A Week Later

December 22, 2014

I’ve had a novel out for a week now, and I feel ready, finally, to sit down and write about the process and the result a little bit.

The Writing

Sparrow followed a different process than anything else I’d ever written. It wasn’t done when I tried (and, in this case, succeeded in) selling it. Having sold it unfinished, I had to title it before it was finished. I also had to write on a theoretical deadline (though I was always way ahead). But most strangely, it was published in serial (not cereal, though that might have been delicious).

I talked about this some on a podcast with my friend Chad Dotson, so forgive me for repeating myself, but writing in serial was weird. It is pretty much impossible to not have the end of each chapter feel like some kind of ending. As such, much of each chapter had to be dedicated to some kind of immediate conflict as I tried hard to work the larger themes in over the course of the book. Also, once something was published, I couldn’t go back and change it. That was really hard. I change what happens in my books quite a lot, and there were several times when I wanted to change something in Sparrow, but I couldn’t. The only substantive difference between the online text and what was published as a book is that I inadvertently inserted an extra out into one inning and had to take it out for the print version (this was a big pain in the butt, but it would have bothered me forever).

So, writing in serial was interesting. It’s something I might repeat one day, but I do think I prefer a longer arc with more time to ruminate. Still, I understand Dickens much better now.

The Publishing & The Shelf

The big thing, of course, is that I now have an actual novel published. I have a copy at home and more coming and it’s real and people who are not my mom have purchased it. That is pretty cool. I said for a long time that if I could publish a book just once, I’d be really thrilled. And it’s true. I am thrilled. But I find that now I am greedy. I want more books published.

You see, some people I really respect have said very nice things about this book and my writing and so, it is hard not to think that maybe I can continue doing this and hope that other stories, that have nothing to do with baseball might eventually find there way into the hands of others.

The coolest thing for me about all of it, has been this: Joe Posnanski blurbed my book. You may not know who Joe Posnanski is, but let me try to explain…

In my house, I have a fancy, glass-fronted bookshelf that my dad made for me a number of years ago. I keep the books that are the most important to me on it. it is filled almost entirely with fiction. Sherwood Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Tolstoy. Those kinds of folks. A lot of the writers on there are dead, but some are still kicking. In the small nonfiction section is a book called The Soul of Baseball. it is about former Negro League player Buck O’Neil, and it is the best sports book I have ever read. Joe Posnanski wrote it. And he blurbed my book. Joe Posnanski liked something I wrote and he is on the shelf I reserve, basically, for the best authors I’ve read. This matters a great deal to me. There’s a crack in the door now, and I can see that maybe I belong in that club just a little. Maybe only barely, but if I stand along the back wall, they might let me stay as long as I keep my mouth shut.

And so, in a few days, I’m going to take my little half-inch thick paperback, a mere 226 pages, and I am going to slide it onto that shelf. This is a shelf of books that have felt as though they had the power to change me, and as Michael Chabon once said, the only books that really changed him were the ones he wrote. My first book doesn’t feel, to me, like it belongs there, but at the same time, I can’t imagine anywhere else to put it. I hope, in time, it comes to feel comfortable there.

What’s Next

I finished Sparrow in August, and for a while, I didn’t write a thing (as you can see if you look back at this blog), but I’ve started to feel like I have something to say again. And, as it happens, I have three projects that are currently “in-progress.” One is a collection of inter-connected stories. Another is a short children’s book involving fairies. And then there’s the novel I was working on before Sparrow, which involves, among other things, reindeer herding. I’m eager to work on and finish all of those and then send them out into the world.

The point, I guess, is that I’m busy and writing again, though it probably won’t be in the public eye much for a while. Whenever I can get a little time away from my job, I’ll be writing on something, until I finish it, and then I’ll probably catch my breath until, as Barry Hannah wrote, the voices start up again and I have to get down to work and do something about it.

The Sixth Inning

July 28, 2014

I recently finished writing When the Sparrow Sings (which is why I haven’t been blogging much), but there are still several months of chapter to be posted. Today, it’s the sixth inning, which is the seventh of eleven chapters. Read it here and enjoy.

The Fifth Inning

June 23, 2014

Chapter six of eleven in When the Sparrow Sings is now up and ready for you all to read. This means, if you are good at simple math that more than half the book is now available. I’m in the process of finishing up the last bits now. Soon, it will be available for everyone to buy.

So go read the new chapter. It’s good, I promise!

Second Inning

March 24, 2014

The next chapter of When the Sparrow Sings is up now at The Hardball Times. Go take a gander. We’re getting into the meat of the book now. I hope you like it.

Books and Kids

February 20, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I spent this much time worrying about words. Chapters two and three of When the Sparrow Sings have passed through the editorial process and will be up over the course of the next month and a bit. Chapter four will be ready for editors soon. And, of course, I’m still teaching writing and English and blogging for way too many sites. It’s a busy time.

