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"A Thing or Two About the Game": An Interview With Richard Paik

One reviewer calls it a “sports drama.” Another says it’s a “rich character study of a man dealing with a mid-life crisis.” But to author Richard Paik, his debut novel is not so simple to characterize. “For everybody,” he says, “it’s kind of about something different.” 


Paik: From Consultant to Writer 

Paik, 62, grew up in Sudbury, and although he majored in creative writing and American civilization in his undergraduate studies at Brown University, ultimately his career path led him to city-planning consulting. His vast client list primarily included municipalities, which gave him the opportunity to travel around the country, focusing on the midwest, the deep south, and the mid-Atlantic. It wasn’t until 2000 that Paik returned to his roots in the Northeast, moving to Swampscott for several years and then making the more permanent leap to Marblehead 16 years ago with his wife and daughter. 


During and after his career as a consultant in the business world, Paik took on some entrepreneurial and investment ventures, but a love of creative writing was never far from his mind. Marblehead Beacon sat down with Paik to discuss his recently published novel, A Thing or Two About the Game, and the path that led him to write the book. 


The Inspiration for A Thing or Two About the Game

As the father of a young woman–now a college junior–whose Little League softball team he coached starting in 2013, Paik comes to the subjects in his book with authenticity of experience. The fictional story of a tween girls’ softball team and its coach is not a softball book per se, though; neither is it a book about relationships. It’s both these things and more. The strong character and friendship development throughout the story add depth to the fictional account of a man grappling with whether and how to coach these girls. 


Parents of children who’ve participated in any competitive pursuit will recognize the emotional rollercoaster the novel’s softball players–and the coach–experience. Paik stays away from trite underdog-comes-through-and-beats-the-mean-opponent props, instead going for scenes that are more reflective of a genuine experience. For these kids, and for all of us, “it’s about getting a good moment,” Paik believes, seemingly with the recognition that so often life is less about enormous wins and more about incremental successes. 


As to the inspiration for the characters in the novel, Paik says that some were a mixture of real people, while others were essentially built out of thin air. “Some of my…friends,” he says, “have said they thought that [one character] was two sides of me.” This is something Paik hadn’t considered as he was writing the book, but he finds the perspective interesting and possibly somewhat accurate. 


An Unclear Niche

One clear take away from discussing A Thing or Two About the Game with Paik is that he believes the novel does not fit neatly into one category. Coaches and parents might recognize their own experiences in the book, but so might people who’ve never seen a softball game or don’t have a daughter, he believes. “When I go hiking with three buddies,” Paik says of one of his hobbies, “somebody goes for the scenery, somebody wants the exercise, and somebody just wants to be with his [friends].” Similarly, Paik believes the book can mean different things to different readers. 


Pitching the book to agents was hard for Paik for two reasons. One, he says, was that he is “terrible” at things involving self promotion, and two was that crafting an elevator speech proved challenging in light of the difficulty in categorizing the book. Is it literary fiction? Contemporary fiction? A sports book? A book about relationships? He was unsure about all of it and without a defined path, he “put it in mothballs” and moved on to other endeavors. “I was content to have learned a lot from writing,” he says.


From Manuscript to Release

The experience of writing the book, finding a publisher, and arriving at the finish line with the release has been an on-and-off ride for Paik. “It definitely didn’t start out as a book,” he shares. When Paik was new to coaching girls’ softball some nine years ago, he says he began taking notes to “learn what did and didn’t work.” It turned out, he says, that “girls sometimes had funny reactions, so I ended up jotting down some of the anecdotes.” Eventually the stories turned into a book, and as the story evolved, parts had to be cut–even some of the funnier more cherished moments. Though painful, “if they didn’t advance the story line,” they had to go. At one point he even tore up a third of the manuscript and started over until he was satisfied. 


While pursuing other interests and beginning the writing of a second book, Paik stumbled upon a publisher with an unusual model that would allow him to submit his first manuscript without an agent. He decided more or less on a whim to submit his manuscript, promptly forgot about it, and continued on with his other work. About three or four months later, Paik says, he received word that his work had been accepted for publication. “By that time I’d actually finished my next book,” he says, and began questioning whether his submitted work would stand the test of time in his own eyes. Between his own re-writes and the extensive work he did with Atmosphere Press’s editing team on the draft as well as the dozens of rounds to work through cover design, the book went from accepted manuscript to print in about a year, after which reviews began trickling in. It was after the first review dropped that the unassuming Paik slowly began sharing with friends that he had published a book. 


Another Book in the Works

Before A Thing or Two About the Game showed up on bookshelves and online earlier this year, Paik had already completed his next book, which he says comprises a series of connected vignettes about a group of individuals over the span of many years “growing up and growing old” in a fictional urban seaside town. Each story, he shares, takes place during or around the holidays. Paik has not yet announced any publishing plans for the newest book, as he remains focused on seeing his first novel continue to attract readers. 


Appealing to a Broad Readership

Though Paik himself is reluctant to engage in loud self promotion, A Thing or Two About the Game’s lack of simplistic categorization could prove beneficial, as it offers the possibility of wide appeal among a variety of readers. When asked if he would attend local book clubs to speak about the book, Paik says cheerfully “I’d bring the wine and cheese.”  


Paik’s book may be purchased here, which is also where he may be reached.