La Jolla author Stephen Metcalfe, whose writing accolades include production drafts for the films “Pretty Woman,” “Dangerous Minds” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” will sign and discuss his latest novel “The Practical Navigator,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 at Warwick’s Books, 7812 Girard Ave.
After making his fiction debut with “The Tragic Age,” Metcalfe follows with his second novel, “The Practical Navigator,” which was released this month.
The tale focuses on Michael Hodge — the father of a 7-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, and the son of a woman in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s — and what happens when his estranged wife comes back into the picture. According to press material, “The ocean has become more turbulent than ever and Michel’s carefully patched together world begins to flounder and drift. Can Michael Hodge help everyone in his life find happiness without sacrificing his own? He’s not sure of that either. All he knows is that safe harbor, a sheltered haven for himself and the people he loves, is far away.”
Set in a town “similar to La Jolla,” the book uses the main character’s love of surfing to give credence to the literal and figurative ocean in his life, and mentions places like Bird Rock and the Muirlands.
Speaking with La Jolla Light, Metcalfe said, “It is about a man making his way through the important relationships in his life and navigating some (metaphorical) rough waters. Part of it is witnessing someone do the best they can with the issues they face, which I think people can relate to, because there is no one that does not try to do the right thing in these tough situations. Another issue is a parent coming to terms with a son with a disability.”
With art somewhat mimicking reality, Metcalfe’s son Wesley has an autism spectrum disorder. In 2011, Metcalfe wrote the script for the documentary “El Abuelo,” a film about a boy with autism who does not speak and befriends an elderly migrant worker who helps him “find his voice.” Wesley later starred in the film “With Me” that centered on his experience with a service dog to ease the social anxiety that comes with some forms of autism.
Wesley is now 19, and Metcalfe said, “I am so proud of him.” Drawing from the first-hand experience of a parent facing a medical uncertainty affecting their child, Metcalfe gives his protagonist a level of understanding that can only come from real life.
“The time that was the scariest for my wife (Claudia) and I as parents is when you first get the diagnosis, when you have no information. For us, that was 15 years ago, and at that time, there wasn’t nearly the amount of information there is now,” he said.
Also reflecting on the personal nature of why he got into novel-writing, Metcalfe said, “Because I started writing in college, and I was into theater, the first things I wrote were plays. The plays led to writing for the movie industry. And while I was fortunate to write for the movie business, I was doing other people’s projects. It seemed time to do my own work.”
Clinging slightly to the movie industry, Metcalfe called his appearance at Warwick’s “an opening night.”
“Unlike theater or a movie, with novels, you have no opening night, there is no audience. But by having an evening at Warwick’s, it becomes like a coming out party and that could only happen in one’s hometown,” he said. “It’s my opening night.”