Interview: Nathan Graziano

I first heard of Nathan Graziano from long-time Air in the Paragraph Line contributor Daniel Crocker; the two of them are long-time friends who have collaborated on various projects over the years.  Graziano submitted a story I published in AITPL #13, but I’ve spent more time talking to him about baseball. So to make this interview more fun, I’ve arranged it into nine “innings” of questions, with the top of each inning being a writing question, and the bottom inning being a baseball question.  And because I’m a Colorado Rockies fan and he’s a Boston Red Sox fan, and given what happened in the 2007 World Series, some of my questions were slightly biased…

Top of the first: You recently finished your MFA.  How was your experience?  Did it help you learn more about writing, or was it more about making connections?

I’m not going to trash-talk MFA programs, which can be the tendency with those in the indie-lit scenes who claim they produce vacuous, cookie-cutter writing. In my opinion, MFA programs take some time off the learning the curve. In other words, by having the opportunity to be around other writers and working with professional writers, you almost learn through osmosis. While MFA’s are anything but necessary in the writing world, they’re a great opportunity for those who have the privilege of taking three years out of their life to write. I went part-time, and it took me five years to complete the degree. It was worth the time, definitely.

Of course, it’s no secret that the writing industry is all about connections, and it does give a certain breed of sycophantic writers an opportunity to do some serious ass-kissing.

Bottom of the first:  So do you actually like the song “Sweet Caroline”?  I mean, do you hear it in the off-season and tear up a bit and get eager for April, or is it one of those annoyances like the pink baseball caps?

Thank you for asking. I hate that fucking song! “Sweet Caroline” is NOT a Fenway Park tradition. They started playing it in the 8th inning of home games somewhere around 2004. It was the Pink Hats (the affluent Boston urbanites who wouldn’t know a baseball from a tit, yet drive up ticket prices for Red Sox games to the point where no real fan can afford to go anymore) who embrace that song as a Red Sox tradition. These are people who were nowhere to be found pre-2004, before the Sox became sexy in Boston social circles. I guarantee you, the real Sox fans were not singing “Sweet Caroline” in 1998, when we got head-faked by a walk-off by Mo Vaughn on Opening Day.

Top of the second: You’re a teacher by trade.  What do you teach?

I teach high school English and have been teaching for 11 years. Currently, I teach senior elective courses, including advising the school newspaper (interesting stuff). I love my job. While I realize a lot of writers scoff at high school teachers, especially those looking for that golden ticket in academia, I don’t share those sentiments. I’m fortunate to be able to do what I do.

Bottom of the second:  There were rumors of a Todd Helton/Manny Ramirez swap in the 06/07 offseason.  If that happened, do you think Boston still would have made the Series, or would we have been watching a Yankees/Phillies fall classic?  Were you for or against that rumored swap?

Listen, Todd Helton, while a dangerous hitter, is no Manny Ramirez. When the Sox traded Manny to LA for Jason Bay, everyone knew Jason Bay was also no Manny Ramirez. Manny is like an idiot savant with a baseball bat, and aside from A-Rod and Pujols, probably the best hitter of his generation (asterisks included). When the Sox dealt Manny, there was no choice. Like Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, he had become a cancer in the clubhouse. But still. You never replace Manny Ramirez. Not with Helton, Bay, Howard, or anyone really.

Top of the third:  How do you manage your time, divided between a full-time teaching career and a writing career?

I also have two kids–Paige, 6, and Owen, 4. First and foremost, I’m a father to them. But I try to make time for everything. I teach during the day, hang out with my kids in the evening, and write later in the night. While it would be nice to be able to devote all my time to writing, it’s not the reality. And the reality is also that I’m going to make much more of an impression as a teacher and father than I ever will as a writer. It keeps me humble.

Bottom of the third: What’s your opinion of Coors Field post-humidor?  Is it still an advantage for the Rockies, or has the famed hitter’s park lost the advantage?  (Especially given the current launching pad built in the Bronx.)

The stats don’t lie. Coors Field has definitely been an advantage to hitters. But the whiffle ball field they just built in the Bronx is an absolute joke. Fly balls to the second baseman are traveling over the right field fence. Of course, as a Red Sox fan, I always suspect the Yankees of cheating.

Top of the fourth:  Do your students know about your writing?

If they know about it, it’s because they’re seeking it out on their own. While I certainly don’t hide the fact that I’ve published books, and I think it’s important that my students see that I practice what I preach, I don’t pass out my own work or draw any attention to it. When they ask, I tell them honestly: “There are a lot of other, better writers I’d rather discuss.”

