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Featured AUTHOR Q&A on Heresy Press

Richard Walter Author Profile Headshot

Meet the Author

Bio: Richard Walter is an author of best-selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, screenwriter, script consultant, lecturer and retired professor who led the screenwriting program in the film school at UCLA for several decades. He has written scripts for the major studios and television networks and lectured on screenwriting and storytelling throughout the world.

Q&A with Richard Walter

Q: What makes Deadpan a quintessential Heresy Press book?
Upon completing the final draft of my new novel, there could be no doubt it would promptly find a publisher. The major challenge would be managing the millions of dollars in royalties from the auction that would surely accrue. After all, Deadpan was not merely the best book ever written but the greatest achievement in the history of Western Civilization.


Additionally, I was not just starting out; I enjoyed an impressive record: Forty years ago the Wall Street Journal described me as “…a writer of substantial professional experience throughout the media.” I’ve written screen assignments for virtually all the major Hollywood studios and television networks. Deadpan is my third novel and sixth published book. My several nonfiction titles for Penguin Random House have been in print for thirty-five years, and sold over a hundred thousand copies. My most recent novel, a Los Angeles Times bestseller, earned out its advance in its first printing and saw multiple printings in cloth and trade paper.


Moreover, I am among the earliest ‘influencers,’ with thousands of followers reading my blog posts and downloading my podcasts. If that weren’t enough, a welcome and long overdue reckoning was underway in the literature racket. Publishers sought voices from previously marginalized populations. As an author at the intersection of disability and ageism (a hearing-impaired, orthopedic cane-wielding, mobility-challenged senior), Deadpan was clearly a shoo-in.


All the same, my own longtime representatives would not respond even merely to a query regarding Deadpan, a title that confronts the incendiary issues of our day: hate speech, bigotry (particularly antisemitism), and racial/religious identity. Out of fifty agents subsequently queried, only three responded at all, each with a polite, perfunctory turndown.


Then I happened to read Pamela Paul’s New York Times column in which she interviewed Bernard Schweizer, founder and director of Heresy Press, a new publisher eager not to avoid but embrace risk, seeking to acquire titles on the basis of their merit.

Such a concept!

I submitted a query directly to Heresy, providing Deadpan’s first chapter. Two days later, I received a request for the rest of the typescript. Two endlessly seeming weeks after that, I had an offer of a contract.

Q: Fill us in on the historical background of Deadpan.
A: Growing up in Queens in the 1950s, it wasn’t until my teens that I realized there are people who are not Jews. In a world with only Semites, there can be no antisemites. I’d heard about something called a ‘Holocaust,’ but antisemitism was clearly a phenomenon that had existed long ago and far away.


Then, in late ’73, war broke out in the Middle East, provoking worldwide disruption of oil supplies, causing drivers to queue up in long lines at American gas stations, anxious for their ration of fuel. As Billy Carter, brother to former president Jimmy, said, “They’s more Ay-rabs than they is Jews… Ain’t we better off siding with them rather than Israel?”


I read in the news that, throughout the country, there were outbreaks of antisemitism. These were relatively tame—not the torching of synagogues and raping of hostages but the spray-painting of roadside oil storage facilities with slogans like “Burn Jews, not oil,” and “Dump Kissinger,” a reference to the nation’s Jewish secretary of state.


I came to realize that 1) hatred for Jews was in ample supply depending on the geopolitical winds that blow; and 2) that the problem starts not with mass murder and the abduction of civilians but with relatively petty, clumsy, klutzy pranks constituting a kind of borderline, seemingly benign bigotry.

Q: Can you elaborate on the literary and cultural influences that shaped the writing of Deadpan?
If I were still professing on a university campus, I would say that Deadpan is an homage to Kafka, in particular his short story The Metamorphosis, in which a man awakens to discover he has been transformed into an insect. Instead of that, how about the world’s most popular standup comedian? And since so many comedians are Jews, Deadpan evolved into the story of an antisemite who spends a day in the life of a Jewish comedian. Since I have retired from Academia, however, I’ll say that I stole it from Kafka.


I am the kind of Jew who is so reformed that his temple (if he belonged to one) would be closed for the Holy High Days. I have no mezuzah above my door, and I don’t keep kosher. I visit synagogues only for weddings, bar- and bat mitzvahs, and funerals where I am inevitably bored to tears, thanks to the narcissism of clergy who go on and on as if intending to run their mouths until the Messiah returns.


That said, every cell in my body, every thought that I have, every word that I write is informed by my Ashkenazi soul. It’s no accident that preeminent among my favorite authors are those poignant, pungent, poetically kvetching voices belonging to the likes of Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, of course Phillip Roth, and don’t forget the Canadian Mordecai Richler.

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