That was three years ago, and the University of Rhode Island adjunct professor in English is still hard at work writing. He has a short story in “Providence Noir,” an anthology edited by Rhode Island writer Ann Hood coming out in a few weeks. And in June, he’s teaching a screenwriting workshop at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference on the Kingston campus.
Leuci rose to fame with the publication of “All the Centurions,” a memoir about widespread corruption during his 20-year career with the New York Police Department. He has also written six other books, short stories and a television play that was performed on the A&E network.
URI’s Marketing and Communications Office caught up with Leuci recently to talk about writing, his play, the creative process and what it’s like collaborating with URI graduate and filmmaker Andrew Pilkington.
We know writers generally detest this question, but here goes: What are you working on now?
I’m writing a piece for the URI website about Robert Stone, my mentor and teacher who died recently. I’m writing a tribute to him. He’s a National Book Award winner and considered to be one of America’s greatest writers. I’m also working on a novel. Writers write. It is what we do.
What’s your short story about in the “Providence Noir” anthology?
The story, “Olneyville,” is about the revenge of a child and a burned out FBI agent.
Did you enjoy collaborating with Ann Hood, who, by the way, is a URI graduate?
Ann is a friend who has endured unimaginable tragedy. A fine writer and teacher, she brings those life experiences to bear in her stories. I loved working with her.
Andrew Pilkington’s film, “A Killer Serve,” was based on a short story you wrote. Pilkington is extraordinary, considering he has cerebral palsy and writes with his nose and toes. Was it thrilling to see your story on the big screen?
My super student Andrew Pilkington did an amazing job taking “Killer Overhead” and adapting it to film.
Think cerebral palsy and what it would be like writing a 110-page film script with your nose and toes. Now think of personally directing that screenplay with fine actors and professional cameramen and sound people. Consider raising more than $40,000 on an Internet website.
Imagine all that and hiring actors and the crew to enable you to make a movie mostly on your own. Understanding all that is to marvel at the young man – now out in the world of filmmaking. To see my story up on the screen was great, but not nearly as wonderful as watching this hero of mine achieve. That was beyond great.
He was in a few of your classes at URI? What’s he like?
There are not enough words of praise I could place on Andrew, not the least of which are his abilities to learn and participate in class. He has an innate ability to be affable and encouraging to his fellow students. He is a magnificent young man, clearly the result of remarkable parenting.
Where was your play produced?
The play, “The Centurion,” was performed at the Manhattan Repertory Theater for two weeks and then for a week at Roger Williams University. The play’s director, James Martin, is a professor at Roger Williams. To see and hear actors speaking your words and using their imagination to interpret your meanings is simply wonderful for a writer.
Does a blank computer screen terrify you?
Yes, it certainly does. To take control and be decisive about your work, treating it as a job to be done daily, is more difficult as you get older. The type of confidence it takes to present your work becomes more and more difficult.
What’s the secret to keeping the creative juices flowing?
There is no secret – not really. Be serious about your work; your job is to write. Writing a page every day is a manuscript of 365 pages at the end of the year. Robert Stone once told me to keep your bills at the end of your writing table, and you will keep writing. And, of course, it’s important to read. Keep reading. Always read.
What advice would you give budding writers at URI?
If you see yourself as a writer, then you are a writer. Let no one judge you. If you see the world through a writer’s eyes, you see your own life through a writer’s eyes. You can be a night hotel clerk, a salesperson, a teacher, an educator – all this to earn a living and pay your bills. However, you are, in fact, a writer because writing is what you do to breathe. It gives your life meaning. You must write every day, at least one page, even when you’re tired.
Read every day. Keep books on your night table and in the bathroom, or keep a book on tape in your car. Writing is hard work. You have to earn the right to call yourself a writer, and you earn it by doing it, and reading and reading and reading.
One last question: What books are on your bedside table?
I often read three or four books at a time. Right now I have: “The Whites,” by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt; “Swallow” by our wonderful and talented Mary Cappello, a professor of English and creative writing at URI; and “Arguably Essays” by the late Christopher Hitchens.
Pictured above: Robert Leuci, an adjunct professor of English at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Robert Leuci.
Click here for more information about the 2015 Ocean State Summer Writing Conference.