This will be a little bit unusual as compared to my normal blog writing endeavors, but it seems to be the best place to put this interesting interview I recently participated in. It was set up by my PR agency Ascot Media Group with a blogger who writes mostly about motherhood.
At first I didn’t think I’d be any kind of good fit, but once I did the interview (all by email, by the way) I could see why I think I was exactly a perfect fit. Obviously, I’ve never been a mom and never will be thanks to both gender and age, but I was fortunate enough to have a mother who inspired me, drove me, and loved me from the day I was born until she passed away.
Basically, this interview was a perfect way for me to expound on how I remember my mom. As I said in my first book Bats, Balls & Burnouts “You can’t pick your parents. I won the lottery with Taffy and Del Wilber.”
It also allowed me to speak about the value of mentors. I’ve had a few and don’t know where I’d be today without them.
And finally, I used the platform to once again preach the adage “If you think you should write a book, write a book!” It’s that simple.
Here it is… I’ll post a link on Facebook after it goes “live” next week.
If you loved your mom, or are lucky enough to still give her a hug and let her know how priceless she is, I think you’ll like this.
If you do, please click the “Like” button at the bottom!
Thank you, and yes I think about my mom nearly every day.
Bob Wilber is the son of a former Major League Baseball player and a mother who guided him and motivated him while she shattered glass ceilings in male-dominated industries, working as a reporter at KMOX Radio (a CBS clear-channel flagship in St. Louis) then joining the St. Louis Cardinals in their front office, before starting her own successful Public Relations firm. Bob earned a full athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and later played professional baseball himself. His newest book How Far? (published by Outskirts Press in 2022) is in the historical fiction genre. It followed his initial foray into authorship with his autobiography Bats, Balls & Burnouts (Outskirts Press – 2017.) Prior to retiring from the working world at 60, after a long career in professional sports and sports marketing, Wilber dedicated himself to adapting his well-known writing style into new areas. How Far? was published earlier this year to rave reviews.
Q) You came from what has to be considered a substantial sports family. Who had more impact on you, your mother or your father?
A) They both molded me and guided me until the day they died, after long and successful careers. I would never have gotten a free college education, graduating from SIUE with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, without the baseball genes my father Del Wilber passed on to me. Just as importantly, it was my mother, Taffy Wilber, who instilled in me the love for the written word and the desire to keep stretching and keep getting better. Both of my parents were inspirational and very much mentors of mine, but the writing part evolved because of my mom’s amazing abilities. I’ve been a writer since childhood and was first published in a St. Louis sports magazine as a teenager. Now here I am in my mid-60s as a twice-published author. There’s a lot of my mom in me, for sure.
Q) How did you make the leap from the more technical “AP Style” writing, as a PR person, to authorship?
A) It was a big leap. I’d honed my craft for decades as a PR person and a sports marketing guy. I did way more than my fair share of press releases, feature stories, proposals, and magazine columns. The last 22 years of my career were unexpectedly wonderful, in the world of NHRA Championship Drag Racing, as a manager and PR rep for a couple of Nitro Funny Car drivers on the NHRA tour, and I became fairly well known doing that. I wrote a blog on the official NHRA website, just being me and telling readers what it was like to be on the road and “behind the ropes” at 24 NHRA races a year. I was a nobody when I took on that challenge, and my wife Barbara thought I was nuts to try it, but it ended up being the most popular blog in the sport and I had about 10,000 regular readers, who apparently liked my insight into the travel, the friendships, the nonsense, and the stress of drag racing. By 2015, the travel part of the equation was wearing me out. I made the decision to retire from that and spread out my skills into writing books. Bats, Balls & Burnouts came first, published in 2017, and it was my autobiography, covering my entire life from my earliest memories to the end of my career. My parents are a huge part of it, and it leaves no doubt that I was a “Momma’s Boy” from birth. I was the youngest of five kids, and very ill with serious asthma and allergies as a child. My dad was my idol, but his baseball career kept him away from home for most of each year. My mom cared for me, took me to all the doctors, and guided me through all of that. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it weren’t for Taffy Wilber.
Q) So, your first book was a hit and it was time for a second one. How did you decide what the next great writing challenge would be?
