From a treehouse comes a novel about trains
Scott Sparling's first novel tells a story of life on the edge
To all of this sky-high praise of his first novel, 'Wire to Wire,' Lake Oswego's Scott Sparling adds one more description: Relief; relief that a work into which he poured 25 years of effort has enjoyed such an outstanding reception.
'It has been extremely gratifying,' Sparling said. 'The best part is that I've been able to go to so many places, and talk to so many people.'
From New York City to Squaw Valley, Calif., and mainly a state right in the middle (Michigan) Sparling has been promoting a book he wrote 'like a man on fire,' according to famed author Donald Ray Pollock - a book about money, sex and riding many, many trains.
And he wrote it mostly from the treehouse in his backyard.
'I built it years ago for my son Zane,' Sparling said. 'I thought he would love having a treehouse, but he never really spent any time there, so eventually I started using it as a place to write.'
Sparling spent a lot of time in the treehouse. He first got the bug to write a novel in 1985 and 'I thought it would take five years. I thought, 'I know how to write and I'll learn how to write the language of fiction.''
Certainly, writing a novel was not as easy as Sparling originally anticipated. It definitely wasn't as easy as the decision he made as a youth in Michigan to go hopping freight trains across the country.
'I had a buddy who was waiting to be drafted and he thought he would love to ride some trains before that happened,' Sparling said. 'He said to me, 'Let's go hop some freights before the draft gets me.' I said, 'Sure.''
Photos from that exciting time show a young man with a sense of adventure as large as his huge head of hair. Sparling rode and rode and rode to Washington, New Mexico and even a monumental journey across Canada, accumulating the experiences that come to life in 'Wire to Wire.'
'I thought I had a story worth telling,' Sparling said.
He did, but it was only through his own tenacity and sheer luck that his story came to light.
Sparling had a near disastrous start when he finished his first manuscript in 1991 and plunked it into the mailbox of writer Jim Harrison in New Mexico.
'Never do that again!' scolded Harrison.
But he also offered the new author encouragement.
'He told me, 'You write pretty good,'' Sparling said.
Those words were enough to prod Sparling on to two decades of effort and doing everything possible to make sure his first book would be worthy of his effort. He got a lot of advice, some of it strange.
'One person who read it was a retired federal attorney,' Sparling said. 'He told me, 'I would put every one of your characters in jail.' I took it as a compliment.'
Sparling found his best critic right at home: His son Zane. The little kid who did not like the treehouse his dad built for him. Now a freshman at Willamette University and budding writer himself, Zane was unsparing in telling his dear old dad what he really thought about his book.
'Maybe it's a good thing I took so long to finish, because Zane turned out to be one of the best readers of the manuscript when I was making the final edits,' Sparling said. 'He had that blunt way of giving his take that teenagers have, which is really helpful. There was no sugarcoating.'
'You just think I wasn't sugarcoating,' said Zane, who is a budding humorist and for several years while he was in high school contributed a regular column to the Lake Oswego Review.
But in all seriousness, Zane told his father, 'Do you want it to sound like Garrison Keillor?'
The final product does not sound like Garrison Keillor. Wolverine, the fictional northern Michigan town created by Sparling, is full of people gone mad over sex, money and power, which makes them so very interesting to read about.
As painstaking as Sparling was in creating his novel, his efforts to get it into print were 180 degrees in the other direction.
'I was very bad at sending out my book,' Sparling admitted. 'So bad that I didn't actually give it to Tin House.'
Luckily, Sparling had a friend named Sheila Hamilton of KINK Radio who quickly got wise to the fact that 'Wire to Wire' was a remarkable book, and it was she who brought the novel to Tin House, to Sparling's great satisfaction.
'They're a tremendous publishing company,' he said.
Now with his first book out and getting rave reviews, Sparling is really taking the novel-writing bull by the horns and is well on his way to doing two more novels. Both have the edgy humor and sharp examination of the current world financial meltdown that distinguish 'Wire to Wire.'
'My second novel is about kidney theft,' Sparling said. 'It has the same elements as 'Wire to Wire' only it's more contemporary. Book number three will be about Detroit.'
Sparling's new work is already drawing the undaunted criticism of his son.
'Is your second book as funny as your first book?' asked Zane.
'It's just as funny,' claimed Sparling.
Scott Sparling will give a reading from 'Wire to Wire' at the Lake Oswego Public Library on Tuesday, April 17, at 7 p.m.
For more information, go to the website scottsparling.net .