So Familiar and So Startling

July 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Roger Angell, 93 years old, New Yorker fixture, former fiction editor for the magazine and the son of Katharine White, stepson of E. B. White, will be awarded the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for writers during induction ceremonies at the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.

When he accepted the award Saturday at Doubleday Field, Angell said that he collected “.300 lifetime talkers like a billionaire hunting down Cézannes and Matisses”— loquacious folks like Keith Hernandez, Roger Craig, Bill Rigney and Dan Quisenberry. And he gave his thanks to baseball, “which has turned out to be so familiar and so startling, so spacious and so exacting, and so easy looking and so heartbreakingly difficult that it filled my notebooks in a rush.”

As Joe Bonomo writes:

“…Angell’s best writing about baseball is always simultaneously the best writing about living, because he writes with passion, intelligence, economy, and humanity, and because, as in all great writing, his narrow subjects naturally give way his larger subjects. Angell shows us, again and again, how our loves, small or great, full of heartbreaks, disappointments, and diminishing returns, take many shapes. Angell’s is diamond-shaped.”

Angell’s best writing didn’t profile players in their prime, but when they faced crossroads—such as Steve Blass, who completely lost the ability to throw strikes in 1973, and David Cone, the veteran pitcher who was trying to keep his career alive with the Red Sox after a baffling season of terrible luck with the Yankees in 2000. That article, “Before the Fall,” was expanded into a book, A Pitcher’s Story:

He’d been smoking more. I almost never saw him light up, even when he was at home, but Lynn said he’d stopped inviting me to drive up to the Stadium with him or back home after a game, as he sometimes had, because he smoked in the car and didn’t want me to know. When I asked how many cigarettes a day he smoked, he said more lately but less than a pack. Lynn said he was way up over that by now. Cone did tell me that his doctor, John Olichney, had recently prescribed Zyban, a mild antidepressant that would help you get off nicotine when you were ready. One of its side effects was powerful dreams, and in August David said that only the night before he’d found himself pitching for the Red Sox, in a dream. It was all perfectly clear—the green wall behind him and the red letters on the uniform. “It wouldn’t be bad there, at that,” he said musingly. “That would be a change—pitching with those fans on my side. And I like Jimy Williams as a manager. I’ve always wondered what living in New England would be like…”

The New Yorker has opened up its archives, but since I can’t get the link to work, here’s a post with links to some of Angell’s featured baseball writing, and an earlier one from David Remnick made after Angell’s induction was announced.

Writing Blog Tour

July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

So my troublemaking friend Adrienne Nunez went and tagged me in this writing blog tour thing where I’m supposed to talk about my writing process and what kind of things I am working on at the moment and it is nerve-wracking because I don’t know any of the answers because I didn’t study because I didn’t know there was going to be a quiz. But since I’m going to be a famous astronaut I don’t see why I should care about my GPA, so here goes nothing.

What am I working on?

Short stories are pretty much the only thing I write. For what little chance I have had to write this summer, I have been trying to revisit a couple of pieces that need work in order to get them ready for submission by fall. Two of them are stories that I workshopped in the Barrelhouse Online Fiction Workshop last summer.

Once in a while I entertain thoughts of writing a novel. They don’t entertain me back. If I do write a novel, I suspect it will be about a father and a son, because fathers and sons have been on my mind lately and I think there are a lot of fathers out there who need to have their stories told.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s awesome, obviously.

More seriously: I don’t know. Is it really a writer’s job to know? If you worry from the beginning what your work achieves that others’ work does not, it cripples you rather quickly, I suspect. If there is anything distinctive, I guess I try to bring a little humor to the darker side of things, and bring the reader safely through a journey of the confusing and the heartbreaking and the absurd.

Why do I write what I do?

I have asked this question to myself, wondering if there are any overarching themes to my work, something emerging that would unify my stories were I to arrange them into a collection. What interests me about these people? Most of them are lonely to some degree. They are trying to figure themselves out, where they fit. They haven’t caught on to the rules of society and perhaps are prone to embarrassing themselves a bit, for better or for worse. And I particularly think about people and the disparities between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them.

How does my writing process work? 

When you work full-time you have to scrape to find any useful time to write, and the lack of a set schedule makes it difficult. You cannot just sit down at the computer and expect to focus off the bat and pick up from where you left off. On good days I might come up with material during my idle time—in the shower, during the commute on Interstate 91—and hopefully write it down when I get the chance and bring it back to the computer later. This is also useful when I need to break out of the framework of a story, not let its logical progressions dictate the scenes I want to write. Sometimes the scenes that work best are scenes that hadn’t been part of the plan.

Did I bore you with all this? 

Nah. I just hope my responses weren’t boring, either. It’s tough to worry about such things when you’re training to be an astronaut.


July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Stymie Magazine announces that it will cease publishing new content.

The magazine has seen itself featured in places like ESPN The Magazine, The Writer, The Classical and others. We published a trading card series. Stymie tried to break new ground or at least introduce people to the notion that literature and sports could intersect in a serious way.

Sports and literature go hand in hand in many ways—the loneliness of mission, the need for completion, the impact of moments—and Stymie did a lot of innovative things in the name of stretching the subject of the sporting life and creating literature out of it. I’m sorry to see it go, but I feel fortunate I was able to get my own small contribution in just under the wire.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for July, 2014 at Neil Serven.