get it?

Mr. PRICE: You know, I mean, you start writing, you know, and you look
around at your life and you're 18 and the whole idea of write about what you
know can be deadly for somebody who doesn't even vote yet. So what worked for
me, and I think what worked for some of my students over the years, was
reaching back into their family mythology and not being, you know, focused on
the fact that all you know is that you miss your girlfriend over Thanksgiving
vacation and you hate being with your parents.

GROSS: One of the things Ray is up against as a teacher is that the kids are
giving him these kind of pre-packaged stories. Talk a little bit about the
stories he gets from the students and how that connects with what you found
when you were teaching people who had had really interesting lives but that
wasn't what was coming back at you as the stories they were writing.

Mr. PRICE: Well, what happens is that, you know, when you're trying to get
kids to write, or trying to get anybody to write, you know, who's not a
serious writer, rather than think about what's meaningful to them, they try to
anticipate what would be meaningful to you. And so the source is always
coming from the outside. What does this guy want to hear? What will get me
an A? How do get this homework assignment as quick as I can? And the irony
is that, you know, so they go to television for their stories, or they go to
sort of crummy books that they've read, you know, for ideas when, in fact, you
know, there's diamonds in the back yard. The minutia of their everyday life
is where all the jewels are. And repeatedly I've had to sit kids down and
say, `What are you writing this? Tell me about yourself. Tell me you're--oh,
you're father's a black fireman in a white suburban town? Well, why on Earth
are you writing about people sniffing angel dust in the South Bronx where
you've never been?'

GROSS: Right. You know, Ray in his attempt to reconnect with the people back
home and to help them, because he feels this need to help them, he does favors
for some of his old students, for some of the new young people that he's
meeting, even lending money for some pretty harebrained business schemes. But
he gets into a lot of trouble in his attempts to do good. What made you think
about the kind of trouble you can get into in your attempt to be generous?

Mr. PRICE: I mean, I felt like I've gotten in a lot of trouble--not the type
of, you know, mortal peril that Ray gets into, but I've found myself in
situations with people that were disadvantaged and I wanted to do something
for them--these people perhaps have helped me out doing the legwork for my
earlier books that took place in the same fictional Jersey city. And I get
involved in people's lives either teaching in the public schools or involved
with families.

And what happens is you can get very excited by your own power to do good, to
come down into people's lives and give them things or grant them things. And
these things might be material; they might be friendship; they might be just
the simple curiosity of another human being, the first time somebody in your
life has asked you about yourself. How do you make it through your day? And
this is very seductive to people and it's also very seductive to me, who's
putting out all this stuff. And it's the dangerous thrill of goodness.

At some point though, the project is over, the relationship sort of diminishes
and I move on. And I've oftentimes felt like I've left people seduced and
abandoned when, in fact, I can put down on paper, `Well, I've done this. I've
done that. I've done this.' It has nothing to do with that. It's about this
promise, this intangible promise that you've given them that you'll always be
there, or you're going to show them a certain way and you open up like the
hope door in their chest and the dog barks and the Caravan moves on and you're

And sometimes, when people can get wrapped up in their own ability to do good,
they're--it's a kind of dangerous, heedless thing because they don't really
know and they can't really appreciate the depth of need and feelings that
they're provoking in the people that they're exercising their, quote, unquote,
"goodness" on. I think Delmore Scwhartz said, `Ego is always at the wheel.'

GROSS: Do you think that this is particularly true when somebody who is or
has become pretty middle class or affluent goes into a neighborhood where
people are pretty poor and where the family isn't necessarily intact, so
there's already been a history of people walking out on you, and a history
maybe of, you know, professional social workers, teachers, coming in and out
of your life and ultimately leaving?

