W.P. Kinsella is the author of Shoeless Joe, the novel that the 1989 movie Field of Dreams is based on. He has written several other novels and short stories, many of them having to do with baseball, First Nations people and magic. “The Essential W.P. Kinsella” was released from Tachyon Publications in March and contains some of Kinsella’s best stories, including the short story Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, which was the seed for the novel Shoeless Joe.
Kinsella celebrated his 80th birthday on the 25th of May.
Interview conducted February 22, 2015.
Rob Darnell: Much of your work has to do with baseball. Do you closely follow the sport? What teams do you root for?
W.P. Kinsella: Not anymore. Loosely follow the Blue Jays. After the strike, I lost interest. In reality, neither players nor owners care in the least about the fans. The greed of both factions has destroyed baseball’s credibility, at least for the present.
RD: Are there any MLB players at all that you feel are not caught up in the greed?
WPK: As long as they are forced to belong to the Players Union, no. My hero will be the guy who tells the Union to get lost.
RD: MLB politics aside, do you still agree that the game is beautiful?
RD: Are there college, minor league or independent teams that you pay any attention to?
WPK: No. Have never been a minor league fan.
RD: Did you play baseball when you were a kid? If you did, what positions did you prefer to play? And how well did you hit?
WPK: No. Played a little softball, but there was nowhere on the field it was safe for me to be.
RD: When did your interest in baseball start and what sparked the interest? What inspired you to mix baseball and magic together?
WPK: My dad talked a good game. A child got only the World Series on the radio.
RD: What is the best World Series you can think of and what made it great?
WPK: 1946, if my memory is correct. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen went against the Red Sox in Game 7. I stayed home to listen, practically had my head inside the radio.
RD: What is your fondest baseball memory?
WPK: Seeing Bob Forsch pitch a no hitter against Montreal.
RD: Both, Harry Brecheen and Bob Forsch, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. You have fond memories of both of them. Does that mean you were once a Cardinal fan? If yes, why are the Cardinals not your team anymore and when did your love for them die?
WPK: I became exclusively an American League fan when they instituted the DH rule, and will remain so until the National League moves out of the dark ages.
RD: Over the years you’ve seen many players come and go. Who are the players that you admired the most? And what was it about them that made them admirable?
WPK: Yogi Berra, Bill Lee, they were irreverent, poked fun at the stodgy owners and managers. Curt Flood, of course, was in a class by himself, a true hero.
RD: In the early years, you had to listen to the games on the radio. Do you remember the first game you saw on TV? Was there any difficulty in making the transition from radio to TV? Was it more enjoyable to watch than listen to the games?
WPK: Guess about 1954. Until Color TV came along, BW TV was too muddy to be enjoyable.
RD: What was the first professional baseball game you had been to? And how old were you? Can you describe the experience?
WPK: Edmonton Vs Calgary, 1946, age 10. First Major League game was San Francisco Vs L.A. Don Drysdale Vs Juan Marichal. Drysdale won. Didn’t realize how lucky I was.
RD: Have you been to many MLB games? What professional baseball parks have you been to?
WPK: At one time I’d been to every park except Baltimore and Houston, but can’t even keep track of who plays where these days.
RD: In your opinion, who is the greatest baseball player of all time?
WPK: It is hard to compare the eras, but Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb from the past, Sandy Koufax and Roger Clements from the present.
RD: Do you like any other sports, such as football, basketball or hockey? If so, what are your teams?
WPK: I’m a big fan of curling, follow all the major world events. Watch all four Tennis majors. Basketball is the worst sport. They need to raise the basket at least two feet.
RD: You and Ray have the same last name. Is there more that the two of you have in common? Does Ray Kinsella mirror much of yourself?
WPK: Ray is named for a Salinger short story character, but he mirrors some of my thoughts and experiences era 1980.
RD: I’m a Detroit Tiger fan, so I want to know, what does the voice in Ray Kinsella’s cornfield have to say about the chances of the Tigers winning the World Series this year?
WPK: Slim and slimmer.
RD: What do you say about Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ray Kinsella?
WPK: Couldn’t be better.
RD: You were happy with Field of Dreams. What about the other film and TV adaptations of your work?
WPK: Pretty pitiful. I was lucky to get one good adaptation. Field of Dreams the Musical is lurking in the wings. Hope it will provide my daughters with a ton of money someday.
RD: You’re also known for writing about First Nations people. What sparked your interest in that area?
WPK: Found a good voice and took advantage of it. Each of my specialties was like a prospector discovering a vein of gold. I worked each until the vein was exhausted.
RD: In 2010, you said that the state of the book industry was such that you would not be able to break in if you were just starting out. It’s 2015 now. In your opinion, is the situation better or worse than it was five years ago?
WPK: I think it is worse for a mid-list author such as myself. You either have to sell like Stephen King or go with the small presses where there is no money. I was lucky to have been in the right place and time for many years.
RD: What would improve the situation for mid-list writers?
WPK: Less greed on the part of both publishers and chain booksellers. It is easier for them to publish and sell only blockbusters and leave the real work to small presses.
RD: Though you are a mid-list writer, has your writing made you a comfortable living? Would you say the larger portion of your income came from your novel sales or your short story sales?
WPK: In the 70s and 80s, I made a good living. Have managed my funds carefully, will never have to go out and cadge quarters from the tourists. My main income came from failed movie and TV options.
RD: I read somewhere that you were reading books when you were five years old. What are some of your childhood favorites?
WPK: Discovered W. Somerset Maugham in about 5th grade. Didn’t understand the plots, but loved the descriptions.
RD: And for that matter, what are some of the best books you’ve read over the years?
WPK: The Great Gatsby, the finest novel ever written. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler, In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan, What The Crow Said, Robert Kroetsch.
RD: Outside of baseball and reading, what are some of your fondest childhood memories?
WPK: Uneventful, though isolated childhood. Good, kind, stable parents.
RD: You’re a tournament Scrabble player. What is your highest achievement in the game? And how long have you been playing?
WPK: I’ve played tournaments for about 20 years. My daughter, Erin, who lives with me, also travels to tournaments. While I’m not a top division player, I’ve won a number of tournaments. Won Portland one year at about 19/3.
RD: You’re going to be 80 on May 25th. Do you have anything special planned for your birthday?
WPK: Going to a Scrabble tournament in Edmonton in May, so will celebrate with family there. My agent, Carolyn Swayze, is planning a “surprise” party on the actual day.
RD: This last question is from your novel Shoeless Joe. If you could do anything you wanted to do–if you could take time and turn it in your hands like rubbing up a new baseball; if you could stop somewhere in time, and in the silence and mystery and calm of that situation you could have a wish…?
WPK: I lost my wife Barbara to cancer two years ago. I would give whatever time I have left to spend one more day with her.