PW: How did the writing process for October Men compare to that of your other books?
Roger Kahn: It all tends to be a pattern of two to three years of work. All my books tend to have great numbers of people in them, and you have to get to know people before you write about them. A book of 120,000 words is like a whaling voyage—you don't know whether you'll find the whale at the end, or the whale is going to get you.
PW: Were the players of the 1970s more forthcoming than today's athletes are?
RK: There wasn't much news management, so players and writers traveled and hung out together. There was no separation as there is today. The Yankees today are very controlled and remote.
PW: Have fans lost a connection to the game because of this?
RK: Yes. I use to say I didn't write about the Dodgers behaving badly because I was 24 at the time and was trying to behave badly myself. My real reason was, it was distasteful to me and I had a much bigger story—the integration of baseball. The problem is that now [corporate media] own teams. I don't think that's good at all. You want a certain contentious relationship between players and reporters.
PW: What keeps bringing you back to baseball?
RK: My background has a lot to do with it. Plus, I think baseball is a reasonably good metaphor for what is going on around us. I say what I do is social history with sliders. So I think if I did my job with October Men, you'll know a good deal of what is going on in America in 1978—the press, fame, racial tensions, alcohol, broken homes. It works for me to do a baseball setting and then go and do larger things.
PW: Is October Men a bookend for The Boys of Summer?
RK: I think it can be looked at like that. Boys probably has more tragedy in the text. In October Men the deaths begin a little later, but there is again that tragic element of short life.
PW: Do you worry about how your book will be received, given the state of the world?
RK: I remember living through WWII—it looked quite bleak, but to a surprising extent life and baseball went on. People went to movies and bought books. But there was also a certain amount of sentimentality. So you don't know. When you send a book out there, you are in the lap of the gods because there are certain things a writer just can't control.
PW: Throughout October Men, you mention Shakespeare, Robert Frost, as well as various historians and psychologists. Why does baseball seem to draw more academic comparisons and references than any other sport?
RK: I think it's a fairly recent phenomenon. Unlike basketball or football, baseball writes well. In the 1950s, with The Natural, The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly, writers, editors and publishers found out that you could write seriously about baseball. It also goes back to Jacques Barzun saying if you want to know the heart of America, learn baseball. There's this thought that baseball is this great American invention, and it reveals parts of the society and national character.
PW: Do you think your books are more successful than other sports books because you put so much of yourself and the world as a whole into them?
RK: I think so. Heinz Finkl, a professor of creative writing at SUNY—New Paltz said to me, "Your books are interstitial. Are they memoirs, baseball books or social histories?" They are all those things.
PW: Will you ever tire of writing about baseball?
RK: Not really. New things present themselves. This is my instrument. My violin. If I try to do something else like play the flute, it may not come out as good. I don't tire at all of the game because I'm a fan of people and can always find good people to root for and write about.
PW: Who will you write about next?
RK: Those people who have changed my life or my understanding of humanity. People like Robert Frost, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Eugene McCarthy.