Sometimes we lose track of things we love and then a good soul comes along and helps us find them again. This happened to me yesterday when I received an email from a journalist who had just posted a review of my third novel, STICKS, published in 1996. The story centers around a 10-year-old boy who plays pool. And this sports writer, who is a pool player, said it was her favorite book on the game. Well, I sat there grinning and remembering. I had been in love with the game when I was a teenager. For the novel, I interviewed Allen Hopkins, one of pool's greatest champions. He told me, "When you walk into a pool hall, close your eyes. You'll know who the good players are." There is a crack to a perfectly aimed ball that flies in the hole. There is a snap that says, step aside, folks, this player has the fire. Dawn Hopkins, who also helped with the story, had that fire. I remembered what I was going through at the time I wrote STICKS — I had carpel tunnel and over the course of one month, I had surgery on both wrists. I wrote that novel in a great deal of pain. Perhaps that explains another thread in the story — playing hurt and not stopping; stretching yourself farther than you ever thought you could go.
I confess that I've not talked about or written much about STICKS over the last several years. I'm not sure why because I do love the story. I remembered the challenge of writing about the game of pool, searching for words to describe a game I knew so well. When I came to understand that pool is a dance, then the descriptions came and I could tell the story of what a game looks like and feels like. I've had a few pool players write and tell me that the book helped improve their game. But, ultimately, the story is about winning and losing and being who you are despite what anybody says; it's about forgiveness and facing bullies, and holding onto big dreams; it's about the people in our lives who are gone forever and the old ones who come back when we need them the most.
For me, playing pool was serious fun. I worked hard at it. I studied it. I loved to watch the great ones play. My hands are much stronger now and it's clear that I need to find a pool table, chalk up a cue, and see what happens. Thank you, Patti Walden, for helping me remember. Here's the link to her review: