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Volume 45, No. 2
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Fiction / Kyle Beachy ’01
The Making of a First Novel

Story by David Scott / Photo by Beth Rooney, World Picture News

The Slide
By Kyle Beachy '01
The Dial Press, 2009 / 304 pages / $13

Here’s how you’re supposed to become a published novelist: Enroll in an established writing program. Work your connections while work-shopping a raft of short stories. Land in some literary journals while hitching your star to a “name” writer who can introduce you into the right circles and provide a juicy jacket blurb. Sit back and watch the fruit of this labor climb the trellis of The New York Times bestseller list.

Kyle Beachy—whose first novel was published in January by The Dial Press, a division of Random House—was having none of that. To be fair, when Beachy graduated from Pomona in 2001, he was more unsure of what he wanted to do than how to do it. He’d come to Pomona from St. Louis to play baseball. He ended up with a philosophy/English double major and a love for novels that explored ideas.

Although he did write for The Student Life, Beachy says, “I didn’t write my first piece of fiction until I had already left Pomona. It wasn’t something I considered at all. I got out of school and I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I figured I should try writing a book. That was—what?—eight years ago now? Yeah, it’s the same book.”

“It” is The Slide, the story of a pivotal summer in the life of 22-year-old Potter Mays who returns home to St. Louis from a small college outside of Los Angeles with no idea of what he wants to do. Unlike Kyle, Potter doesn’t think to write a book. Rather, he takes a menial job, gets exploited by his frenemies, indulges his love of baseball, watches his sustaining relationships crumble and makes some very wrong decisions for some very right reasons that lead to nearly unspeakable consequences. The book explores, in Beachy’s words, “the crater that is created when you land back home.”

Beachy began The Slide in 2001, the same time that he was rejected by several established graduate writing programs. A year later, he was accepted at the University of Arizona and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). SAIC offered a relatively unstructured curriculum—the school is known primarily for its visual arts training—while the program at Arizona cleaved to the more conservative, time-honored workshop model. Beachy turned to Pomona for advice; during his senior year he had been part of a team of students who interviewed the late David Foster Wallace as a writing professor applicant.

“I wrote to him once I was in the program at the Art Institute, and he essentially gave me a high-five for not going to Arizona,” Beachy says. “The beauty of SAIC is that people essentially stayed away from me and let me do the work I wanted to do.”

That work led to a finished manuscript of The Slide and a place at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. There he quickly learned two things: none of the loafers knew quite what to make of his “outsider” manuscript and he had “no actual understanding of the way publishing worked—how self-contained and self-perpetuating the system can be.” He understood that “no Marilynne Robinson or Joyce Carol Oates was going to hold my hand and lead me into the world of publishing, saying, ‘Here he is. Fall at his feet and give him a lot of money.’ I was forced—and for me I feel like this was a good thing—to make it happen on my own.”

A product of the Internet age, Beachy knew where next to turn. “Thank God almost every literary agent’s name in the country is available online. You can track that person down, write an e-mail and say, ‘I think you should read my book because I think you can sell it.’”

One hundred and seventeen e-mails later, he found someone who agreed. “It was a struggle,” Beachy admits, but he didn’t remain idle over the long haul. A newly minted SAIC MFA in hand, he took a job teaching at his Chicago alma mater. He blogged and published in e-zines. He networked not so much with writers but with readers, showing them The Slide for their reactions. Then he tinkered with his manuscript accordingly.

The Slide slid from third person to first, and Beachy found that rethinking an important element and re-sequencing it nearer to the book’s dénouement brought sharper focus to the story. He also made an important discovery. He’d set out to create one of his beloved novels of ideas, what he deemed “an investigation into what happens when somebody who has completed the checklist of what it means to be an educated and prepared individual—someone who is blessed with tools for looking at and understanding the world—focuses his view on the one thing that is immune to analysis: human love.” What he found was that he’d written an offbeat romance. “Throughout the writing process I kept facing this prickly issue of a love story that kept asking for more page time. So once I accepted that—”

Random House accepted The Slide for publication. He worked closely with an editor for two years to hone the final manuscript: “Like a lot of apprentice writers, I have a tendency to say things three times.” The published novel is a lean, compelling story that sits itself between the genre of homecoming novel (think Charles Webb’s The Graduate or Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus) and books of ideas from authors Beachy admires, including Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson and Haruki Murakami.

Publisher’s Weekly calls The Slide “at once hilarious, strange and uncomfortable,” although Beachy was surprised by those last two adjectives. “I took them eventually as compliments,” he says, “but at first I was like ‘I don’t see what’s strange about this.’”

Whether Sagehen readers find The Slide foreign or familiar, they’re sure to recognize pieces drawn from Pomona College throughout the book: breakfast at Upland’s Cable Airport café, creative uses for campus fountains, midnight hi-jinx on the Quad and in the Wash. There’s also a bit of Pomona in Beachy’s future plans as well. He’s already at work on a follow-up novel that explores skateboarding—his other great athletic passion.

And next year at SAIC he plans to attempt the ultimate classroom kickflip: taking his students on a guided tour through all 1,079 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  

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by Pomona College
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