Debut novelist’s main character is short, bigoted and looking for love.
Nick Yetto had no connections in the publishing industry, no master’s of fine arts in writing, never took a writing course. But for 11 years he worked diligently on his novel, knowing he would complete it.
“In that time I worked on many different versions of the story,” said Yetto, a Troy native who lives near Thacher Park in Albany County. “I did that because for the longest time it was just not good at all, and I knew if it was going to ever be published I wanted to be proud of it.”
All that work has paid off. His debut novel “Sommelier of Deformity” (Turner Publishing, $17.99, 352 pages) will be published this month. It has been getting some strong praise by best-selling comic writers Jonathan Ames (“Wake Up, Sir!”) and Christopher Moore (“Noir”).
“My dad worked on cars, sometimes years rebuilding them into something beautiful,” Yetto said, “and my grandfather was a woodworker. They were project-based people, and I looked upon this book as my project. I taught myself how to write by doing it. It’s the same way my dad learned how to work on cars.”
Yetto did get some guidance along the way from writer and teacher Bill Patrick, director of the New York State Summer Young Writers Institute. “I needed Bill to help push me to write my best. He was always constructively critical.”
The book’s main character is Buddy Hayes, who stands 4-foot-9, is afflicted with scoliosis, is a self-avowed racist and has sexual dalliances with consenting women on the internet.
“I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid,” Yetto said. “I did a lot of theater when I was young and that’s when I learned how to create a character and make them real. That’s what I did with Buddy. I wanted him to be a loser living with his mother. I saw the potential for some humor in that situation. That’s what P.G. Wodehouse, one of my favorite authors, often did. He put different people together and let them create their humor.”
Now that he had Buddy, his mother and his grandfather all in the same house in a crumbling part of an industrial Northeast city, Yetto had to figure out what was going to happen.
“Buddy has a tendency to say and do scandalous things, which is nothing I would ever do, and some of it was funny, but I had to get him out into the world.”
One of the main characters — the catalyst for much of the novel’s action — is Terrance Johnson, a male black nurse who is handsome, strong, empathic to everyone in the family and a talented banjo player who performs regularly at a nightclub in town. Terrance, just about the complete opposite of Buddy, encourages him to come to the nightclub and eventually the two become good friends. Buddy even begins to let down some of his prejudices.
“I was careful not to let Buddy change too much,” Yetto said. “It wouldn’t be real to change so drastically in such a short time. He does come to a realization though that he can’t stay so isolated, and he does eventually open up and begin to show some love to those around him. If Buddy doesn’t love, then he’s just an irredeemable, hateful person and no reader would like him.”
In this book, Yetto is addressing issues of race and our country’s obsession with physical appearance. “Buddy thinks he can only find a type of love in online pornography but he’s not addicted to porn,” Yetto said. That would be beneath him. His relationships online are always consensual. The sexual stuff in this book and the language about race has sort of scandalized my family and friends, but it needed to be there to create an authentic Buddy.”
There were times during the past 11 years when Yetto would fantasize about the life of a writer. He was busy as an independent web designer, but on his free time, when he began working on the book he would occasionally think about the novel as a movie and imagine what the book would look like.
“And then I would slap myself in the head and tell myself to get back to work.”
After many rewrites, he began sending out queries to literary agents. “And it didn’t take long before I got an email back from an agent who said he wanted to represent me. I immediately threw up in a trash can.”
He is still amazed that the book sold to a big publishing company.
This past winter, when Yetto’s entire family was over for a holiday party, the Fedex truck dropped off a box of his books. “It was the first time I saw the book and held it. My whole family, all the people I love, were there, and I cried.”
The person he really wanted to impress was Mr. Bogardus, his high school English teacher at Averill Park. “I sent him one of the first books. He’s read it twice already and posted a nice tribute about it on his Facebook page. He loves the book, and that also made me cry.”
Lately he’s been working on the screenplay of this book.
“A few people in the industry think it could work so I’m pursuing that. It’s my new project.”
“I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. I did a lot of theater when I was young and that’s when I learned how to create a character and make them real.” Nick Yetto
Jack Rightmyer is a regular contributor to the Times Union.
Nick Yetto, with a copy of his novel, “Sommelier of Deformity.”