Sunday, August 23, 2009

Writing for a Touchdown

Football has had unexpected influences on my writing life. I didn't always know I cared about it.  But when I lived abroad for a year, researching my English ghost story, Tournament of Time, I realized I missed the sport. Neither soccer nor rugby quite seemed to inspire me. I came home to Houston and began watching football like a lifetime fan— writing my novel after work every afternoon and evening, except for Monday Night Football. When the opening music filled my one-room apartment, I swiveled away from my typewriter and toward the screen.

When I met my husband-to-be, two things about him struck me immediately. He believed in my dream of writing for children, even though I had only published some magazine pieces for adults up to that point. And he loved football. We discovered this mutual passion on our first date—the night before the Super Bowl. Needless to say, we watched that game together.

Unfortunately, my characters refuse to play football. I knew my main character in The Perfect Shot was an athlete with a strong sense of fair play. Wonderful, I told myself - he can be a quarterback. "No," Brian replied. "I'm a point guard." I said "Nonsense - there are no point guards in football." "You're right," he told me. "I play basketball." So I had to master basketball plays and terminology in order to write that book.

Now I'm writing about another athlete in Permanent Record. Once again I assured myself that I could write about a football player. But Ramón informed me he was a shortstop, and produced photos and baseball cards of his heroes to prove that he lived and breathed baseball, not football. So, once again, I'm struggling to familiarize myself with a sport that's not one I know intimately. But someday, I assure myself, I will write about a football player, and not have to do so much research into unfamiliar territory.

So why my fascination with football? As I was writing Simon Says, about a group of teenagers at a boarding school for fine arts, I was surprised when my main character, a painter, felt compelled to paint a moment from a football game his father dragged him to:

All I want to do is paint the receiver, hanging in mid-air, his fingertips brushing the rough, pebbly texture of the ball. He knows that three defenders, each one twice his size, are about to crash into him, but he makes himself tune them out, straining to clasp that ball to his chest and bring it safely to earth with him.

Maybe that’s why I feel so drawn to football - every time I write a manuscript I love and send it out, it seems as if a whole squad of editorial readers who reject it, and critics who dislike it, are leaping up at me like those defending players. But I hold onto the manuscript - yard by yard, down the field, editor by editor until I find the right one, and then its publication is my touchdown and a letter from a reader my extra point. And none of the tackles and rejections along the way matter any more.

1 comment:

  1. This may sound strange but I recently visited the New Market Battlefield and had a strange encounter I captured with my Nikon and am starting to think it was William McDowell the cadet you wrote about. If interested in the pics just contact me at my blog I did a post about it a few days ago..