How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days

After She’s on First was published in 1987, I spent more than a year avoiding writing a nonfiction book on women who played baseball. Finally, toward the end of 1988, I decided I would write such a book. It would, I figured, take me a year to do all the research.

Ha!

It took four years of daily research, travel, and interviews before I felt I had enough material to tell the story of 100 years of women playing baseball. In 1992 my agent sold my book proposal to Harcourt — and Harcourt gave me 92 days in which to write the manuscript.

After I wrote the manuscript, I wrote an article about the 92-day experience. “How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days” was published in the 1994 Writer’s Yearbook. I’m reprinting the article below.

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Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it certainly is faster. I needed two full years to write my first book, a novel about a female baseball player. Writing the novel led to what eventually became my fourth book, the real story of women who played baseball. After I developed a proposal for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, my agent submitted it.

On Sunday, July 12, 1992, my agent, Jane Jordan Browne, called from her office to say that a 19-page sample contract had arrived from Harcourt Brace Company via fax, and that while she was negotiating and modifying the contract, I should know that I had only until October 15, 1992, to write the manuscript. According to editor John Radziewicz, this was a “drop-dead” deadline.

Elated at the contract, but stunned by the deadline, I counted the squares on my wall calendar. Exactly ninety-five of them from Monday, July 13 through Thursday, October 15. But three of them were filled with day-long events, leaving me ninety-two days to write a 50,000-word book and collect at least fifty photographs of female baseball players.

No time to panic or complain. That very Sunday I sat down and figured it out, day by day. The 27 chapters listed in my proposal (each chapter containing two, three, or four sidebars) were organized into four sections, each with an introduction. Counting each introduction as a chapter, I had 31 chapters. This gave me a smidgen less than three days to write each chapter and its accompanying sidebars. That night I went to sleep knowing the next morning was critical: I would start off right and keep on schedule.



Monday, July 13 , Day 1 — My schedule calls for me to write from 7:30 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., exercise from 2:00 until 3:30, answer correspondence, return phone calls, and run errands from 3:30 until 6:00, and then write again from 6:00 until … whenever.

At 7:42 A.M. I face the computer and begin Chapter 2. (Chapter 1, the sample chapter of my book proposal, is written, so I’m three days ahead of schedule already!) Chapter 2 is the shortest in the book and I finish it by 7:30 P.M. of Day 1. Hot damn!

Later, I type a long list of possible photos and their probable sources for Sharon Johnson, a friend who works as my research assistant five hours a week.

Monday, July 20 , Day 7— Chapter 4 completed, I place it in a green file folder that I nestle into a bright yellow pocket folder. Four of the yellow pockets sit on a shelf, each representing one section of Women at Play. On the two shelves above the yellow pockets sit eight linear feet of folders stuffed with photocopies of old newspaper articles, letters, diaries, and notes from baseball books — the history of women in baseball, 1872 to the present, and the product of my research so far.

Tuesday, July 28 , Day 15 — After reading comments on Section One from Jane and from my husband, Phil Passen, I rewrite the six chapters and introduction. By 9:15 P.M., I’m printing out the last of the rewritten chapters and am an amazing six days ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 12 , Day 30— Late in the evening I finish Chapter 10. The sidebars are fun: I write them first because they serve as a warmup to the chapter.

But Section Two is turning out longer than I thought. Worried about keeping the manuscript to a reasonable size, I consider deleting a chapter from Section Three and another from Section Four. I make no decision.

imagesTuesday, August 18 , Day 36 — At 7:00 A.M. I launch into the introduction for Section Two. Around 11:30, I break for lunch. As I’m eating a slice of pizza, I hear a loud Crack and feel something dreadfully wrong in my mouth.

I have broken my upper left bicuspid (tooth number twelve, I later learn). Some pain, but not much. Returning to the computer, I finish writing the introduction. I work until 2:00, as scheduled. At 2:01 I call the dentist, who tells me to come in at 4:30.

Thursday, August 20 , Day 38 — By the time I rewrite chapters 7-12, write the cover letter, make copies, and mail Section Two, I’m three days ahead of schedule.

Saturday, August 22 — Today doesn’t count: it’s the third of the Chicago White Sox 1992 seminars on women in baseball and I’m one of the speakers. Phil’s birthday is August 24, but we go out to celebrate tonight. It feels wonderful to have a whole day off.

Monday, August 24 , Day 41 — At approximately 9:30 P.M., as we’re lying in bed, we hear a strange sound — thousands of gallons of water rushing down the heating-cooling duct that runs behind my desk and in front of my fax machine.

Water flows down the walls: in the office, the bedroom, the baths, and the foyer. Working frantically, we move machines and boxes off the floor and out of my office. We sling old towels on the sodden carpeting and stomp on them: they turn yellowish-green from the coolant-filled water. A condo maintenance person with a wet vac arrives around 11:30 and begins extracting water. He informs us that a coupling in the air conditioning pipes broke in the unit above us.

At 12:15 we fall into bed, utterly exhausted. Phil moans, “Why did this have to happen on my birthday?” I moan, “Why did this have to happen during my book?”

large-paper-stack1Wednesday, August 26 — This is not a writing day. Sharon and I meet for breakfast and she shows me photos of female ballplayers. We then drive to Rockford, Illinois, where we read 1943-54 microfilmed newspaper articles on the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Exhausted, we drive home.

The carpet cleaners have come and gone, leaving disinfected carpet and three huge blower fans in their wake. Unfortunately, they have also stacked bookcases, chairs, and boxes of computer paper in the kitchen. Phil is out of town. I spend 45 minutes hauling boxes and bookcases out of the kitchen.

