So here we are at the final post of today’s blog tour for Len Joy’s, ‘American Past Time’, and we are going to finish up with a question and answer session with the author.
Questions and Answers with Len Joy
How did you come to write “American Past Time”?
In my second year of writing classes I enrolled in the novel class, thinking that would give me insight into what it might take to write a novel someday. Turns out people who take that class have a novel they are working on – I didn’t.
So with the class plan being to review and critique a new chapter of each other’s work each week, I used a short story I wrote about a character named Clayton Stonemason who is driving to Chicago for his niece’s wedding. Clayton had been married three times, was a commitment-phobic 40-something who loved his brother but couldn’t stand his brother’s controlling wife. From that story, each week I added another episode to the saga and at the end of the course had a 20,000-word “novel.”
I liked the characters, so I kept working on the novel and several years later I had written “American Past Time,” which is about Clayton’s parents, and Clayton and his brother growing up. The novel concludes decades before the incident that takes place in the original story.
Speaking of when the story takes place, “American Past Time” is set in September 1953 – the gilded age for baseball. Why did you choose that era for the book?
I really backed into it. I started writing a story that takes place in 2003 but then I kept adding backstory about the characters’ parents. And then the parents took over and it became their story. I also grew up in the 50s and 60s, so I have a lot of memories from that era.
Tell us about the character of Dancer Stonemason and how you created him. Is his relationship anything like yours with your father?
The only similarity between my father and Dancer is that both men loved their families. When I started writing these stories, Dancer – the father – was a missing person. He was just someone who wasn’t there. Someone who had let his son down and his son could not forgive him. He didn’t become a real character until I was forced to actually go back in time and create those events that created the rift.
I like to read and I enjoy film and television. I think this is the golden age of television drama. The storytelling, especially in longer cable shows like “The Wire,” is really, really good. I study them for how they reveal action and develop characters and use dialogue in ways that sound natural and not expository.
Are you a big baseball fan?
I like a lot of sports. Baseball was the first sport that I really followed. Today I’m a Cubs fan, which is not exactly the same as being a baseball fan. I had tickets to the first game of the 1984 World Series, which would have been played in Wrigley Field if the Cubs hadn’t managed to lose to the San Diego Padres. I’ve gotten over it.
Your book is about much more than baseball though. What is the overall message and story about in your mind?
“American Past Time” will have special appeal to folks who grew up in the 50s and 60s because of the book’s setting, and of course baseball fans would be interested in that aspect. But it is really about youth and pursuing dreams, love and trying to survive.
What parallels do you see between your pursuit of a writing career and your involvement in endurance sports?
I began both endeavors at the same time, and while I am not yet in the “elite” category of triathletes, I’m getting close. Of course, with triathlons you only compete in your age group, whereas in the writing world I have to compete with all those young writers that everyone wants to publish.
Both activities require a long view, discipline and a commitment to work at them every day. They both offer their fair share of disappointments and setbacks. In both writing and triathlons, it is possible to measure your success through the progress you have made, not just where you finish the race. They both have a community that helps you as you pursue your goals.
You spent 15 years as a businessman and consultant in the engine remanufacturing industry. Why did you transition to writing, with your first novel at 62 years old?
I have always enjoyed writing, and I realized that one of the most rewarding things I did each year was write a somewhat humorous Christmas letter about the family. Kids are easy to poke fun at, especially before they learn to read and editorialize. So I decided to start taking writing classes.
What can you tell us about the sequel to “American Past Time”?
The sequel returns to the current era. It has many of the same characters as “American Past Time,” but instead of covering 20 years, it takes place in one day.
Will you keep writing short fiction as well? How has having that experience helped or hindered your full-length writing?
I really enjoy short fiction – reading it and writing it. Writing short fiction has helped me to be more precise, more efficient with words. Writing a novel is such a long journey; it really helps to have some breaks where you can write something that is complete and that you can share with others.