W.P. Kinsella attributes the success of an early piece of fiction, Shoeless Joe, to a stroke of good luck.
It was first done as a short story, he says, and published in an anthology. A review of the story ended up in a magazine, where it caught the eye of a publisher.
“He wrote to me and said ‘if this is a novel, we want to see it,'” he recalls. “I told him ‘well, I’ve never written a novel, would you be willing to guide me?'”
That led to a partnership of sorts, and a fleshed-out version inspired the blockbuster baseball movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. The movie’s popularity endures, decades later, and has many of the mystical themes that underline much of Kinsella’s work. All told, he has published 16 books of short fiction throughout his career.
His newest collection, The Essential W.P. Kinsella, includes 35 stories from his career, including Shoeless Joe. This career retrospective celebrates the author’s 80th birthday, as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams.
It’s a “best of the best collection,” he says, and he had great fun compiling them. It also includes four previously unpublished works.
“I’ve always liked my work,” he says. “I laugh out loud when I read it. It’s a lack of self confidence, when people read their stuff and say ‘oh I can’t read that.'”
Other than the expansion of Shoeless Joe, and a handful of novels, he has stayed true to shorter prose.
“I much prefer the short story form,” he says, in a phone interview from his home in Yale, B.C.
“When you’re writing for a living, if I spend ten days writing a short story and it fails, it’s only ten days. If I spend a year writing a novel, and it’s bad, that’s a year gone,” he says. “There is a lot of pressure on you.”
His love of the short story has worked out well for him, even before Shoeless Joe.
“I was very lucky back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, you couldn’t get a short story published at all. And then, in the mid-’70s they became very popular and I found myself in the right place at the right time. My stories sold very well.”
His books often would sell 50-60,000 copies, launching him well past the point of ‘best-selling’ status as a writer.
And for weary writers hoping to follow in his footsteps one day, he offers some tough advice.
“I get very exasperated with people who say ‘I’m going to write a novel some day but I don’t have the time,'” he says, a constant refrain from many a would-be author.
“If you’re really interested you’ll make the time,” he says. “You’ll get up at 5 a.m. and write for two hours, throw hot water on your hands and then go off to some awful job.”
Kinsella is touring his new anthology, and that includes a stop at the Chilliwack Library on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. He will be reading from his book, and speaking with those who stop by.