He may be stuck at home rather than playing gigs with his musical partner Kenny Sultan, his original plans for this year, but local musician Tom Ball has made the most of the COVID-19 quarantine by polishing and publishing his second novel, “Backstraw.”
The book is now available in print and as an eBook on the website of its publisher BookLocker, the same company that published Mr. Ball’s debut novel, 2002’s “The Marty Graw Book.” Released 18 years after Mr. Ball’s first fictional work, “Backstraw” is a far more “grown up” story according to its author. Whereas his first book is a humorous novel, “Backstraw” tells a far more serious narrative about a man named Timothy DiAngelo. Mr. DiAngelo looks back on his childhood, teenage years, and years of traveling abroad while locked up in federal prison for reasons that aren’t revealed until the novel’s conclusion.
As the coronavirus outbreak has precluded Mr. Ball from doing music performances, Mr. Ball used most of that time to revisit the book with “fresh eyes” after it sat dormant in his computer for many years. Looking back on the month-long editing process his book underwent before getting published, Mr. Ball thinks the many years away helped him see what needed to change. In addition to overused adjectives and phrases that needed adjusted, he found that there were about 60 pages of unnecessary content.
“What it needed was a lot removed from it. There was a lot of superfluous stuff there that didn’t forward the plot,” he said.
Started about eight years ago and turned into what Mr. Ball thought was a “pretty complete first draft,” the book remained untouched in Mr. Ball’s computer for several years. He became busier, as his music career started to pick up steam. Though by that point he had already spent decades playing harmonica and singing in a duo with Mr. Sultan on guitar, and played in clubs on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip going all the way back to his teenage years, Mr. Ball explained that the music business is naturally “up and down.” Around the time he finished the first version of “Backstraw,” his career was at an “up.”
Though not inspired by any particular authors when writing his novel, Mr. Ball said he shoots for a “conversational” style that doesn’t require a reader to constantly keep a dictionary handy. He named Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the works of John Steinbeck as books that approximate the writing style he goes for.
As Mr. DiAngelo looks back on his life from a prison cell, Mr. Ball’s protagonist recalls his 1950s childhood in Texas and spending the ‘60s in Santa Monica, followed by years of international travel. The latter two are aspects of Mr. Ball’s own past and the author admitted that several of the story’s passages in Santa Monica parallel events that happened to him. Though a press release tantalizingly dubs “Backstraw” as “a fictional memoir. Except when it isn’t,” Mr. Ball told the News-Press that the “when it isn’t” part is only about 15% of the story.
While writing “Backstraw,” Mr. Ball wasn’t totally sure where the writing process was ultimately going to take his story. Lacking any formal schooling in creative writing, he likened the experience of creating the novel to some voice in his head offering dictation, which he simply notated on a page without really knowing the destination.
“I don’t really know the craft of writing. I just write,” he said.
It may not have taken too long for the book to get published after Mr. Ball decided to revise and edit it, but despite taking a relatively short amount of time the editing process’ greatest challenge was answering this question: At what point is the book done? Mr. Ball tried to get his work to the point where it was thoroughly honed, but not overly and unnecessarily altered. Judging when a book has arrived at this stage isn’t easy, however, and additional edits are always theoretically possible. In that sense, Mr. Ball thinks novels are never truly completed.
“I don’t think you ever really finish it. You abandon it,” he said.
“Backstraw” can be purchased either in paperback or ebook at booklocker.com and in paperback on Amazon. According to Mr. Ball, in the next three weeks the book will be available on electronic formats like Kindle and Mobi and physical copies will be available in local bookstores.