In putting this book together, I’ve found myself reminded of an interview where Paul Harding (who won the Pulitzer for Tinkers) talked about writing with small children around. He called it guerilla writing and that sounds about right to me. Until recently, I’d used the excuse of not being able to do it unless I had extended time to focus. Well, now that I have deadlines, that’s out the window, isn’t it? Kids are watching a cartoon? Write. Kids are in bed, but I’m really tired? Suck it up and write. Kids have forgotten I exist for at least 30 seconds? Write. Spare moment during my planning period at school? Write.

It’s worked surprisingly well, and I’m hoping it will serve as motivation for me to continue working hard on things when I’ve finished completely with Sparrow sometime this summer.

Speaking of my kids (as I did earlier), they’ve been interesting lately. And I mean that without any sort of connotation. Simone is getting an allowance now when she does her chores, and that’s working out well. She’s getting a little bit of a sense about how money works.

This past Saturday, Cate was out at a babywearing thing with James and I took Simone out for a special treat. She’d heard about The Hobbit just from being in our house and recently, there had been a line of questioning about just exactly what hobbits are. There’s a new edition out with lots of illustrations by Jemima Catlin and I thought she might be ready for it. I don’t think she’d sit through it without the pictures, but with them, it seemed worth a shot. So we went to Barnes and Noble because I knew they had it (sorry my local indie store, I still love you and I’ll be back soon). I showed it to her, and we flipped through the pictures. I asked if she wanted to try it (enthusiastic yes) and got it for her. It was neat seeing how thrilled she was to have her own, big, hardback book.

After we grabbed the book, we had lunch together in the little cafe at the back of the store. A bunch of people seemed irritated because the four-year-old was excited and four, but she was very sweet, and it’s a coffee shop, not an office, so they can go suck an egg. After that, we walked around the kids section a little and she quizzed me a bit about whether or not she could have things (no) and how long it would take her to save her allowance for them. We spent maybe an hour walking around before we headed home.

Once we were home, she wanted to read her book right away and laid on top of me through the first 20 pages. I was quite impressed with her and I’m thrilled to be reading her a book I really loved as a kid.

James has been teething so there have been some sleep issues, but he’s also finally going through a bit of a daddy phase. It’s nice to have him come to me instead of Cate sometimes. He’ll be two this weekend, and I’ve been waiting all that time for this to happen. We read together a lot and he’s still small enough that I can toss him easily into the air. Simone doesn’t always like it as she views me as entirely hers. She’ll need to learn to share. Hard as that may be.

As I’m typing this, it’s warmed up for the first time in ages, and I’m rather enjoying it. I do like all the snow we’ve had this winter, though. I’m normally miserable for much of winter, but it was nice to look out onto the blanket of white and it was fun to play in it with Simone. This further convinces me that it’s time to move to the northeast. One more year, I think, and then we’ll be ready.

A Big Day

January 29, 2014

I announced it on this site a while ago, but today it’s finally here. The Hardball Times is publishing the first installment of my novel, When the Sparrow Sings, and I am very excited to hear what everyone thinks about it.

You can find the first installment here.

You’ll also notice some changes on this site as I focus in on the book, which will be my dominant project for the next year.

But don’t worry about that. Go read the first chapter of my book!

Novelist

December 15, 2013

Gratification is an interesting feeling because it is so associated with hard work or some quality that an individual feels is intrinsic.

When I got married to Cate, I was fabulously happy, but it wasn’t really gratifying. I hadn’t really worked for it. The same with the births of my children. I was happy. I was relieved that they were healthy. But gratified wasn’t the right word.

Well, I found out, just yesterday, that I am going to have a novel published. That may be the most gratifying thing I have experienced.

I became really serious about fiction writing when I was 20 years old in college. I am 33 now and by the time this novel is fully published, I will be 34. I have written two complete novels. I have a story cycle which is somewhat novelish 80 percent done. There are various other short stories sitting unpublished on my hard drive (yes, a few have been published here and there). The novel that will be published, I think it is reasonable to say, is my fourth book. It’s just the first that more than a handful of people will read.

You may want details. Here they are: it is a baseball novel, but it isn’t really about baseball. It’s about family and priorities and obligation. It is about a player who has to decide whether or not to play in the wake of his father’s death. It is going to be first published in 11 monthly installments, starting in January. In November, at the end of that run, it will be published as a book.

I can’t explain how gratifying this is. I am going to keep trying, but I will fail.