It will be a miracle if I finish writing Section Three on time.

Monday, August 31, Day 47 — I now see that two of the final six chapters won’t work. Rewriting my outline, I end up with 25 chapters instead of 27, the two former chapters becoming sidebars. I feel confident that the final outline works. In addition, it makes up for some of my lost time. In the evening I begin to write Chapter 13.

Tuesday, September 8, Day 55— Tackling Chapter 16, I recognize that in order to finish the manuscript on time, I must spend more hours of the day writing. Reluctantly I jettison exercising and cooking dinner.

Civility is the next to go. When telephone solicitors call and ask how I am, I growl, “Call me after October 15” into the phone and hang up.

Wednesday, September 16, Day 63— Chapter 18 is looking good, but lack of exercise is making me tired. I’m sick of home-delivery food. Sharon started medical-technician school full-time yesterday and tells me that she can’t even make phone calls while at school. It appears that I’ll have to finish the remaining photo research by myself.

Despite everything, I wake up eager to write. The good feeling usually vanishes by 4:30 P.M. — then resolve alone keeps me going.

Tuesday, September 29, Day 76— Another long, late day. I begin at 7:45 A.M. and finish at 9:15 P.M. But I complete the rewrite of the third and longest section. I’m now two days behind schedule.

Wednesday, September 30, Day 77— The home stretch. I confront Chapter 22. Every day I spend two hours making calls to procure photos. Instead of filing each piece of paper as it crosses my desk, I toss everything into a huge cardboard box. Come October 16, I’ll regret the mess I’ve created, but right now I’m probably gaining 20 or 30 minutes of writing time a day.

Sunday, October 11, Day 88— The knowledge that this is the last weekend of my ordeal enables me to start writing at 9:00 A.M. and continue all day until 10:30 P.M., wrapping up Chapter 24. Victory is in sight.

Wednesday, October 14, Day 91— Adrenalin kicks in. I write the introduction to Section Four and then rewrite it. In the evening I curl up on the couch with Chapters 22-25 and go through them with a red pen, making changes.

Thursday, October 15, Day 92— I start work at 6:30 A.M. Five hours later, the last rewritten chapter curls out from the printer. I’m euphoric. I call Jane to tell her I finished. I’m on a roll. I call John to tell him I finished and the final section is on its way via Federal Express.

It would be comforting to think that my 92-day writing marathon, replete with minor and major catastrophes, is an abnormality, something that won’t happen again. And frankly, if I stick to writing fiction, it may not. The truth is, however, that the writing of truth is changing.

Thanks to new computer technology allowing for use of the author’s “captured keystrokes” and for design of the book and production of page proofs in a matter of days, and thanks to the competitiveness of the market place on hot topics, more and more nonfiction books will be produced in a shorter time. Under such circumstances, publishers want the author to write the book in less than a year — in three months, even.

I was able to meet my “drop-dead” deadline and live to tell about it, but only because I developed a schedule that put me on track to complete specific chapters by specific dates. Writing to schedule made me write faster and produce more. When really pressed, I was able to write a chapter in two days and, on two occasions, one day. As a result, I was able to complete a book I had spent years researching. Sort of like a utility player who, when called in to play shortstop during a crucial game, comes through because she knows the fundamentals — and applies them.

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In August 2016 Barbara Gregorich donated her thousands of pages of research materials to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But many of the notes are available in book form, in Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball — Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

Cooperstown Bound: Third Time’s a Trip

Last month Phil and I made our third trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The first two trips were mainly pleasure trips in which we saw and enjoyed baseball history as preserved and presented by the Hall. The third trip was part pleasure, but mostly business — its main purpose was to turn over to the Library of the BHOF all of my thousands of pages of research notes on women in baseball, and also on Jack Graney and his bull terrier Larry, mascot of the Cleveland major league team 1912-17. (You can read about Jack Graney here.)

By donating these research notes to the NBHOF I will be making them accessible to researchers all over the world. Some of them, such as old newspaper clippings, can be found elsewhere by diligent research (though in separate places around the world, not all filed together as they are in my notes). But others, such as my interviews with Joe Dellacqua, Mary Gilroy Hockenberry, Wilma Briggs, Dottie Collins, and dozens of others, are unique: they can’t be found anywhere else except, now, the Library of the NBHOF.

Truth be told, I’m delighted that the NBHOF Library wants these research notes and will make them accessible to all. Donating them allows me to help others. After 28 years, it also relieves me of the responsibility of answering researchers’ questions about women in baseball between 1883 and 1993. Being relieved allows me to go forward with other projects and interests.

I started my research at the beginning of 1988 and finished in July of 1992, the same month I signed a contract with Harcourt Brace to publish Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. The contract gave me a mere 92 days to write the book, and another three weeks after that to write the credits, captions, and permissions. The book was published in March, 1993.

During my four years of research, I created categories for what I was discovering. I kept my files in order, each sheet of paper within the proper file folder, each folder within the proper pocket, each pocket in the correct chronological order. But when I was confronted with a 92-day deadline in which to write a 50,000 word book that contained 99 photos, order rapidly disintegrated. Each day I worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.— writing, rewriting, then rewriting once again. Under these circumstances, I had neither the time, the energy, or the interest to correctly refile all the notes I was frantically pulling out of various files each time I needed to check my facts.

By the time Women at Play was published in 1993, my files were . . . let’s just say they were no longer in order. And the very day the book was reviewed in The New York Times (March 4, 1993), I started receiving more information to supplement what I already knew. And the piles of new information I received were molehills compared to the mountains of questions I received via email, all of them inquiries about particular players, dates, games, etc. Each day for a couple of years I dug deep into my notes in order to answer questions . . . what had been a jumble grew into a sprawling mess.

