09/28/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
When your mother plays a nun who habitually flies like a seagull, you're probably going to get hassled at school. "I got teased, sure, but I didn't worry about it all that much," says Peter Craig, 28, whose mother, Sally Field, portrayed gravity-defying Sister Bertrille on the goofy '60s sitcom The Flying Nun. "Occasionally, a kid wanted to beat me up because he thought the show was stupid, and that was when I had a problem," adds Craig. "I was a terrible fighter."
No longer obliged to defend his two-time Oscar-winning mother's choice of roles, Craig now defends his own choice of subject matter. This month, William Morrow published The Martini Shot, Craig's first novel, the satirical tale of a son reunited with an estranged parent—who happens to be a famous Hollywood actor. Hmmmm. "In a jumbled-up way, there are some situations in the book that seem really familiar," admits Craig, who is quick to add that he has always had a wonderful relationship with his mother. Indeed, Field sometimes babysits 7-month-old Isabel, Craig's daughter with wife Amy Scatter-good, 33, a poet. "My mother has always been very supportive of me," says Craig. "She's read so many of my stories over the years, and because she's a highly emotional person, she's kind of a litmus test for how dramatic something I wrote was."
Invariably, Field gave her son's earliest efforts glowing reviews. "He was always making up little stories for me," says Field, who later encouraged her son to try writing as a career. "He would send me his work, and I would read it and go, 'Wow!' He's very gifted, though it's hard for me to be objective." Nonrelatives were just as impressed: Publishers Weekly's reviewer called The Martini Shot a "sharply observed" book by one who "clearly knows Hollywood."
Craig's childhood provided a unique vantage point from which to track Hollywood's foibles. The elder of two sons born in L.A. to Field and her high school sweetheart, Steve Craig, Peter was 6 when his parents divorced (his younger brother Eli, 26, is a budding actor). Craig split time between Field and his father, who ran a construction company. The arrangement, recalls Craig, was "a little schizophrenic. My dad was sort of a hippie and vehemently anti-Hollywood, and he always told me to be suspicious of values I got from my mother's life."
In fact, his father led the wilder life. "He lived in this pretend commune with about 30 other people," says Craig. "They'd be dancing around bonfires in the middle of the night. Eli and I were pretty excited to go there." At the same time, Craig relished tagging along on movie shoots with his mother, then just embarking on a film career that would bring her fame for movies like 1979's Norma Rae and 1984's Places in the Heart. "She was as wide-eyed and excited about everything as we were," says Craig, who got to toss a football around with Burt Reynolds, Field's boyfriend for eight years. "He was constantly diving for passes," remembers Craig; who once watched Reynolds crash into a rusty old wagon, an accident that laid him up for a couple of days. "He was the kind of guy who would throw himself off a cliff to impress my mom."
Regardless of whether he succeeded, Field married movie producer Alan Greisman in 1984. Craig, living in L.A.'s swanky Brentwood, went through a difficult phase that saw him drop out of high school. "I wasn't real motivated," he says. "But I was writing a lot." He eventually got a high school equivalency certificate and in 1991 graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in philosophy. That same year, Craig was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he took a liking to fellow student Amy Scatter-good. They were married in 1995 and now live in a small, one-bedroom apartment in—where else?—Hollywood.
In those cramped but homey quarters—between Isabel's feedings and diaper changes—Craig doggedly pecks away on a laptop, hard at work on his next novel. Though he won't say what the book is about, he insists Field will be among the first to read it. After all, says Craig, "my mother is the one who taught me to commit to something and just follow it through."
Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles