Greetings, friends. It’s been a busy and hectic time around here. I guess that’s redundant but I’ve never been afraid of stating the same thing twice, even if I have to state it two times.
I did a fun Podcast with Bob Busser yesterday. Bob is a longtime arena and stadium historian on social media, and I follow his posts faithfully on Facebook. He’s been shooting photos of stadiums and sports buildings for a long time, some famous and some you’ve never heard of, but I love that sort of stuff and I always dig in when he posts something new. Great material. If, like me, you enjoy that kind of history, follow him like I do. Tell him I sent ya. What’s my personal favorite genre on his posts? Stadiums or arenas that had just closed and were about to be torn down. He’d somehow gain access to all the inner workings, including locker rooms, broadcast locations, and other stuff we never saw as fans. Very cool, and very nostalgic.
I think I’m getting better at this Podcast stuff. We had a great time with it, and it felt free and easy to me. We had such a great time, and such an easy rapport, we only covered about one-fourth of the years I can eventually cover in terms of my life in baseball and what it was like to grow up around MLB players and stars, then play college and pro ball myself, and finally my scouting years and all the stuff (not all good) that came with that job. So, I think we’ll do a few more episodes to just get through all those stories.
The Podcast is here:
I think you might enjoy it.
What the Podcast did within 24 hours was introduce me to a whole bunch of new friends who dug the show and what I had to say. Social media will do that. It’s kinda why it exists. It does a lot of horrible things completely wrong and can be very destructive (it often brings out the vile worst in people), but it does stuff like this right. It makes connections.
A lot of the people who contacted me on various platforms hadn’t heard of me or “met” me until this bit went live on YouTube, and they had a lot of questions about my history and my new book, which we plugged pretty heavily at the beginning of the segment.
Some of these I’ve answered before. Some are new. All are relevant and I’m happy to post the “Qs” and the “As” here.
I’m most happy to do it because as hard as I try to pitch the book, I think there are still some questions and trepidations within some people’s minds, regarding pulling the trigger and buying the book on Amazon. “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” had a built-in buyer base just waiting in the wings. Literally. People knew me from my NHRA blog, they supported me with the Kickstarter campaign, and they knew it would be my autobiography and a straight-forward read. It sold beyond my wildest expectations.
I think you all knew what you were going to get with that book. And it flew out of the Amazon warehouses for the first few months.
“How Far?” is both very much the same, but very different. It’s a different style of writing. It’s a different genre. What if you don’t like it?
Well, that’s kind of the beauty of creating stuff, whether it’s books, art, or music. I write what’s in my heart and in my brain, and I can only hope you like it. The reviews have been great, both on Amazon and in the papers and magazines where it has appeared, but that’s just one part of the equation. The question is: Will <YOU> like it? The second question is: Will you <BUY> it? if you haven’t already.
I’m reminded of my time as GM of the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team. As GM, I made a ton of appearances at local Lions Clubs, Kiwanis, and Rotary Club gatherings. I’d make a small speech or pitch about the team and then take questions. Invariably, and by that I mean every single time, someone would say “My kids have been begging me to take them to an Attack game for a year” as if that was supposed to cheer me up. I finally learned to say, in response, “Well if that’s the case, I think you better buy some tickets tonight and take them to a game. They’ll love it, and so will you.” I don’t know what my success rate was with that answer, but it was better than “Well that’s nice. Maybe you can take them some day.”
So yeah, I hear this a lot. “I’m going to buy your book. I just haven’t yet, but I will.”
I know life is busy and we’re all pulled in different directions. I’m no different than you. But hey… I firmly believe you’ll like it. At least I hope so. I put my heart into it and I’m proud of finding a way to do that. It’s here:
I can only hope you’ll enjoy it. And I think you will. I’m damn proud of it and so happy I dove into a whole new part of the writing universe, but in the end it’s still me and it’s still told through the lens of sports. Because, you know… “Write what you know.” It’s not just a “sports book” though. It’s got plenty of drama, emotion, and heartbreak in it, to go along with elation and happiness of the highest order. It’s just told through a sports lens.
So here are some of the things I’ve heard not just in the last 24 hours since Bob and I introduced it to his audience, but over the last few months as well. Some questions may be familiar, others not so much. I just thought it was time to string a lot of them together.
Here we go, the good the bad and the ugly.