IMG_3137As I accumulated even more information and more notes, I stored file boxes in the storage locker . . . under the bed . . . in the exercise room . . . and of course in my office.

After the NBHOF Library asked if I would be willing to donate my research notes, and I agreed to do so, I chose a year in which I would turn my files over: Summer, 2016. At that time I didn’t know how many file boxes I would end up with. At least three, I was certain, and maybe seven. That’s why I scheduled my file-collecting work to start in November 2015, so that I would have from seven to nine months to get the files in order.

I finished the first file box toward the end of November. I finished the second toward the end of December. I was on a roll! I would finish by the end of March or April and take the rest of the spring and summer off!

But then life, as usual, intervened. In late December of 2015 I was asked by the Private Eye Writers of America if I was willing to be a judge for the Best First Private Eye Novel Award, to be presented at the Bouchercon in September 2016 — judges’ votes due May 31, 2016. I said yes, thinking that the reading of first private eye novels would not take too much of my time.

IMG_3350Such was not the case. Even though there were only 20-some books to read and evaluate, the fact is that reading and evaluating takes more than twice as long as merely reading. So I didn’t finish the third file box until the end of February, 2016. But as I finished that particular box, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. First, I could see that my remaining research notes would occupy two more file boxes: no more. From the vantage point of February, I thought I could finish the last two boxes by mid-June.

Confession time. As I organized my files for the NBHOF, if I encountered any difficulties, I immediately shoved the difficulties aside, telling myself I would deal with them at the end of the project. Gotta keep things moving forward, you know. Which means that putting Box #4 together was a lot more difficult than putting Boxes 1 and 2 together: many of the things I shoved aside had to be decided upon by the fourth box. So I didn’t finish the fourth file box until mid-June.

Our hotel reservations for Cooperstown were set for late August, and I had already set a date of delivering the files to the Library on August 22. After I finished Box #4, I had nine weeks left in which to start and finish the fifth (final!) box.

Box #5 was the most time-consuming of all, because it contained my interview notes. For most of the interviews I had conducted between 1988 and 1992, I immediately typed the notes after I finished the interviews. While I spoke to the person, I took handwritten notes. When we finished talking, I swiveled my chair from my desk to my computer, opened a new word processing file on my Mac, and typed everything into a document. I would say that I did this for almost 90% of my interviews. But there were a few interviews, conducted late in the game, perhaps while I was writing the manuscript, that I never typed up at all.

IMG_4483Back when I was typing the interview notes, spellcheck did not exist. So any typos I made stayed in the document and  in  its subsequent upgrades to new word processing programs. I didn’t want to present notes full of typos to the NBHOF: so my main job in putting together the interview notes was to run each document through spellcheck. And then to standardize the documents’ margins, pagination, and typefaces, so that they would look like they were part of a set.

Of course I had to type up the handwritten interview notes that had somehow escaped my standard procedure twenty-eight years ago. Box #5 took longer than I thought it would — but I finished it before the end of July, 2016.

And on August 22, 2016, I delivered the five boxes to the BHOF Library.

I don’t know yet what my next book will be.

I do know that whatever it is, I will not accumulate thousands of pages of notes on it!

______________________

Some of Barbara Gregorich’s research notes (those covering the years from 1875 to 1934) can be found in Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball.

Presenting to the Public: The Golden Rule

Like many writers I supplement my income and increase the sale of my books by presenting programs to the public. Usually, but not not always, my programs are related to one or more of my books. Experience has taught me that an audience loves to see photos of what I’m talking about, so ever since Apple introduced Keynote (Powerpoint’s superior cousin), I’ve taken the time to build Keynote presentations.

Today most speakers/presenters take advantage of modern technology and use graphics, movement, and sound to enhance the content of their programs. Yet despite the age we live in, many presenters fail to meet the grade. As one who goes to talks given by others, I find myself more often disappointed than not, and the reason I’m most often disappointed is that the presenter reads his or her talk.

I find this totally boring and incredibly annoying. If you’re an author (or a teacher, historian, musician, scientist, whatnot) and you intend to present to the public, think thrice about reading out loud.

Did the person who hired you ask, “Would you be willing to read a speech to our patrons?” Or: “Can you come to our event and read out loud the notes you’ve typed into your Powerpoint/Keynote program?”

I’ll bet not one Outreach Director or Program Coordinator in history has ever made this request.

So: Don’t. Read. Speeches. to. the. Audience!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fast reader and a good comprehender of what I read. If you intend to take 60 minutes to read a talk to me, I much prefer you give me a copy of the talk so that I can go sit in a corner, read it in 15 minutes, and then use the other 45 minutes to do something exciting.

At the Bloomingdale Public Library, Illinois, with my favorite roadie, Phil Passen

At the Bloomingdale Public Library, Illinois, with my favorite roadie, Phil Passen

In giving presentations, I feel it’s my obligation to give the kind of talk I myself would love to see and hear. See. And hear. Thus I put together visuals, I add transitions and movement, and I use the logic of events or the logic of story to carry my visuals forward, so that I can simply glance at the screen and see what’s coming next.

I speak directly to the audience. I move around. I make eye contact. I use humor.

Do people actually want this?

You know what the answer is.

I recently gave one of my most popular presentations, When Women Played Baseball: The Story of Margaret, Nellie, and Rose, at the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee, Illinois. Several weeks later, the Adult Programming Specialist kindly shared with me the remarks that patrons made on their evaluation sheets. Here are some of their comments.

