News

Menlo Park author has a lot to juggle

Nick Taylor: Author, professor, blogger, Steinbeck center head and dad

Nick Taylor is a champion multitasker, the type who in the past would have been called a Renaissance man.

He is a San Jose State professor who both teaches creative writing and heads the university's Center for Steinbeck Studies. He's written two well-received literary historical novels, one about the civil war, and one about California mission founder Father Junipero Serra.

And, under the pseudonym TT Monday, he's also just come out with the second of two briskly selling, quick-read detective novels. The main character is a bit of a multitasker himself — a left-handed relief pitcher for the mythical San Jose Bay Dogs major league baseball team, a hard-living private investigator and a devoted, divorced dad.

A Menlo Park resident, Mr. Taylor on occasion finds time to write a blog for PaloAltoOnline about books and writing, "On the Page."

The 40-year-old writer also has a skill not common to literary types — computer programming. He learned programming in high school and supported himself working as a programmer during his undergraduate college years and until after receiving a master of fine arts degree.

Programming, he says, is actually a lot like fiction writing. "It is a way of thinking," he says. "It's solitary work and it's project-based." In both areas, he says, "I like the feeling I'm creating something."

Mr. Taylor doesn't have a lot of time to write code right now, though, because he is also the father of twin 3-year-olds, Raymond and Rose of Sharon, and a teenager who attends Hillview Middle School, Violet — all of whom he spends a lot of time schlepping around while his wife Jessica is busy with her high-tech start-up, Rolltape.

"My schedule's more flexible," he says.

Very different novels

The Nick Taylor and TT Monday novels could not be more different. Mr. Taylor's historical fiction leaves readers feeling both entertained and educated after being immersed in life in another era. It's easy to see the author as a professor and history buff.

The Monday books lean toward what some call "lad lit," the male equivalent of chick lit — quick, fun reads, full of insider baseball lore with some sex and violence thrown in to keep things lively.

It's easy to imagine wanting to take in a ballgame and a few beers with Mr. Monday, a little harder to imagine him as a professor.

In March, while Nick Taylor prepared to shepherd his San Jose State students through finals, TT Monday came out with a new book, "Double Switch," which was launched March 1 at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park.

The 240-page detective thriller is Mr. Monday's second featuring Johnny Adcock. Since Mr. Adcock's specialty is as a closer, coming in at the end of games to pitch to left-handed batters, he doesn't put in a lot of time on the field to earn his hefty major league salary.

To stave off boredom, and maybe put a second career in place for the not-too-distant time when his baseball days are over, Mr. Adcock helps his teammates and others connected to the baseball world with "problems" like cheating spouses or a missing teenage daughter.

On the Kepler's website, the book's description says Mr. Adcock "faces off against a ring of ruthless South American smugglers and a mysterious, sexy assassin known only as La Loba. And he's still got the playoffs to worry about."

Writing novels may serve a similar purpose for Nick Taylor as being a detective does for Mr. Adcock — a way to escape from his everyday serious life to have a little fun while exercising his intellectual gifts.

Mr. Taylor said he loves research and writing. "You're getting words to transport somebody to this place" that is being written about, he says. "I don't feel like my own life is that interesting to me," he says, especially not as interesting as what he's writing about. "Ultimately I'm my own audience."

Civil war novel

His first book, "The Disagreement," is about a young man who finds himself transformed from being a first-year medical student into a doctor in the field hospital set up on the University of Virginia campus during the Civil War.

As young John Muro gets a hands-on medical education, he also falls in love with a fetching young woman who is in Charlottesville to escape from the fighting.

Mr. Taylor began the book when he received a summer grant to write some historical fiction about the University of Virginia.

The book delves deeply into how medicine was practiced during the Civil War and what life was like in that part of the South during the war.

"I had never written any historical fiction before — I just loved it," he says. "I found some really fascinating stuff," including a Confederate medical field guide and an alternative formulary that doctors drew up when they ran out of the medications they had used before the war. At the time, doctors "didn't really fully understand germ theory," he says, nor did they understand the need for sterilization.

"They said the whole university was turned into a hospital," he says.

