What If Novelists Took Steroids?

Reprinted from The New York Times by Michael Farris Smith on August, 10 2013

COLUMBUS, Miss. — WELL, Major League Baseball, you’re making me depressed. I can’t even revel in the satisfaction of the Braves having their longest winning streak since 2000 because every time I turn on “SportsCenter,” you’re there with your performance-enhancing drugs, with your suspensions, with A-Rod, Ryan Braun and then some more A-Rod.

The worst part is that we all knew. We saw the broken-bat home runs. We watched Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds blow up like carnival prizes.

Cheating is hardly new to baseball. Gaylord Perry, the Hall of Fame pitcher, and others like him cheated with Vaseline and nail files and sandpaper and God knows what else they could find to hide in their gloves and doctor a baseball to make it wobble and fall like a bad drunk. There have been corked bats and watered-down infields and even the World Series was fixed once upon a time.

But all of that was different. It was old-fashioned, good-natured cheating. Natural cheating. The kind that adds a little color to a game that is otherwise, well, a little boring.

I should know. I played baseball from the time I was 5 until I was 20. Fifteen years, all at the same position of shortstop. My baseball memories are endless and I still, 23 years after my last game, wake up from dreams where I am in the dugout having some ridiculous conversation, or standing at the batting cage waiting to take my cuts, or walking into the batter’s box to lead off an inning.

I once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Would I have been tempted by performance-enhancing drugs? I turned into a writer instead, so perhaps the question I should be asking is, what if there were a drug I could take to make me a better storyteller, or more prolific with a hyphen, or able to slice through a 300-page edit in half the time?

I’m not talking about traditional writer standbys like booze or pills or wild, obsessive lovers. Or hard work. These have all been known to transform a writer from something into something else. I’m talking about a fat pill I could swallow once in the morning and once at night, and then sit back and reap the benefits of a stronger, faster novel-writing me.

Would I?

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