• interesting, good presenter, good graphics
• excellent research, brought Nellie, Rose and Margaret to life, fun facts
• very interesting, fun
• informative, told stories, knowledgeable, loved her topic
• speaker was super, kept my attention
• entertaining, informative
• the historical slides and the humor
• very impressive, Barbara’s knowledge and facts; the flow she talks with, not just ‘notes;
• enthusiasm; knowledgeable
• excellent; very knowledgeable in the subject, enthusiastic; great slides
• informed, enthused; engaged with audience; humorous; lively; much expression
• very prepared and great pace
• entertaining; funny
• knows her stuff and enjoys sharing it
• loved her knowledge and enthusiasm; but also her physical presentation; very cute “slides” and use of quotations; excellent
• enthusiastic about her subject

This is a long list. I print it not to brag about my presentation, but to help you, if you intend to speak or present in public. Look over the list and notice what stands out:

Knowledge
Enthusiasm
Humor
Visuals
Pacing
Story

These are what I want to see and hear when I attend somebody’s talk. And so they are what I give to others when I’m the speaker. Give unto others as you would have them give unto you.

If you’re going to present to the public, work on your presentation until it’s rich and full. Until it shimmers like a gem. Until it wows the audience. You will please people, and you will be invited to give more presentations — at which, being a writer, you can sell more of your books.

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Barbara Gregorich enjoys sharing what she knows about writing mysteries in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. And, she gives a related 60-minute presentation titled Thinking Like a Mystery Writer.

Writing My First Novel: Part 2

So after I overcame the grief of killing off a character and once again tackled the writing of She’s on First, I had four chapters to go. And I was still working full time. I finished the four chapters in five months. Voila! A completed manuscript!

Finishing a manuscript is quite an accomplishment, but as any writer who wants to be published knows, that first step, difficult as it is, is often easier than getting published.

I set out to find an agent. Using Literary Market Place, I found the names of reputable agents and wrote short (less than a full page) query letters to three at a time, describing my novel and asking if they would like to see the manuscript. I also wrote to agents who weren’t listed in LMP but who were listed in other sources, specifically in writer’s magazines. This, as it turned out, was a beginner’s mistake.

Few agents responded. One who did respond asked to see my manuscript. He was not listed in Literary Market Place. This was a warning I should have heeded. I was so thrilled that an editor wanted to read my story that I paid no attention to warning  signs. After I mailed him my manuscript, the agent then failed to communicate. When I asked him to return my manuscript, he said he lost it. Never in my life have I been so grateful for backup: I had a carbon copy. Not long after I learned the agent had lost my manuscript, I purchased my first computer, a Macintosh. I re-typed the manuscript on the computer, backed it up on a floppy disk, and once again started out to find a reputable and responsible agent.

A Chicago writers organization sponsored a talk and interview with agent Jane Jordan Browne. I went to hear her and was impressed with what she had to say. So I sent her a query letter, and she asked to see my manuscript.

After Jane read She’s on First, she said she would represent it if I rewrote it, cutting 100 pages out of the total. The manuscript was 406 pages long, which meant I had to cut it to 306 pages. “Cut the deadwood,” she advised.

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It was up to me, of course, to determine what was deadwood. And that in itself was an interesting lesson. I sat down with a red pen and began to cross out sentences and paragraphs that didn’t advance the story. That took several days. Then I  began rewriting. When I finished, my manuscript was 304 pages long. I had managed to cut 102 pages.

I sent the rewritten manuscript back to Jane and she accepted it. But Jane did not have an especially easy time trying to sell She’s on First. Mostly she received rejects saying that the story was enjoyable — but that “the public” did not want to read about a female baseball player.

I, meanwhile, attended the American Bookseller Association’s Conferences each year (the ABA annual event is now called Book Expo) to look at the new crop of fiction, to study publishers, and to meet editors. One year I was thrilled to see that a novel about a woman hockey player was being prominently displayed. This made me feel that a novel about a woman baseball player might be looked at with interest by editors.

sc00160a8fThe novel about the woman hockey player apparently didn’t do well, which caused even more editors to turn down She’s on First. Finally, though, more than two years after Jane had accepted my story, she sold hardcover rights to Contemporary Books, a Chicago nonfiction publisher which was branching out into fiction.

She’s on First was published in hardcover in 1987, and I was super-excited when my first novel came out. I had an autographing at Kroch’s and Brentano’s the very first day, and other autographings in different states the entire year.

The following year She’s on First came out in mass market paperback. Paperjacks, the Canadian publisher which bought paperback rights, made She’s on First their lead novel of the month, and as I was driving across the Midwest and Southwest on an extended trip, I saw my first novel in paperback racks everywhere, including tiny little drugstores in tiny little towns. That was exciting.

One year later, She’s on First was published in Japan.

sc00161e3eIn the US, the hardcover edition sold out within a year. There was no second printing, probably because the mass market paperback was available. After my novel was out of print, my agent made sure the rights reverted to me. She did this by writing to the publisher and having them send a formal reversion-of-rights letter. This was around the year 1990.

After that, She’s on First was out of print for twenty years. During those twenty years, there were three movie options on the book, but none came to fruition. Two publishers expressed interest in reprint rights, but nothing came of that.

During the twenty years that She’s on First was out of print, I wrote many other books. I thought my first novel would remain out of print forever, available only in used bookstores and on eBay. Then came the revolution in the publishing world: digital publishing and Print on Demand, making it possible for any individual to self-publish a book. In 2010, I self-published my very first CreateSpace book, and, fittingly, that book was my first novel, She’s on First.

