Sunday, October 30, 2011


This is something from an in-progress essay/story I've been writing about my father. He died seven years ago today...

Dodger stadium. A night game, mid-week. Sometime in the late 70s—the golden age of Garvey, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Yeager, Baker, Smith. Sitting in the exile of the left field bleachers. Peanut shells piled below us. The hum of people and baseball and memory. The announcer’s voice was the voice of God. I was keeping score.

Over the years my father and I had attended hundreds of Dodger (and Angels) games, and never, not once, had we ever caught a foul ball. I stopped bringing my mitt to games; instead I bought the game programs and religiously tracked the balls and strikes, the double plays and ground outs.

But that particular summer night, deep into the game—say, the seventh or eighth inning—it happened. The bat cracked and the ball rose and made its slow-then-fast descent nearby, landing with a smack and bouncing madly two rows in front of us. There was immediate mayhem. My father leapt over some empty chairs and then dove head first toward the skittering ball. I’d never seen him move like that. He was probably fifty-four or fifty-five at this point. An old dad, just like me.

And now, thinking of this, many years later, after asking my oldest son if he wanted to go to a baseball game (he sighed and said no thanks), I can still see my father’s lanky frame stretched out, reaching for the ball, fending off the other dads and scrambling combatants, the look of satisfaction on his face once he had it, the ball, secure in his hands, walking triumphantly toward me, climbing back over the chairs (yellow? I remember them as being yellow) and sitting down next to me, placing the ball in my hand as if it were a prize bestowed to a prince, and I’m inspecting the scuffed leather, the rough feel of the red stitching, rubbing my fingers over the fresh blemish from the impact of the concrete, and also there’s the sweat on my father’s brow, his breathing slowing, sipping his beer as a reward, and again I look at and rub the magical object, over and over, slumped in my yellow chair, unaware of the passage of time, the game continuing, finally having what had been coveted for so long, this gift being given from father to son, son to father, and back again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's It About?

Writing a novel involves (OK, big understatement coming up) many challenges.

Sure, there's the writing itself: wading your way through the dark, watery tunnel that is a long-ish piece of fiction. There's the doubt: wondering if you can do it, wondering if it all somehow ties together (probably not), wondering if you should just chuck this book and work on something else.

And, too, there's the myriad distractions from writing, some of which are important (the dishes need to be done, we just ran out of toilet paper) and some of which are not (Facebook, checking email; Facebook, checking email).

Then there's the non-writing stuff. Like answering the inevitable question about your novel: "What's it about?"

In general, I try to avoid the subject of my writing all together. When that tactic fails, I'm usually vague ("Oh, I'm scribbling away. Making progress. Slowly but surely.").

Sometimes, however, I get asked the question and I have to say something.

The next tactic is to then be flip: "It's about 438 pages."

And if that doesn't satisfy I start rambling: "It's about a family, there are multiple points of view, lots of characters, it takes place in Los Angeles, in 1999, the key thing about the family, though, is the daughter who..."

And I start to get down on myself. I should have my go-to elevator pitch description (you know, something like: It's a heart-warming story of a boy's coming of age in World War 2-era Kansas.). It should be brief. It should be compelling. But because my novel is 438 pages (the number goes up or down on a daily basis) it's hard to distill a coherent summation into a tiny, easily digestible sound bite.

Part of it, too, I know, is not wanting to talk about my novel until it's done. I'm superstitious that way.

So maybe, hopefully, when it's done, I'll have a little distance and be able to better summarize what my novel is about. I won't ramble on so much.

Hopefully. Maybe.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Literary Death Match, San Diego, Episode 3

On Tuesday night, Literary Death Match, courtesy of Todd Zuniga/Opium Magazine and So Say We All, made its third San Diego appearance.

Congrats to the most excellent and radiant Heather Fowler, who emerged victorious. Well done, Heather.

The superb and stylish Jim Ruland was also a judge. It’s worth noting that at last year's LDM in SD, Jim resoundingly kicked my ass (and by that I mean we both read and he won the round, eventually going on to become the night’s winner).

It was great to see some familiar faces as well as meet some new writers (yes, I don't get out enough).

And I think I’ll have to stop saying there isn't much of a writing scene/community in San Diego. Because, actually, there is.

Friday, October 21, 2011

He Realized, Suddenly, That He Could Write a Novel

From this weekend's New York Times Magazine profile of Haruki Murakami:

"His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter — an American transplant named Dave Hilton — hit a double. It was a normal-­enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced Hear the Wind Sing,
a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman. Nothing much happens, but the Murakami voice is there from the start: a strange broth of ennui and exoticism."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Note to Myself About the Novel Chapter I'm Currently Working On

More energy. Ha!

More voice.

More happening in the moment.

Not so much exposition and essay-ish stuff.

Something happening now.

Something with neighbors?


Someone knocks?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Emotional and Psychological Stuff That You Can't Shake Off

The last paragraph of Jeffrey Eugenides' "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write 'The Marriage Plot'":

"That’s the intellectual background of The Marriage Plot. But you don’t write a novel from an idea, or at least I don’t. You write a novel out of the emotional and psychological stuff that you can’t shake off, or don’t want to. For me, this had to do with memories with being young, bookish, concupiscent, and confused. Safely in my 40s, married and a father, I could look back on the terrifying ecstasy of college love, and try to re-live it, at a safe distance. It was deep winter in Chicago when all this happened. Every day I looked out my office window at snow swirling over Lake Michigan. After separating the two books, I put one in a drawer and kept the other on my desk. I ran off with The Marriage Plot and didn’t look back. I changed completely, became a different person, a different writer; I started a new life with a new love, and all without ever leaving home.

(Looking forward to reading Eugenides' latest novel, which is currently on its way to my house.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Quotable DeLillo

"It's tougher to be a young writer today than when I was a young writer. I don't think my first novel would have been published today as I submitted it. I don't think an editor would have read 50 pages of it. It was very overdone and shaggy, but two young editors saw something that seemed worth pursuing and eventually we all did some work on the book and it was published. I don't think publishers have that kind of tolerance these days, and I guess possibly as a result, more writers go to writing class now than then. I think first, fiction, and second, novels, are much more refined in terms of language, but they may tend to be too well behaved, almost in response to the narrower market."

Wall Street Journal interview, January 29, 2010

Will He Run?