Ten Pins

Like a nervous lover, I’ve started half a dozen letters to you. Why is this letter so hard? Because I’ve been waiting so long to write it. So, flustered and frustrated, I decided to write a list. I am excellent at lists; the form is always available to me. I will admit to adding already completed tasks to a list just for the pleasure of crossing them off. And for this list, ten points, because in bowling there are ten pins. Something to go on. First, the basics: My novel is called Midnight Bowling. I do not bowl. But I could spend all day hanging out in an old school bowling alley. There’s a great one in Durham, San Antonio, and two in Sandusky, OH, where the story is set. One is in the basement of the beautifully restored State Theatre downtown. The other, Star Lanes, was the model for Midnight Bowling’s Galaxy Lanes. You can’t love a place and a time without also feeling the loss of it. Also sometimes you do something for the art, and sometimes for the need. And everyone knows that there is one love that lodges in your heart. That is what this novel is about. Midnight Bowling started as a story told, then as a short story. For the short story, I figured I could fudge my lack of bowling knowledge for a couple dozen pages. Besides, the story wasn’t really about bowling. That said, my main character Tess Wycheski is a teenaged star bowler, so for the longer form additional research was required. I went to Sandusky and interviewed the owners of the Star (Galaxy) Lanes, as well as some local pros, and the retired coach of the town’s high school team, the Sandusky Blue Streaks. After that I had Tess’ world. Her father, a former pro, is her first love; the sport is her second. And then, because I like things to come in threes as much as the next person, her third love (her first boyfriend) makes her question everything she’s believed so far. And then there’s Leo Florida, ex-hustler and owner of the Galaxy Lanes, who betrayed her father but says he can make her a pro. And who has a secret that involves them all. Well I’ll be damned, I said to myself after about a dozen years working on this novel on and off. I’ve got...
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My perfect day: A writer’s response to coaching

Recently, as part of a coaching exercise, I was asked to describe my perfect day. I was told to “think big.” I tried. I tried to imagine myself in exotic locations. I briefly fantasized about being an international spy. But the thing is, everything I need to have a perfect day is in my life right now. Here’s how it goes: 5:15 – 6:30 — Coffee making, writing. Those first few minutes of coffee making are essential, not only because, well, coffee, but because I have to move around a bit to wake up. By the time I sit down to write, I’m still dreamy but awake enough to put my fingers to the keys. And the writing…well, it may be a few sentences, something approaching a paragraph, or a page or few. If I make sure to sit down and do the writing, it doesn’t matter if later I like what I wrote, or whether or not I can use it. The writing itself seems to matter. If I do the writing, I feel as if I’ve done what I supposed to do for the day, even though I still have a full day ahead of me, a full day of other worthy things to do. If I don’t do the writing, I get nervous, petty; I straighten picture frames and start bargaining with presences I can’t name. 6:30 – 8:00 — Kids up and to school. Their faces so soft before I wake them. The idea that there was a time when we weren’t alive together. The freakout over the jeans that didn’t make it into the dryer, the field trip form that must be filled out for that day, digging piggy bank change to pay for the bag lunch, the rising sun in our eyes as we shiver in the car. 8:00 – 9:30 — Exercise, breakfast, shower. I have trained my yellow pound dog Scout not to poop on walks. Why? Because I do not want to carry a bag of shit around with me. If carrying shit were my job — and, well, that description seems to be shorthand for so many jobs, paying or non — then I would carry it proudly. I would try to perfect my shit carrying form. But when I walk for 20 minutes around my pretty, tree-shaded neighborhood, I want to think and I want to look at...
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Collaboration

For a little more than three years now, I’ve been working with my friend Julianna Baggott on young adult novel. The concept was hers, and it’s a great one. She had a first 100 and an outline, and we decided to dive in together. Julianna and I first met in graduate school as aspiring fiction writers. Through the years, we’ve stayed close — as writers navigating the publishing world, but also as friends. When we first started talking about this novel, which deals with parallel universes and people who can navigate between them, neither of us understood exactly what we were signing on for. But we knew we needed each other to make it work. The layers of storytelling, the psychological complexity of both the characters and all of their worlds, as well as the compelling ideas of parallel universes – especially the wish fulfillment of living many lives, not just one – demanded two minds. And, in line with the concept of parallel universes, we’ve approached this novel many different ways. We’ve pushed each other and, as a result, have pushed the work much further than either of us could have alone. Our collaboration is the kind that only two close friends can master – steamrolling conversations in a language of short-hand, finishing each other’s sentences while building and building, each of us creatively charged by the other. When I’ve talked with people about this, they invariably ask how such a collaboration can work. But at least for this project, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ve learned so much, not only from writing about subject matter I’ve never touched before, and from working with a friend whose writing and generous spirit I so admire. And I think we’re getting to the finish line finally, and hopefully we’ll be able to launch this baby into the world soon. More to...
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