With self-publishing, the writer is in control. So, as writer, I restored a small scene about a female umpire — this had been cut from the hardcover version in 1986. It gave me great pleasure to restore this scene — to show that there’s more than one way for a woman to be on the baseball field, and to show that those who are discriminated against usually feel solidarity with one another.

The second thing I did once I was in charge of republishing my own novel was to put a different cover on it. By 2010 both previous covers looked dated. So I searched for photos of women playing baseball and found the one I wanted. I paid for one-time use of the photo and asked writer-illustrator friend Robin Koontz to design the cover.

The result is my favorite version of my first novel.

KindleCover-SOFI’m not sure that I expected book reviews with the reprint of She’s on First, but as it turned out, the book was reviewed, as a reprint of course.

Another big surprise to me was that on the 25th anniversary of the publication of She’s on First, Patrick Reardon wrote a review of it on his blog, The Pump Don’t Work. Twenty. Five. Years. I wasn’t paying any attention to this anniversary, but certainly should have been. I’m very grateful that Patrick Reardon was paying attention.

Writing a first novel is a daunting proposition. It’s a long road across uncharted (by you) country. You’ve never driven a vehicle before, you’ve never crossed this land before. Unknowns everywhere.

But both the newness of the experience and the blank landscape of the country can be conquered. If you were driving a journey of 10,000 miles, you would of necessity break it up into individual days. Say your goal is to drive 500 miles a day. That’s a twenty day trip. You take it one day at a time, confronting that day’s obstacles as they come up.

Writing a novel is similar. You have a journey of, say, 300 pages. You can make the trip in 300 days or, if you’re very lucky, 150 days. Even 75 days, though most first novels aren’t written that quickly. With a rough outline before you, you know where to go each day. You sit down at the computer and write.

Sort of like a batter steps up to the plate and hits.

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You can read reviews of She’s on First here.

Writing My First Novel: Part 1

KindleCover-SOFBefore I wrote She’s on First, I had only two college courses on writing: nothing like the richness of fiction writing courses offered today. I had no fiction-writing workshops, either. As I tell students when I teach novel-writing workshops, it’s possible to write a novel without having taken courses in novel-writing.

But I was guided by two factors, the first of which is that by the time I was in my early 30s I had read approximately 3,000 novels of all kinds, from the greatest literature (Virgil, Dickens, Austen, Twain, Faulkner, etc.) to the lowliest pulp (mystery and adventure novels that are better left unnamed). For at least two decades I usually read three novels a week.

If you want to write fiction, then reading fiction is paramount to your training. By the time you’ve read 500 or more novels, you will have absorbed patterns, even though you may not be able to name these patterns. This knowledge will help guide you through the construction of your own novel.

The other factor that guided me through the writing of my first novel was that after I knew I was ready to write a novel, but before I actually started to write it, I walked to the local library and began taking out books on how to write the novel. This was in the early 1980s, and even back then the library had close to 40 books on the single topic of writing a novel. I spent days in the stacks, taking notes. I probably spent three or four months reading and studying the how-to-write-a-novel books.

calendar 2013One of the how-to books I read back then explained how to write a book in 365 days, so that became my goal (though I didn’t make it — more about that later). Today I’m amused at how much “more” is expected of beginning writers: several recent how-to books promise to show you how to write a novel in 30 days!

In addition to reading 40 or so books on how to write a novel, I also read at least that number of baseball books and baseball instruction manuals (how to play each position, where the cutoff man goes on a particular play, and so on). I paid particular attention to how baseball players think and talk: the way they see the world, as evidenced by what they say when they (or ghostwriters) write a book.

Another thing I did was research women in sports. I was interested in a woman playing on what is perceived of as a “men’s team,” but there was no literature relating to this situation. I do remember reading everything I could about Billie Jean King and her match with Bobby Riggs, even though tennis is not a team sport like baseball is. And I also read whatever I could about female sports reporters: what situations they faced in simply trying to do their jobs. What these reporters faced seemed most like what Linda Sunshine (my story’s hero) would face, and I got many of my ideas from reading about the reporters.

One of the pieces of advice many how-to-write-a-novel books give is that you should have both the beginning and the ending firmly in mind before you begin writing. The “middle” (usually 80-90% of the book) is something you can outline before you begin to write, or something you can invent as you go along.

In grade school I learned how to outline using Roman numerals as well as capital- and lower-case letters. But I was not thrilled with the idea of outlining my novel in this manner. This process seemed so t-e-d-i-o-u-s. But I did understand the need for “an outline,” as opposed to “outlining,” and so I created a quick, scrawled outline for She’s on First. Taking three sheets of blank paper, I divided each into thirds horizontally. This gave me nine horizontal sections, and I numbered them 1-9, for the nine chapters.

Then, in the horizontal spaces, I jotted thoughts for each chapter. Basically, these scrawled notes were about the events and conflicts in each chapter, the POV character in each chapter, and the forward movement of the baseball season. I felt comfortable with this non-outline and referred to it often while writing the book.

Because I was working a full-time job while attempting to write my first novel, I had to really discipline myself to work on the manuscript every single day. I hoped that if I could write a page a day, I would have a 365-page book within the space of a year.

On most work days I managed to write half a page to a full page after dinner each night. Then, while driving to work the next morning, I would think about what came next — either a continuation of the scene or summary I had been working on, or something new.

Unfortunately, when I reached the middle of She’s on First I encountered a major block: my plot required one of the characters to die. This upset me so much that I didn’t write anything for five full months — which meant that I did not finish my first novel within a year, as I had planned.

