A&E

The multitasker

Local author has a lot to juggle

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 University 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 American Civil War and one about California mission founder Father Junipero Serra.

And, under the pseudonym T.T. 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.

In addition, he writes a blog for PaloAltoOnline.com, "On the Page," about books and writing.

The 40-year-old Menlo Park resident also has a skill not common to literary types computer programming. He learned it in high school and supported himself working as a programmer from his undergraduate college years until after receiving a master's degree in fine arts.

Programming, he said, is actually a lot like fiction writing.

"It is a way of thinking," he said. "It's solitary work and it's project-based."

In both areas, he said, "I like the feeling I'm creating something."

The Nick Taylor and T.T. Monday novels could not be more different. Taylor's historical fiction leaves readers feeling both entertained and educated about 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 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 Monday, a little harder to imagine him as a professor.

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

Taylor said he loves research and writing.

"You're getting words to transport somebody to this place" that is being written about, he said.

"I don't feel like my own life is that interesting to me," he said, especially not as interesting as what he's writing about. "Ultimately I'm my own audience."

In writing historical fiction, "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 said. "I'm not obligated to get it right; I'm just obligated to make it fun and interesting."

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

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 said. He went Loyola High School, a Catholic all-boys school, even though his parents are Episcopalian.

Taylor said he hopes to write a third T.T. Monday book and has a first draft of a Silicon Valley novel.

"I wrote it as a gift for my wife," he said, 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 said. "They're so drastically different."

He does admit, however, that as T.T. Monday, he writes faster than he does when writing his historical fiction books.

"It comes a lot easier," he said. Plus, "My mother told me I could write off baseball items as a work expense."

The easy part, he said, is to imagine being a pro baseball player.

"The hardest part for me is coming up with the crimes," he said.

Nick Taylor's work: crime, history, Steinbeck

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

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 sometimes killing) the natives in early California and Mexico.

T.T. Monday baseball thriller: His newest book under pseudonym T.T. Monday, "Double Switch," is a 240-page detective thriller in which Major League Baseball player Johnny Adcock is a part-time detective as he faces off against a ring of ruthless South American smugglers.

Steinbeck studies: Taylor, who heads up San Jose State University's Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, said he's particularly proud of three programs in the center. Steinbeck in the Schools offers free, downloadable teaching aids and information on the historical and geographical context of John Steinbeck's works. The Fellowships for Writers program awards two or three annual $10,000 fellowships in Steinbeck studies and creative writing. The Steinbeck Award: "In the Souls of the People" program, named after a line in "The Grapes of Wrath," recognizes writers, artists and activists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck's, commitment to democratic values. Winners have included Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Joan Baez and Michael Moore.

Barbara Wood is a staff writer for The Almanac, the Weekly's sister newspaper. She can be reached at bwood@almanacnews.com.

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