Thomas Steinbeck got a whole lot of advice from his dad. John Steinbeck would send his son letters — sometimes 18-page-long ones, when he didn’t have time to edit — ranting, raving, and generally trying to be helpful. That’s more than my dad did for me; his best (read: only) relationship advice has been to “always have an extra bottle of ketchup on the shelf, for when you run out.”
So when I read the beautiful relationship advice John wrote in a letter to then-14-year-old Thom, I wanted to hear from Thom what it was like to receive such weighty letters. I should be so lucky.
Nope. Turns out John Steinbeck was just like every dad: He had his brilliant moments, but he had his crotchety old where’s-the-remote-pass-me-my-beer-sorry-I-forgot-your-dance-recital moments too. And just like me, Thom often dismissed his advice. The best advice John gave his son? Don’t become a writer. And Thom dismissed that nugget, going on to write three novels — Down to a Soundless Sea, In the Shadow of the Cypress, and, most recently, The Silver Lotus.
Thom told me all about the girl in the letter, being a hormonal teenager, and how damn hard it was to decipher his dad’s tiny handwriting.
Read the interview at the above “hairpin” link.