Interviews re writing of JOHN DANTE'S INFERNO


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Literarily Speaking

5 Things You Should Know About John Dante, subject of Anthony Valerio’s JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, a Playboy’s Life

1. Immigrant
2. Criminal
3. Nightclub Entrepreneur
4. Lover
5. Friend

1. Bio: Migrated to Chicago at age of 2 with teenage mom. Raised in tough neighborhood called The Patch which bred some of the nation’s most notorious gangsters. Became a “fence,” buying & selling stolen goods. Caught & paid his way out. Built & ran one of Chicago’s go-to nightclub’s called Dante’s Inferno, featuring servers in mesh stockings & high heels. Fascinated by the great medieval poet Dante, John Aimola changed his name to John Dante. At his club he met Hugh Hefner, Shel Silverstein, Lenny Bruce, Don Adams and other young artists & entrepreneurs. After his cabaret burnt down, John Dante became a bartender at the first Playboy Club in Chicago. He rose in the company to Assistant to president Hugh Hefner. John hired Playboy Bunnies for Playboy clubs springing up in the States & around the world and he managed the Playboy jet. He loved being in the company of beautiful women. John lived in the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner’s for 26 years. This is his story: true, hard-hitting, fascinating.
Critics are saying: “An Infernal Pleasure” “Gripping, literate, bawdy, naughty”

Examiner Interview
1. How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, a Playboy’s Life came after allowing some time to pass looking at and considering other working titles. In the end, it was the title that was clear and honest and emblemized the material between the covers, indicated both the subject’s name and the nature of his life and his imagination, which were infernal.
2. What is your writing environment like?
My working environment must be absolutely quiet. I try with each book to have the same environment day in and day out. Same chair, same desk, same view out the window. Writing, at least for me, reflects a vast country of an internal world which includes past, present and future. It is a delicate balance.
3. What is your favorite quote? Why?
Make hay while you can. Time gets shorter & shorter.
4. How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
There was no library in my first neighborhood nor were my parents “readers”. I may have sought to full the gulf with a practice that I grew to love and need. I hope that my work contributes to a wider culture than the one I was born into.
5. What inspires you to write?
Perhaps poets are inspired. Writing for me is a need. At present, I am inspired by an ever increasing lack of time. Writing for me is also a practice, the way an athlete or teacher or minister views what he or she does. A calling, if you will. Once you have it, no further inspiration necessary. Also inspiring is certain subject matter from which I can feel and see in my mind’s eye the long, wide, multi-level plain of a book. Writing for me is an expression of my heart. Writing transcends the mortal condition. I enjoy experimenting with the biography form--at least two of my subjects, at present John Dante, and Toni Cade Bambara in TONI CADE BAMBARA’S ONE SICILIAN NIGHT, were very close friends whose lives held deep meaning for me, worthy of whatever creative skills I may have possessed. Another biographical subject, A. Bartlett Giammati—I was attempting to reconcile his love of baseball to his love and expertise of epic Renaissance poetry. Writing is a strenuous effort to understand.
6. What do you consider the most challenging part about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
Staying with it, keeping the focus and level once I am half-way, three-quarters through. The final draft of polishing. Fortunately, I was trained as a book editor at major publishing houses and had highly skilled mentors/​editors and experience in all phases of editorial work, from proof reading to copy editing to production. A few mentor possessed great style of living. Live, experience first. I do not edit while I compose but my editing background and experience have been so deep and vast that they kick in with creative energies and govern the last ten percent of a work, making it, I hope, publishable.
7. Did you learn anything while writing this book? If so, what was it?
I learned that it is possible to do something so crazy as write a book that at heart, at least for me, is a gift to two friends who are deceased: the book’s subject, John Dante, and the man who asked me to do it, Shel Silverstein.
8. What have you done to promote this book?
After a work is completed and published, I work every day for at least one year in promoting it. I learned early on that an author, whether or not he or she has a publisher who can send you out on tour, has to promote the work. That is, unless the author does not want to share that work. Today there are the social media. Word of mouth has always been a valuable means of promotion. Critics are important as are academics as far as reviews are concerned. I love radio. In 1991, with BART: a Life of A. Bartlett Giamatti, I appeared on ESPN once and sold thousands of copies. Readings, workshops—I love to give them. Compared to composition, promotion is a holiday. I have an excellent publicist. In short, I am always promoting.
9. What are some of the best tools available today for writers?
I trained writing long hand. In time, the computer became friendly. Much research through the internet is finger-tapping away. Here is what I would advise writers new at it--Write as if you are alone with your material and all of its world. And best of luck.