A) That’s exactly how I saw it. What would be the next great challenge? The autobiography made me a better writer. I could have reasonably said “OK, I did that. I wrote and published a book. I’ll just fully retire now” but I didn’t. I wanted a new challenge. A new mountain to climb. And I wanted to push myself into a new genre that used totally different “writing muscles” as I called them. As an athlete, I knew how to use new muscles to improve my baseball performance. As a writer, I knew fiction would be a complete switch. I landed on the historical fiction genre because it seemed so intriguing to me. I wrote How Far? in the distinct voices of my two fictional characters, who are completely different guys, alternating chapters as if they wrote it themselves. It was surreal to do that. Before I was 10 chapters in I felt like I actually knew these two guys and they were telling me what to write. Brooks Bennett is a gifted baseball pitcher from Southern California. He is a Momma’s boy and proud of it, and he deeply loves both of his parents. Eric Olson is a hockey player from the northern tier of Minnesota, where hockey is literally a way of life. His parents are different, and very stoic in that Minnesota Scandinavian way, but they put every ounce of energy they had into raising good kids in Roseau, Minnesota. That’s the joy of historical fiction. My two protagonists are fictional, but Roseau and high school hockey there are very real. The same thing goes for Brooks, who grew up on the beaches of Southern California, and whose parents are artists. I did as much research for the book as I did writing. It had to be right. It had to be accurate. I visited Roseau twice, and met everyone from the guy who installs the ice at the arena to the Mayor. I toured Orange County and SoCal to find the exact places that felt real for Brooks. He had to be there, and I had to get it right. When I describe his home or his school, they are real places. I saw them and thought “This is it.” There’s a lot of me in each character, and in the book I have these guys wind their way through their chosen sports, achieving more than they ever expected but dealing with a lot of drama and pitfalls along the way. I know this life. I wrote it as best I could and the readers seem to like it. The reviews are the reward for all the hard work.
Q) You were 60 when you wrote your first book, and 66 by the time How Far? was finished and published. Is that as amazing as it sounds?
A) It wasn’t amazing to me. For some audacious reason I just knew I could do it. Each book was a whole new style of writing, but I relished that. I’ve always wanted to get better, and to get to a championship level whether I was playing sports or promoting drag racing teams. I was constantly moving the goal posts another 10 yards away, and would look for the way I could improve and make a mark for myself. Age had nothing to do with it. I mean that. Had I tried this at 40 or 50 I might have failed. Excelling at PR work and writing creatively built what I’ve eventually become. I don’t feel 66. Well, my knees do, but my brain doesn’t and I’m better off not looking in the mirror each morning. I feel like I’m absolutely in the prime of my writing life. I worked hard at it. I believed in myself. And I constantly worked at getting better at this craft. I’m proud of what I’ve done no matter what the birthdate on my driver’s license says. Not bad for an old washed-up minor league ballplayer, right?
Q) You certainly must have had other mentors. Who impacted your style the most?
A) I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. Without mentors, and without being surrounded by very talented people whose skills I tried to absorb by osmosis, I wouldn’t be in this position today. I had talent, but just like in baseball I had to hone it and polish it. You sign your first professional contract and think you’re going to rule the baseball world. Now, I look back on that and realize I was just an untamed horse. I had no clue what I was doing against guys who were at a whole new level. I was just trying to be a good ballplayer and survive, without really knowing how to do that. It’s the same with my writing. I cringe when I look back to my earliest days in PR. I over-wrote everything, thinking it had to be spectacular. What it really needed to be was good. Phil Burgess is still the editor of NHRA.com and National Dragster Magazine. He was truly my first mentor, but in a respectful way that allowed me to see what he did, and how he wove a story. I respect him and thank him to this day, and he taught me a lot about how to structure a story and not go overboard just for the sake of being flowery. Greg Halling was a newspaper reporter for a number of papers in Kansas, and he always attended and covered our races in that part of the country. I guess he saw something in my style and that made a big impression on him and that made an impression on me. I felt the respect and I returned it. Greg is now the executive editor of three papers in Washington state. He’s been my style editor, my sounding board, my mentor, and my dear friend through both of my books. He was the first person I contacted to see if he’d be willing to hold my hand and keep me on track for both books. Between Greg and Phil, I’ve absorbed enough style and knowledge to become a decent author. They are both incredible mentors.
Q) How do your describe your new book How Far? Is it a sports book?
A) I call it a life book, told through a sports lens. My two characters are still in my head. They live there rent-free, but I really miss those long months of sitting down to write their chapters, thinking “OK guys, where are we going today? Is it all rainbows, or are there storms on the horizon?” It’s all about life. Most people, and by that I mean women, men, business people, parents, athletes, or fans, understand the challenges of different sports. Life is not easy, even when you’re making a lot of money to play the same sport you played as a kid. Life is hard. Things happen. Real life intervenes. That is the spirit and message in How Far? I love the characters and I made them up based a little bit on my own life but mostly about many of the people around me. They seem real to me. I’m touched when people tell me that they laughed out loud and cried within a few paragraphs while reading it. Heck, I laughed and cried when I wrote it. It may be fiction, but it’s very near and dear to me. It’s a mirror of life in the way I was fortunate enough to grow up. They say you can’t pick your parents. I won the lottery in that regard.
Q) What would you say to anyone reading this who aspires to stretch those writing muscles you mentioned?
A) Don’t be afraid. You will fail to score on 100% of the shots you never take. Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve experienced all of it, but if I never had the nerve to be audacious and announce to the world around me that I wasn’t just a writer anymore, I was an author, none of this would’ve happened. Be bold. Be realistic. Be a sponge. Absorb all of it you can find. Learn every day. Work those muscles.
Both of Bob Wilber’s books can be found on Amazon.
He continues to write his blog on the website that supports the Wilber family’s charity, in honor of their parents Del and Taffy. It can be found at perfectgamefound.org
Bob’s bio and background can be seen at his website: bobwilber.net
Bob Wilber and his wife Barbara Doyle live in the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, Minnesota