Dead Body

Illustration by Robin Koontz

You may be relieved (or perhaps frightened) to know that since that first experience I’ve become more callous, killing off characters left and right without regret.

During those five months when I was avoiding working on She’s on First, I attended novel-writing workshops. What stands out most vividly for me is that in every workshop I took, there were dozens of writers who had one, two, or three unfinished novels in their files.

I most decidedly did not want to be a writer who had an unfinished novel in her files — I wanted to be a writer who accomplished what she set out to do. And so, after three or four such workshops, I went back to work, armed less with knowledge of how to write a novel than with a burning desire to finish the novel I had started to write.

This experience, coupled with my love of baseball, is probably one of the reasons I autograph so many books with the phrase, “Bring the runner home.”

 

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You can read the first chapter of She’s on First here.

 

 

Battery Operated: Clem and Edna Dreisewerd

As any writer knows, only a small percentage of research done on a subject ends up in the published book. That’s for the good of the reader, who deserves a well-told, gripping story, not a collection of dates and events.

But for most writers, there’s probably a piece of research they wish they could have squeezed into their books. Such was the case with me when I was writing Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. One of the stories that I really, really wanted to include was that of Edna Dreisewerd. Try as we might, neither my editor nor I could fit the story into the book.

But now we have blogs and I’m able to publish the story online. When I did the research back in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clem Dreisewerd several times. The article below is printed as I wrote it back in 1993, when Clem was alive.

clem-dreisewerd

About to be released from military service in World War II, the 6’-2”, 202-pound pitcher was hitting fly balls to his catcher, who was chasing them down in the outfield. One ball sailed toward the 5’-4”, 100-pound catcher, soared upward, and tore the catcher’s fingernail away from the flesh, splitting the skin below.

“I got sick just looking at it,” remembers Clem Dreisewerd, the pitcher. He rushed the catcher to an emergency rom, where the nail bed required four stitches and the finger was bandaged with splints. Doctors gave the catcher pain pills, but she didn’t take them. “I took the pills,” jokes Clem. “Edna was never sick a day in her life.”

What catchers and pitchers are to one another is a complex subject. Mark Harris explored it through fiction, his Bang the Drum Slowly depicting a pitcher protective of his dying battery mate. Tim McCarver, who caught Steve Carlton for the Phillies, once remarked that when he and Steve died, they would be buried 60’6” apart. On the opposite end of the experience, pitchers and catchers have fought in the dugout following a miscalled (or mis-thrown) pitch. But the relationship between Clem and Edna was unique in baseball. During their years in the minors and majors, Edna was Clem’s friend, companion, and wife, as well as his warmup catcher.

Edna McIntosh and Clem Dreisewerd were both born in Old Monroe, Missouri, a small town near St. Louis. She was born in 1914 and spent her childhood in the smaller town of Peruque, where her father was a section foreman on the Burlington Railroad. Clem was born in 1916 and grew up on a farm, one of eleven children. Although they lived only twelve miles apart, Clem and Edna never met until 1935.

Both grew up playing baseball. Outside a one-room schoolhouse, Edna played on teams that never mustered nine to a side. Her father took her to all levels of baseball games, including major league ones at Sportsman’s Park. Clem, a hard-throwing southpaw, pitched local games whenever and wherever he could, striving for a tryout in professional baseball. During the Depression he was lucky to get a job as a section laborer with the CB & Q Railroad — partly so he could pitch for the railroad team.

When Clem was seventeen he tried out for the New York Giants during one of their St. Louis trips. The Giants promptly signed him and shipped him to their Jackson, Mississippi, club, where he pitched a 1-0 victory, allowing only two hits in twelve innings. In another game he struck out fourteen batters. At the end of the season he returned to Old Monroe, and in 1935 he again pitched in the minors.

Clem and Edna met by accident when she and two of her cousins were driving to Old Monroe and their car stalled on a cold, damp October day. In order to stay warm until one cousin arrived with help, Edna and the other cousin walked to the Dreisewerd farm, where Clem was busy cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. This impressed Edna, who had grown up in a family where none of the men cooked. As they talked, she learned that Clem knew all about her: during the days he had worked for the railroad, Edna’s father had told Clem all about his baseball-playing daughter.

The meeting generated electricity. Clem and Edna were married on January 25, 1937, one day after his twenty-first birthday. With the temperature ten below and six inches of snow on the ground, the Dreisewerds drove to their new apartment in St. Louis. Seven weeks later, Clem reported for spring training in Florida. He rented an apartment in Pensacola and Edna joined him, ready to settle down to a baseball life. A few weeks later, Clem was told to report to Macon, Georgia. The couple immediately packed and left, realizing that the baseball life meant more moving around than it did settling down.

CatcherLady - Version 2In Macon there was nobody to catch the new arrival. That was when Edna stepped in. “It happened by accident,” Clem remembers. “She had a finger mitt with her, a treasured possession. You wouldn’t put this mitt on a ten-year-old kid. She took out that little finger mitt and she warmed me up with it. She was so determined.”

Even though she had been playing baseball most of her young life, Edna found that catching high voltage fastballs was no breeze. “At first she just stood there,” says Clem. “She couldn’t catch anything I threw below the knees.” A catcher on the team gave Edna his old mitt and she retired her tiny glove. But she had difficulty turning the mitt down. When she did turn it down, “she wasn’t Carlton Fisk backhanding. She turned it so that the ball hit it and bounced up. One of my pitches bounced and hit her on the shin and the ball bounced all the way back to me.” Clem chuckles. “She learned fast the right way.”

garden-raised-bed-vegetable-garden-delightful-small-vegetable-gardenOff the baseball diamond, life in the minor leagues consisted of low pay, roach-infest apartments, greasy food, long bus rides, and frequent sale of players. The Dreisewerds’ goal was for Clem to reach the major leagues — but they wanted a good life in the process. In 1938 they purchased a new car and a 21-foot-long all-steel trailer. Not only did this give them a clean mobile home, it also gave them access to land (to park the trailer on), part of which turned into a garden so they could grow vegetables.

