Tall tale:

De­but nov­el­ist’s main char­ac­ter is short, big­oted and look­ing for love.

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - UNWIND - By Jack Right­myer ▶

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.”

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