You have written short stories, but this is your first novel. What is it like to move to a longer form?
There’s a lot more uncertainty in a novel, but it’s a healthy kind of uncertainty. I could never really hold the entire novel in my mind, whereas I often feel I can get a certain grip on a short story. I can picture it sitting there on the table, like a paperweight or a telephone. A novel-at least this one-always felt so much more desperate and stormy and life-or-death to me, as if my very existence depended on finishing it.
How did you manage to write so successfully in the voice of a ten-year-old child?
I struggled and worried about getting Daniel’s voice and energy right. I talk to my judo kids [Lychack is currently a judo instructor], who are all around ten, but I think I probably just worked a long time on this book, more than ten years, actually. I never really knew my father-I met him a couple of times before he died-so I wanted to help this boy save his family and share a time with his father. I still hope for him.
Your writing is so vivid and lyrical. How conscious are you of style?
I hope I’m conscious enough now to stay out of my own way and trust the story. As a reader, I don’t want to be distracted by the writing, only enchanted. Whatever style I might have is really just the way I hear and see the words and pictures in my head. Also, I came to the conclusion that the only way I could show how deeply I felt about this novel was to lavish the writing with as much work and love and time as I could. If I strayed into preciousness, I could count on both my wife and my editor to thump me back to reality with their industrial-strength BS detectors.
You’ve worked at everything from ice cream man to bartender. Do all these different experiences help your writing?
Absolutely. Aside from the obvious all-walks-of-life aspects of these jobs, I think they all served to steer me back to writing. Whether I hated the job or loved it, I always felt compelled to figure out my novel, to lay my father to rest, so to speak. Then again, not a day goes by that I don’t think I should give up my writing life and go back to driving that Softee truck… truly the happiest job I ever had… cruising my little route…families waiting outside in the dusk…that song playing all day long over you….well, okay, maybe I could do without that song….