Q. The book is pretty long. Geez! Couldn’t you have kept the page count down?
A. Yes, I could have. But then so many rich details would have been left out. I’m a huge fan of details. I don’t just write “It was a nice day on campus.” I tell you the color of the sky, what the clouds looked like, how warm it was, what my character was wearing on such a glorious spring day, all of that. I want each reader to be there, see it, smell it, and feel it.
Also, it’s not a “speed read” book. I don’t care how long it takes people to read it, I just hope you appreciate the details, the feelings, and the emotions I put into it. And… This is key: It’s really two books in one. I could have written a book about Brooks Bennett, the baseball guy. Or I could have written a book about Eric Olson, my hockey character. But I wanted to write about both of them, in their voices. That was the whole point. So just pretend you’re reading two books at once. That’s really what it is. All for the low-low price of just $29.95. It’s a bargain! As the slick hawker of wares would say on TV “Buy it now, supplies are limited!” Actually supplies aren’t limited. That’s the beauty of “print on demand publishing.” If Amazon runs out, the publisher will make more. They’ll even make just one. It’s a good system for a writer like me, but right now Amazon has them in stock. No fuss, no muss.
Q. How did you come up with the names for these guys? I think they’re perfect but I’d like to know if those are real names of people you know or if you totally made them up.
A. I totally made them up. I love alliteration. It’s a vice of mine when I’m writing. I mean “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” had to have all three words start with the same letter. And three was the magic number for that book because of the three main parts of my professional sports career: Baseball, Indoor Soccer, and Drag Racing. “How Far?” has a subtitle of “A Tale of Determination, DNA, and Drama.” See? I feel the need for alliteration.
I have known two guys named Brooks and they were both cool dudes from SoCal. So I went with that. I needed a last name that started with a B to feed my alliteration hunger. I just picked Bennett. It wasn’t until I read the feature story in the Roseau paper that I connected the dots to my mom, when the writer pointed out that her maiden name was Bennett. I’m not sure how he knew that (Research!) but that had been totally subconscious for me. I never thought of it that way, but it worked. As for Eric Olson, he had to have a “northern Minnesota” type of name. There are two types of Olsons up there. Olsen, and Olson. I picked the “Olson” version because I just liked typing it and it resonated with me for some unknown reason. Many Roseau folks have said “You got that right” so I guess I did, but the writer of the story in the Roseau paper is Jeff Olsen, so there.
Q. What possessed you to write in this style, as two guys in their own voices? What a crazy approach, but I dug it and feel like I know them.
A. I really struggled to find “the next great challenge” after the first book. Nothing seemed to click. I literally wasted about a year trying to find what I was looking for. I needed something that would consume me and keep me going. I was talking to another writer early on, and he mentioned historical fiction. He had dabbled with a Civil War story about real battles and real generals, but his Union and Confederate soldiers were totally made up. He, however, wrote in narration style as the author telling the tale. I loved the concept, but immediately knew I wanted to write it in my characters’ voices. I was just drawn to that. That’s what made me passionate about it.
I’ve told this before but I remember the 24-hour period like it was yesterday. I told Barbara about my concept, and said “I wonder if I should recruit a co-writer and we’ll each be one of the characters?” Laying in bed that night, failing at the art falling asleep (as I often do) I had some clarity. I could do it myself. I’d write it as both guys, in their own unique voices. And that leads to this question:
Q. It was pretty audacious of you to think you could go from your own life story to writing this book as two different people. It worked! But how in the world did you keep it in line and even think you could do it? I have a hard time writing a letter to my mom.
A. I guess “audacious” is the right word. I didn’t know. I didn’t have a clue. I just had confidence in myself once I knew this was the “passion project” I was looking for. Most of the outline for the stories of the two guys was just in my head. I tried following a formal outline but the characters would constantly remind me that they would act or do something different than what I had planned. So I let them lead me. It worked better that way.
The hard part was the timeline. The two fictional guys needed to keep their stories in sync, even before they met. I couldn’t have one get too far ahead of the other. It all had to mesh. That took a great deal of concentration and a few rewrites to keep it flowing without one guy running off into the future while the other was still back behind him. It wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun.
Q. I think in my heart I’m a writer. I keep journals and scribble short-story ideas, but I can’t get over the hump. How do I do what you do? It feels like I’ll never get there.
