Kinsella, W(illiam) P(atrick) 1935-
KINSELLA, W(illiam) P(atrick) 1935-
Born May 25, 1935, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; son of John Matthew (a contractor) and Olive Mary (a printer; maiden name, Elliott) Kinsella; married Myrna Salls, December 28, 1957 (divorced, 1963); married Mildred Irene Clay, September 10, 1965 (divorced, 1978); married Ann Ilene Knight (a writer), December 30, 1978 (divorced, 1997); married Barbara L. Turner (an artist), March 2, 1999; children: (first marriage) Shannon, Lyndsey, Erin. Education: University of Victoria, B.A., 1974; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1978. Religion: Atheist.
Government of Alberta, Edmonton, clerk, 1954-56; Retail Credit Co., Edmonton, Alberta, manager, 1956-61; City of Edmonton, account executive, 1961-67; Caesar's Italian Village (restaurant), Victoria, British Columbia, owner, 1967-72; student and taxicab driver in Victoria, 1974-76; University of Iowa, Iowa City, instructor, 1976-78; University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, assistant professor of English and creative writing, 1978-83; author, 1983—.
National Scrabble Association, American Atheists.
Award from Canadian Fiction, 1976, for story "Illianna Comes Home"; honorable mention in Best American Short Stories 1980, for "Fiona the First"; Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship, 1982, Books in Canada First Novel Award, 1983, and Canadian Authors Association prize, 1983, all for Shoeless Joe; Writers Guild of Alberta O'Hagan novel medal, 1984, for The Moccasin Telegraph; Alberta Achievement Award for Excellence in Literature; Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor, 1987, for The Fencepost Chronicles; Author of the Year Award, Canadian Booksellers Association, 1987; received Order of Canada, 1994; Laurentian University, Ontario, D.Litt., 1990; University of Victoria, D.Litt, 1991.
Dance Me Outside (stories), Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1977, published as Dance Me Outside: More Tales from the Ermineskin Reserve, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1986.
Scars: Stories, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1978.
Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (stories), Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1980, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1993.
Born Indian, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1981.
Shoeless Joe (novel; based on title story in Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1982.
The Ballad of the Public Trustee (chapbook), William Hoffer Standard Editions (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1982.
The Moccasin Telegraph (stories), Penguin Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983, published as The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Tales, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1984, published as The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 1985.
The Thrill of the Grass (chapbook), William Hoffer Standard Editions (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1984.
The Thrill of the Grass (story collection; contains "The Thrill of the Grass"), Penguin (New York, NY), 1984.
The Alligator Report (stories), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1985.
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.
Five Stories (chapbook), William Hoffer Standard Editions (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1986.
The Fencepost Chronicles (stories), Totem Press (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1986, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987.
Red Wolf, Red Wolf (stories), Collins, 1987, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1990.
The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt: Baseball Stories by W. P. Kinsella, Collins, 1987, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988, reprinted as Go the Distance, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1995.
(With Ann Knight) The Rainbow Warehouse (poetry), Pottersfield Press (Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1989.
Two Spirits Soar: The Art of Allen Sapp (art book), Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
The Miss Hobbema Pageant, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
The First and Last Annual Six Towns Area Old Timers' Baseball Game, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
Box Socials (novel), HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1992.
(With Furman Bisher and Dave Perkins) A Series for the World: Baseball's First International Fall Classic, Woodford (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
The Dixon Cornbelt League, and Other Baseball Stories, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Ann Knight) Even at This Distance, Pottersfield Press (Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1994.
Brother Frank's Gospel Hour (stories), HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1996.
The Winter Helen Dropped By (novel), HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Go the Distance: Baseball Stories, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1995.
If Wishes Were Horses, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Magic Time, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998, Voyageur Press (Stillwater, MN), 2001.
The Secret of the Northern Lights, Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1998.
(Editor, author of introduction, and contributor) Baseball Fantastic: Stories, Quarry Press (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Japanese Baseball, and Other Stories, Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2000.
Author of introduction, When the Giants Were Giants: Bill Terry and the Golden Age of New York Baseball, by Peter Williams, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994. Contributor to Ergo!: The Bumbershoot Literary Magazine, edited by Judith Roche, Bumbershoot, 1991. Also author of foreword to Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems, edited by Don Johnson, University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Contributor to numerous anthologies, including Best Canadian Stories: 1977, 1981, 1985, Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1979, Best American Short Stories 1980, More Stories from Western Canada, Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature, Pushcart Prize Anthology 5, The Spirit That Moves Us Reader, Introduction to Fiction, The Temple of Baseball, Penguin Book of Modern Canadian Short Stories, The Armchair Book of Baseball, Small Wonders, Illusion Two, West of Fiction, Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, Volume II, and Here's the Story.
Shoeless Joe was adapted and produced as the motion picture Field of Dreams, released in 1989 by Universal; Dance Me Outside was adapted by Bruce McDonald and produced as a motion picture by Norman Jewison in 1995.
W. P. Kinsella is a Canadian author of novels and stories who has attracted an international readership through his explorations of Native American history and baseball—the two main topics of his fiction—which are often entwined with a sense of magic realism. Many of Kinsella's short stories follow the escapades of characters living on a Cree Indian reservation, while his longer works, such as Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, mix magic and the mundane in epic stories about baseball. Though he didn't publish his first story collection until he was forty-two, Kinsella has won numerous awards, among them the prestigious Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship. He once told CA: "I am an old-fashioned storyteller. I try to make people laugh and cry. A fiction writer's duty is to entertain. If you can then sneak in something profound or symbolic, so much the better."
A fictional Cree Indian named Silas Ermineskin brought Kinsella to the literary forefront in 1977. Ermineskin is the main character in many of Kinsella's Cree stories, which number 115, and which have been collected in Dance Me Outside, Scars, Born Indian, The Moccasin Telegraph, The Fencepost Chronicles, The Miss Hobbema Pagaent, Brother Frank's Chronicles, and The Secret of the Northern Lights. Both Canadian and U.S. critics have expressed admiration for Kinsella's stories. Prairie Schooner contributor Frances W. Kaye noted that "W. P. Kinsella is not an Indian, a fact that would not be extraordinary were it not for the stories Kinsella writes about … a Cree World. Kinsella's Indians are counterculture figures in the sense that their lives counter the predominant culture of North America, but there is none of the worshipfully inaccurate portrayal of 'the Indian' that has appeared from Fenimore Cooper through Gary Snyder." In the Wascana Review, George Woodcock likewise cited Kinsella for an approach that "restores proportion and brings an artistic authenticity to the portrayal of contemporary Indian life which we have encountered rarely in recent years." Anthony Brennan offered a similar assessment in Fiddlehead, writing that Dance Me Outside "is all the more refreshing because it quite consciously eschews ersatz heroics and any kind of nostalgic, mythopoeic reflections on a technicolor golden age."
In 1980 Kinsella published Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, a collection of short pieces set in Iowa, urban Canada, and San Francisco. The title story also was selected to appear in an anthology titled Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1978. An editor at Houghton Mifflin saw Kinsella's story in Aurora and urged him to expand it into a novel. "It was something that hadn't occurred to me at all," Kinsella recalled in Publishers Weekly. "I told [the editor], 'I've never written anything longer than twenty-five pages, but if you want to work with me, I'll try it.'" Much to Kinsella's surprise, the editor agreed. Kinsella set to work expanding "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa," but he decided instead to leave the story intact as the first chapter and build on the plot with a variety of other material. "I enjoyed doing it very much," he said. "They were such wonderful characters I'd created, and I liked being audacious in another way. I put in no sex, no violence, no obscenity, none of that stuff that sells. I wanted to write a book for imaginative readers, an affirmative statement about life."
Shoeless Joe, a novel-length baseball fable set on an Iowa farm, won Kinsella the Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship in 1982. The story follows a character named Ray Kinsella in his attempts to summon the spirits of the tarnished 1919 Chicago White Sox by building a ballpark in his cornfield. Among the ghostly players lured to Kinsella's perfectly mowed grass is Shoeless Joe Jackson, the White Sox star player who fell in scandal when it was revealed that his team threw the World Series. As the story progresses, the same mysterious loudspeaker voice that suggested construction of the ballpark says, "Ease his pain," and Ray Kinsella sets off to kidnap author J. D. Salinger for a visit to Fenway Park. The novel blends baseball lore with legend and historical figures with fictional characters. "I've mixed in so much, I'm not sure what's real and what's not," Kinsella told Publishers Weekly, "but as long as you can convince people you know what you're talking about, it doesn't matter. If you're convincing, they'll believe it."
The critics were convinced. According to Alan Cheuse in the Los Angeles Times, Shoeless Joe "stands as fictional homage to our national pastime, with resonances so American that the book may be grounds for abolishing our northern border." Detroit News writer Ben Brown called it "a gentle, unselfconscious fantasy balanced perilously in the air above an Iowa cornfield. It's a balancing act sustained by the absolutely fearless, sentimentality-risking honesty of the author. And it doesn't hurt a bit that he's a master of the language.… This is an utterly beautiful piece of work." A dissenting opinion was offered by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, who suggested that Shoeless Joe "is a book of quite unbelievable self-indulgence, a rambling exercise the only discernible point of which seems to be to demonstrate, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, what a wonderful fellow is its narrator/author." Conversely, Christian Science Monitor contributor Maggie Lewis praised the novel, concluding that "the descriptions of landscape are poetic, and the baseball details will warm fans' hearts and not get in the way of mere fantasy lovers. This book would make great reading on a summer vacation. In fact, this book is a summer vacation."
Kinsella's fascination with baseball continued in his 1986 novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Jonathan Webb described the work in Quill & Quire as containing "bigger magic, larger and more spectacular effects, than anything attempted in Shoeless Joe. Kinsella is striving for grander meaning: the reconciliation of immovable forces—love and darker emotions—on conflicting courses." Time travel and a ballgame that lasts in excess of 2,600 innings are two of the supernatural events in the story; characters as diverse as Teddy Roosevelt and Leonardo da Vinci make cameo appearances. Chicago Tribune Books contributor Gerald Nemanic said the novel was "freighted with mythical machinery," and "requires the leavening of some sprightly prose. Kinsella is equal to it. His love for baseball is evident in the lyrical descriptions of the game."