Bottom of the fourth: If Boston could somehow magically trade for any current Yankees player, who would you take and why?

Good question. This forces me to look somewhat objectively at the Yankees. My answer would be Robinson Cano. He’s going to be one of the best hitters in the game, if he isn’t already. I would love to see an infield and line-up with Pedroia, Youkalis, Cano for the next five years or so. The Sox also need some pop with the bat. Yup. Give me Cano. Please.

Top of the fifth: Can you tell us the story behind your story “The Tao of Dolton” that appeared in AITPL 13?

Yes. “The Tao of Dolton” is part of a collection of stories I’m writing about the misadventures of a semi-autobiographical narrator named Hamlet Burns. They’re loosely-based on some of my own college experience when I was an undergraduate and in a fraternity. At the time, I knew a couple of guys who had a contest to see who could go the longest without changing their underwear. It was truly disgusting, and “The Tao of Dolton” stemmed from that; although I like to think it’s about a little bit more than dirty underwear.

Bottom of the fifth: What the hell is the deal with the pink cap anyway?

See above. They’re a bunch of posers that have made impossible for the real Red Sox fans to afford tickets at Fenway Park. They’re the Red Sox fans who had these amazing epiphanies during Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS and realized that they loved the Red Sox–when The Sox were winning, that is.

Top of the sixth: You’re pals and a frequent collaborator with Daniel Crocker, who also appears in #13.  How long have you guys been friends?

Dan and I met about eight years ago. At the time, we were both being published by the same small press in New York City, a now-defunct press called Green Bean Press. I went on a road trip with the publisher to visit Dan in Michigan, and we instantly connected. We wrote a trilogy of chapbooks together and still keep close correspondence. Our wives suspect we’re homosexuals.

Bottom of the sixth: Boston was 8-0 against the Yankees, but things went south toward the end of the season, ending with that 3-game sweep.  What happened?

The Sox didn’t have the pitching depth they thought they had at the beginning of the season, and they didn’t have the bats to slug with the Yankees. Of course, I could point out the obvious: The Yankees spent $80 million more than The Red Sox and fielded an All-Star team, but what’s the point in that? The Yankees buy championships in today’s game with Selig’s consent. When they win, it’s almost like celebrating after scoring with a prostitute. Good for them. The Yankees paid, fair and square, for their rings.

Top of the seventh: What are your biggest influences and favorite writers?

This largely depends on what I’m reading at the time, but the writers I seem to be constantly revisiting are Tom Perrota, Tim Sandlin, Steve Almond, Russell Banks, and with poetry I like David Kirby, Jeffrey McDaniel. Kevin Sampsell just published a kick-ass memoir titled A Common Pornography. Rusty Barnes is another guy who continues to impress me. I tend to like realism, narrative poetry, honest writing without any tricks or gymnastics.
Bottom of the seventh –  Who do think is going to win the NL West in 2010?

The Dodgers.

[Ed note: wrong answer.]


Top of the eighth:  What are you currently working on right now?

I just finished a YA novel and a memoir, and I have a couple of collections of stories that I’m fiddling with at the moment. At the moment, however, I’m between projects–writing some poems and stories and whatever interests me when I sit down to write.
Bottom of the eighth: Would baseball in Boston be better or worse if they divided the AL into north/central/south divisions, with New York being in the central division and Boston in the North, along with Toronto, Detroit, Seattle, and maybe Chicago?  Would the lack of competition and rivalry make the game boring?

I love the competition in AL East, and I think the Sox and Yankees in different divisions–with their payrolls–would be an unfair advantage. Watching the Sox and Yankees slug it out 18 games a season is a lot of fun for baseball fans. Although I would love to see a salary cap strictly enforced in baseball, like it is in the NFL, I couldn’t imagine the American League without the AL East pummeling each other.

Top of the ninth: Any other recent appearances or things you’d like to plug?

I had a new book of poetry titled After the Honeymoon published by sunnyoutside press last September. I’d encourage people–especially baseball fans–to check out my blog: www.nathangraziano.blogspot.com I’m terribly insecure, so check me out on Facebook, or add me as a friend, or follow my fan page, or just send me a love letter.

Bottom of the ninth: If you were forced to sleep with either A-Rod or Nomar’s wife, which one would you pick?

Hey. Hey there, Mia. How you doin’?

Thanks to Nate, for answering my questions, and on his birthday, no less.  Check out his piece in the newest issue of Air in the Paragraph Line, available on Amazon and other online booksellers.

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