How does it feel to see your first novel in print?
Terrific! It’s the realization of a dream. Putting this together is something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I finally became convinced that the timing was right.
In what sense?
It’s no secret that these are volatile times for the publishing industry. While some people may see the wholesale closure of book retailers as evidence that the glass is half empty, I see the explosive growth of e-book readers and tablet computers as evidence that the glass is overflowing. Books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They’re just being repackaged, and I’m convinced that my writing style is ideally suited to the digital age.
Who are some of the novelists that have influenced you?
Since I started devouring classic American literature in my teens, it’s probably safe to say that I’ve been influenced by all the usual suspects – from Melville, Thoreau, Twain, and Wharton to Fitzgerald, Cather, Faulkner, and Hemingway. I’m inspired by works that stand the test of time. Shakespeare, Flaubert, Kafka, Conrad – there’s a reason why their work is still admired and enjoyed today. The storytelling and craft are exceptional. I remember reading Madame Bovary back in high school. I thought it was a great book then. But after re-reading it several times recently, I realize that it’s an even greater book than I ever imagined. I find it fascinating that while the texts of the literary classics don’t change over time, we as readers do. Our experience and understanding of what we’re reading continues to evolve as we mature.
How about contemporary writers. Are there any you admire?
There are too many to list. Philip Roth, to me, is a master. His writing is consistently great, year in and year out. Reading The Humbling was like watching Michael Phelps swim the 200-meter butterfly. You wonder how on earth he makes it look so effortless.
Speaking of Michael Phelps, you write a lot of profiles on Olympic athletes.
I do. Just as Degas found inspiration from ballerinas, I’ve always gained inspiration from the beauty of Olympic sport. A big part of it, of course, is my background as an athlete. But beyond that, I still love the notion of the best athletes from around the world coming together every four years to compete in friendly athletic competition. Yes, there have been plenty of bumps along the way since the modern Olympic Games were established, but the underlying vision is still intact. It’s just a brilliant concept. Every Olympic athlete has a story to tell and lessons to share about self-discipline and overcoming adversity, and anyone who’s a student of Joseph Campbell’s work, as I am, can’t help but draw parallels to the world’s greatest myths. I especially enjoy writing about runners and swimmers, because I have a great deal of respect and admiration for what they do. They toil in anonymity day in and day out for many years for a chance at glory. There’s something both poetic and noble in that type of dedication, and I decided a long time ago that if I was ever in a position to help shine a little light in their direction, I would be more than happy to do so.
How long did it take you to write Forward Swim?
My whole life — and I don’t mean to sound flippant. I’ve always found this question to be a little bit like asking Shalane Flanagan or Ryan Hall how long it took for them to run a marathon. The stopwatch may say it took 2-2 1/2 hours, but the reality is that the race is a culmination of years upon years of dreaming, planning, and execution. There’s so much more that goes into it than the actual undertaking of the process. All artists bring with them a lifetime of experience and wisdom when they face a blank canvas. As a writer, everything I’ve ever seen, heard, experienced, read, or studied has been absorbed, whether consciously or unconsciously, and it all comes into play with anything I write.
You mentioned your style earlier. How would you describe it?
Less, to me, is always more. I find so much beauty in simplicity. Clearly my craft has been influenced by my background in both screenwriting and journalism. I look around the world these days and I see so much heavy-handedness, not just with writing but with everything. I prefer nuance. Subtlety always resonates the longest.
Why do you describe your book as a “fantasy adventure novel for adults?”
I was afraid that some people might hear the premise for this story and mistake it for children’s fare. Far from it. I just want to make sure that readers picking up this book understand from the outset that Forward Swim was written with mature readers in mind.