In the Globe and Mail, William French suggested that Kinsella lifts baseball to a higher plane in his novels. Kinsella is "attracted as much to the metaphysical aspects as the physical," French said, "intrigued by how baseball transcends time and place and runs like a subterranean stream-of-consciousness through the past century or so of American history.… His baseball novels are animated by a light-hearted wit and bubbling imagination, a respect for mystery and magic." "To be obsessed with baseball is to be touched by grace in Kinsella's universe," wrote Webb, "and a state of grace gives access to magic." But Webb felt that The Iowa Baseball Confederacy failed to persuade the reader to go along with this magic. French agreed: "In the end [of the novel], Kinsella's various themes don't quite connect. But it hardly matters; we're able to admire the audacity of Kinsella's vision and the sheen of his prose without worrying too much about his ultimate meaning." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Roger Kahn called The Iowa Baseball Confederacy "fun and lyric and poignant."
Although baseball surfaces as a theme in Kinsella's 1991 novel Box Socials, the plot primarily concerns the young narrator, Jamie O'Day, and the characters who live in Fark—a small town near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in the 1940s. Filled with "crackpots bizarre enough to put [American humorist] Garrison Keillor to shame," wrote Joyce R. Slater in Chicago Tribune Books, Box Socials features such individuals as Little Wasyl Podolanchuk, one of the only Ukrainian dwarfs in the province; teenaged Truckbox Al McClintock, who once batted against Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller; and bachelor Earl J. Rasmussen, who lives in the hills with six hundred sheep and delights in belting out "Casey at the Bat" at whim. Many reviewers noted that Box Socials is essentially a coming-ofage tale about the curious and wide-eyed Jamie, who learns about sex by eavesdropping on his mother's conversations, and who attends his first box social and bids on poor, downtrodden Bertha Sigurdson's lunch, even though Velvet Bozniak paid him to bid on hers. "The 'little box social' turns out to be a humdinger," Fannie Flagg wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "if you've never been to a box social, go to this one. Along with a lot of laughs, we are given a touching and sensitive portrayal of the love, sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, between young men and young women, and experience the pangs of first love through Jamie's eyes." Other reviewers commended Kinsella's leisurely narrative style. Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times Book Review asserted that Box Socials is "a delightful comic ramble, written in a quirky, digressive style that reads like a cross between Gertrude Stein and Al Capp." "If long-winded, seemingly pointless stories make you anxious," Slater said, "Kinsella's not your man. If you're patient enough to stay for the payoff, if you're an admirer of the perfect wry phrase buried in verbiage, he will give you more than your money's worth."
Kinsella's 1995 novel, The Winter Helen Dropped By, also features Jamie O'Day, in a four-part story about a single year during the Great Depression. "Every story is about sex or death, or sometimes both," says O'Day as he takes readers through a steady succession of marriages, funerals, pregnancies, and the like. In the novel's first section, an Indian woman arrives at the O'Day's farmhouse in the middle of a blizzard. Another section finds a local widow in the midst of wedding preparations while small-town gossip threatens to ruin the celebration. And Jamie views his parents through his childish eyes in "Rosemary's Winter," which Paul J. Robichaud praised in a Quill & Quire review as "the strongest section of the novel." Heavy with child, Jamie's mother has to get to town, but the creek has flooded. Her husband's solution is to construct a sailboat, which in his creative vision he sees as a "wheelless windwagon." While noting that Kinsella sometimes affects a too-down-home air, Robichaud said that The Winter Helen Dropped By "affords the reader a glimpse into a world that no longer exists, and provides considerable laughter and feeling while doing so."
Kinsella has also produced short fiction on a variety of themes. The Alligator Report contains stories that pay homage to surrealist Richard Brautigan, one of Kinsella's favorite authors. In a Village Voice review, Jodi Daynard said that "Kinsella's new stories replace humor with wit, regional dialect with high prose.… He uses surrealism most effectively to highlight the delicate balance between solitude and alienation, not to achieve a comic effect.… These are images that resonate—not comic ones, alas, but stirring, not woolly-wild, but urban gothic." New York Times Book Review contributor Harry Marten contended that in The Alligator Report Kinsella continues "to define a world in which magic and reality combine to make us laugh and think about the perceptions we take for granted."
Kinsella returned to baseball with his collection The Dixon Cornbelt League and Other Baseball Stories, which relies on mysticism to explore human nature. Supernatural events permeate many of the stories. "The Baseball Wolf" shows what happens when a shortstop transforms into a wolf in order to revive his fading career. In "The Fadeaway," even death cannot stop pitcher Christy Mathewson from relaying pitching tips to the Cleveland Indians through a dugout phone. Stephen Smith of Quill & Quire noticed the lack of "baseball activity" in The Dixon Cornbelt League and told the reader to "choose your own baseball imagery" when judging the stories. The story "Eggs" takes on a more serious topic; it is an account of a pitcher's premature retirement due to the loss of his ability to throw a fastball. The pitcher longs to return to baseball, but his wife doesn't support him and he's consumed by unhappiness. Publishers Weekly critic Sybil S. Steinberg said the stories "read like lightning" and present "fascinating scenarios," yet she felt that Kinsella does not fully satisfy his readers or offer enough depth of character. Drew Limsky agreed in his review of the collection in the Washington Post Book World, contending that "although Kinsella's voice is frequently winning even after he's run out of ideas, some of the entries are so slight they barely qualify as stories; they seem to belong to some lesser genre—tales or anecdotes, perhaps."
In his 1994 book of short stories, Brother Frank's Gospel Hour, Kinsella revisits the inhabitants of Hobbema, Alberta. Two familiar inhabitants include Silas Ermineskin, the Cree writer, and his comical partner Frank Fencepost. The humorous pair are featured in the story "Bull," a light-hearted rendering of an artificial insemination case in the Alberta Supreme Court. The other stories cover a range of topics. "Rain Birds" looks at the results of corporate farming on nature; the reality of child abuse is explored in "Dream Catcher"; a boy ascertains the parallels between the sexes in "Ice Man"; and in "Brother Frank's Gospel Hour" comedy turns a staid gospel show upside down. Critics generally liked Brother Frank. Scott Anderson of Quill & Quire credited Kinsella for his "understanding of human foibles" and ability to revel in "the inventiveness of the human spirit in adversity." Ermineskin and Fence-post pair up again in The Secret of the Northern Lights, when Ermineskin is mentored by a Native American medicine woman named Mad Etta.
Kinsella returns to Iowa in If Wishes Were Horses, the story of a mediocre former Phillies pitcher, Joe McCoy, who is on the run from the FBI and trapped in a life he doesn't believe he's actually living. Joe believes his real life is taking place with his former high-school sweetheart, Maureen, even though the facts indicate that he left her years ago. Moreover, Joe has full access to a host of memories and feelings about things that never happened, and when a World Series ring appears on his finger, his divergent lives begin to coalesce. Brian Bethune of Maclean's called the novel "an absorbing story of longing and regret" in which "the infinite possibilities of baseball" become a metaphor that Kinsella executes "flawlessly."
In 1997, Kinsella was injured in a car accident that left him without his senses of smell and taste. Not surprisingly, the after effects of his injuries included an inability to concentrate or write for a couple of years. His novel Magic Time, already completed at the time of his accident, was released during his convalescence. It is the story of a promising college baseball player, Mike Houle, who passes up an opportunity to play with the Montreal Expos in exchange for finishing his education. Relegated after graduation to the Cornbelt League of rural Iowa, Mike goes to live with a small-town family who sponsors him on their local baseball team. He falls in love with his host family's daughter, and when his widowed father comes to visit, he too falls in love with a local woman. Eventually, Mike realizes that many of the town's women have married former baseball players, and he begins to suspect the town is harboring a secret.
Critics appreciated the tale for what it was—a story about life choices and baseball. Wes Lukowsky, reviewing Magic Time for Booklist, wrote that the book contains elements familiar to the work of Rod Serling and Frank Capra and called it a "sentimental but clear-eyed parable about how we make the choices in our lives." A writer for Kirkus Reviews called the book a "treacly valentine to small-town life," but a reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that "this soft lob of a novel doesn't fly quite as high as the author's previous home-run hits, but satisfies with its endearing characters and baseball lore."
Kinsella, who has been called "a fabulist of great skill" and "a gifted Canadian writer" once told CA: "There are no gods, there is no magic; I may be a wizard though, for it takes a wizard to know there are none. My favorite quotation is by Donald Barthelme: 'The aim of literature is to create a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart.'"
W. P. Kinsella contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
… SEVERAL UNNAMED DWARFS
… in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.
I was nearly forty-two years old before my first book was published. The significant accomplishment of my life before that was the fathering of two beautiful daughters, Shannon and Erin, and the acquiring of a third daughter, Lyndsey, when I married a second time. But, the beginning.
1896: My father, John Matthew Kinsella, was born in North Dakota, the youngest of the eight children born to Patrick and Ellen Kinsella (née Murphy). Records show my grandfather was postmaster of Ashgrove, North Dakota, the post office being in his farmhouse. I know little about my grandparents except that they were Irish and may have come from New York. They may have gone to North Dakota after living several years in London, Ontario.
When my father was four, the Kinsellas moved to Rivière Qui Barre (French for bridge over the river), Alberta, a hamlet about twenty miles north of Edmonton, where they farmed.
1903: My mother, Olive Mary Elliott, the middle of three daughters, was born in Wingham, Ontario, the birthplace of Alice Munro. While she was still a toddler, her father, Thomas Elliott, a mining engineer (her mother was Rose Elliot with one t), moved the family to a homestead near Athabasca, Alberta, about seventy-five miles north of Edmonton, where Thomas briefly tried his hand at farming, before moving to Cardiff, Alberta, just north of Edmonton, where he could practice his trade at the coal mines, and where my mother and her sisters spent their girlhood.
1916: My father returned to the United States, thus maintaining his status as an American citizen. He joined the U.S. Army and served as a stretcher-bearer in the Medical Corps in France during World War I, where he was gassed. His health was always delicate after that.