Mr. PRICE: You know, the thing, though, is--yeah, for certain people--for a
character like Ray, who is returning from Los Angeles and returning from, you
know, the life of being a TV writer, and is not returning to the housing
project where he grew up, but to a gated community and sort of descending on
this housing project, you know, trying to be like a Good Samaritan. But there
are people that are Ray's age and of Ray's background who are there every day
and understand better how to temper their relationships. I mean, the cops. I
don't know about social workers, but teachers--there are people like Ray who
have not gone off to Hollywood, who have the left the neighborhood to live in
the suburbs, but they're back there every day doing their job. And these
people have much more of a solid sense of how to relate to people. But it's a
huge thrill and a bad thrill for somebody to come in out of the blue and get
the gut reaction of `thank you, thank you, thank you,' because that thank you
could be like heroin and you'll do anything to keep the thank yous coming.
And you hurt people.

GROSS: So when you were writing "Clockers," about teen-agers who were selling
crack on the street, you hung out in New Jersey neighborhoods trying to meet
kids who were really in this kind of situation in neighborhoods where they
kind of thing was going on. Are those the kids you are talking about that you
got to know well?

Mr. PRICE: Yeah. I mean, not anybody in particular. It's just like a
general feeling that I found myself sort of going off getting carried away,
and letting my alligator mouth write checks that my hummingbird body couldn't
cash. But you know, it's not about the people and it's not about the highs
and lows and the haves and the have-nots. It's about someone who's very weak
and very needy. And at the same time, it's very powerful in a very small
pool. And even if that neediness is to evoke tenderness in people or to give
out tenderness, they're like big Thanksgiving floats and they get buffeted by
the wind. The float hits the light pole. The light pole falls down and
kills, you know, three parade viewers and then the float just moves off. I
mean, people that are big like that in a small pool are kind of oblivious to
what they're doing to people and they just go on their merry way.

GROSS: Is there something that happened between you and somebody who you were
trying to help that kind of crystalized this for you in a very personal way?

Mr. PRICE: No. I mean, there were no precipitating incidents. It's just a
feeling that I had. Then every once in awhile, I'll read about a Good
Samaritan who winds up, you know, having a bad end for some reason and the
newspapers will always reach for that adjective, `beloved,' you know, but I
don't know, it's just a word that they like to use. And I like to think about
what provoked what happened, you know, and how can the angel somehow be
actually the devil that precipitated their own doom.

GROSS: You know, a lot of the book is about relationships between adults and
children, or adults and teen-agers. You know, Ray and the students he's
teaching, Ray and his former students and Ray and his daughter, Ray and the
son of the young woman who he's having an affair with. And he seems to really
want to be a friend even to his own daughter. Like I think sometimes he
doesn't know he's an adult, and that he's got to set limits for the kids.

Mr. PRICE: Well, look, kids are so easy--I mean, for somebody who has a
neediness like that in them, where they want to see the love of other people
show up in the other people's eyes--kids are so easy to manipulate, but it
never feels like you're manipulating them because you believe yourself in the
moment just as you're making them believe in you. I mean, that's not the
danger. The danger is at the end of the day when you stop thinking about that
kid, because it's not your kid. It was just somebody you could take to a mall
that day and tell jokes to, and ask questions of, that have never been asked
of that child before and make the kid think, `This guy really likes me. He
cares about me. Nobody's ever been giving to me like this either verbally or
gift wrappingly.' And when that kid goes home, you know, his head and heart
are forest fires. And this guy just goes home sort of feeling good about
himself and turns on the TV and gets on with his evening.

GROSS: Ray is separated from his wife.

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: And when he comes back to New Jersey, he hooks up with his daughter
again. But he's very self-conscious around her and realizes he's treating her
like a first date. What gave you that image?

Mr. PRICE: Oh, I got a couple of daughters. I use them for practice. It's
just--you know, I find myself--I mean, sometimes with my kids, the bad parent
part of me is the part of me that feels like it's running for office and needs
their votes and sort of like can cater, you know, to what they would like as
opposed to doing the more difficult stuff, which is to say, `No, you can't do
that.' You know, there's a certain weakness in me that I have to fight to be
a parent. I mean, you know, it's a big, you know, cliche to say, you know,
`Don't be afraid. Be a parent. You know, there's plenty of time for a
friendship when they turn adult themselves. Right now they need yes and no.
They need guidance,' you know. But basically I have to struggle with the fact
that all I really want them to do is adore me, you know, and I'm running for
office, you know. And I catch myself and I'll pull back, but it's hard work.
But that's what I'm saying, for people who have this sort of weakness in them
where they just live to get other people's eyes getting that gleam in them.
You know, children are very dangerous people because they're so easy and, I
mean, you can hurt them.

