An interview with Tom Hill
7-Iron Press: Briefly, what’s A Perfect Lie: The Hole Truth about?
Tom Hill: Short answer, it’s the story of the round of golf Walter
Mitty might have daydreamed had he been a golfer.
7IP: Go on…
TH: Well, it’s a long story…well, really it’s not. It’s under 300 pages and no chapter is
longer than 20 pages and each chapter – each golf hole – is broken up in easy
to read sections, most no longer than a page or so. What’s it about?
Life, golf, love, golf, sex, golf, what makes people interesting, golf,
music, golf, success, golf, failure, golf…optimism, pessimism, golf, humor,
golf, uncertainty, golf… Really, it’s the story of what happens when a person
suddenly and unexpectedly has a chance to reach or even surpass his goal, his
dream, his great life’s ambition, something he never thought he could or would
7IP: It’s about one golfer and one round of golf?
TH: Don “Tin Foil” Reynolds, our protagonist, is a 10 handicap
who has always dreamed of shooting an even par round and has come close before,
and failed. And lately he’s been playing worse more often than playing
well. But this day, this Father’s
Day, which is also his wedding anniversary, he’s on the back 9 at a course in
the Palm Springs area playing really well, one under par. And then, making this Walter Mitty dream come
true becomes his obsession over the last 9 holes as the desert heat rises to
over 100 degrees and the desert winds blow 20, 25, 30 miles an hour from all
directions, and his friends in his skins game foursome continue messing with him
about his funny golf swing and ragging on him about the lucky bounces he's gotten, and the greens speed up, and the rough
grows taller, and everything is running through his mind at once and he still
has to hit all the shots and the hardest holes on the course are coming up. So that’s the book – one round of golf
told in 18 chapters through the inner voice of Don Reynolds – the story of the inner
struggle as a player seeks to accomplish something that might not be very
important in the grand scheme of things, but is as important and challenging to him as anything
he has or might ever accomplish, at least on this day. It’s funny, there’s some drama, but
mostly it’s living inside the mind of a golfer under stress as he tries to play
well above his usual ability.
7IP: You have a favorite line from the book?
TH: How about, "They say golf is a cruel mistress. I don't know, I think maybe she's a wife. At least so many of my shots could be called Mrs." Or maybe, "The eight worst words in golf: 'Go ahead and hit, you can't reach them.'"
7IP: Is A Perfect Lie: The Hole Truth an autobiographical story?
TH: Most of the shots and holes described actually took place, though not necessarily in the same
round. The course is mostly real,
though it isn’t really in the desert.
The people are composites of the many hundreds of guys I’ve played
with, though a couple are a little more real than that. The dialogue is almost all things I overheard from my playing companions or
things I thought of and wrote down on the course. (The book couldn’t exist without the unknowing contributions
of the interesting or bored or often
frustrated golfers I’ve played with or against over the years.) I guess in truth it’s hard to actually
write something that isn’t autobiographical in some ways…I’ve always thought J.K.
Rowling probably is really a witch…and I mean that in the nicest way.
7IP: Was it a fun book to write?
TH: Well, writing is always fun. It’s the re-reading it afterwards that’s not fun. And then the rewriting and doubt that’s
so hard…because it is very difficult to be both artist and critic at the same
time but you kind of have to be and then after you delete something that you
worked hard on but eventually don’t think it fits or isn’t good enough you
wonder if maybe you shouldn’t have kept it in and so there’s a real vicious
circle you go through writing, reading, rewriting, editing, cutting out,
putting back in, cutting back out and finally rewriting or leaving alone or
deleting. And then the editor tells you how it could be improved and you go back to writing again. But in the end it has to
be fun or it’s not worth doing, right?
7IP: You describe Tin Foil’s swing in great detail. Is it based on your swing?
TH: Don Reynolds' golf swing is, sadly, based on my golf swing. Now I actually got quite good at golf using that swing, but if I could have another swing that looked more normal and still moved
the ball, I’d trade in an instant. In one of Harvey Penick's books, he says don't worry about having a match with the player with the bad grip, don't worry about having a match with the player with a bad swing: worry about having a match against the player with the bad grip and the bad swing. That's me.
7IP: Golfers say some funny things on the course...
TH: Oh God they do.
