BG: Describe the book in one sentence.
RF: A rabid Little League dad can’t control his anxieties and bad impulses, which push his relationships with his wife and only son to the brink.
BG: What led you to write it?
RF: I coached my own son’s baseball teams for ten years, from T-ball to teeners. When I was in grad school at Wilkes University, I often told stories about coaching to my classmates and professors, and several of them urged me to write a memoir. I started drafting a memoir, just a couple chapters, but I soon realized that while my own experiences might have made for pretty interesting bar chatter, my own life wasn’t nearly interesting enough to carry an entire book. So I had an idea: fiction! I started making stuff up.
BG: How long did it take you to write?
RF: From beginning of first draft to publication, almost eight years. But most of that time was spent on revisions. The first draft took almost a year and a half, and then revision, revision, revision. I lost count on how many revisions I did after a dozen, and some of them were really substantial.
BG: Is there anything autobiographical in the novel?
RF: The opening scene of Chapter 2, when the protagonist buys his son his first cup, and the boy keeps pressing his dad for a bigger cup. Just about word for word, pure autobiography. I kept it in the book and placed it early in the story because I think it says something, both funny and insightful, about the male psyche, even at age seven.
BG: Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
RF: Not really. At Wilkes University, Norman Mailer served on the advisory board for the graduate Creative Writing program, and I consider him a great model for a writer—he wrote exceptional fiction and non-fiction. So I think writers write, no matter the genre. Also, I’m an old journalist, so I’m comfortable with non-fiction. I still write op-eds occasionally for one of my local papers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and if I ever have the time, I’d love to research a non-fiction book on the year 1980, which feels like the most influential year in my lifetime—the year Reagan won the White House, the year terrorism gripped America with the ongoing Iran Hostage Crisis, the year John Lennon was shot.
BG: What book most influenced your life?
RF: The World According to Garp by John Irving, a book about a young writer, a young athlete, his family, and anxieties. I first read it in college in the mid-80s, and I’ve seen the movie multiple times, and I re-read the novel recently as I finished final revisions on my own novel. I read an interview with Irving in which he said the main theme of the book is fatherly anxiety, so it feels especially important to me now that my first novel touches on the same theme.
BG: Where do you write?
RF: A spare bedroom/office on the second floor of our home in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Sky-blue walls, daybed, black desk, some personal mementos hanging over the wall above my computer. Those mementos include a framed copy of the cover of my first book, an award-winning collection of short stories, and a black shadow box with a paint brush that belonged to my late father, who made a living as a sign painter in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
BG: Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
RF: I often enjoy writing, the mental process of being in my own book and the feeling that comes with creating something, even if it’s just a turn of phrase. But to use a sports cliché, I feel frustrated some days when I’m not in the zone. And if there’s a secret to being in the zone, I have yet to figure it out—though a good night’s sleep definitely helps. To overcome that frustrated feeling of not being in the zone, I try to keep in mind some words of wisdom from a couple of great writers. For instance, a quote from Isak Dinesen, who counseled, “Write a little every day, without hope and without despair.” Also, an essay from Anne Lamott, who penned a fantastic essay titled “Shitty First Drafts.” So on those days I’m not in the zone, I just try to remind myself that I need to write a little bit, keep the story moving forward, and if I’m just drafting it’s okay if it’s shitty.
BG: Any advice for novice writers?
RF: Lots. In my day job, I teach writing at Elizabethtown College, so sharing advice with novice writers is one of the things I do.
First of all, read. You’ve probably heard that before. But read what you want. Don’t feel pressured to read something just because it has a reputation as serious literature. Reading anything can help you find your voice, get familiar with styles, improve your vocabulary use, learn a little more about the world. I read all sorts of stuff, sometimes commercial fiction, sports, and history.
Also, understand that life is long and it can take a while to write about it in a way that will enlighten others. Be patient, and understand that writing is a process—draft, get feedback, revise. But be persistent. If you really want to do this, keep at it. There are a lot of outlets today for publishing, from major publishers to indie publishers to traditional journals to online journals to blogs, so keep plugging until you find the one that fits for your work.
BG: What’s next?
RF: Another novel, working title Summer of ’85. It’s about a guy with a history of mismatched relationships who sees on the news that an old summer love was killed in a mass shooting, and he comes to realize that she was the one for him.