GROSS: There's a...

Mr. PRICE: And hurt yourself and not even know.

GROSS: There's a scene where Ray takes his daughter--his 13-year-old daughter
to the shopping mall and tells her, `Today, a dollar's like a penny. You can
spend anything. You can buy anything.' And he expects he's really going to
be a hero to her, but she gets really angry and sullen and kind of throws on
the floor the things that he's bought her. What's that about?

Mr. PRICE: It's about how easy it is to underestimate the perceptiveness and
intelligence of children, and how they can read you like a comic book and have
been all their lives if they're yours. And any kid, if not--you know, even if
they're not able to put it in words, knows exactly the weaknesses of their
parents, and knows exactly the strengths of their parents. And it so rarely
has anything to do with what comes out of the parent's mouth. I mean, you
know, I'm in therapy for I think 3,427 years. You know, I've put 11 shrinks'
kids through Bennington already, I think.

But, you know--and so when I'm talking to my kids, I know exactly what to say
to sound, you know, like, you know, sharing and caring and, you know,
saying--making the right noises and this and that. But I think what kids do
is they smell you. They don't even listen to what's coming out of your mouth.
They look you right in the eye or they arch their nostrils and they know what
you really want, what you really value, what you really need.

So this daughter would know that Ray--the easiest way for Ray to be giving is
to give something, to literal--and they're in the mall, which is the crucible.
And the kid flips out. She doesn't want any more belly button rings. She
doesn't want any more like skin lotion. She doesn't want anything. She just
wants him to shut the hell up.

GROSS: Richard Price is my guest and his new novel is called "Samaritan."

Now, you know, Ray, gets this terrible head injury. He's hit over the head
with a vase. And, you know, who did it and why they did it is the mystery in
the book. Usually in detective stories, the detective gets hit over the head,
usually with a gun. He's knocked unconscious and he awakes with a terrible
headache that goes away in a few hours. Whereas, you know, Ray is--he's in
serious jeopardy after getting knocked on the head with this vase. And the
jeopardy continues because the headaches can come back. They're can be
long-term consequences. I was wondering if you were thinking a lot about how
different a concussion can be in real life from the way it usually is in crime

Mr. PRICE: Not really. I mean, I was basically thinking of--you know, I
just went to a couple of doctor people, friends that I know, and said, `Give
me a real bad concussion,' you know, which they proceeded to do. I just
wanted enough to know--I mean, basically the pain that Ray has to live with
and the tentativeness of his recovery, he's been taught a lesson. He knows
who did this to him, and he knows that down the line, it could cost him his
life, or it could cost him the use of the right side of his body or something
like that. And he doesn't want revenge. He doesn't want this person
arrested. He's learned something. And what's driving the detective crazy is
that there's a certain amount of shame in what he's learned and that's why
he's not telling, or he's protecting somebody, which he's picking up from him
is shame.

And when a detective picks up reticence in a victim, they're thinking that,
`Here's a person who's more afraid of the truth coming out than of getting
justice.' That means that this person is hiding something pretty bad. So, of
course, the first thing she thinks of has to do with deviant sexuality,
pederasty, drug habit, gambling addictions. She goes through a whole
checklist of reasons why people would rather live, you know, with their
injury, you know, than see justice sought justice. But it's something greater
and more subtle than any of that.

And each book is supposed to be about the education of a character. Well, I
mean, they both become educated during the course of the investigation.

GROSS: Now I think you're in the process of writing a screen adaptation of
your new novel "Samaritan," yes?

Mr. PRICE: Not if I can help it. Yeah, I'm supposed to...