After the war, Johnny Kinsella traveled around the United States for a number of years, played a little semipro baseball. He was apparently an excellent third baseman, though I never saw him play. In Florida and California he learned the trade of plastering. He eventually returned to Alberta, where, in 1928, he married Olive Elliott, who by then was working as a clerk at Ramsay's Department Store in Edmonton. Soon after the wedding, my father suffered a near-fatal bout with TB, in fact at one point he was given only six months to live. When the Depression set in, and there was no work in his trade, he was disinclined to accept relief, so he sold the house my mother had inherited in Edmonton, and bought the stony and useless quarter section of land where I spent the first ten years of my life. There he eked out a living as a farmer and waited out the Depression.
1935: I was born at the University Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, was named William Patrick, and for the next ten years was actually raised in a log cabin. There aren't too many of us can claim that distinction anymore. Our log cabin was located in an isolated area of central Alberta. Although it was only sixty miles from Edmonton, the capital, it might as well have been six hundred. Our only transportation was horse and buggy in summer, and horse-drawn sleigh in winter. I was an only child, and the nearest neighbors with children were several miles away. Until I was five, my sole companions were my parents, and my mother's younger sister, Margaret Elliott. Then Aunt Margaret moved to the city to take employment.
The rest of us moved to Edmonton five years later, but not before, because of our severe isolation, I had taken my first four years of schooling by correspondence courses. Having no contact with children, I considered myself a small adult. I called my parents by their first names, Johnny and Olive, and when I was thrust into the city school system in fifth grade, I had no idea how to relate to other children. I lacked elementary knowledge of how to play such common games as baseball and hide-and-seek. Consequently, I claim to have been suffering from culture shock ever since.
My parents and my aunt Margaret were highly intelligent people, and though none had gone much beyond eighth grade, all three were readers, and all read aloud to me, especially my father. He would read what few novels we possessed, and as I grew, a weekly novel that appeared in the weekend edition of a Toronto newspaper. Some of the novels I heard read aloud many times over were The Valley of Silent Men by James Oliver Curwood, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, The Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey, and Tarzan's Great Adventure by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I believe being raised in isolation had a good deal to do with my becoming a writer, for in order to entertain myself (especially after my aunt Margaret moved to Edmonton—when she left, I begged her to put me in her suitcase and take me with her), I had to create my own entertainment. That meant I created fictional companions. I used to tell my parents stories about Rags and Sigs and me. And I created elaborate fantasies involving my stuffed animals—Jabby, Puppy, Scotty-Pat, Pinky, Helen, Kitty, Souphound, and Clodhopper, to name a few. Many of those toys I still have; they're on display in the library of my home. Imaginative names were not my strong point as a child storyteller, but I did spend most of my childhood creating fictions to entertain myself. That was something I missed very much when we moved to the city, for my friends there had a fear of silence, and hated to play alone, while I found the games I created much more interesting than many of the mindless games they played.
I'm one of these people who woke up at about age five knowing how to read and write, and I did my first fiction writing then, little, one-page, hand-printed stories, some of which my mother still has, with titles like "The Little Lost Pansy." Our farmhouse had large beds of those velvety purple-and-yellow flowers outside the kitchen door.
1945: My first exposure to baseball (other than hearing about it from my father, who talked a good game, often telling stories about the major-league games he had seen during his travels) came during my first spring in a regular school, when, during a pickup game at recess, I suddenly had a bat thrust into my hands and was told I was "up." I had witnessed enough play to know I was supposed to hit the ball, and I did hit the first pitch somewhere deep into the outfield, but I hadn't witnessed enough of the game to understand that I was supposed to run the bases after I hit the ball. I stood at home plate and watched the proceedings, while my playmates screamed at me, "Run! Run!"
"To where?" I said, as I was pulled along by the arm toward first base. Unfortunately, by the time I had been dragged to first, the ball had been retrieved and I was out.
I was delighted when we moved to the city, for in spite of the difficulties of adjusting, and perpetually feeling the outsider, I loved the hustle and bustle. Most of the boys I went to school with had also come from farms; they were homesick for the great outdoors, animals, and such. My memories of the farm are of always being cold, of endless winters, muddy summers, too many insects, and a wind that blows constantly. I've never missed it.
I was well ahead of my contemporaries at Parkdale School in Edmonton, but in the spring of 1946, I suffered an attack of strep throat, a complication from measles. I hovered near death for some time, being saved only by the newly invented wonder drug penicillin. I missed the last three and a half months of fifth grade, and because of that I was never again an outstanding student. My IQ was very high, and teachers were constantly telling me I had the ability to do much better work. But I was interested in nothing but English. I was tall and very thin and had no athletic ability at all, and was always the last one picked in any sporting contest.
We were never given the opportunity to do creative work in school, and even in high school no fiction was studied. In eighth grade, I entered a contest sponsored by the Boys and Girls Fair, a program of the YMCA, and received a runner-up ribbon for my story "Diamond Doom," a three-page, handwritten effort about murder in a baseball park. I didn't write fiction again until after high school.
1950: High school. Creative writing was not encouraged at Eastwood High School, in fact nothing creative was encouraged. Our parents and teachers had survived, and been scarred by, the Great Depression; what was pounded into us was, get a job with security, learn a trade, acquire a profession, attend university. My high-school counsellor, whom I will never forgive, after I had scored 98 percent on the writing section of an aptitude test, and 0 percent on the mechanical section, discouraged me from considering writing as a profession. He suggested instead that I become an accountant or an engineer, and write as a hobby once I was established professionally. My English teacher, Miss Ethel Anderson, recognized that I had special ability, and made sure I mastered the basic tools of a writer's trade. In spite of my being a late bloomer as a writer, I was pleased to be able to deliver a copy of Shoeless Joe to Miss Anderson, who was then in her ninety-third year, and still bright as a button.
As I tell anyone who asks, writing is 85 percent stamina and tenacity. I learned both qualities early on. Though I was never elected to any office in high school, I ended up serving in several capacities. I lost the election for room representative on the student council, to a personable star athlete. The trouble was, the personable star athlete had no interest in sitting on council, so I was always there to attend in his place while he practiced basketball. Soon he lost interest entirely and I became room representative by default. I became editor of the school newspaper, the Eastwood Gazette, in the same manner. The editor was elected by the newspaper staff. A fellow with a nice smile was voted into the job, but by Christmas he'd stopped attending production meetings, and I fell into the job because I was always there writing features, columns, selling advertising, and doing layout.
I graduated with 90 percent in English and 51 percent in each of seven other subjects, the nature of which I immediately forgot. I would get up at 4:00 a.m. the morning of an exam and cram enough vital information to pass, then let that information float away as the exam finished, knowing I would never use it again. I have never regretted my approach to learning. I could have attended university then, but in 1954, first-year university was like a thirteenth year of high school, with students having to take math, science, and, horror of horrors, physical education. I vowed when I finished grade twelve never to have anything to do with such subjects again. And I never have, though I had to wait until 1970 to attend university, by which time I was able to obtain a degree in creative writing without studying math or science, or doing any push-ups.
My father took ill in March of 1953. Exploratory surgery revealed stomach cancer. He lasted only ninety days, dying the morning I wrote my grade-twelve trigonometry exam. My father thought he had escaped the clutches of the Roman Catholic church and professed to be an atheist, until he found out he was going to die, when he went crawling back to the church. He tried to apologize to me, saying he had been indoctrinated too much as a child to break completely free. I assured him it didn't matter to me one way or the other—but it did. I am active in the American Atheists and vow that when my time comes, I will continue to practice what I preach and not be such a coward as to seek solace in a nonexistent supernatural. I strongly believe organized religion was created the day the first charlatan met the first fool.
After high school I worked as a clerk for the Alberta government, was a collector for a finance company, and became an investigator for a credit bureau. I also took a night-school writing course and published my first work, a couple of columns in the Edmonton Journal, and two short stories in the Alberta Civil Service Bulletin. But then, as twenty-one-year-olds are apt to do, I met a girl and didn't write again for almost eight years.
1957: Late in 1957, I married Myrna Sails. She was seventeen, I was twenty-two. My daughter Shannon Leah was born November 12, 1958; my daughter Erin Irene, February 28, 1961. In 1963, Myrna left us, and I put in a very rough two years trying to raise my little daughters while attempting to employ even semicompetent housekeepers, all the while working at a sales job which required a lot of overtime. In 1965, I met and married Mickey Heming and acquired a stepdaughter, Lyndsey Denise, born in 1960.
1967: During 1965 and 1966, I began writing again, mainly doing alternative editorials for the Edmonton Journal, and writing a few short stories that didn't find markets, though I got an encouraging letter from Robie Macauley, fiction editor of Playboy, who would be managing editor at Houghton Mifflin sixteen years later, when I published with them. In the fall of 1967, we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, the warmest place in Canada, as well as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Mickey's parents had retired there, but they missed the prairies, so they were delighted when we bought their house, enabling them to return to Alberta.
The move was the beginning of another three-year hiatus from writing. I needed to make a living, and one of my clients in Edmonton, who owned a number of pizza restaurants, had explained the economics to me when I called on him in my capacity as a salesman for the Yellow Pages. In Victoria, I purchased a bankrupt pizzeria, and spent very long hours turning it into a paying proposition, something it eventually became.
1970: Living better than hand-to-mouth for the first time in my life, I began to look around with a view to taking a writing course. I discovered that I could enroll in a single creative writing course at the University of Victoria, which I did in the fall of 1970. That was the point at which I began to write seriously. My instructor, Derk Wynand, had one folder for my work, and one folder for the seventeen other students in the class—I was turning out a full ten-to-twenty-page story every week. I found university work easy and enrolled in summer-school courses and took a full load the next fall. Robin Skelton, Lawrence Russell, and Velma Gooch were major influences on me at university.
I graduated in 1974 with a degree in creative writing and a major in playwriting—the major coming about by accident, because one year there was no fiction writer on staff, so I took several extra playwriting courses. I had published a number of poems, plus three or four stories in minor, minor markets, but, even though I knew my stories were good, there was something lacking. I had sold my restaurant in 1972 and was living off the proceeds, driving taxi on weekends to buy groceries. So I decided to take at least a year to write, working just enough to buy groceries and pay rent.
