PW: I love how “Turf” describes the battle for control of landscaping business in this epic way. Shed light on how this story came to exist. Did you start out with a narrator, with the great characters of Mario and Stacy, or something else, and at what point was the violence included?
JD: Right before I wrote “Turf” I was reading a lot about the Civil War because I’d been working on a short piece of historical fiction that took place during that time. The other thing that happened is that on Thursday mornings, in the L.A. neighborhood I live in, gardening crews descend on my street. You can’t sleep past seven in the morning because of mowers and leaf blowers and the chattering going on outside. There’s like six different, non-related crews, and for whatever reason, they all end up here on that one day of the week, taking care of the various houses on the street.
Every so often I’ll have coffee on my porch and watch all these guys working, and the notion just sort of formed in my mind about a Civil War type struggle for control of the neighborhood territory. That idea automatically came with intense violence.
Mario was my gardener’s name. I inherited his services. He’d been taking care of this house’s lawn for more than thirty years, for the original owner of the house, her son who later owned it, and then for my wife and I when we bought it. The real Mario was well into his sixties, chain smoked and spoke very little English. He was a very nice and sweet man, who always did a great job for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, he passed earlier this year. His son now operates the business and continues to do stellar work.
So that’s what I started writing with, and then “Turf” morphed into what it is. The idea of the narrator happened naturally, like a soldier who lived through the war telling you the story. Stacy came later in the story, in a second draft, I think. Stacy was my grandfather’s middle name, and while the character isn’t based on him, I just like the name for a man. It rings a bell from a different era.