1. How and why did you start writing?
I started very early, certainly before the age of reason or the age of spelling or even the age of coherence. At that age, it wasn’t any sort of a conscious decision, just “I want to do this” like I wanted to be a cowboy.
2. Why did you write your most recent book?
Off Season wasn’t supposed to happen. I was done with all those people and their sweet little town in The Year of the Buffalo. I was biking to work one morning and saw– I mean saw!– my dear, wonderful, brave Billie Jo get raped.. I knew things were going to be tremendously difficult for her and her new husband, Tommy Lee (who was also becoming a manager for the first time in his baseball career), and I couldn’t just leave them there. So I had to write the book.
3. What have you learned from writing?
What I feel. What I think. How much I don’t know. What a joy writing is, even when it’s painful.
4. Comment on your writing habits.
Sounds like drug addiction, doesn’t it?
I do most of my fiction in the morning, before I go to the day job. I generally write for 45 minutes to an hour. I often print out some notes to myself or the last page I was working on, fold it up and stick it in my back pocket. Often during the day, something will occur to me (thank you, dear subconscious), and I’ll jot it down. By the time I sit down again, same time, same station, the next morning, I’ve got lots of stuff worked out. When it’s going well like that, it’s SO fun, I really can’t wait to get to the computer.
When it’s going lousy, I go write anyway. I think that’s the most important thing any writer has to learn.
a. Where do you write?
Since my son came of age and moved out, I actually have a home office of my very own, full of books and baseball caps and pictures and my father’s Navy sword. I love writing there.
b. What time of day?
Depending on my wife’s schedule and what else I’ve got going that day, sometime between 6:00 and 8:30. (If that sounds gross, maybe I shouldn’t even tell you that I get up between 4:00 and 5:00 and exercise first. I know. Disgusting. It’s just the way I work.)
c. How many days per week?
Five or six. Never on Sunday.
d. Do you keep a journal?
Yeah. I’ve kept one for 35 years. When I’m going hot and heavy on other things, it’s very sporadic. (It’s been sporadic for about five years.) I love keeping it when I’m on the road.
5. Has any single book inspired you as a writer?
No. Tons of them. Really, from The Sound and the Fury to Horton Hatches the Egg. Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. Lonesome Dove, which I never wanted to end.
6. What are your writing aspirations?
To get the next book done. (Right now I’m working on what seems to insist on being the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written, and it may swallow me.)
7. Whom do you envision as your audience?
I stopped doing that years ago. Isn’t that strange? I’m always surprised and delighted when a reader writes to me, or I met one at a class or conference. “Oh! So, you’re the one!”
8. Are you writing to anyone in particular as you create?
Nope. And I’m not writing for myself, either. I’m writing to get the story right.
9. Do you travel to gain inspiration or are you a home-body?
Both. I’m lucky. The routine at home seems to nurture me, but I’m very stimulated by travel (and especially by driving cross country, staying at ma and pa motels, and eating at the local diner).
10. Do local characters play a part in your writing?
Everybody I write about seems to be a “local character.”
Oh, you mean … I borrow parts of people from everywhere.
11. What do you think of the NY Times Best Seller List?
I think it’s too easy and too cynical to say “it’s all crap” just because some of it’s crap. Some really marvelous books show up there.
a. Are you reading a NYT list book currently?
I’m not sure. The last novel I read that I’m sure was on the bestseller list was Russo’s Empire Falls, which I just loved! That guy is wonderful. May everything he writes shoot right to the top.
12. What contemporary book are you currently reading?
My new “discovery” (which lots of folks knew about for years) is Sharyn McCrumb. I’m reading Ward Just’s The Unfinished Season, which starts very well. I think the best novel I’ve read recently is Jim Kokoris’s The Rich Part of Life.
I’m rereading my Grandfather’s book on the Civil War, which just got reprinted. It’s called Scouts and Spies of the Civil War, by William Gilmore Beymer. Isnt that too wonderful? My granddad is in print!
The next one I want to read is David Maraniss’s They Marched in Sunlight.
The best I’ve read in a long time is Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers.
Ben Zen, by Tom Montag.
13. Name an author(s) you admire.
Oh, golly. Another one, huh? Only one?
Since there are so many contemporaries clammoring for attention, I’ll cop out and name somebody who’s no longer with us: Wallace Stegner.
Every word he writes counts.
I also had the joy of taking a couple of classes from him, and he lectured the same way.
14. What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
Ha. Snort. Spare time.
I read. I work out. I play killer ping pong with my son. I go out to dinner with my bride. I watch baseball/football/basketball in season (in that order of preference). I’m teaching myself to play the piano. (I have a fool for a teacher.)