In the fall of 1974, a writer named W. D. Valgardson came to teach at U-Vic. He was a writer I admired very much, so I enrolled in his Advanced Fiction Workshop, a step that changed my life. I knew my stories were 90 percent publishable, but I couldn't get that last 10 percent. Billy Valgardson looked at my work, and he would tear off my first page, then tear off the last page, and scissor off half of the second from last page, and say, "Look! You warmed up for a page before you started your story, and you wound down for a page and a half after it was over. Don't do that!"
I took that advice from Valgardson, and my work suddenly started to catch on. In one week I had five stories accepted by magazines, as many as had been accepted in the previous five years. And I've sold every story I've written since—over two hundred of them.
My first Indian story was written in 1970, but it wasn't until 1975, after Valgardson had put me on the right track, that I began writing them seriously. The thing every writer strives for is a storytelling voice that readers can relate to and identify with. I've been very lucky, first to find the voice of Silas Ermineskin in my Indian stories, second to find the more poetic voice of my baseball stories, and I hope to do equally well with the down-home storyteller's voice of my latest novel, Box Socials. The first Indian story, "Illianna Comes Home," was written in the fall of 1970, when I was studying with Leon Rooke and trying desperately to think of something to write about. I thought of a couple I knew casually; the young woman was Indian and her husband was white. I thought, there must be a story there about the clash of the cultures. My immediate idea was to write from the young man's point of view, theorizing, What kind of problems would I have bringing an Indian girl home to meet my immediate family, which at that time consisted of my mother and aunt, now living in retirement in Edmonton, and not having seen an Indian for many years, and with no plans to meet one. Then I said, No, Guess Who Coming to Dinner has already been written; so, what would happen if (a phrase fiction writers bandy about from dawn to dusk) I told the story from the Indian girl's kid brother's point of view? A boy who had been possibly to sixth grade, but wrote by intuition, not in white man's syntax. I did not intend to write a humorous story; I intended a bittersweet comment on race relations, and was somewhat alarmed when the writing class laughed and laughed as I read the story aloud. I left the story in a drawer until 1975, when I got several more ideas I felt could be told by the same voice. There are now nearly one hundred stories narrated by Silas Ermineskin.
Billy Valgardson worked with me on those stories; he also suggested that I attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop at his alma mater, the University of Iowa, to obtain an M.F.A. in creative writing, a degree that would enable me to teach writing at the university level, for neither of us entertained the hope at that time that I could ever make a living from my storytelling.
1976: In the spring of 1976, I was accepted by the University of Iowa, to begin studies that fall. After they read my stories, they wrote back to ask, not if I was an Indian, but what percentage Indian I was, because they wanted to apply for Head Start funds. My second marriage ended that spring and, being at loose ends, I traveled by bus to Ontario (three thousand miles) to help my closest friend, Lee Harwood, move back to Victoria. We drove a U-Haul van the whole distance, truly an adventure in moving.
The week before I left for Iowa, I packaged up eighteen of my Indian stories and mailed them to Oberon Press, Billy Valgardson's publisher, a small, quality press, located in Ottawa, Ontario. Earlier, Valgardson had submitted a sampling of my stories to Oberon. Their reaction was, "These are very good, but so diverse they sound like they've been written by at least three different authors," which was true, since they saw two Indian stories plus "Fiona the First," "The Grecian Urn," and "Waiting for the Call."
Soon after I arrived in Iowa, I received word that my collection of stories had been accepted. Dance Me Outside was due for publication in the spring of 1977. (A little advice for beginning writers: NEVER ever, ever, sign a contract with a publisher without engaging a literary agent. I didn't acquire an agent until my fifth book, and I would have been spared years of hassles over reprint and subsidiary rights, and I would be considerably richer, if I had engaged an agent before allowing my first book to be published.)
I immediately fell in love with Iowa itself, although, from the first, I had misgivings about the writing program. I took board and room in a private home, and discovered the Iowa City Creative Reading Series, a group that met weekly in College Green Park in summer, and in the Iowa City Public Library in winter, to spend an evening reading aloud to each other from original poetry and prose. The group impressed me so much that when I went to live in Calgary, I immediately started the Calgary Creative Reading Series, an evening with a featured reader plus an hour of open readings—a program that is still operating there.
I discovered quickly that the quality of the writing program at Iowa, though supposedly at graduate level, was not nearly as difficult as the undergraduate program at University of Victoria. In Victoria, 90 percent of students in the advanced fiction-writing course were either published or on the verge of publishing. Unfortunately, in Iowa, while there were two or three talented writers in each section of the workshop, there were many students who had no business being in a writing program of any kind. I was particularly distressed to find that most of the students were not familiar with their competition in fiction writing, did not read the literary magazines, and were not reading current novels and short-story collections. Also, being used to straightforward, honest, but hard-hitting criticism of my work, I found the students' comments useless, uninformed, and in many cases detrimental, while the instructors I studied with were unwilling to offer tough criticism for fear of offending their students. For me, the total lack of supervision was not a major problem; I wrote Scars, a good part of the collection Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, as well as turning my story "The Grecian Urn" into an unsuccessful novel.
But the good things about Iowa far outweighed the bad. As I said, I fell in love with Iowa City, and with the land of Iowa itself. Iowa City is the only place I have ever truly felt at home. I made several long-term friends including author Anthony Bukoski. I enrolled in an excellent workshop in the journalism department, a course taught by Clarence Andrews and Richard Wheelwright, where in the fall of 1976, I met Ann Knight. I suppose the essence of Ann is the model for Annie in Shoeless Joe, a vivacious, loving, ultra-supportive woman, who happens to have red hair and freckles. I have always had a passion for redheaded women. Recently, a friend, knowing that I'll be traveling a great deal in 1988, and that I always try, if I'm going to be away more than a couple of days, to take Ann with me, gave me a pair of socks with an appropriate note: "What do you need to travel, but a change of socks and a redheaded wife?" What indeed?
Dance Me Outside was published in the spring of 1977. The stories of Silas Ermineskin and his friends were accepted as authentic. Newspaper people trying to contact me were taken in by the implied-author syndrome, for they were busy phoning around Wetaskiwin and Hobbema, Alberta, the setting of the stories, assuming that, because the stories read authentically, I had to live in that location.
1978: During my final weeks in Iowa, I did my first baseball writing (since I had written "Diamond Doom" in eighth grade). I recalled some stories my father used to tell me about Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the "Black Sox" scandal of 1919, and I thought, What would happen if Shoeless Joe Jackson came to Iowa in this current time frame? The result was a story, "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa," written specifically for the New Yorker, which rejected it as "too sentimental" (their loss), but immediately accepted for an anthology called Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1978. That acceptance changed my entire life. Also in 1978, my second book, Scars, another collection of Hobbema stories, appeared in print, and, in June, my daughter Erin gave me the first of my two grandchildren, Jason Kirk Kinsella; the second, Kurtis William Kinsella, was born in 1988.
As I was graduating from the University of Iowa, I sent out resumes to a couple of hundred colleges seeking a position teaching creative writing. Though I would have much preferred a position in the United States (my father was an American who never took out Canadian citizenship, my wife is American, and I carry a letter from the American consulate stating that I may have an American passport and the accompanying citizenship any time I care to apply for it), the only offer of employment came from the University of Calgary, in Alberta, referred to hereafter as Desolate U.
Other than making a few good friends—Elona Malterre, Ken Rivard, Bev Harris—the Calgary experience was totally negative. I spent five horrible years there, each longer than the one before. Desolate U proved to be an institution where there was a tremendous distrust and jealousy of anyone creative; the philistines who set course requirements arranged to allow seventy (that's right, seventy) students to register in my creative-writing seminar, while as everyone in North America knows, except those at Desolate U, creative-writing seminars are discussion groups limited to ten to twenty students admitted after submitting samples of their work to prove they are literate.
In addition, because the university itself admitted anyone who could fog a mirror three out of five times, I had to spend the remainder of my time teaching courses in Bonehead English to functional illiterates who should never have been allowed within five miles of a university classroom. Plus, Desolate U was the only university, to my knowledge, where a professor's summer months were not his own. One was supposed to be absent from campus only sixty days, and faculty members were continually harassed by petty bureaucrats. In order to spend my summers in Iowa, and travel about to watch major-league baseball, I had to spend most of my time looking over my shoulder and lying about my whereabouts.
After my first semester at Desolate U, I returned to Iowa City, and Ann Knight and I were married on December 30, 1978; we spent our wedding night in Ankeny, Iowa, and the following night in thirty-below weather in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Ann having to get up and start the Datsun every two hours, because it was her car, and too temperamental to start for me.
1980: The genesis of my first novel, Shoeless Joe. Early in 1980, I received a letter from a young editor named Larry Kessenich, at Houghton Mifflin publishers in Boston. It seems that Publishers Weekly had reviewed the anthology Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1978, making a two-line mention of my story "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa." Larry Kessenich had not read the story, or anything by me, but said that most everyone at Houghton Mifflin was a baseball fan, and that he was so intrigued by my idea of a man building a baseball diamond in his cornfield, that if the contribution to Aurora was from a novel, they would like to see it, and, Kessenich went on to suggest, if it wasn't it should be.
The instant I read the letter I started thinking novel. I knew I was going to write something about J. D. Salinger, because, by attempting to hide completely, he made himself highly conspicuous; I knew I was going to write something about Moonlight Graham, a man I had discovered by reading The Baseball Encyclopedia, a man who had played one instant of major-league baseball in 1905; I also knew I was going to write something about a man I had met on the streets of Iowa City, an old man who stopped to ask me the time one cold March day, then proceeded to tell me he was eighty-seven years old and had once played for the Chicago Cubs. I made an appointment with the man to discuss his career, all the time thinking that he had to be the oldest living Chicago Cub, and seeing magazine articles and newspaper features in my future. I stopped what I was doing and went to the Iowa City Public Library to look him up in The Baseball Encyclopedia, however, there was no listing for him. He was a storyteller just as I was. I decided that I could bring all those characters together, using the same narrator as in my story "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa."
