For my novel–like most (aspiring!) novelists, I suppose–I combined a tiny percentage of real life with a huge percentage of the imagined. I also did some research. I watched the entire Ken Burns’ Baseball miniseries while at a writers’ residency in Wyoming, checked out the incredible online libraries of MLB stats, read “Watching Baseball Smarter” and “The Glory of Their Times,” and played phone tag with a former MLB pitcher that a friend of a friend knew.
The player and I never made the connection–we were on different coasts at different times and something called a “landline with an answering machine” was involved. But I did call him– twice. And he called me–once.
I didn’t really need to interview this player for my novel, but thought it would be fun to meet up and listen to ball stories. At the height of his career, he had been a rebel, and I thought surely he’d say something offhand that I could tweak and work into a girls’ Little League softball game. Then, of course, the plan was to ask him to coach me some on pitching. Just for a half an hour or so…
Fiction is my baby, and though I’ve done research for stories, interviewing people isn’t usually part of the process. Interviewing is what I do when I ghostwrite or collaborate with someone on a non-fiction book or memoir. Now, four years into it–I’m suddenly realizing how much I love the interview process.
As an undergrad, long ago, I changed my major often. At one point, I told my dad that I wanted to become a “professional student.” He laughed, but I was serious. I had no idea the term “professional student” was used not to describe someone who loved learning, but someone who didn’t want to face reality, i.e. ~~GET A JOB~~
I do love school, and I do still play with the idea of earning my doctorate, but it was a client that pointed out to me last year that as a ghostwriter–as a writer–I AM a professional student. I ask experts and amazing people from all walks of life questions, and they give me very thorough answers. It’s a free education, baby!
It’s rewarding when I bake a pie with “almost flakey” crust; it’s rewarding when I feel tired after twenty minutes in the pool, but stay in for forty; it’s rewarding when someone tells me as we are about to hang up: “You pulled something out of me I didn’t even know I wanted to say.”
During an interview, whenever the person on the other end of the line says, “That’s a great question,” I get a rush.
I once photocopied the John Steinbeck interview from the Paris Review, put stickers on it, and slept with it under my pillow. I declare no abnormal fandom of John Steinbeck, but I think, I had partially fallen in love with… a wonderful interview:
In the very early dawn, I felt a fiendish desire to take my electric pencil sharpener apart. It has not been working very well and besides I have always wanted to look at the inside of it. So I did and found that certain misadjustments had been made at the factory. I corrected them, cleaned the machine, oiled it and now it works perfectly for the first time since I have [had] it. There is one reward for not sleeping.
Who knows–I think the MLB pitcher I never connected with is still playing in some pro-level circuit. If I find myself where he is one spring or summer, I might just show up. “Hi,” I’ll say. “I called you three years ago and I have this novel that was triggered, basically, by Harry Kalas dying. Do you want to hang out for an hour?”