Tacoma author Jason Skipper’s first novel “Hustle” lands you right in the middle of a very tough life – one that he lived through himself. Skipper, who’s launching the newly-published “Hustle” at King’s Books Friday night, made his way from selling shrimp on a Texas roadside to completing creative writing degrees from Miami and Western Michigan universities, and teaching writing at Pacific Lutheran University – and it’s the first, difficult part of that life that he draws on to write “Hustle.”
A collection of stories woven together into a narrative, “Hustle” is the coming-of-age tale of kid who grows up the hard way. Chris deals with a rough, philandering father and a depressive mother, rescues a drunk ex-con grandfather from a three-week bender and talks his way out of an arrest – and that’s just the first two chapters.
“I pulled a little bit from my own life to write this,” says Skipper, who grew up in small-town Texas. “My grandfather was a former conman and alcoholic, and I once had to go get him from Florida when he was in trouble.” Skipper also based Wrendon, Chris’ tough father who ends up getting cancer, on his own father. “Eventually, though, the characters had to stand up on their own,” he says, “and the events are not from my own life.”
Not read to as a child, Skipper nevertheless fell in love with books, spending most of his childhood in libraries rather than playing sports: “I really identified with the Ramona books by Beverley Cleary, the outsider characters,” he says. “Coming from a blue-collar family, though, I never thought writing was something I could do.”
He learned how to write during his time on the high school newspaper when the teacher sent students to homeless shelters to get to know people, and eventually fell into creative writing studies when a professor told him he “was really awful at psychology.” A few magazine stories later and he was on his way. His work has been included in Hotel Amerika and Mid-American Review, and he has received grants from Artist Trust and the Vermont Studio Center.
Skipper began writing “Hustle” nine years ago as individual short stories, weaving them together later into a book which has just been published by the North Carolina-based Press 53.
Skipper will read from and sign “Hustle” at the book launch: 7 p.m. June 24 at King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-8801, www.kingsbookstore.com