When the baseball season of 1939 ended, Clem and Edna decided to move to New Orleans, where the weather was warm year-round. Conveniently, they parked the trailer across the street from a semipro ball park where they worked out almost every day. When he could get it, Clem did factory work for 36 cents an hour. Bobby Brown of the Yankees lived nearby, and when the Yankees sent Brown 100 new baseballs to work out with, Clem pitched batting practice to him and Edna shagged fly balls.

They hoped Clem would be called up to the majors. In 1940 he won 23 games in four months. One day he struck out sixteen players, and the next night he struck out fifteen. But the major leagues had plenty of pitchers, and they kept many a good one in the minors.

Early in his career Clem Dreisewerd pitched only fastballs, well over 90 mph. One year he led the league, racking up 195 strikeouts in 219 innings. “I was a lousy pitcher at that time,” he reflects ironically. “I was fast and they couldn’t hit me. But they learned to change their timing. I’d strike a guy out three times. The fourth time, he’d learned to swing faster and he’d hit a home run. Lots of times I lost games in the last inning. I was not a good pitcher then.”

Fast as he was, Clem never had any doubts about pitching to Edna, not even the first time. “She could handle it,” he asserts. When they were first married, they would wrestle playfully, and one day Edna challenged: “I’ll bet I can carry you.” Her husband replied that of course she couldn’t do that. “I weighed 202 pounds and she weighed 101 pounds,” he explains logically. But just in case, “I made myself as heavy as possible. But she picked me up and carried me across the room fifteen or sixteen feet.”

Clem recalls that his fastball had a hop on it. “It would jump up four or five inches.” At one point his team-assigned warmup catcher was an ex-Cub. Three times in a row his pitch hit the ex-Cub in the stomach. But Edna always caught the ball. “She got used to the rise. She was better catching than any of the ballplayers. It was a lot of fun.”

Fun is partly what Edna had in mind when she became Clem’s battery mate. As was togetherness. “Clem and I agreed from the very beginning of our marriage that we loved each other enough that somehow or other we would always be together,” she said. “I remember talking to one player whose wife was never with him, and he remarked that he thought the wife’s place was at home. Of course, I disagreed, telling him that was why Clem and I had gotten married, so we could be together.”

Clem_Dreiswerd_1946_Red_Sox_2Having Edna for a catcher helped Clem in unexpected ways. When called to the minors again in 1941, he pitched opening day without any spring training and struck out twelve batters. “I was in shape,” he says. “Other people in higher leagues had six days of training. But I was the only one that could throw the ball. The others came in out of the snow.” Articles called Clem the best-conditioned pitcher in the business, thanks to Edna. If not for his early performance, he feels he would have once again been caught in the shuffle of pitchers. Instead, he moved from Class C to AAA that year. “My record was 15-6 that year, all because I was in shape before getting there.”

While staying in shape during one offseason, he accidentally refined his screwball. “If I hadn’t been working out with Edna,” he says, “I never would have developed it.”

The previous season Clem had injured his arm and as a result had lost his main fastball. “I was throwing the screwball sidearm. It moved sideways, not down. Then I slipped on the rubber one day in the rain. It was muddy. When I fell forward I threw the ball anyway. It hit Edna.”

“What did you do?” she asked. “The ball did something funny.”

“Hell, I fell off the damn mound.”

“The ball dropped out of sight,” she said.

Clem worked on duplicating the pitch that dropped out of sight. Eventually, it got him into the majors.

During the offseason of 1941-42, Edna and Clem had a daughter, Karen. Five weeks after giving birth, Edna was back to catching. Karen grew up in a trailer in the minor leagues and, finally, the majors.

In 1944, his eleventh year in the minors, Clem was pitching in the Pacific Coast League. He had a 20-9 record with Sacramento when the Boston Red Sox bought his contract and called him up. He had always maintained he wouldn’t fly, but according to Edna, “when they gave him his plane ticket to join the Red Sox in Philadelphia, he didn’t offer any objections. . . . he would have flown even without a plane!”

After Clem won the first game he pitched for the Red Sox (against the Yankees, 8-1), newspaper reporters praised his pitching and quipped that it had taken him ten years to go from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium. “I can still remember my feeling of pride as I read the article and realized that our diligent efforts had paid off,” remembered Edna.

While Clem flew from California to Massachusetts, Edna and Karen made the trip by car to St. Louis, then took a train to join Clem when the Red Sox were in Cleveland. Naturally Edna warmed him up. When Clem pitched to Ted Williams in practice, Edna would catch in the outfield. You might say she got to “catch” Ted Williams, too.

After finally making the major leagues, Clem Dreisewerd, 29 years old, was drafted and inducted into the Navy. This occurred in 1945, after V-E Day. “He had been inducted with mostly seventeen-year-olds,” remembered Edna, “and they stood watching him get his haircut, saying ‘He’s a big-league baseball player; you can’t cut his hair short.’” In revenge, the military barber sheared it even shorter than usual. Clem was scheduled to be shipped to Guam, but before that happened news of the Japanese surrender arrived and he was shipped instead to Pensacola.