Mr. PRICE: ...but--yeah, I'm supposed to. Actually I'm writing an original
script with Jonathan Demme right now. I mean, to write a script of your own
book--you know, I always say it's like just because you're a dentist that
doesn't mean you have to do your own root canal. I mean, it's a nightmare.
You have to sort of debride and tear apart this thing and you know every word
of the 400 pages and your job now is you've got to make it into 110-page
singing telegram. And it's all like going up into the attic to find
something--when you open a book, you know, to find material to write a
screenplay--you come down three days later with a whalebone corset on, all
your old baseball cards, you know, and your Great Aunt Fanny's hat. And you
now have a 9,000-page screenplay because it's your book and you love every
word and you just can't do it. You don't have the discipline. You're not
ruthless enough.

GROSS: So you're not going to do it yourself? You're going to have somebody
else do it?

Mr. PRICE: I'm supposed to do it myself. I'm scheming to like try to
convince the producer to give it to somebody else and let me write a second
original. If I have to, I will, but I'd rather not. Life's too short.

GROSS: OK. So that means you can't complain, though, if you don't like the
adaptation, right?

Mr. PRICE: You know, I just wish they would make a movie. Even a bad
movie's better than no movie. At least I have something, you know, I could
bring to cocktail parties and complain about.

GROSS: Well, were you happy with the "Clockers" adaptation?

Mr. PRICE: Not really. I mean, there were very good things in it. I mean,
Spike Lee is an artist. He's a terrific visual artist. And there was a
terrific visuality to it. There was some wonderful things in some of the
performances. By and large it's not the movie that I would have made, but
then again I'm not a filmmaker.

GROSS: So was the adaptation that was used one that you had written?

Mr. PRICE: Well, it's what I had written and what Spike rewrote. He wrote on
top of me. And there was an interesting thing--he said something to me. I
had seen his draft, his draft of my draft, and I was horrified. And I told
him so. I just said, I mean, `This is like cheesecloth. I mean, there's
nothing here.' And he said to me--and I've never forgotten this--he said,
`Richard, you're a writer. You're a screenwriter. When you're done with this
script, you're gone from the film project. So you put in everything but the
kitchen sink. It's like leaving notes all over, you know, for the cleaning
lady, you know. Do this. Do that. Do this. Do that. Right before--and
you're gone. Me, when I write this, I'm the director, so the script is
basically notes to myself. I don't have to show this to a director. I am the
director. All I need to write down is things I don't want to forget.'

GROSS: Well, do you buy that? I mean, do you think that that's a good enough

Mr. PRICE: Well, the truth is in the finished product.

GROSS: ...for a cheesecloth screenplay, yeah?

Mr. PRICE: I don't know. The truth is in the finished product. I mean, as a
writer, I'm probably going to be too reliant on language, you know. He's a
visual artist and--you know, I don't know, I had mixed feelings about the
movie. I was very moved by what I was moved by, and I was very irritated by
what I was irritated by.

GROSS: Do you think that your novels have more dialogue than they did early

Mr. PRICE: You know, I don't know. Probably, because the reason why I
started writing so much dialogue is because my grammar was horrible and
there's no grammar in dialogue. And it was just an easy way to get into
writing for me. I mean, I'd grown up on--I mean, I'm part of the first
generation to grow up as much on TV and movies as on literature. I was born
in 1949, and during the '50s--well, you know, a lot of my storytelling chops
came from the screen, small and big. And so I wound up--you know, my
instincts were all towards, like, what happens very quickly and who says what.
And so, yeah, in the beginning there was a lot of dialogue. And I just love
the way people talk. I mean, my editor for "Samaritan" said to me that, `No
author of mine will ever hand in a book that's all dialogue.' And, you know,
I'm not going to do that, but I would if I could get away with it. I'm so
much happier writing dialogue than the King's English.

GROSS: When was the last time you picked up one of your early novels, "The
Wanderers," "Ladies' Man," even "The Breaks"?

