Football serves as the backdrop for Katherine Hill's second novel "A Short Move" (Ig Publishing, $16.95), but you don't have to be a gridiron groupie to appreciate it.
At its heart, the book by Hill, an assistant professor in the English department at Adelphi University in Garden City, is about something everyone can relate to — trying to achieve the Great American dream. Even more compelling is what happens to star linebacker Mitch Wilkins after the dream comes to an end when he's still in his 30s.
Hill's story is also about family and the dynamics of Mitch's domestic life. His relationships with his father, an uncle who serves as his first coach, his daughter and several wives are far more complex than any plays he makes on the field. Throughout "A Short Move," all get a chance to tell the story from their perspectives.
Hill, who spoke by phone from her home in Brooklyn, had plenty to say about her latest book and her love affair with football.
How long did it take from start to finish to write the book?
From initiation to completion, it took 10 years. I first met Mitch in a short story I wrote about his daughter when she was working in retail. He was a minor character in that story. … I found myself really interested in him, so I wrote another story about him at an earlier point in his life and then realized I had an outline for a whole complicated family.
At the risk of sounding like a chauvinist, I found it interesting that the book deals with the world of football, which is not usually the subject of a novel written by a woman. So can I assume you're a huge football fan?
I grew up watching football. My parents and I watched professional and college football. And for my husband and me, it’s been a really important part of our relationship.
Did you have to do a lot of research to give the book an authentic feel?
Fans only know so much. … I started with memoirs players had written and a number of journalistic accounts of seasons in the NFL or college football. And then I quickly realized I had to speak to figures who had similar experiences to the type of people I was writing about. So I spoke to a few former players, and I went on a tour of the Baltimore Ravens practice facility which was really helpful. …
And there was a lot of footage online. I found this wonderful football show on YouTube by Michael Robinson who was a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks five to 10 years ago. He did a kind of one-on-one handheld camera approach in the locker room, where he interviewed teammates and staff and gave fans a kind of behind-the-scenes look at the organization.
What appealed to you about Mitch?
The fact that he was in his late 30s and basically already an old man. He’s stiff in the joints. … I found myself interested in this person whose life is on this accelerated trajectory of rapid development and rapid decline. And that seemed liked a really interesting hook to a novel. The idea of growing up very suddenly and then growing old very suddenly.
With your first novel, "The Violet Hour," under your belt, was it easier getting a publisher for "A Short Move"?
The first book was a case of the agent loving it and finding the right publisher right away. That was an overnight success story and not a typical novel story at all. For this one, I had a much more difficult problem finding a publisher. I had to remind myself over and over again in the process that I really believed in this book.
Why was it so much harder?
I think it was because it was a mismatch of categories. It’s a literary novel but it was written in a somewhat experimental style. It jumps around in time, leaving a lot for the reader to fill in. And it’s about football, which is not a subject for most fans of literary fiction. My guess is that the Venn diagram for football fans and literary fiction is small. But the reception has been overwhelmingly positive and it's gratifying to see that there are lot of people who are interested in this storytelling and this subject. So it can be done.