Stephen Metcalfe is the author of the new novel The Practical Navigator. He also has written the young adult novel The Tragic Age. Also a playwright and screenwriter, he is an associate artist at The Old Globe theater in San Diego.
Q: How was your new novel's title selected, and what does it signify for you?
A: The title refers to a book on marine navigation. The American Practical Navigator is by Nathaniel Bowditch. It starts with – and I quote – “Marine navigation blends both science and art. The science of navigation can be taught, but the art of navigation must be developed from experience.” This sounded a lot like everyday life to me.
Q: As a parent of a son with autism, how did your own life affect your creation of the characters of Michael and Jamie?
A: I am the proud father of an 18-year old-son on the autism spectrum. The last thing I ever expected. A life changer. Asperger’s, the doctor’s assistant said.
My wife and I didn’t even know what the word meant. We looked it up. It was 2002, the net was in its infancy and there wasn’t a lot out there, but what there was suggested semi-retardation and a lifetime of dependency.
We felt wronged. Why him, why us, why me? We felt helpless. Who do we go to, what do you do, how can we fix it? You don’t know anything and it’s terrifying. But you learn.
In writing Navigator, I wanted to go back to the time when my son was 6 and put all the things my wife and I discovered through the prism of imagination. Hence Michael and Jamie.
Q: You've also written a young adult novel, plays, and screenplays. How does one type of work affect the others for you?
A: I feel plays are based in character and dialogue. Both these elements are certainly important in screenplays but more important is the emphasis on the visual. You “hear” a play, you “see” a screenplay.
Q: Did you know how this novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I knew it would end with a green flash. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to get there.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a new novel. I recently completed a new stage play.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I feel very fortunate to do what I do. I hope the best is yet to come.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb