Michael Stahl, Narratively’s layout manager, contributing editor, and longtime writer, loves baseball. At Narratively, Michael has written about the embattled New York Mets’ star Kevin Mitchell and American black baseball players who left for Canada to play the sport. Now his work continues with a new book, Big Sexy: In His Own Words, out May 12. The book is the All-Star pitcher Bartolo Colón’s autobiography, which Colón co-authored with Michael Stahl. Michael chatted with us about how he landed such a coveted book deal, and how the Narratively crew, “taking a chance on someone that had no experience” years ago, helped set him up for the success he has today.
Narratively: Big Sexy: In His Own Words, is coming out soon. What is the book about?
Michael Stahl: It’s written in Bartolo’s voice – it is his autobiography. That’s a tongue in cheek title because Bartolo notoriously, throughout his pitching career, always gave interviews through an interpreter. Here’s a guy, one of six kids, who grew up in the northern mountains of the Dominican Republic and was very poor. Bartolo became a Major League Baseball icon and has been very generous with giving back to his community. He’s also had a lot of personal struggles – there will be new information in the book that even the biggest fans of his probably won’t be aware of, and he says some very interesting things about the state of baseball as well.
Narratively: Tell us about your career path and how that led to your book deal.
Stahl: Back when Narratively first got started, they used to have open editorial meetings. Any writer could go and pitch Brendan Spiegel and Noah Rosenberg directly. I was a new writer at the time, and I used to make sure that I went to every single one of those meetings. Another one of those writers there was Garrett McGrath. We hit it off and became friends, and we bonded over New York sports. The day after Labor Day in 2018, he just called me up out of nowhere, now an editor at Abrams Books, and said, “We’re doing this book and I think you’re a good writer for it.” And I said, “I’m your guy.” Then he told me it’s Bartolo Colón’s autobiography, and I said “I’M YOUR GUY.” He said, like one or two other details, and I just kept saying “I’m your guy.” I was a fan of him when he played for the New York Mets, which is my favorite team.
Narratively: What is it like to co-write a book with someone? What are the challenges and what are the bonuses of working through that process with someone else?
Stahl: This process was interesting. I interviewed Bartolo for somewhere around 12 to 14 hours total. I got the interviews transcribed, and I pulled from those interviews and pieced together what I hope is a compelling narrative. It had its share of challenges, but it was also quite a bit of fun, and I wrote the whole book in less than a month. It was an honor that Bartolo, his family, and those closest to him trusted me to deliver the story.
Narratively: What’s it like to have your first book come out during the coronavirus outbreak?
Stahl: It’s given me some worry about how my book might perform in terms of sales. But for every reason why I think coronavirus is going to negatively affect sales, I can also come up with reasons as to why it might perform better. I think the book is a great distraction from what is going on right now. It’s about baseball. It’s a really interesting and compelling dynamic story. I hope that people will gravitate towards content like this.
Narratively: Whether or not someone is a fan of Bartolo Colón, like you are, why should they get a copy of Big Sexy?
Stahl: At its core, it’s not a baseball book. It’s a book about a very complex, interesting human being who has many layers and is very personal in the book. Just Bartolo’s life story is very fascinating, inspiring and something that a lot of people can relate to. Like most people, Bartolo is complicated, with a layered personality. His biggest fans seem to believe they know him just from watching him play and hearing his interviews. That might be more true in his case than it would be with other public personalities, but, believe me, everyone, prior fans or not, will truly get to know him well by reading his book.
Narratively: What’s next for you?
Stahl: I’m shopping around a book version of a Narratively deep dive that I did about New York hardcore music in the 1990s. It’s really about New York City in transition under the Guiliani administration, and broadly about what happens to a city when it gives itself over to corporization. What you have in this case is a breakdown of a community and a whitewashing of the arts. I’ve also been covering sex and relationships for MEL Magazine and just continuing other freelance work. I also just had a story published on Narratively about how I might be falling in love, over Zoom, during the coronavirus crisis. Do give it a read.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
To spotlight all the exciting book projects out there by Narratively contributors, including Michael Stahl’s dynamic book with Bartolo Colon. we just created The Narratively Bookshop. When you buy any book from the Narratively Bookshop, 10% of the purchase price goes to Narratively, helping us publish lots more great stories, and another 10% goes to supporting independent bookstores.
If you live outside of the United States, you can purchase Big Sexy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.