I wrote a four-page letter back to Larry Kessenich, stating that I had never written anything successful longer than twenty-five pages, and that if I was going to attempt a novel I would need a good editor to work closely with me. Larry was a recent graduate of editor's school, and didn't know that most editors want a finished product to cross their desks, so he volunteered to work with me. My novel, Shoeless Joe, was just like a baby, for it took nine months to write. After only one false start—I wanted to begin in medias res; Larry insisted that the events of the novel be chronological—it flowed smoothly and easily, and was great fun to write.
In July of 1980, while Ann and I were visiting her parents in Orland, California, I drove to a place called Black Butte Dam, and read Ann the second section of Shoeless Joe, the section titled, "They Tore Down the Polo Grounds in 1964." As I was reading, I knew that what I had done was really good, and I knew that day I was probably going to be able to make a living writing.
Also that summer, Ann and I drove to Chisholm, Minnesota, high in the Mesabi iron range, to investigate the life and times of Moonlight Graham, a man who had played one inning of baseball in 1905. Graham was a southerner, and I wondered why he had ended up in one of the coldest places in the United States. The facts presented in Shoeless Joe are essentially accurate. Graham was a doctor for over fifty years and everyone in Chisholm over age twenty-five had a Doc Graham story to tell us, or rather, to tell Ann. For Ann did the actual interviewing while I lurked in the background absorbing the atmosphere. The most remarkable event, and one I almost didn't include in the novel because it was so unreal, was that when I asked the local newspaper editor, Veda Ponikvar, where I could find a photograph of Doc Graham, she parted the ferns on the filing cabinet in her office and there was a photo of Doc Graham, not just a photo, but one showing him in his 1905 New York Giant uniform.
I submitted the finished novel late in 1980, and soon after, Larry called to say I had been chosen to receive the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, a prestigious award, given infrequently, only when the publishers felt they had an outstanding book. Previous winners were such well-known authors as Philip Roth and Willie Morris.
In the spring of 1980 my third collection of stories, Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, was published, again to excellent reviews. The title story, and "First Names and Empty Pockets," a fable about Janis Joplin, received the most attention.
It was also in 1980 that I made the decision to acquire a literary agent. I took a copy of Shoeless Joe to Nancy Colbert, of the Colbert Agency in Toronto. She loved the novel and agreed to represent me, certainly the wisest business decision I have ever made, for the word chutzpah was invented to describe Nancy Colbert. She has guided the business end of my career with great brilliance.
1981: My fourth book, Born Indian, was published, the cover featuring a reproduction of a painting by the world-famous Indian artist Allen Sapp. I've had the pleasure of meeting Allen Sapp, and success has allowed me to acquire several of his paintings, which are remembered scenes from his childhood on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan.
1982: In April, Shoeless Joe was published to great acclaim. Publishers Weekly called it "the best baseball novel since The Natural," and of the 150-plus reviews almost all were equally enthusiastic. As soon as classes were finished Ann and I set out, by car (she painted Author on Tour, as well as my name and the name of the novel on the sides of her old orange Datsun), on a very long book tour. Since Shoeless Joe was a first novel, Houghton Mifflin had not planned much of a promotion tour (in fact they had planned only a printing of 10,000, but the sales department loved the book so much the figure was raised to 25,000), but when we told them we planned to tour a number of baseball stadiums on our own, they agreed to pay our hotel expenses and kick in a little gas money.
Houghton Mifflin set up the appointments, but we had to keep them, which wasn't always easy. We would arrive in Detroit, or Pittsburgh, with a list of six radio stations and a newspaper to find. It is one of Murphy's Laws that all radio stations are either located on the top floor of a downtown building that has no address, only a name, or on the outskirts of the city in an area with no street names. Three months later, the hardcover printing of Shoeless Joe was sold out, and Ann had guided me to radio and TV stations and newspapers from New York to Seattle.
It was also my great pleasure in the spring of 1982, to tell Desolate U that I wasn't interested in applying for tenure, and would be leaving when my contract expired in the spring of 1983.
I am a very disciplined writer; I set a quota for myself, and stick to it. I have the ability to compartmentalize. When I write, I write, whether I'm at home, in an airplane, or a hotel. I work two days on and one day off, forever, and on the days I work, I try to create four typewritten pages, or do an amount of revision that would equal four new pages. I remember how, at Desolate U, even when inundated by marking, committee work, or class preparation, I would come to my office in the afternoon, lock the door, turn out the light so I wouldn't be disturbed, clear all the university junk off my desk, put everything from my mind but the story I was working on, and write for a few hours.
By the time I returned from the book tour I was not feeling well; I was extremely tired and irritable, and found myself eating much more than I usually did. Unfortunately, I recognized the symptoms, for I'd known for over twenty years I was a borderline diabetic. I consulted a physician and was diagnosed as having adult-onset diabetes. Becoming diabetic has given me even more of a sense of urgency about my writing. I have more ideas in my head than I could write in three lifetimes. My father died young, and few of the males on the Kinsella side of the family have lived past sixty. By careful diet, exercise, and oral medication I keep my diabetes under control, but it takes a toll in time; I have to walk briskly for a half hour after each meal, in order to slow the digestive process and the entry of sugar into my blood.
1983: In July we left Calgary and Desolate U forever, but not before I attempted to take on the Desolate U bureaucracy, in the press. Trying to find intelligent life in any bureaucracy is like bobbing for a pea in a vat of pabulum, but for my trouble, newspaper columnist Tom Keyser described me as the only person he knew who nuked all his bridges behind him. Which I certainly did. I suspect I will never receive an honorary degree from Desolate U.
Our move took us to a condo a few yards from the Pacific Ocean, in White Rock, British Columbia, the warmest spot in mainland Canada. I have always felt I deserve to live in a warm climate. In 1981, on our way back from visiting Ann's parents, I took Ann to White Rock. We ate dinner at a very good Greek restaurant, walked along the beach and the long pier, then spent the night at a local motel. During the night Ann dreamed we built an apartment above the Greek restaurant. The next day we discovered that there were already two floors of apartments above the restaurant, and, after consulting the local newspaper, found that two were for sale. Before we left White Rock we owned a condo.
In 1983, I published my first book with Penguin Books, The Moccasin Telegraph, a new collection of sad and humorous stories narrated by Silas Ermineskin.
1984: The Thrill of the Grass, a collection of baseball-related short stories, appeared with Penguin Books in both Canada and the United States.
1985: Shoeless Joe was optioned by Twentieth Century-Fox. With the first money from the option we bought a much larger condo with a double ocean view, which we use exclusively for business; the living room is my office, one bedroom is the library, the other Ann's office. Also in 1985, The Alligator Report was published by Coffee House Press of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Alligator Report was a collection of short short stories, many of which had been previously published in magazines, in groups of two or three, as "Brautigans," named because of my admiration for Richard Brautigan.
Brautigan would, I suppose, head the list of writers I admire, and if I could own only one book it would probably be In Watermelon Sugar, although there is a novel called Summer Dreams and the Klieg Light Gas Company, by Cynthia Applewhite, that touches me almost as much. My writings, like Brautigan's, have proven popular in Japan. I think Anne Tyler is the finest novelist writing today, and I admire the work of Flannery O'Connor, Josephine Humphreys, Bobbie Ann Mason, Louise Erdrich, Ellen Gilchrist, Lee Smith, Tom Robbins, and Louis Auchincloss.
I read voraciously, mainly current novels and story collections. I subscribe to Publishers Weekly and, from their reviews, make a list of "Books to Read," which I carry around to bookstores and libraries.
My favorite movies are Nashville, Annie Hall, The Stunt Man, and Three Women. Famous people I would like to meet are Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Lee Trevino, Sissy Spacek, Shelley Duvall, Anne Tyler, and sumo champion Chiyonofuji.
1986: We were doing well enough financially to spend the first three months of the year in Hawaii. There was a book tour to launch my second novel, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which received over one hundred reviews, and was sold to paperback immediately.
In October, The Fencepost Chronicles was published in Canada. It is a collection of all humorous stories; the previous four Indian-story collections had mixed serious and humorous stories, but this one was compiled to win the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for humor, which, in 1987, it did.
1987: The movie option on Shoeless Joe expired in October and Twentieth Century-Fox decided not to go ahead with the movie. However, Phil Robinson, who had written the script, took it to both Paramount and Universal. After much negotiating, Universal Studios decided to buy out Twentieth Century-Fox, and Shoeless Joe will be made into a movie, with shooting scheduled for June of 1988. Dance Me Outside has also been optioned by the movies, with a final decision on that project coming in June of 1988.
My twelfth book, Red Wolf, Red Wolf was published in 1987. It is a collection, like Shoeless Joe Jacks on Comes to Iowa, that I have to define as non-Indian, non-baseball stories.
In 1987 the first critical book about me was published, W. P. Kinsella: Tall Tales in Various Voices, by Donald Murray. A number of other critical articles were published in U.S. journals and there are now students writing master's theses on my novels and stories.
Ever since I began publishing, and especially since 1982, when Shoeless Joe gained me international recognition, I have traveled widely doing close to fifty readings and public appearances a year. I consider myself an entertainer, and enjoy reading from my books—something I do well. Readings and appearances are part of being a successful author, and I know my busy schedule helps sell books, which after all, is essentially what I exist for. A story is nothing until it is written down, but even when completed, it is still nothing until it is published, and even then still nothing until it is read and read widely. I feel it is up to me as well as my publishers to see that my books are read widely.
You'll notice that this autobiography has a title, … several unnamed dwarfs, a phrase that came to my attention in 1986 as I was reading the morning paper in Honolulu. It has come to epitomize, for me, what fiction writing is all about: disseminating curious and unusual information as believable fact. I find most of my ideas for stories, novels, plays, come from newspaper items, magazine articles, other books of fiction, or television programs. But mostly, newspapers; I read three or four a day, cover to cover, including the ads.
On that winter morning in 1986, the Honolulu newspaper contained an article about a recommendation to the Hawaii Supreme Court that a certain lawyer be suspended from practice for eighteen months, because among other things, he had charged a fee to a client to investigate her claim that "Queen Elizabeth II of England and her son Charles and several unnamed dwarfs" were causing the woman to have "murderous brain movements" in her head.
