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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, July 23, 2012 10:45 am
Hostile Questions: Kurtis Scaletta
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

Kurtis Scaletta likes to write about baseball. Wait a sec . . . baseball?! That’s catnip for writers of introductions! Let’s see how many clichés I can squeeze-play (thats 1!) into this thing.

After really throwing some heat (2) with Mudville, Scaletta proved he had the mechanics (3) to uncork a wild pitch (4) with the snake-themed Mamba Point and the evil-fungus-themed The Tanglewood Terror. But now he’s ready to go the distance (5) and get some insurance runs (6) with the Topps League series, taking each story one game at a time (7). Will Scaletta hit for the cycle (8) against the tough out (9) of Hostile Questions? Or will he be relegated to the bullpen (10)? This is shaping up to be a real pitchers’ duel (11). Hope these questions don’t take a bad hop (12). OK, I have no idea what I’m saying anymore.

The headshot the author *wanted* me to use.

Just who do you think you are?

I think of myself as a father first–not because I’m so child-centered, but because the child puts himself most in my field of vision. “Hat,” he says, handing me a train or dinner plate, which I had better put on my head to stem a tantrum. Or he knocks his knuckles together, which means, “get me some strawberries, stat.” Or he’s climbing next to me with Chugga Chugga Choo Choo for me to read for the one millionth time. So I’m not contemplating creative decisions or considering my career trajectory, I’m thinking about what I have to do right now to meet this almost-two-year- old’s needs. Don’t get me wrong— being a dad is the best thing I’ve done with my life—but it definitely puts everything else on the back burner.

The headshot I actually used.

Where do you get off?

I know, it seems a little presumptuous: I’ve never played baseball, but I’ve written several books now about baseball. I know practically nothing about snakes or fungi, but I’ve written books about snakes and fungi. Now I’m working on a book about robots, to put up against books by guys like Daniel H. Wilson who know everything there is to know about robots. I do just enough research to write these books and I probably make mistakes. The adage is to write what you know. The problem is that things I know would make terrible kids books. What kid wants to read about an online education manager? I have to learn about other things and write about them.

What’s the big idea?

I think the “big idea” for me is to show boys growing up. The book that has probably influenced me the most in the last 10 years isn’t a novel; it’s an academic work called To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader. The author, William G. Brozo, talks about how boys respond to male archetypes. He goes on to list a few and name representative books. I was really intrigued by the idea of archetypes, and started to see how it played out with my own favorite books. Then I looked to my own books, and started asking, what kind of man is this boy becoming? Is he a patriarch? A warrior? A wizard? It’s a richer way to think about that inner story than the chestnut that the main character has to change.

What is your problem, man?

I don’t think I’ve fully integrated that “big idea” with the plots of my books. I usually feel like I’m grafting a plot onto an inner story. It’s like one of those fruit trees where you can still see a big blobby scar between the trunk and the branches, and that the bark is two different colors. The tree is alive and more or less functional but the pieces don’t quite harmonize. I’ll know when I’ve broken through as a writer when the tree looks completely natural. The best books have a seamless integration of the external and internal stories.

Haven’t you done enough?

No way. I fantasize about writing something like The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird, which can reliably sell a bazillion copies year after year so I can become a crotchety hermit living in a remote setting, walled off from the world. The problem is, I haven’t written that book yet. I guess I’ll keep trying until I do.


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