1. Why was writing JOHN DANTE'S INFERNO, a Playboy's Life so important to you?

Writing and completing JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, a Playboy’s Life was of utmost importance to my career as a writer as it came rather late, after decades as a professional author. As a rule, works late in an artist’s career are, though often still wonderful, minor or vestiges of works of one’s prime, as they say. I felt that the material that I had to draw upon fed into the very best of my skills: biography, sensuality, an immigration story, deep friendships. So it was important to me in a private way to discover whether I could still compose a “major” work. I believe I have succeeded. Perhaps even more important is that I viewed and still view the work as a gift to its subject, John Dante, who, late in his life, became a friend of mine and had wanted to write a book about his life of 40 years in the Playboy empire, 26 of those years living in the Playboy Mansions East & West with Hugh Hefner, Shel Silverstein and, at any one given time, some of the most beautiful women in the world; and also a gift to noted children’s book author, Shel Silverstein, a friend and colleague with whom I worked. It was Shel, in 1995, who had asked me to help his Playboy crony write his book. John Dante died in 2003. Shel Silverstein died in 1999. It is important to me that JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO would have satisfied them.

2. What was the writing/​creative process like?
JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO took four years to complete. It was at the same time difficult and inspiring. I had voluminous notes and photographs upon which to draw, making choices all along the way. I have been privileged to be a full-time author, it is my work, my job, and every day for four years I attempted to capture the essence of John Dante’s life from his own hand-written notes; that is, the book that he had in mind and heart. Difficult was the balance between John Dante’s life outside of Playboy and his life inside of Playboy. Difficult was use in the work of the great Italian poet Dante, after whom John Dante named himself and had also named a famous nightclub in Chicago—Dante’s Inferno—where John met Hefner and Silverstein and Lenny Bruce and Don Adams and other young enterprising artists and entrepreneurs. How much of medieval Dante could I include that was not of John Dante? I would not have embarked on the project solely for its sensational content. Medieval Dante’s Divine Comedy allowed moments of creative extensions of my subject’s life.

3. How did you come up with the title?
JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, a Playboy’s Life seemed to be the most direct and suitable title as the work is a biography and a title that incorporated the subject’s name with the name of his famous nightclub and the name of his famous Medieval namesake--all felt right on target. I sought not to get too fancy with a title.

4. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
From the vantage point of hindsight, after practicing the art a long time, I can say that I learned an important part of being a writer, that is, being a spectator and not necessarily wanting to be one, when, at the age of three, I was sent away to a school where the principal form of punishment was isolation. I began to write when I went to graduate school abroad and felt homesick and that I could not really express myself fully in a foreign country and language so I withdrew and began to record in my native language what I saw: the flea market outside my window, sitting on a curb and recorded who and what passed by. I believe that that sense of longing has not left my work.

5. What books do you believe influenced you in your life?
Very early on, at Columbia College in New York City, I lived off campus and recall hot summer days with the windows open and traffic bustling and reading Marcel Proust. “I love this world,” I recall telling myself; that is, the world of invention, imagined characters, rhythms, dialogue. Proust’s sensuality flowed through my body. I attempted to step into that world, and stay.

6. How much influence did you have in the cover of your book? Did you initially have a different idea of how it would look?
I have been fortunate in having had major input into the majority of my book covers. Often, cover images re extensions or replicas of images found in the body of the work. In JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, the E-book image is taken from suject’s collection of Polaroids. I have also worked with talented graphic artists to whom I defer. I provide a few ideas and they run with them. In general, with my so-called highly “commercial” publishers I have very little input. Smaller publishers seem to appreciate more cover image input.
7. Can you describe a typical day for you?
I am a morning writer. I get up, have breakfast, trying to talk as little as possible, do my toilette then get dressed like someone going to work. I have an office at home though I have written books outside, in caffes. It’s important, I believe, to have one place for each book. Kind of like finding a specific home for it however temporary. Hours logged depend on a work’s stage. First draft of getting down that project’s raw material takes about a year, not counting research. I recall the American playwright Arthur Miller saysing that he works from about 8 to 1. The interviewer said, “That’s all.” Miller replied, “That’s enough.” Transition to the so-called real world is delicate. These days I play golf essentially because I do not have to talk much. Once the transition has been bridged I try to fulfill roles of dad, mate, friend.

8. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
It has depended where I am. In Manhattan I walked a lot, went to the gym to say fleeting hellos and goodbye. Now, living in the country, I play golf. Caddying was my first job and sure enough I’m writing a book about it. Spending time with my partner, my children, my friends feels fulfilling in a personal way which has always been very important to me.

9. What do your family and friends think of your writing?
Fortunately, I do not put much stock in family and friends’ assessments of my work though it is edifying when they like and enjoy it. Their support has buoyed me. I have been fortunate in having had brilliant colleagues, from academe and a few other writers. It was important that my editor Cork Smith (deceased) of Harcourt believe in me and my work. Paying customers are entitled to their opinions.

10. What do you think is more important – a good plot, or good characters? Why did you choose the one you did?
In order to embark on a book which then becomes a way of life at least for one year, sometimes ten, sometimes four, however much time the work requires, the subject matter must inspire my cultivated mind and heart. I feel whether it has “legs”—that is, is broad enough to warrant the full treatment of a book. I like to diversity so I’m always searching for new subjects and forms.

Thank you, Anthony Valerio

View from Ponte Vecchio, Florence

You are welcome to post comments, reviews, questions about my work.

thanks, AV

AV in Italy (2013-2014)

New Work - Dante in Love - a modern literary translation of Dante's classic A New Life

Fiction. Translation
a haunting beautiful eternal story of unrequited love--
Italian and Italian American Studies. Biography
Illiterate and poor, the daughter of a herdsman in 19th century Brazil, Anita Ribeiro was lifted from a life of obscurity to one that is the stuff of romance and adventure. When she and a young Italian exile by the name of Captain Garibaldi met in 1839, they joined in the cause of founding a Brazilian republic. Later they went on to lead the defense of Montevideo from an Argentine siege—just one episode among many in their idealistic, nationalistic crusade in a time of immense revolutionary upheaval. It was Anita who taught Garibaldi the guerrilla ways of the gauchoS≪/i>, and they lived as man and wife through a series of adventure and wars. Returning to Italy in 1848 to fight for a united republican Italy, as revolution swept throughout Europe, Anita and Garibaldi were tragically separated by her untimely death the following year. Garibaldi went on to ultimate fame as the father of modern Italy—while Anita's story drifted into the mists of legend. This book, the first full biography of the remarkable life of Anita Garibaldi, tells the true story of a fascinating and important woman.
Italian History, Biography, Women's Studies
John Dante, Champ - and his great friends Shel Silverstein & Hugh Hefner, and many others
"The substance of this memoir is what makes us human when we come home from struggling in the world." --Afaa Michael Weaver
Biography. New Print Edition.
"A Wonderful Read."
–Larry King, Newsday
"The Little Sailor is a literary gem from one of our foremost writers. Anthony Valerio's evocative prose woos the characters onto the page and into the hearts of its readers. His charming, eccentric, deeply moving women emerge from a world of distant memories with extraordinary force and passion–sensual, enticing, unforgettable–and the reader is mesmerized."
–Edvige Giunta

IMMIGRANTS, according to Anthony Valerio