What a cast of characters! How could a fiction writer who deals in magic realism, as I do, not be interested? But where does the real story lie? Even though it is desirable that a main character in a story or novel have an obsession with something, the woman in the article had simply gone too far. She had crossed over the line between creative obsession and mental derangement. The lawyer, on the other hand, was caught between a rock and a hard place. Personally, I hope the Hawaii Supreme Court didn't suspend the lawyer. People with unrealistic obsessions are often very articulate and convincing, very demanding.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, even if they were up to something nefarious, are boring and best left alone. That leaves the several unnamed dwarfs.
Possibility for speculation about the dwarfs is endless. Since dwarfs have always been favorites at royal courts, and since no one really knows what goes on inside Buckingham Palace, there is no reason to believe that the palace is not overrun with dwarfs. But surely they have good English names. Osgood Forsythe IV is a good English name. What I'm saying is that a fiction writer has to use imagination, has to be able to spot scenarios that are bizarre, but not too bizarre. When the search is on for fictional characters, it is the unnamed dwarfs of the world who are the best prospects, for they lie somewhere between the banal and uninteresting, and the totally mad. I don't mean to imply I find a subject for fiction every day, or even every week, but the unnamed dwarfs are there, sometimes hiding under cabbage leaves, sometimes standing in the open exposing themselves. For instance, I have notes on a case of a man assaulting his wife with her pet chihuahua. Fiction writers must always be on the lookout for the unnamed dwarfs, because if they are not, what often gets written as fiction is lukewarm autobiography. My simple advice to anyone who, for whatever reason, wants to disguise their own life as fiction is "Don't! Nobody cares about your life. Don't write it down."
One of the things that fans and interviewers alike are interested in is how much of my fiction is autobiography. I write virtually no autobiography. My own life is not very interesting. I'm a middle-aged writer who doesn't drink, and who abhors cocktail parties, and who, being diabetic, has to watch his diet very carefully. I've accomplished most of the things I've aspired to, because my aspirations have been simple: to earn enough from my writing to stay home and stare at the Pacific Ocean while I create my fictions, to be able to eat out most of the time, to be able to spend most of the winter in a warm climate like Hawaii, where I'm writing this autobiography, in January, 1988.
I think one of the greatest wrongs done to beginning writers is telling them to write about what they know. Fiction writing is all about imagination. One does not have to commit suicide to write about it. One can set a story in Tangiers by going to a National Geographic and finding the name of a landmark or two, the name of one flower and one tree. I know very few Indian people, my primary contact with Indians was when I worked as a taxi driver while attending university in Victoria, British Columbia, but I am able to imagine what life is like for members of an oppressed minority, and write about that life in a believable manner. We all are, or have been, part of an oppressed minority, whether the minority was ethnic, sexual, age, occupation, or economic. The way members of any oppressed minority survive is by making fun of the people who oppress them. That is what I write about. I consider myself a humorist, something that came by a process of elimination. I discovered that while readers enjoy my serious stories, they love my humorous ones; they buy my humorous writing. Writing humor is much more difficult than writing tragedy. There are only two universals, laughter and tears; I try to utilize both in my writing. I like to make my readers laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page.
My books have been as tenacious in the marketplace as I have in writing and marketing them; one or more editions of all my books are still in print. Dance Me Outside, for instance, published in 1977, still sells several thousand copies a year and is now pushing 40,000 copies in its original edition.
Steve Boros, ex-manager of the San Diego Padres, is the only person I've met who has played major-league baseball, but that doesn't stop me from imagining what life is like for major-and minor-league baseball players, and writing successfully about it.
I've been asked numerous times about the connections between baseball and fiction writing, about why there is a body of good fiction written about baseball and virtually nothing about any other sport, and I think the answer is that the other sports—football, basketball, hockey, soccer—are twice enclosed, firstly by rigid playing boundaries, secondly by the constraints of time. Conversely, there is no time limit on a baseball game, and on the true baseball field the foul lines diverge forever, ultimately taking in not only a goodly part of the world but the universe as well, and in a true baseball game there is theoretically no distance that a great hitter couldn't hit the ball or a great fielder run to retrieve it. Possibilities like that are conducive to fiction writing where an author needs larger-than-life characters, a space where true heroes can flourish in a magical environment.
As I point out to aspiring writers, the lives of 90 percent of the population are so dull no one would be interested in them if they were written down (if would-be writers, and most editors and publishers, realized this, there would be considerably fewer terminally boring autobiographical novels and stories published), while the lives of the other 10 percent are so bizarre that no one would believe them if they were written down.
A fiction writer's job is to take snippets of the dull and make them interesting, while taking snippets of the bizarre and making them believable. An example from my work would be a scene in Shoeless Joe where Ray's young daughter, Karin, asks him to bring her a cup of cherry blossoms from the streets of Iowa City, something he does as a gesture of love. In about 1968, my seven-year-old daughter, Erin, asked me, as I was leaving to work four to midnight at our restaurant, if I would bring her some cherry blossoms from downtown, as we lived in a new subdivision without any flowering trees. I stopped after work, scooping a cup of blossoms from a downtown street, and left the flower petals beside my daughter's bed. The incident in itself is only an anecdote, but worked into the fabric of the novel it serves to show the close relationship of father and daughter.
A fiction writer's job is also to write. Real writers create, while so-called writers spend their time looking for excuses not to; they join writers' organizations, being especially happy when they can serve on the executive. If the organization is small enough, everyone gets to serve on the executive. Or, they become involved in causes, teach one or more courses at a university, mess with politics, serve on committees, go out drinking, or have a lot of writers for friends and start a small press so they can publish themselves and all those friends who don't have enough talent to write copy for grocery bags. One of the reasons I am so prolific is I engage in none of the above.
Likes and dislikes? I particularly dislike banks and churches. Any country that experiences a revolution kills the bankers first and then the priests; as it should be. I dislike dogs, alcoholics, royalty, all bureaucrats (I have a sign above my desk that reads, "Have you told a bureaucrat to go to hell today?"), cold weather and everything associated with it, all fish, dates, figs, liver, people who send out Christmas letters, unions, houseplants, and demonstrators of every ilk—to just scratch the surface. I do not believe in the supernatural in any form. There are no gods, there is no magic; I may be a wizard, though, for it takes a wizard to know there are none. Other than my family, I like warm weather, baseball, ice cream (even more now that I can only eat small amounts on rare occasions), reading, watching sumo wrestling (the only pure sport left), and writing, which is the most fun of all. I don't have time for hobbies or to participate in sports. Writing, as well as being vocation and hobby, is also several thousand ways of saying I told you so. Success is being able to say, whether in person or just by example, "I told you so," to all the people who have ever put me down or caused me pain. I don't need to take any other revenge on my enemies, for ultimately, living well is the best revenge.
I've probably had more than my share of prizes and awards for my work. Shoeless Joe is, to my knowledge, the most honored novel in Canadian history, a fact that will, happily, raise the blood pressure of innumerable academics. For while Shoeless Joe is taught widely in the U.S.A., in literature, sports literature, and even in religion courses, it is generally ignored in Canada, since it was written by a Canadian, and because it is accessible, and has humor in it, and because it is about cheerful, loving, positive people. The list of more important awards follows:
1982: Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, for Shoeless Joe.
1983: Canadian Authors Association prize for fiction, for Shoeless Joe.
1983: Books in Canada Award for First Novels, for Shoeless Joe.
1987: Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for humor, for The Fencepost Chronicles.
1987: Vancouver Award for Fiction Writing.
1987: Named Author of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association.
1988: The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt, a collection of baseball stories, will be published this year. Incidentally, as far as I know, I'm the only person in the world writing baseball short fiction as a genre; other writers have written one or two stories, but I have two books of baseball stories, and a third in progress. I have completed a comic novel, more or less about baseball, tentatively titled Box Socials, which employs the best qualities of children's literature: repetition, digression, and the list. A chapbook of the first chapter will appear from William Hoffer, Vancouver. Box Socials is also, in a vague way, about the time of my growing up in isolation in rural Alberta, and I have finished an additional collection of Indian stories, The Sundog Society. Waterfront Theater in Vancouver will perform three of my one-act plays, adaptations of my baseball stories. I intend to finish a full-length play I'm working on, write more baseball stories, and start work on a novel I hope will go with Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy to form a trilogy.
I think everyone who is talented in a specialized field at least fantasizes about being successful in other specialized fields. Nat King Cole once said he'd trade his great success as an entertainer to play a mediocre second base for a major-league team. I would gladly trade my success as a writer to be a country singer, a hopeless fantasy, since I can't carry the most elementary tune, though the nicest thing a reviewer ever said about my work, even though the reviewer was saying it unkindly, was that my stories and novels are country music, which I believe they are. Consequently, the only thing I'd like to do that I haven't done is write lyrics for country-and-western songs.
My only regret is that I can't be in more than one place at a time. I would like to be able to live in Honolulu, Seattle, Iowa City, White Rock, San Diego, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina, all at the same time. As a writer who deals in magic realism, I'm working on it.
To be a success, a writer needs five things: ability, the skill to write complete sentences in clear, straightforward standard English; imagination, which involves having a story to tell; passion, which is a nebulous quality that can't be taught, it is what makes a reader fall in love with a character, it is what keeps readers turning pages; stamina, which I define as sitting down to write your fiftieth short story knowing that the previous forty-nine have been failures and that the fiftieth will also be a failure, but that it will be one percent better than the previous forty-nine; and finally luck, for if Billy Valgardson hadn't come to Victoria to teach, I might still be driving cab and writing on weekends. If a British Columbia poet named Cathy Ford hadn't had a poem published in a magazine called Three Cent Pulp in the early 1970s, I would never have written the story "Dance Me Outside." If Larry Kessenich hadn't read a review of an obscure anthology and decided to write me, I would never have written Shoeless Joe. If Nancy Colbert hadn't taken me on as a client, I wouldn't be enjoying such financial success. And if Ann Knight hadn't decided to invite a Canadian author who sat across the table from her in a freelance workshop at the University of Iowa to hear the London Symphony at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, I wouldn't be the happy man I am today.