And they say self-deprecating things, and they say sarcastic, cutting
things to their friends – it’s like locker room talk and it’s one of the more
interesting and fun parts of the companionship out on the course. I love playing with people I don’t know
– when the three people I’m with all do know each other and I get to listen in
on their dialogue…where else can a writer have 4 hours to research characters that's any better than in a golf group? It can be hilarious, sharp, nasty; a real peek into who they are.
I find it fascinating.
7IP: Why all the song references in the book?
TH: Well, for me, music sometimes fills the empty spaces in my
brain – that is if I’m not actively thinking about something and my brain just
wonders, as often as not it will wonder to a song lyric or melody…and on the
golf course I really notice it because there’s no radio on like in the car,
there’s no exercise mix selection on like there is when I’m working out,
there’s no computer on like in my office, there’s no tv or radio on like there
is at home…so on the course if I’m not talking or thinking about a shot my
brain just wonders off and sometimes it finds a lyric or melody and sometimes
that lyric or melody either stays with me over the course of a few holes or it
becomes an active part of the shot, as I occasionally describe in A Perfect Lie. I'm actually very sad that I was unable to quote song lyrics in the book - I mean I could have but would have first had to get the songwriters' permission and I didn't know how to do that or where to begin getting the clearances and when I researched it it looked pretty daunting so I just wrote around the need for the lyrics but it would have been nice to use them some places.
7IP: Is this the first book you've written?
TH: Not exactly. I wrote a book for my wife that I gave to her after our first baby was born, I called it "A Year of Living Pregnantly" and I wrote a book for my oldest son that covered the time from when he was 18-months old until he was about 4 when I figured he could start remembering things on his own. I called that one "Apparently A Parent." But the only copies of those books belong to the people they were written for and that's for the best, believe me.
7IP: What’s your best golf round ever?
TH: I have broken par twice, shot a 68 once with 14 pars and 4
birdies and I’ve had I think six rounds of even par. It’s a rare, rare occasion and it seems to be getting rarer
as I get older.
7IP: Any advice for people just taking up the game?
TH: If you don’t love it, don’t play. It takes too long, costs too much money and is too hard to
get good at. And stay off the
course at peak hours – so it isn’t as crowded for the real golfers. So if you
don’t absolutely love the challenge of it – the challenge that is both physical
and mental, that is both on and off the golf course – then don’t bother
playing, you’ll save yourself time, money and aggravation. But if you do love it and get hooked,
try as hard as you can to play as often as you can, think about golf, fall
asleep playing holes in your mind, practice whenever you can and compete wth
yourself…you’ll be rewarded with a most frustrating but satisfying passion.
7IP: How did you first get good at golf?
TH: I did three things that I think could help any golfer. First, I moved to a location where it
is warm year round and you can pretty much expect to be able to play almost
every day of the year. Even if you aren’t going to play, you could. I don’t see how anybody who lives in
the Midwest or east and has winter has any chance to get good because unless
they practice religiously or have a driving range in their basement, they have
to basically relearn the game each spring. The ones who are good, they must be
really good athletes. Second, I
played a lot – a real lot – of early morning back 9s and late afternoon front
9s by myself during my formative golf years. I’d play 2 balls against each other in medal – match play,
trying as hard for each ball as I could. And third, I spent about 2 years where
for an hour or so at least 3 days a week I did nothing but practice my short
game. I did this by playing 6
balls – 3 white balls against 3 yellow ones, or 3 Titliests against 3 Precepts,
or 3 balls with red dots on them against 3 with blue lines – or whatever. I played a contest: drop all 6 balls off somewhere off the
green and chip and then putt each ball into the target hole. Generally, the best score for the 3 balls on each team will
be a 6 – that is you get each ball up and down in 2 strokes, and the worst score
should be a 9, you get each ball up and down in 3 strokes. Play the two teams of 3 balls against
each other until one team wins five times. Because of ties, you’ll probably end up having to play about
20 sets – so that’s 120 chips from all around the green, plus 120 to 360 putts --
though a lot of them are tap ins.
But you know what, people miss tap ins too so this is just a real good
short game practice. I still do
it, though not very often now – maybe once a month or so…and as I say it takes
about an hour usually.
7IP: Best advice for a golfer?
TH: Get a handicap and play as many tournaments as you can. Like Bobby Jones said, “There’s golf,
and then there’s tournament golf.”
7IP: So I have to ask again, is the story in the book a true story?
TH: Well… it’s a perfect lie, and it's the hole truth.