Your earlier novel Rocket Man was a harshly cynical look at life in suburbia. What made you decide to write about that?
When I moved to the suburbs from the city, I looked around and saw no one was really making it. In fact, people were not even keeping up, and houses were falling into foreclosure. This led me to question the whole concept of the American Dream and how only a few can attain it. So I took this character Dale Hammer and made him an everyman for each person who goes for it with the house and the kids and the dogs. And of course, he cannot keep up, but he does find a resolution at the end.
Rocket Man reminded me of the works of Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day. Ford has resisted efforts to compare him with other great writers by stating, “You can’t write… on the strength of influence. You can only write a good story or a good novel by yourself.” Do you agree?
Yes. You have to write with your own vision, but I must say I was influenced by Ford and Russo. Both men take a hard look at the American landscape and see its dips and crevices and all the pitfalls built into our middleclass culture. When you sit down to write though it is only you and your voice.
Rocket Man started out as quite humorous but then turned more serious as it went along. Was this intended, or did the story simply play itself out in this fashion?
It began as a lark and the voice was just rolling but then the book took on bigger themes. I didn’t really intend that to happen but I just follow where the story takes me and that is what happens to Dale. Ultimately he has to decide if his life is authentic and if it is not, what he is he willing to do about it.
A boy with a golden arm but no money for lessons. A mother who wants to give her son his dream before she dies. A broken down World Series pitcher who cannot go on after the death of his wife. These are the elements of The Pitcher. A story of a man at the end of his dream and a boy whose dream is to make his high school baseball team. In the tradition of The Natural and Field of Dreams, this is a mythic story about how a man and a boy meet in the crossroads of their lives and find a way to go on.
You are not Hispanic, so how is it that you decided to make the protagonist of The Pitcher a Mexican-American teenager?
I am not Hispanic, but I have gone through hard times and I know what it is to hang by your fingertips where everything can fall apart at a moment’s notice and the odds are stacked against you. That is really the character of Ricky. Also, I have written novels about African Americans in the South, and it is the same thing. Once you have the voice you have the story.
Have you had experience with playing sports in general or baseball in particular?
I participated in football, wrestling and track in high school. The baseball knowledge came from coaching my son who was a pitcher.
Do you concur with the notion that one’s essential nature is demonstrated while playing sports?
Yes. I think you are tested on the field in ways that squeeze out every emotion you have. And certainly the person you are comes through.
Ricky and his mother are discriminated against in their community because of their ethnicity and poverty. Did you draw on personal experiences in writing about this?
I used the racism I see and read about in everyday life. It is not hard to imagine being a minority in this country because every day we see what happens to people who are discriminated against.
In the novel, the protagonist Ricky states that, “…we are equipped to handle all the bad (stuff), you know. But good things are a little trickier.” This reminded me of Truman Capote’s view that more lives may have been ruined by answered dreams than unanswered ones. Could this be true?
Yes. I think when you are struggling you go one day at a time. When suddenly you can breathe, you look around and evaluate where you are. In a way the struggle keeps you protected.
In The Pitcher, a former pro baseball hero decides to help Ricky, whose dream is a relatively humble one. Your novel seems to affirm that a personal dream or goal is essential. But is there a danger when people, young or otherwise, attach themselves to goals that will not come to fruition?
The tragedy is if you don’t dream big. Failure is inevitable for everyone, but for you that doesn’t mean you should not dream or go for it. Just strap on your backpack and run as fast as you can. You never want to say you did not try.