W. P. Kinsella contributed the following update to CA in 2004:
My previous autobiography was written in January, 1988. This one is being written in January, 2004, so sixteen years have passed.
In 1988 I finished a novel, Box Socials, set in the area of rural Alberta where I grew up, but fictional, as nothing interesting ever happened to me as a child; a big day on the farm was when the hens laid more than three eggs, which is not novel material. There would be many fewer autobiographical novels if more authors realized that nothing interesting ever happened to them. I also wrote the follow-up, The Winter Helen Dropped By, and began the third book of the trilogy, The Button Box. William Hoffer Standard Editions published a chapbook, Chapter One of a Work in Progress, which was the opening chapter of Box Socials.
I adapted three short stories, "The Thrill of the Grass," "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record," and "The Valley of the Schmoon," into an evening of theater which was presented for a month at the Waterfront Theater in Vancouver. Reviews were excellent and it was very happy experience.
The filming of Shoeless Joe: In January I received all the money coming to me for the movie. The amount was adequate for the time, but certainly not the kind of payday one should expect for such a hugely successful project. After the tax thieves got their share and I paid off my mortgage and helped my daughters acquire homes, or reduce mortgages, it was all gone in a matter of weeks.
Over the years Hollywood studios have never been known for their honesty, therefore when a movie gets the go-ahead all funds due are paid to the author. One has to be Stephen King or J. K. Rowling to get a percentage of the gross returns. There is NEVER any net profit from a Hollywood movie so having a percentage of the net is the same as nothing. Even billion-dollar movies don't have a net profit. Field of Dreams has grossed something well over 100 million and I theoretically have one-and-a-half percent of the net profits, but have never seen a cent and never will.
Phil Alden Robinson was hired by Twentieth Century-Fox to adapt Shoeless Joe to the screen. I had no input, but Robinson kept in touch with me and it was easy to tell he was really in love with the novel and wanted to create something special. He pointed out that there is no way to get a three-hundred-page book into an hour-and-forty-minute movie, so characters had to be deleted, time telescoped and other changes made to make the work more visual.
When I read the finished product I had tears in my eyes when I came to the end. I said, "This is my own work doing this to me. If this can be filmed as is, it can't help but be successful." Twentieth Century-Fox loved the screenplay but they said, "This is a small movie, and we don't want to make any movies that aren't going to gross at least $50,000,000, so we'll pass." Phil Robinson quit his job with Twentieth Century on the condition he be allowed to take his script with him, and he and the Gordon Brothers shopped the script to Paramount and Universal Studios. Both liked it but the deciding issue was that Phil Robinson wanted to direct the movie, and Universal Studios allowed him to do that.
It was an extraordinarily important move, for if they had brought in a famous director (I would have loved to have my favorite director, Robert Altman, direct) that person might have said, "Well, this a good script but it doesn't fit my vision. What we need is some serious action. A fist fight here, some hot sex here, a car chase or two …" and of course that would have made it into just another Hollywood potboiler. Phil had limited credentials: he had directed a small movie called In the Mood, which was not very impressive, and I had some doubts, but the wonderful screenplay made it logical for Phil to direct and keep intact the material we had both created.
In another very important move, they scouted locations from Georgia to Ontario, everyplace where corn is grown, and finally settled on Dyersville, Iowa, near Dubuque, about ninety miles from Iowa City where my novel was set. It was just so important that this story be set in Iowa. The casting was another also significant. Kevin Costner, who had just made a baseball movie, Bull Durham, went against the advice of his agent and accepted the starring role because of the very moving and original script. Amy Madigan was perfect for the role of Annie.
As most everyone knows the reclusive author in my novel was the real life J. D. Salinger. On publication of the novel my publisher's lawyers received a grumbling letter from Salinger's lawyers saying that he was outraged and offended to be portrayed in my novel, and that they would be very upset if it were transferred to other media. They didn't say they would do anything, just that they would be very upset. My publisher's lawyers said, "Look, about the only thing he could sue us for is one of the many definitions of libel, false light, in which he would have to go to court himself, which he won't want to do." However Hollywood, never known for courage, decided to change the character, making him large, black, and cantankerous, so as not to be readily confused with Salinger; Phil wrote the part with James Earl Jones in mind, and they were lucky enough to get him. Burt Lancaster as Doc Graham was perfect casting, and I was very disappointed that he did not get an Academy Award nomination.
I spent about four days on the set of Shoeless Joe (the title Field of Dreams came much later). I met Kevin Costner, who is as nice in person as he appears on screen. He and the author of Dances with Wolves were working on that screenplay between takes. We were present for the filming of the feed store scene where Ray (Kevin) comes to the counter and comments on hearing voices but seeing the horrified looks on the faces of the locals says, "No. Not voices. Noises …" It was interesting to see the first take, the second was less interesting, the third began to get boring, and after that I was dying to leave. I do not have the stamina for movie making. When I write I think things through very carefully and do next to no revision. If I were a director, two takes would be standard, three only in extraordinary circumstances. I would always come in under budget. I have no idea what the quality would be like, as I find the process worse than watching water find its own level.
There was a fortuitous mistake that kept us from being extras in the movie. Phil told us that we would be in the PTA scene due to be filmed in Farley, Iowa. We would be seated close to Kevin and Amy in the audience. But come the morning of the filming, though we were on the set at 7 A.M., we were not placed beside the stars. This was a happy mistake, because it was over ninety degrees with 100% humidity, and the gymnasium, with its windows tarpapered over to simulate night, was stifling. We stood at the back for a number of takes, fanning ourselves like everyone else between takes. The filming went on until 8 P.M. and then continued until noon the next day. If we had stayed, in order to keep continuity we would not have been allowed to move, but since we were standing unobtrusively at the back of the gym, we were able to leave at 4 P.M. completely exhausted.
It took me two days to recover and watch part of a scene filmed inside the house at Dyersville, one that never made it into the movie. The most interesting person I met was the mother of Gaby Hoffman, who played Kevin and Amy's daughter. She was Viva, who had starred in Andy Warhol movies in the 1960s. She was an accomplished artist who was painting nearby in a makeshift studio while Gaby shot her scenes.
The other aspect of movie making that I enjoyed was watching the "dailies." These were scenes filmed several days previously that had been sent to Hollywood for developing. We saw scenes with Kevin and Burt Lancaster in Chisholm, Minnesota, and scenes with Kevin and James Earl Jones in Chisholm. The quality of these scenes gave all the assurance I needed to believe we were involved in an extraordinary project that was destined for success.
Later in the summer, my then-wife, Ann, and daughter Shannon returned to the set for about ten days. Being outgoing people they developed friendships with cast and crew and exchanged gifts when they left, etc. They were asked several times, "Since you're the wife and daughter of the writer, where is he?" "Remember the tall, blond guy who skulked about the perimeter of the set a few weeks ago for a couple of days, well that was him." Besides seeing the filming of the night baseball scenes, Ann watched the Democratic Convention with James Earl Jones, and Shannon had a little romance with Ray Liotta who played Shoeless Joe.
After the movie was completed Universal decided on the title Field of Dreams. They felt that Shoeless Joe sounded like a sports movie and had no appeal to women. Interestingly one of the titles we considered for my novel was Dreamfield. Kevin was opposed and flew to Hollywood from Mexico where he was filming Revenge with Anthony Quinn to state his case for Shoeless Joe. The studio ignored him. While I agree that Field of Dreams was the better title, it cost me dearly. When Dances with Wolves came out, the book shot to the top of the best-seller lists. The best Shoeless Joe ever did was number nine on the New York Times list, while book buyers, not understanding the difference between fact and fiction, were searching book stores demanding books by Terrence Mann, the fictional author in Field of Dreams, played by James Earl Jones.
I have always had a complete distrust of unions of all sorts because they are for followers and make no allowances for personal thoughts or opinions. I resigned from the Writers Union of Canada in the summer of 1988 when the members, heavily biased toward liberalism and socialism, decided to spend $5,000 to fight the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, which I heartily supported. Over the years I have been proven 100% right in my support. I told them I would rejoin when the total of my unpaid dues equaled $5,000. That day has not yet come and I wouldn't rejoin anyway. Unions are coercive, and besides I do not take orders from anyone, never have and never will.
It seems I was on the road the whole year of 1988, must have done close to 100 readings and public appearances. I wrote a number of stories, many articles and reviews, including my first for the New York Times Book Review.
1989: A movie from my short story "The Job" was nominated for a Genie Award in Canada. Field of Dreams was released in April to rave reviews and huge box office. When I finally saw the finished product I was very impressed; I don't see how they could have done a better job. Everything came together beautifully. I am one of very few authors who loved what Hollywood did with their work.
I did weeks of media for Field of Dreams. A documentary was made about me: The Dreamfields of W. P. Kinsella, which was shown on CBC. I finished The Button Box, the third book in my "Six Towns Trilogy." A collection of poetry coauthored with Ann Knight, The Rainbow Warehouse, was published by Potters-field Press. The sixth collection of stories involving Silas Ermineskin and Frank Fencepost, The Miss Hobbema Pageant, was published by HarperCollins.
1990: Field of Dreams got three Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Musical Score, and Best Screenplay. It did not win. I was very disappointed that Phil Robinson did not win for his adaptation, as he did massive amounts of work while the winner, Driving Miss Daisy, was already a stage play that needed a minimum of adaptation.
The Miss Hobbema Pageant was nominated for the Stephen Leacock award for Humor. I received my first Honorary Degree, from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. I began work on a novel, Conflicting Statements. I did a long tour to launch the U.S. edition of Red Wolf, Red Wolf. I wrote the text for an art book, Two Spirits Soar, about artist Allen Sapp, that had eighty illustrations of his work.
The movie site near Dyersville, Iowa, on farms owned by the Lansings and the Ameskamps has become a tourist attraction with people from all over the world coming to run the bases and have a game of catch on the famous baseball field. A group of local men have formed the Ghost Players who, on Sunday afternoons and on busy weekends, dress in old-time uniforms and emerge from the cornfield just like the players in the movie, and then play a few innings of baseball and pose for photographs for the many tourists who visit the Field of Dreams each year.
