Vince Patrick Didn't Make a Splash Selling Water Beds, but He's Engineered a Fine First Novel
The plot of The Pope of Greenwich Village (Sea view, $9.95) mixes menace and hilarity in a dazzling first novel that could make its late-blooming author, Vincent Patrick, 44, a millionaire. Since its publication five weeks ago, the book has received a garland of rave reviews. It is a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection, and the paperback sale to Pocket Books and the film rights to United Artists have already given Patrick a six-figure haul.
His characters may be fictional, but to portray them Patrick drew on a lifetime of observing people while oddjobbing around Manhattan. "I keep in touch socially with a lot of different worlds," he says. "In bars I pick up an awful lot. I have conversations with cops. Most people I know never talk to cops. I'm part Italian, Scotch and Irish, so I'm comfortable with them."
Patrick has a background made for a dust jacket. Born and raised in the Bronx (his father is a retired steamfitter), he bumped through three or four Catholic high schools before dropping out. "I didn't take well to discipline," he explains. Later he sold $29.95 Bibles door to door and set up a water bed company. "We got calls from customers who were moving and wanted to know, 'How do I get the water out?' "
At 19 he married a Bronx girl named Carole Linger who had a son, Glen, from a previous marriage. Their own son, Richard, was born two and a half years later. Patrick enrolled in night school and after six hard years picked up a degree in mechanical engineering from New York University. "Those years were a nightmare," he recalls. "I was carrying 12 or 13 credits, working days and raising a family. When I finished we ran to California."
The Patricks settled in San Jose and were miserable. "My neighbors used to ask if I would be insulted if they mowed my lawn," he laughs. "Insulted? I said, 'Do you want to paint the house too?' The weather was so good, Carole and I never fought. We never saw poor people. We got the feeling that maybe we weren't alive." Within 18 months the family was back in New York. "We just felt that California was no place to raise kids. It was too clean.
As an engineer, Patrick helped design an artificial kidney machine, small arms, brewery equipment, an assembly line for caskets and a device to burn worm holes into wall paneling (for an instantaneous rustic appearance). "In advertising or public relations," Patrick reflects, "some people spend their entire careers going from one failure to another. In engineering, there is very little room for bullshit. If the bridge falls down, that's it." In 1970, at age 35, Patrick decided to concentrate on writing. It had been a hobby since his teens, and he had published three short stories. "At the time I had a fancy kind of engineering consulting business," Patrick says. "I wasn't really happy and I knew if I didn't begin to write something, it wasn't going to get written."
Drastically cutting back his life-style, Patrick worked as a bartender—"something that didn't require a lot of concentration"—while writing the book. Carole, 45, helped support the family by hostessing in restaurants. "To find her as a teenager was just dumb luck," Patrick admits.
Having completed the screenplay of Pope (the title comes from one character's nickname), Patrick is already launched on a second novel. Nonetheless, in some ways he still considers himself an engineer. "We are very solid citizens," he says with pride. "Engineers are just about the best insurance risks. We have very low divorce rates. We are very stable types."