A. You write. You write every day, even if it’s just one line. Ideas, story concepts. Style concepts. I’d steer clear of “How To Be A Successful Author” books because they are aiming at the lowest common denominator (not to mention the gullible) and those rules may not fit you. I know they wouldn’t have fit me. Be yourself. And for now, just write for an audience of one. You! Try to do a character study, as if that character was going to be in a book you will someday write. Who is she (or he)? What’s she like? Where does she live? What does she look like? What’s her family like. All of the things that make up a person.
Then, go back and add detail to every answer. Does she have brown hair? OK, but is it straight or curly or wavy? Does it shine in the sun? Does she have bangs? Are her eyes as dark as her hair? Is there an actor she reminds you of?
The key thing I did for “How Far?” (since I was clueless going in) was to write those character studies for Brooks and Eric. I had to get to know them and how they acted. I needed to know their families and upbringings. I needed to really know them as people in my life, not fictitious characters. That’s what made the book work. At least for me.
Create a person. Get to know her. And keep writing. She can be based on people you have known. It’s always fun to take about five people you’ve known, who are unique, and meld them together into one new fictitious person. I did that a lot with “How Far?”
When you’re ready to step up to a short story, take the plunge. It helps to have a trusted advisor and/or editor. I could have written both of my books without my friend and editor Greg Halling, but they would be without the detailed joy of life and without much of the coherent flow I craved had I flown solo on either book. Find someone like that, who you trust and whose opinion you value without taking offense at the red ink on your work.
There are thousands of approaches to writing. And each approach has a thousand variations on how to do it. So just write. Write every single day, even if it’s just a phrase. Do it! And never throw any of it away. Save it all.
Q. You’re pretty full of yourself, aren’t you?
A. (Aside: That’s a real comment, start to finish.) I did answer the guy. I simply wrote “I guess I am. Thanks for noticing.”
But really, I’ve found that I can’t be shy about what I’m doing. I had to be proud of it or it would never have happened. I had to be proud of myself. I don’t actually think I’m “full of myself” because I’m as wracked with self-doubt as anyone. The “I’m not worthy” thoughts never go away, as do the “Who in the world is going to buy this mess?” doubts. But I’m confident. I told everyone I wasn’t sure I could write “How Far?” but deep inside I knew I could. It’s me. I’m not shy about who I am. Plus, I’m still the luckiest guy in the world. And, apparently, full of myself.
That seems like enough.
This is going to be a phenomenal weekend. Barbara and I are headed for Kansas City to attend a very special wedding. Our friend Kelsey will be staying here to be with Boofus and Buster. They love her and the feeling is mutual.
Cydney Ricker is the daughter of my former college baseball teammate and one of my former roommates, Bob “Radar” Ricker. He and I were joined annually by Lance McCord and James “Oscar” Noffke as we traveled around to enjoy a reunion every year. Our mantra was, “We’ll do this as long as we’re able, because we should.”
Radar was so proud of Cydney. She rose through the ranks in the front office for the Kansas City Chiefs in record time. I believe she’s currently the Manager of Football Communications and Administration. I can’t be sure of that. She keeps moving up the ladder. When they won the Super Bowl, she got a ring. She’s a key part of their stellar organization.
When Radar stunned us all by taking his life, we all rallied around Cydney, as well as Radar’s son John, who is Down Syndrome. Before Cydney even sent out “Save The Date” cards announcing her wedding, she contacted me, Lance, and Oscar and let us know that it would be really important for us to be there. We never hesitated. It’s an honor to be there for her.
And John is apparently going to walk her down the aisle. As I told Lance, “There won’t be enough Kleenex for that. I might just bring a whole box and we can pass it back and forth.”
There’s a get-together tomorrow night, and the wedding is Saturday. It’s “black tie” so tuxedos and formal dresses. It’s going to be a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Here’s wishing Cydney and Benton a truly special life together. Be kind. Be supportive. Love each other without reservation.
Thanks everybody. If you haven’t bought “How Far?” yet but plan to, just recall what I used to say to people at those club meetings I spoke at in support of my indoor soccer team. You’ll be supporting me and what I do. That’s a good thing, I hope.
As always, I ask you to scroll down until you see the “Like” button at the bottom of this blog. Clicking on that creates new readers and possibly new book buyers.