1991: I did a long tour to launch Box Socials. I finished Conflicting Statements, and began a book that will connect Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy into a trilogy, If Wishes Were Horses. I continued huge numbers of readings and public appearances. I received a honorary degree from the University of Victoria.
1992: I began wintering in Palm Springs, California, and joined the Palm Springs Scrabble Club, something that would eventually have a profound effect on my life. Coffee House Press did a collector's edition: The First and Last Six Towns Area Old Timer's Baseball Game. I attended an International Short Story Conference in Iowa. I taught a semester at my alma mater, the University of Victoria.
1993: The Dixon Cornbelt League came out. I received the Distinguished Alumni Lecturer Award from the University of Iowa. After about fifteen years the movie version of Dance Me Outside began filming with Norman Jewison as producer. This was to be a truly small movie for the film festival circuit. I got to attend the World Series games in Toronto while doing an instant book, Back 2 Back, for the Toronto Sun newspaper. My wife, Ann, and I went our separate ways. I began an on-again-off-again relationship with long-time friend and neighbor Barbara Turner. We eventually married in 1999 in Alamo, Nevada, so ever after we will be able to say, "Remember the Alamo."
1994: The Dixon Cornbelt League was optioned by Hollywood. The seventh collection of Frank and Silas stories, Brother Frank's Gospel Hour, was published. I represented the University of Victoria Alumni on a Panama Canal Cruise.
Dance Me Outside played at the Vancouver Film Festival; the producers kept in such close touch with me I had to read about it in the newspaper and pay my own way in to see it. The young Native actors did a very good job with a poor adaptation of my work, terrible directing and worse editing. This is generally what happens when Hollywood adapts a book to the screen. Field of Dreams was the happy exception. They also created a TV series, The Rez, using my characters, but they were too cheap to pay me to use my wonderful stories. The series was a travesty. I was never properly compensated for it.
1995: Movie options on The Dixon Cornbelt League and my unpublished novel Conflicting Statements were renewed. The Winter Helen Dropped By was published to great reviews.
1996: Did a month as writer in residence at the Atlantic Institute for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. My short story "Lieberman in Love" was made into a short film that won the Academy Award for best short feature. The victory was spoiled when, in typical Hollywood fashion, Christine Lahti, the director, thanked everyone, including her dog, without one mention of the author who created the characters. After I went to the press, they eventually took the back page of Variety to apologize, but it is sad and maddening that the writer in Hollywood is continually ignored. There is a move afoot to create Shoeless Joe the musical. As of 2004 it still drags on. If Wishes Were Horses was published to excellent reviews, and I did a long book tour.
1997: If Wishes Were Horses was optioned for the movies. I continued to travel extensively. Barb and I spent a week in New York where we saw six Broadway plays. I finished a collection of stories, Risk Takers, much more hard-edged than my usual fiction, and a books of short pieces, Russian Dolls, a follow-up to The Alligator Report. Both books remain unpublished. My novel Magic Time was optioned by Barry Levinson of Rain Man fame. I won the Periodical Marketers of Canada Award. I finished what would be my final collection of stories about Frank and Silas, The Secret of the Northern Lights. There are now eight books and 115 stories in this series. I wrote a comic screenplay called Billy the Kid, specifically with Chris Farley in mind. My agent had arranged for him to see the script when his untimely death scuttled the project forever.
On October 11, as I was walking on the sidewalk near my home in White Rock, a car backed out of an alley at high speed and struck me a glancing blow. If I had taken one additional step I would have been killed. As it was, I landed first on my tailbone then on my head. I was unconscious for some time until an ambulance arrived. I lost my sense of taste and smell, and was several months recovering. I had many brain scans. Whatever damage I had was, according to the medical profession, fairly minor, except that I lost all interest in writing (I always planned to write two books a year until I died). The desire has never returned.
1998: Magic Time published by Doubleday. Harper-Collins brought out three of the Frank and Silas books under the title The Silas Stories. I got on the Internet for the first time. I wrote a screenplay for Columbia Pictures from their material, called Fantasy Camp. It eventually disappeared in that void where almost successful screenplays go. I started a Scrabble Club in my home town, after attending a tournament in the spring in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, while I was on tour for The Secret of the Northern Lights. My mother passed away on October 14 at age ninety-five.
1999: Safeco Field in Seattle opened. They have a quote from Shoeless Joe on one of the gates. The University of Victoria has set up a W. P. Kinsella Scholarship in Fiction.
2000: I did another screenplay, Mr. Rosen and the Rookie, that also disappeared into the void. I traveled to Boston to see a production of The Alligator Report, adapted to the stage by Jody Bennett. It was very well done. I started a collection of china cats with the purchase of a rare Plichta cat from 1930s England. I had about 100 cats as of 2004. Japanese Baseball was published by Thistledown Press. I edited an anthology for Quarry Press called Baseball Fantastic. I traveled to five or six Scrabble tournaments.
2001: I gave the Convocation Address at Eastern Connecticut State University, to about 4,500 people, probably the largest crowd I've ever performed for. Had them all laughing. I began writing a column on First Novels for Books in Canada magazine. This means I read every first novel written in Canada, anywhere from twenty-five to sixty a year.
I attended many Scrabble tournaments. Since I'm not writing fiction anymore, Scrabble has become my main interest. Besides not having the desire to write, I realized that writing was very hard work, and I didn't need to work hard anymore. I have about twenty-five games going on the Net, the local club, and tournaments all over North America.
2002: I did a book, Ichiro Dreams, about the star Seattle outfielder, for Kodansha in Japan. I was interviewed extensively and the book was written in Japanese from my quotes. Strange but interesting. I attended the National Scrabble Championships for the first time, in San Diego, finished seventh of ninety-eight in my division.
2003: Bravo TV came to do a documentary called Page to Screen on the adaptation of Shoeless Joe into Field of Dreams. They were very professional and the finished product was one of the best pieces ever done on me.
I am pretty well retired from fiction writing. I have five or six book that are unpublished but the publishing industry seems to have come full circle. In the late sixties I couldn't get a book of stories published if I held a gun to a publisher's nose. Then short stories became fashionable and my collections sold 40,000 to 60,000 copies. Now publishers' eyes glaze over at the mention of short stories. Happily I have always lived frugally, so can afford to retire. I play Scrabble on the Net while I listen to Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. Barb and I have just bought a home in the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia, about 100 miles east of Vancouver, where I hope to spend a quiet retirement.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 27, 1984, Volume 43, 1987.
Booklist, November 1, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of Magic Time, p. 460.
Books in Canada, October, 1981; February, 1984; November, 1984; October, 1993, pp. 41-42; September, 1994, pp. 38-39; October, 1995, pp. 45-46.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1982; autumn, 1995, p. 149-50.
Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1982, Maggie Lewis, review of Shoeless Joe, p. 14; June 24, 1983, review of Shoeless Joe, p. B8; September 21, 1984, James Kaufmann, review of The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Tales, p. 22; June 29, 1992, Charles Fountain, review of Box Socials, p. 13.
Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1986.
Detroit News, May 2, 1982; May 16, 1982.
Explicator, spring, 1995, Clarence Jenkins, "Kinsella's Shoeless Joe," p. 179.
Fiddlehead, fall, 1977; spring, 1981.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 17, 1984; April 27, 1985; April 12, 1986.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of Magic Time, p. 1385.
Library Journal, February 1, 1982; November 1, 1990, p. 125; March 1, 1993, p. 85.
Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1982; October 7, 1984, Malcolm Boyd, review of The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Tales, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 23, 1982; July 6, 1986; March 29, 1992, p. 6.
Maclean's, May 11, 1981; April 19, 1982; July 23, 1984; May 1, 1989, p. 66; November 11, 1991, p. 90; July 12, 1993, pp. 60-61; December 16, 1996, Brian Bethune, review of If Wishes Were Horses, p. 69; March 16, 1998, "From Love Story to Lawsuit," p. 12.
Modern Fiction Studies, summer, 1999, Carl D. Malmgren, "The Lie of the Land: Heartland Novels by Smiley and Kinsella," p. 432.
Newsweek, August 23, 1982.
New York Review of Books, November 5, 1992, pp. 41-45.
New York Times, March 25, 1992, Herbert Mitgang, review of Box Socials, p. B2.
New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1982, Daniel Okrent, review of Shoeless Joe, p. 10; September 2, 1984, Jodi Daynard, review of The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Tales, p. 14; January 5, 1986, Harry Marten, review of The Alligator Report, p. 16; April 20, 1986, Eliot Asinof, review of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, p. 15; May 19, 1991, Bert Atkinson, review of Red Wolf, Red Wolf, p. 36; March 1, 1992, p. 29; July 12, 1992, Fannie Flagg, review of Box Socials, p. 33; December 19, 1993, Valerie Sayers, review of Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa: Stories, p. 14.
Performing Arts and Entertainment in Canada, fall-winter, 1994, Shlomo Schwartzberg, "Dance Me Outside: Native Actors in W. P. Kinsella's Tale of Life on the Rez," p. 13.
Prairie Schooner, spring, 1979.
Publishers Weekly, April 16, 1982; March 2, 1992, p. 48; September 27, 1993, p. 58; December 5, 1994, pp. 65-66; October 29, 2001, review of Magic Time, p. 36.
Quill & Quire, June, 1982; September, 1984; April, 1986; December, 1991, p. 17; June, 1993, p. 27; July, 1994, p. 94; September, 1995, p. 68.
Saturday Night, August, 1986, pp. 45-47; September, 1999, Stephen Smith, "A Loss for Words," p. 14.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 25, 1982; March 30, 1986; May 3, 1992, p. 6.
Village Voice, December 4, 1984; April 1, 1986.
Wall Street Journal, May 9, 1985, Frederick C. Klein, "The Thrill of the Grass," p. 30; May 29, 1992, Frederick C. Klein, review of Box Socials, p. A7.
Wascana Review, fall, 1976.
Washington Post, March 31, 1982.
Washington Post Book World, March 30, 1995, p. 4.