Mr. PRICE: When was the last time?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PRICE: Never. All I see when I look back at the stuff I've written,
especially before "Clockers," is what I got away with. You know, I never see
anything--I'm reading this stuff and I can't see how it got published. All I
can see is the mistakes I've made, which is probably OK, which is--I mean, if
I thought that this is as good as it's going to get, then I haven't learned

But now that my kids are, you know, teen-agers, they've both read a few books
of mine. And, you know, when I was writing these books, I was in my early
20s. The idea of having children is sort of like being--I might as well be a
cowboy or something; it just seemed like science fiction to me to have
children, you know, when I was writing. And now all of a sudden, I've got
kids that are about five or six years younger than I was when I wrote "The
Wanderers," and they're starting to read it.

And they look to see where I am, and they have to read it on the sly because
if I know that they're reading it, I'm going to sneak up behind them and start
screaming out, `Don't read that paragraph! I didn't know you were going to
read that someday,' you know, because there's all this, like, you know,
perversity in it which, you know, when I wrote it was just exuberance. But
now, you know, my own kids are reading this and it's mortifying. And they
both say, `Dad, go away. You go read Stephen Crane or something. I am going
to read this book, OK? I'm not going to tell you when I'm reading this book.
If I see you coming, I'm going to put the book down.' And I'll go, `Oh, OK,
OK, I'm leaving, I'm leaving.' And then I like sort of crawl back into the
bedroom through the other way, sneak up behind them, and try to peek over
their shoulder and see what part they're at, and the next thing you know, my
hand comes across over their shoulder, I'll say, `Don't read that page,' and
they have a heart attack 'cause they didn't know I was in the room.

I mean, it's a wonderful thing. It's like, you know, I have a 16-year-old
daughter who's reading "Samaritan" now, and she doesn't read an awful lot, you
know. She's a good writer and she reads what she reads. But, you know,
reading is not one of her major pastimes. And she'd just say, `Hey, Dad,
you're like a really good writer,' you know. And it just felt so nice that
she said that.

GROSS: Do you go back to your old neighborhood much?

Mr. PRICE: Well, I went back to my old neighborhood. That's how this book
started, I went back to the projects in the Bronx, and I went back with this
detective who I based the Narisa Emmonds(ph) character on because this was the
extreme corner of her precinct's jurisdiction. And...

GROSS: So this would be the projects in the Bronx where you grew up...

Mr. PRICE: Yeah, right, the Parkside projects...

GROSS: ...that "The Wanderers" is based on...

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: ...which is your novel about street gangs in the South Bronx.

Mr. PRICE: Right. I mean, yeah, and I went back. But, you know, the thing
is you can spend your whole life writing about the same people and the same
things and it's OK; you don't have to go anywhere else, because what changes
is you. And it's basically a lifetime of refining a vision. I mean, I would
never, you know, put myself in the same category as Faulkner but, I mean,
obviously he's the example everybody brings up, that little county in

But, you know, you write about what you feel compelled to write about, and
somehow I always gravitate to the housing projects. I mean, I feel like you
can live many places in one lifetime, but you're always only from one place.
And for me, it would be the Parkside projects in the Bronx. And I will find
myself going back there over and over, but each time I'm going to come out and
I'm going to write something different. The bricks'll stay the same; I'm the
thing that's going to change.

GROSS: Well, not only have you changed when you go back to the projects where
you grew up, the projects have changed.

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: I'm sure the neighborhood's changed; the people living in the projects
have changed. What are some of the ways they've changed?

Mr. PRICE: Well, that was the big shock about "Clockers," which is that I'd
grown up in a projects, but I had grown up at a time in the '50s and the early
'60s, it was before drugs and before Vietnam and before, you know, everything
that happened in America. And the projects worked. I mean, people stayed
there because it was clean, good, affordable housing and you could save money
to send the next generation on to college so that generation wouldn't have to
return to the projects. And that all changed in the late '60s and early '70s.

And when I had gone for "The Wanderers," which was about the projects in the
'60s, and all of a sudden it's the 1980s and I'm doing research for "Sea of
Love," the Al Pacino movie, and I go with a bunch of cops back to a housing
project in Jersey City, which is very much, you know, architecturally at any
rate like the projects that I'd grown up in, except it was a place that--it
looked like hell. I had never--I felt like I was in a tiger pit. I had never
seen anything so dire and desperate in my life. And I found myself wanting so
badly to understand what happened in this project or trying to reconnect to
this project, and that's what "Clockers" came out of. But it's just ironic;
it's like I've been writing for 30 years, and it seems like I started out with
housing projects and I'm still back at the original project that "The
Wanderers" came out of.

