For Father’s Day: Max’s Father


A lot of the comments I get about “Anyway*” are about Max’s father. People like him a lot. They think he’s quirky and funny, but it’s more than that – they like the father-son relationship. One of the ways I established that was by having Max’s father not just kid around with Max, but say crazy stuff to Max all the time. As Max puts it, “One thing about my dad is that he lies about almost everything. Not lies, really, but he hardly ever says anything normal.” Well, he’s right – but “hardly ever” isn’t the same as “never.” When the situation demands it, as it does several times in the book, Max’s dad shifts right into serious. He’s not really a goofy person at all – he just likes having a light, fun, give-and-take relationship with his son. And, okay, he’s really funny.
People ask if he’s based on my father, and the answer is No. My father was a wonderful guy, but he was very, very different. Then I’m asked if the father is based on me, and the answer is … Sort of. Kind of. In a way. Partly. Sometimes. 
I should explain that.
Max’s father is exactly like I am as a father … when I’m at my best. Which most of the time I’m not. So I guess the answer is, Max’s father is the father I wish I were. The father I’d like to be. The father I’ll never quite be. 
But I’ll keep trying.

What’s the Big Idea?

My Big Idea started out as No Idea At All.

Four years ago I left my job as Books editor and columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune and sat down to write a novel. I hadn’t the vaguest wisp of a story in mind, but I had the tone down, I tell you, down: This was to be an antic, dark comedy, because … well, it sounded like fun.

Problem was, I’d never written fiction. I had, in fact, spent 20+ years trying not to write fiction, what with being a journalist and all. So on Day One, after arranging the cat on my lap (she’s still there, or rather, here), I thought I’d take a test drive: a short story for my then 12-year-old daughter. Just to see if I could make stuff up.

Right away Max, my 12,-almost-13-year-old narrator, started coming up with asides and tangential comments. I remembered that when I reviewed [] David Foster Wallace’s essay collection “Consider the Lobster” I peppered the piece with 30 of what I hoped were fun and funny footnotes (Wallace was, of course, Master of the Footnote) and that it was the best time I ever had writing anything. So I started putting Max’s meanderings into footnotes.

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“Anyway” book cover


Most people don’t know this, but authors don’t design the covers of their books. The publisher doesn’t ask for input, either, so they have no idea what the covers will even look like. Sometimes an author is extremely unhappy with the way a cover turns out. And here’s what he can do about it: nothing.

So I all but jumped out of my chair – all right, I twitched a little – when I got an e-mail from my editor at Simon & Schuster, the publisher of “Anyway*”, telling me, casually, that the attached file contained a picture of the cover. I was almost afraid to open it. I moved the cursor over the icon, stared at it for a few seconds, closed my eyes, clicked … and opened my eyes.

I gasped, then yelled, “That’s it! That’s my book!”

Max doing a cannonball into the pool – or is he somehow exploding out of the pool; the funny lettering, the orange headband (Max wears one at camp); the brilliant yellow sky and aqua-warm blue water…  It was perfect.

It was so perfect that it did a strange thing to my brain. The image on the cover took over part of my memory, so that now, when I think back to when I was writing the book, it feels like the cover was there all the time, and I was writing the book to fit the cover.

Now it’s time to give some credit: The genius who designed the cover of “Anyway*” is Dan Potash of Simon & Schuster. I’ve never met him. I’ve never even talked to him. But I sent him a message – maybe two or three – telling him how brilliant he is, and how grateful I am.

More credit: I didn’t do the funny doodles inside the book and on the jacket flap, either. Neither did Max, because he’s a fictional character. Dan Potash didn’t even do them. They were done by Virginia Hall, a summer intern at Simon & Schuster. And those doodles are perfect, too.

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