Mr. Taylor also found materials that showed how little has changed, including a letter sent home by a student of the era. It was, Mr. Taylor says, much like what a student would write now. "I ran out of money. I met a girl," is the gist of the letter, he says.

"I like writing things that have a lot of material," he says. "I like taking the material and making something out of it."

Junipero Serra novel

His second book, "Father Junipero's Confessor," is about some of the Franciscan brothers who worked with Father Junipero Serra building missions and converting (and killing off) the natives in early California and Mexico.

On Amazon.com, the book is described this way: "A master stylist and a meticulous researcher, Nick Taylor vividly captures the atmosphere of early California as he dramatizes the politics of the era: the horrifying and tragic gaps in understanding between priests and natives; the vicious power plays between crown and church; and the fervor, ambition, and desperation that fueled European settlement of the region."

Mr. Taylor says that in doing this work, "the real difficult part is to know when to stop researching. I kind of don't want to know too much, because then it would limit my ability to create a story that accomplishes what I want it to," he says. "I'm not obligated to get it right; I'm just obligated to make it fun and interesting."

He does, however, write in genres that have an audience that doesn't hesitate to let the author know if he's gotten a detail wrong. Like the fact that his first TT Monday novel, "The Setup Man," had a right-handed pitcher on the cover, although Johnny Adcock is left-handed. Or that he made a mistake in describing a cannon in "The Disagreement."

Mr. Taylor grew up in the Los Angeles area, a starting pitcher who wanted to be a professional baseball player. "I wasn't good enough," he says. He went Loyola High School, a Catholic all-boys school, even though his parents are Episcopalian.

What's ahead

Mr. Taylor says he hopes to write a third TT Monday book, and has a first draft of a Silicon Valley novel. "I wrote it as a gift for my wife," he says, but alas, she didn't like it, so it needs more work.

He said he doesn't want to limit himself to writing exclusively either historical novels or detective novels. "I want to do both," he says. "They're so drastically different."

He does admit, however, that TT Monday writes faster than Nick Taylor. "It comes a lot easier," he says. Plus, he says, "my mother told me I could write off baseball items as a work expense."

The easy part, he says, is to imagine being a pro baseball player. "The hardest part for me is coming up with the crimes," he says.

--------------------------------------------------

Center for Steinbeck Studies

Author Nick Taylor has two "day jobs" (three if you count schlepping his three kids): teaching writing at San Jose State and heading up the university's Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.

Mr. Taylor says he's particularly proud of several programs in the Steinbeck center: a Steinbeck in the Schools program, fellowships for writers, and an annual award called "In the Souls of the People," after a line in "The Grapes of Wrath."

At the sits.sjsu.edu website, Steinbeck in the Schools offers free, downloadable teaching aids, including customizable lesson plans, reading guides and information on the historical and geographical context of John Steinbeck's works. There are resources for teachers in middle schools through college, including those who work with English language learners.

The winners of the "In the Souls of the People" award include Bruce Springsteen (the first winner in 1996), Arthur Miller in 1999, Studs Terkel in 2002, Joan Baez in 2003, Michael Moore in 2010, and Rachel Maddow in 2012.

In 2015, the award winner was Ruby Bridges, the real life heroine upon whom Mr. Steinbeck based the character of a 6-year-old black girl who was chosen to integrate an all-white school in the deep South in 1960.

The Steinbeck center also annually gives one-year fellowships in Steinbeck studies and creative writing. The center usually offers two or three $10,000 fellowships each year, Mr. Taylor said. However, he said, the center's founder, Martha Heasley Cox, recently died, and left a large endowment to the center so it can expand the number of fellows.

At sjsu.edu/Steinbeck, the San Jose State website, more information is available on all the programs.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Money Penny
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 18, 2016 at 10:26 pm

Such a fun article! It's jammed packed with goodness, including a cute picture of kids! I would definitely enjoy a beer with T.T. Monday / the professor.

Go, Nick Taylor, Go!!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Downtown Redwood City gets Japanese kaiseki restaurant
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,992 views

Couples: Child Loss, "No U-Turn at Mercy Street"
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,443 views

Which Cocktail Has the Least Calories?
By Laura Stec | 10 comments | 1,231 views

UCSB's CCS program
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 291 views