GROSS: In your novel, Ray takes his 13-year-old daughter Ruby to the projects
where he grew up, and she asks if her grandma and grandpa liked living there.
And he says, `Here was here; people lived where they lived,' you know, that it
was different then. You know, you didn't ask...

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: ...`Oh, is this a good place?' You just lived where you lived.

Mr. PRICE: Well, at that point--I mean, see, the thing is that's a
generational difference. Ray has become a financial success. So Ruby to go
back to Parkside--I brought my daughter Genevieve(ph) back to Parkside with
me. And you know, she's a city kid; she's a Manhattan kid. You know, she
goes, you know, to good--you know, she doesn't go to public schools.

You know, she has a good life, and for her to go to the projects, it's like
it's another world for her, and it was hard for her to realize that, and it's
not like she had a negative reaction to the place. She was in kind of a
shock, it was so different, and she said that she got very upset, and she
wasn't upset by any kind of poverty or anything. She was upset that this was
such a big part of my life, and she didn't ever know about this, and now she
feels like she has to rethink me, you know, to some extent. You know, my
whole resume in her head, my dad resume, you know, has just gotten a little
scrambled. But, you know, the point is when we were there, when my friends
and I were growing up there, a projects were a projects. That's where people
lived, you know. But even if it was a bad place, like even a kid now maybe,
because they're slightly more politicized about being a have-not as opposed to
a have, but it wasn't a ghetto or anything, but let's say it was a ghetto.
Nobody in a ghetto thinks of themselves as living in a quote, unquote,
"ghetto." They just live where they live, and everybody around them lives in
that place, too, and that's life. That's the world. It's kind of a shtetl

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and novelist Richard Price. His new novel is
called "Samaritan." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and novelist Richard Price. His novels
"Clockers" and "The Wanderers" were adapted into films. His new novel is
called "Samaritan."

Ray, the main character in your novel, goes back to the old neighborhood and
teaches at the school that he's from. He teaches creative writing on a
volunteer basis.

Mr. PRICE: Right.

GROSS: And he's talking to the students about the importance that books can
have in their lives, like how rich it can be to really connect with a book,
and I'd like you to read that paragraph. It's on page 43.

Mr. PRICE: Ray, in his effort to get them to think of writing as
storytelling as opposed to mandatory homework assignments, has bought books
for them to read that he thinks echoes their own personal experience so that
they can see that their lives are valid grounds for literature. And he just
has a little spiel that he gives them. `Here, let me just say something about
these particular books. They're mostly written by people who grew up without
the advantages; some in cities, some rural, hard lives all around. And the
reason I chose them for you was because I feel that we read to learn new
things. Sure, absolutely. But more often than not, what we really get out of
the good books we read is self-recognition. We read and discover stuff about
life that we already knew; except that we didn't know we knew it until we read
it in a particular book. And this self-recognition, this discovering
ourselves in the writings of others can be very exciting, can make us feel a
little less isolated inside our own thing and a little more connected to the
larger world.'

GROSS: I thought that was a pretty good description of everything.

Mr. PRICE: ...(Unintelligible) I mean, I didn't have to do any legwork for
that one.

GROSS: Yeah. Now but what about the stuff you read now? Do you think you
still read for self-recognition or do you read for other reasons, too?

Mr. PRICE: Well, yeah. I mean, I really do believe that people, especially
when you're younger, you know, you're reading to find out things about
yourself. You know, a really good writer basically holds up a
three-dimensional mirror that you've never looked into before, but the image
has always been there, except that nobody's ever held up this particular
mirror before. But, I mean, yeah, I mean, I'll go on campaigns to read
because I want to learn more about the crusades, you know, or whatever. I
mean, but I'm still a sucker for writing that can show me myself.

GROSS: When you're in the middle of writing, do you read any more or less
than you otherwise would?