I have, for the past thirteen years, been writing. I have written a lot. I have written mostly for myself, but also with the hope that it would one day find a larger audience. I started this blog to help with that. I currently write for five different websites. All of it has been done with the idea that it might lead to finding a place for my fiction which, aggravatingly, becomes unpublishable when I put it on my blog. So I have written everything else I can write, and finally, there have been results and someone is publishing my novel and for the next year, I will be working on a project not just for myself and not just with some nebulous hope that it might eventually come to something, but with full knowledge that there are deadlines and that people will be reading it and that, in my various bios, I can now add the word novelist.

A New Gig

December 4, 2013

Hey Kids, I have a new writing gig, which I have somehow forgotten to promote here.

A friend of mine has started an internet magazine called The Louisville Lip. I’m blogging and writing articles for them. You can find my article from the first issue here. It concerns teacher quality, how much teachers can do and what really effects student learning.

Enjoy.

Around

October 7, 2013

Baseball season just ended and the Reds were destroyed in the playoffs for the third time in four years and then the manager was fired. In other words, it has been freaking busy. I love baseball, I do, but this year was the most stress baseball has ever laid on me. For one, it was the first season during which I had a regular column for which I was actually getting paid. That was pretty cool, but it was also every week, no matter what. Speaking of which, I wrote my last column of the season in metered verse. It was fun, and you can find it here if you want.

Also, I’ve been given the chance to write for a new internet magazine. It is called The Louisville Lip. The first issue will be in November, and I’ll have an article in it. It’s nice because it gives me the chance to write on a larger platform about things other than baseball. I’m not sure how often I’ll contribute or how often I they want me to contribute, but I’m happy for the opportunity.

I haven’t written about my fiction writing for a bit. It’s amazing how the school year grinds creative endeavors to a halt. I’m giving Lonely Human Atoms another read through, and then I’m going to start sending it out again. Reading back over it is good for me. I like it. it makes me believe in myself again. Anyway, I have a couple of other projects going as well and I’m hoping to get one of them finished during the offseason.

So, I guess this is all the long way of saying that I’ve been writing, but it hasn’t been here very often. I’ve been keeping this blog for a long time now. I started the first version of it five years ago last month, and my favorite part is that I’ve never felt like I had to write about one particular topic. Everywhere else I write, it’s very focused on one thing or another, but here I write what I want. Sometimes that’s about my job, sometimes it’s my family, sometimes it’s stupid crap that I find interesting.

The blog isn’t going anywhere, but as someone who really seeks to have his writing read, I have to take opportunities where I can find them, and sometimes that means it will be a few weeks between posts here, especially if my kids don’t do anything noteworthy.

But I’m here. I’m around. James wants to be just like his sister. Simone is excited for Halloween and in not too long, she’ll get to write to Santa, which she’s been waiting to do since roughly December 26th last year. Cate is just coming back to a bit of blogging after a hiatus. She’s also starting a weaving business. I recently decided to take the dust jackets from all my hardback books, and now they’re so pretty I’ve become obsessed with all manner of fancy hardback books that I can’t really afford. It’s fun to dream, though. Even if the dreams are small.

In the interest of keeping myself accountable, I thought it would be good to update my stated summer goals, which were:

Write 60,000 words of fiction.
Read 20 books
Play guitar a lot/learn Beeswing

I have read 10 books since the beginning of June and something close to 20 is more or less a foregone conclusion.

I have played a lot of guitar and I’m at least sort of getting there on Beeswing, which is a pretty tough song to get down.

The writing is another story. I’m probably not going to get to 60,000 words, which I knew was ambitious. I’m sitting on about 14,000 right now (50ish pages), but that number is a little misleading as I wasn’t able to write for about half of June (vacation + Cate getting REALLY sick). As it stands 40-45,000 is probably my new realistic goal, though if 60,000 wants to make itself happen, I’m more than willing.

And speaking of writing, here’s some of what I’ve been working on…

Two car doors slam. thuk, thuk. The engine, aging and poorly cared for rumbles to a start, sputtering uncertainly until placed in gear and allowed to accelerate. The car belongs to Jacob, though belong is a fuzzy word in this instance. He marooned the car years ago when he went away to college, using it only during his sporadic visits, never having the title transferred over. His parents, however, insist it is his, and while they refuse to get rid of it, they also refuse to care for it, deeming it his responsibility. He knows one day it will fail and leave him stranded on the side of the road or in the driveway. He does not care. For now it runs, if only barely.

For a few minutes, there is no sound beyond the progression of roads: the gravel crunch of a driveway is followed by the potholed and patched stutter of a country road is followed by the smooth curves and yellow lines of the well-maintained state highway. The silence bears the kind of tension that only a family can place on a new but serious couple. Look at you young lady, she feels it say, you are not from here. You are not of this place. It will never belong to you. You don’t want to be involved with someone who comes from this. But she says back, I am not so young. I have a place that belongs to me already. Though buried deeper, is a part of her that fears the tension is correct.