Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Interview with Ron Koertge

Marlene: Tell us about your book.

Ron: Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs is a sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, so readers are following Kevin Boland—poet and first baseman. (Both are novels-in-verse, free verse and not-so-free, but every page had to be a poem of some kind.)
In Shakespeare 1, Kevin hooks up with a girl who might not be much of a ball fan and only likes poems about her, but she is great looking! Every reader knows there’s going to be trouble. In Shakespeare 2, trouble shows up in the form of another girl, Amy. Not as cute but she loves poetry, too, and is big fun to be with. How’s Kevin going to work this out? He’s a good kid, so he’ll find a way. But it might not be easy!

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Ron: My wife and I like AAA and AA baseball. Major league teams have these farm clubs with stadiums (actually it’s stadia) within fifty miles or so of L.A. We were at the one in Lake Elsinore a few years ago and I saw a kid, thirteen at the most, sitting with is dad and writing something. I started thinking of a story about a boy like this, a fan of two very different things. I’d just written a novel and was tired of prose, so I thought I’d try my hand at poetry.

Marlene: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Ron: I’m one of those writers who revises a lot. A lot! And first drafts for me are almost always junky and fat. I write fast and blow by mistakes. Then I start over, sometimes from scratch. So I don’t remember the first words. There’s every chance they were for a poem that ended up deep in the book, anyway, since I don’t write novels-in-verse in order.

Marlene: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Ron: Are you kidding? I hate research. I’m a fiction writer. I make stuff up. Well, I guess you could count going to ball games. But I think of research as sitting indoors with a big book in front of me and wishing I were anyplace else.

Marlene: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Ron: There’s a form-of-poetry called a sestina. It doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t have to be metrical, right? No da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum. But every stanza (except the last) has six lines. There are six stanzas (not counting the last) and the last words of stanza #1 have to be used as the last words of every line in every stanza but in a different order. Are you following this? Sestinas are so hard to write! The one in Shakespeare 2, though, is not only good, it’s hilarious. So that’s my favorite page.

Marlene: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Ron: The part of any book that makes me want to avoid it, is where I go first. That part is like the monster in my nightmares. When that happens in the night, I go right to the monster and put my arms around him and hug him and kiss him. Then he isn’t a monster anymore. And that works with the so-called hard part of a novel. I go right to it with my arms open wide. And the hard part melts like a Popsicle.

Marlene: What's on your nightstand right now?

Ron: Donald Barthelme. He’s such a weird and wonderful writer. I don’t read a lot of kids’ fiction and students I talk to during school visits sometimes don’t either. They read odd cats like Jack Kerouac or Italio Calvino. If I get something out of the library that’s too hard for me (that usually just means it’s dull), I take it back. I like to read over-my-head and I especially like to read “things I shouldn’t.”

Marlene: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Ron: I love to bet on thoroughbred horses. And, like my visits to the various AAA baseball diamonds around where I live, I like to go to different race tracks. A buddy of mine and I take a trip every year to see a different race track or two. So we’ve been to Canada and Arizona and Kentucky and six or eight other states. My wife likes the little tracks in Arizona—Sonoita, especially.

Marlene: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Ron: Gee, no. It’s about the only thing I’m good at. It costs me a few thousand dollars a year to bet on horses, so I can’t afford to quit writing even if I wanted to.

Marlene: Leaving aside reading other writers, are there things that inspire you?

Ron: Besides my wife and horses, I love the movies. I go to probably 60 or 70 of them every year plus watching TCM and IFC on TV plus renting videos. (Just last night I saw “Near Dark” again, a terrific vampire movie set in the Southwest. Cowboy vampires in a van. Who wouldn’t like that?) I love to sit in a theatre with thirty or three hundred strangers. And when I’m working on something of my own, little bits of the film fly off the screen and stick to me and want to be used in the new book. A word or turn of phrase. Maybe the furniture in a living room. Maybe just a barrette in some girl’s hair. I almost never go to a movie and come out empty-handed.

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Ron will pop back in for one week to respond.