Mr. PRICE: No. I'll read as much. I'll be real careful in what I read. I
once made the terrible mistake when I was trying to write "The Breaks" of
reading "Sophie's Choice" and feeling like--and rightfully so--I'm a dead man
and feeling like, `OK, I've either got to get the Holocaust in this book now
or battered women or something. It's like, you know, I don't have any of this
stuff in my book.' So you've got to be really careful, you know. It's like
you're trying to sing a song, but a different song is playing in the
background, and you're trying to like maintain the tune.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PRICE: So, you know, I try to read basically nitwit stuff while I'm

GROSS: You know, in your earlier novels, like "The Wanderers," "The Breaks,"
"Blood Brothers," it was easy to see the main character as being your
surrogate. In your later novels, like "Freedomland" and "Clockers," it didn't
seem to really be directly about you in any way; although I'm sure there are
experiences based on ones you had. But in your new novel "Samaritan," it's
easy to see Ray as a character who shares some of the experiences that you
had, as being, on some level or another, like your surrogate. And do you feel
like you took a break from yourself and then came back to yourself again?

Mr. PRICE: Yeah. Well, what happened is, you know, my first four books, in
some way, were self-referential, and there I was, like 32 years old with four
autobiographies. I mean, even my therapist was going into a coma, you know.
And so I just had to stop, and that's why I got into screenwriting because I
wanted to keep writing, but I didn't want to have to keep writing about
myself, became a hired pen, and for all the bad things you can say about
Hollywood, it did teach me that I can write about people that are not me and,
you know pull it off. So I did that for eight years, and when I got back to
novels, you know, I still was afraid of going back into examining my own
navel, but, you know, and I, for personal reasons, got involved in the world
of, you know, "Clockers" and "Freedomland," where there was nobody like me.

"Samaritan" is sort of like a return to thinking about myself a little bit
because I think it's safe now. I mean, 20-odd years have passed and, you
know, like I said, you know, I've been married in that time, I have two
children. I didn't have any kids. And I think my life has changed enough
that I feel like I have some things to say that are clean and fresh, at least
about myself to myself. And I think, once again, I feel a little bit like I
am valid grounds for literature again, hopefully.

GROSS: But writing about a character like yourself, when you have a wife and
children, can be complex, too, because they might see some of the characters
as being similar to them, or they might see some of your character thoughts as
being like your thoughts. And here's like a sensitive one. Your character's
thinking about the difficulty of remaining monogamous in marriage because you
get to know the other person's body so well, it's kind of like making love to

Mr. PRICE: Yeah.

GROSS: I mean, you know, it's not something a wife would really want to read.

Mr. PRICE: Well, you know, hey, I mean, they do call it fiction. I mean, you
know, somebody knows you...

GROSS: Yeah, exactly. That's when you have to say that. Yeah.

Mr. PRICE: Help. I mean, you know, listen, somebody knows you...

GROSS: Exactly right.

Mr. PRICE: ...and they know what you do for a living...

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. PRICE: ...and they know what it's like to be with you and they know how
you feel about them. And you would hope that they can read something, be they
your spouse or your kids, and know--I know what artistic license is. I would
never write anything that I felt that somebody close to me would read and feel
betrayed. I mean, I would instinctually feel like it's OK to write this
because they know the story, and they know that this is a novel.

GROSS: It's interesting that you say that, because some writers, on the other
hand, feel like, well, that the writing comes first, and writers, it's just
part of the profession that you end up betraying people who you care about.

Mr. PRICE: Well, see, this is why I would be a horrible journalist, because
my philosophy is if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
You know, I mean, I know that there are certain people that, you know--and
there are times when I feel like if I was by myself in this world, you know, I
might be a more unrelenting writer, I might be a more productive writer, I
might have more freedom to write about certain things. But, you know, don't
ever begrudge the things that tie you in to your life, because those are the
things that will give you the riches to write about, you know, and beware what
you wish for, too.

