Dodgers came about both quickly and slowly. It was my second go at a novel. I had been writing stories since college, enough to prove that I wasn’t much good. In 1999, I studied with the novelist Dan Barden, and one day he argued that I was betraying this story I’d written, that after 15 pages I was simply shutting it down. This is good, he said, why don’t you write another 400 pages and see? Brilliant advice – and the last thing I wanted to hear. I took the novel another 800 pages – some good writing, but without control. When I finished and locked it away, I promised myself that if I ever tried to write a novel again, it would be simple and straight and I’d see the end from the beginning.
That is what Dodgers feels like to me. Like one of those canoes carved in one piece from a single tree. I told my wife about it one night: Write that, she said. But it took years. We were buying a house, having a kid; I was getting a real job and trying to keep it. I had a million excuses. Then I quit them. The plot was almost entirely there in the first draft. Most of the characters. Some of the voice. But over the years, I got to know East. His way of seeing and the book’s bitten-off style emerged together.
It owes much to many stories: Clockers. Danny, The Champion of the World. In Cold Blood. Native Son and the fitful fictions of Richard Wright. But also, it roots in my upbringing in a family of drivers. My parents thought nothing of driving a thousand miles in a day. They still do it. They make friends easily. I don’t. I brood and daydream and feel alone. I am fortunate that they permitted me this.