- Three on:An Interview with David Carkeet, Mark Harris, and W. P. Kinsella
We thought it only fair to give a few novelists the opportunity to respond to what Michael Hirschorn in The New Republic once described as the "swamp of cliches and rhetorical overkill" with which "would-be egghead populists" confront sport and, one presumes, the literature of sport. Because we thought the chance to compare answers would add to the interest of these brief interviews, we decided to ask our questions of three authors of some of the best recent baseball fiction: David Carkeet (The Greatest Slump of All Time), Mark Harris (The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, Ticket for a Seamstitch, and It Looked Like Forever), and W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe, The Thrill of the Grass, and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy).
We have run the questions and responses to simulate a roundtable discussion, but the format was otherwise. Each author responded separately, David Carkeet and W. P. Kinsella choosing to reply in writing, Mark Harris agreeing to be interviewed by phone, which permitted a dialog to grow, part of which has been retained. Scissors and tape eventually created the text presented here.
We are at best only partially sympathetic to the sort of attitudes expressed by [End Page 183] Mr. Hirschorn and others. We did, however, find refreshing the common sense and craftsman's concern for materials and their proper uses with which these three novelists responded to two would-be egghead populists. We hope readers are similarly refreshed.
MFS: What is your sports background?
CARKEET: As a boy I was an active athlete, but my performance fell far short of the excellence I imagined for myself. I still play ball (slowpitch), and I still think I'm better than I am. In this I am not quite as arrogant as other fans, however; according to one survey I've read, nearly half the people in the stands seriously think, on occasion, that with training they could play baseball as well as the pros they are watching.
HARRIS: Well, I played ball as a kid. I never was a professional or anything like that, but I played all the sports kids play—baseball, basketball, football, team games. Baseball was the one I enjoyed most. I never got much into individual games; in fact, once I was very hurt when the gym teacher in junior high school told me I ought to take up golf. I thought that might be something I'd like to do later, but it was of no interest to me then.
KINSELLA: Limited. I was raised in isolation on a homestead in rural Alberta, didn't see a baseball game until I was eleven years old, didn't see a major league game until I was about thirty. I never played baseball; I was a mediocre outfielder in a softball league for a year or two, hit for average but not for power. I was an excellent table tennis player, might have had some future as a golf pro if anyone had encouraged me to take the game seriously, but rural Albertans didn't dream of being golf pros in the 1950s.
MFS: Are these experiences what brought you to the writing of sports fiction?
HARRIS: No, not that directly. Sports were something that were in my head as an experience of the past; they were material to write about: as I looked back into my life for things to write about, there sport was.
CARKEET: If I hadn't played the game, I never would have written a baseball novel.
KINSELLA: One of my first short stories, written in 1948 at age thirteen was called "Diamond Doom" and concerned a murder in a baseball park. Other than that I didn't write any baseball fiction until 1978; I was living in Iowa City, Iowa, and for some reason recalled my dad telling me stories [End Page 184] of Shoeless Joe Jackson; I went to the library and reread Eight Men Out, then said "What would happen if Shoeless Joe Jackson came to Iowa in this time scene" and the story that would...