But, you know, I'm very sensitive, especially with my work, because especially
after "Clockers" and "Freedomland" associates my work with some kind of
journalistic realism, and it's all made up. I mean, I might have like spent
an awful lot of time and know the parameters of reality so I can lie
responsibly, so that somebody who really lives in this world won't throw the
book down in disgust, saying, `This guy doesn't know what he's talking about.'
But it's all fiction. I mean, everything is kind of made up, you know, but
especially, like I said, going back to my wife and kids, I mean, you know,
it's just not worth it, you know. I mean, I would never sort of use them as
like human sacrifices. Myself, that's another thing. I don't mind.

GROSS: Right. Well, Richard Price, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PRICE: You're welcome.

GROSS: Richard Price's new novel is called "Samaritan."

Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new CD by DJ Shadow and the anthology, "The
Best Bootlegs in the World Ever." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Two new recordings that rely on new technology, "The Best
Bootlegs in the World Ever" and DJ Shadow's "The Private Press"

We're all used to the idea that the introduction of new instruments, like
electric guitars and synthesizers, transforms the music that's played on them.
These days, technology can create whole types of music and make musicians out
of music fans. Music critic Milo Miles explains how new technology made two
recent albums possible. He says the albums borrowed almost all of their music
from outside sources.

MILO MILES reporting:

An unauthorized release called "The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever" and DJ
Shadow's second album, "The Private Press," could only have been created in a
media world that considered recorded music as raw material, not a finished
product. DJ mixes are considered artworks in their own right, and many people
make their own mixes at home. The current combination of technology and
ideology makes DJ Shadow and "The Best Bootlegs" album possible.

The bootlegs I'm talking about here are a largely British phenomenon and do
not refer to the usual unreleased live or studio recordings. It consists of
the rhythm track for one song overlaid with the vocals from another, and
sometimes some added percussion. Almost always, at least one of the songs is
pretty well-known. The lead track on "Best Bootlegs in the World" takes The
Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and lays it alongside Fatboy Slim's
"Rockafeller Skank" for a number called "Rockerfaction."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-right about now, the funk
soul brother. Check it out now, the funk soul brother. Right about now, the
funk soul brother. Check it out now, the funk soul brother. Right about

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-ri-right about now, the funk
soul brother. Check it out now, the funk soul brother. Right about now, the
funk soul brother. Check it out now, the funk soul brother. Right about

MILES: Now putting new rhythm tracks underneath established hits is obviously
nothing new, and there's even a kind of British passion for it, as shown by
the notorious Jive Bunny releases of the 1980s. But such Frankenstein
operations are, at best, novelties. At worst, they did demolition jobs on the
source material. The best of the British bootlegs make wholly new and
improved songs with their hybrids, or at least highlight fascinating
undercurrents in the source material. The track "A Stroke of Genius" by
Freelance Hellraiser makes Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" into a
song I can finally love, but only in this version.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CHRISTINA AGUILERA: (Singing) Feel like I've been locked up tight for a
century of lonely nights, looking for someone to release me. Licking your
lips and blowing kisses my way, that don't mean I'm going to get in your way.
Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby.

MILES: What unites DJ Shadow and the various deejays who created "The Best
Bootlegs" album is their boundless, if eccentric, love of records. These are
non-musicians who constantly break apart and recombine songs they hear in
their heads. DJ Shadow happens to hear a lot in bits of music that other
people sometimes literally throw away.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: There's so many things I would say, but I just can't
get them together. So I'd like to hear from somebody else.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: DJ Shadow's "The Private Press" adds some singing and rapping and
electronic percussion to his found music, but Shadow's stitching, weaving,
blending and distorting is the art on display. Often, his best creations are
melancholy but captivating, like eavesdropping on a bedroom dream world. This
is the fantasy of every kid who ever fooled around with a tape recorder and a
radio, as DJ Shadow did. You wanted to capture sound, mold it and transform
it, but only now are the tools available to make the fantasy come true. DJ
Shadow could not have fulfilled himself in the world of old technology. In
the old consciousness, the mixed songs of British bootlegs would not work.
Nowadays when machines meet dreams, you get new breeds of music and musicians.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge.

Unidentified Woman #2: What you gonna do now, now, now, now, now?

(Soundbite of music; credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: What you gonna do now, now, now...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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