1946-World-Series-program-Red-Sox-CardinalsHis military service over, Clem became mainly a relief pitcher in the majors, hurling for the Red Sox, the Browns, and the Giants. Bouncing between the majors and minors, appearing in 46 major league games from 1944-48, he played in the 1946 World Series for Boston against St. Louis. In a brief relief appearance he struck out Enos Slaughter after Slaughter had collected four straight hits in the fourth game of the Series.

For seventeen years the Dreisewerds were part of professional baseball. From 1934-49 Clem pitched for 21 different teams. In 1944 he led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.61 ERA, and in 1947, playing for Louisville, he led the American Association with a 2.15 ERA. He even played briefly in Caracas, Venezuela. Edna and Karen joined him, naturally.

Then: “I tore my muscle loose from my shoulder blade. It’s a rotator cuff deal. Now they sew it back on. I got hurt one day and they released me the next day without pay.” In 1950, at the age of 33, Dreisewerd retired from baseball. He had never made more than $12,000 in any one year playing ball, but he and Edna had saved all his bonuses. Retiring the trailer as well as themselves, they built a house in New Orleans. “We lived in it for four years, sold it, and made $8,000 profit. We figured we could make good money doing this.”

From building houses they progressed to building a 28-unit apartment building in 1960. Edna managed the complex for eleven years, then announced: “I’ve had enough of it. I’m going to quit.” According to Clem she sat around for three months and then one day declared she was going to write a book.

CatcherLady“She got all the clippings down out of the attic,” he remembers. “There were four boxes of them. She lined them all up. She typed up the book as she thought it. It took her three years to write.” Quite naturally the book delineated the experience central to Edna’s life with Clem. The Dreisewerds paid to have The Catcher Was a Lady published in 1978. When the publisher did nothing to promote the book, they bought the copies back and eventually sold them all.

Clem describes himself and Edna as “great companions.” They worked hard, but not all the time. They took cruises. “Edna loved them dearly. We took time off, enjoyed ourselves.”

In 1971 the St. Louis Cardinals held a 25th Anniversary reunion of all who had played in the 1946 World Series against the Red Sox. There Edna Dreisewered was one of only two women introduced by Joe Garagiola, who reminded the audience she had caught for Clem during his playing days.

During 52 years of marriage, Edna McIntosh Dreisewerd never even had a headache. Then she developed pancreatic cancer. “She couldn’t lick it,” says Clem. Edna died on May 24, 1989. The Sporting News ran an obituary and Clem received 240 letters of condolence from ballplayers. “She was highly respected,” he says, “and well liked.”

He reflects on his battery mate. “She was not hard to look at over the breakfast table. What a wonderful life we had.”

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In Barbara Gregorich’s She’s on First, the shortstop is not a lady — but she is a woman.

Wherever She Is, There’s a Title

Titles aren’t just words to be taken literally — they carry all kinds of emotional and cultural attachments with them, and that’s why they’re often changed. The Swedish title of Stieg Larsson’s first book was Men Who Hate Women. In the United States the title was changed to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Swedish title sounds too much like nonfiction, and it doesn’t suggest character or even intrigue the way the English title does. But I’m assuming that the original title appealed to Swedish readers.

Translation isn’t the only place titles are changed — they’re often changed at an editor’s desk or in a marketing department brainstorming session. Almost all publishing contracts reserve to the publishers the right to title a book, because publishers feel that they know far better than authors what types of titles sell, and what types don’t.

That is a title’s first job: to help sell the book. And when it comes to fiction, a title has a second job: to resonate with the reader, especially at book’s end, when the impact of a well-chosen title hits home. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is an excellent example of a title hitting home. I remember reading this novel when I was twenty years old, thinking the title meant one thing as I was reading the book . . . then reaching the end and being stunned by its other meaning.

KindleCover-SOFSome writers put no titles on their books until they’ve reached the end, but most, I think, have working titles. I always have what I think of as a working title. In the end, that changes probably 50% of the time, sometimes due to me, sometimes due to the publisher.

My working title for my first novel, She’s on First, was Bases Loaded. I recognized that “bases loaded” was a trite phrase, and I fully expected the publisher to change my working title. But when my editor called to say they were going to change the title to She’s on First, I was upset. Mainly because she’s at short, not on first! Of course I understood the allusion to “Who’s on first?”. . . but I still didn’t like the title.

So my editor asked me to send every title I could think of, to see if would change the minds of the marketing department. Here’s what I sent. (And you will correctly conclude that my list didn’t change the publisher’s mind.)

Brand New Ballgame
No Easy Out
Brushback
Hit Away
National Pastime
Scuffed
Bring the Runner Home
Rough in the Diamond
The Residue of Design
Within the Lines
Inside the Strike Zone
Clearing the Bases
Contact Hitter
Infield Dirt
Ball in Play

After four or five years of living with the She’s on First, I made peace with the title. And here’s the rub. Whenever I teach this topic in a writing class, everybody, without exception, prefers She’s on First to any of the other titles in my list— which indicates that the publisher was right. (So maybe those marketing departments really do know what they’re doing!)

It’s always a good idea to brainstorm working titles for your book. Write down all word associations that come to you. Write down opposites. Think of poems, concepts, key lines from the book. Think of what grabs you as a reader. You might have to come up with 30, 40, 50 possible titles to get one you really love. And then — the marketing department might change it.

But then again, they may not — and that would indicate they believe your title will help sell your book. The Crown marketing department must have liked my title for my first mystery, Dirty Proof, because they left it intact. And I self-published the sequel, Sound Proof, so I titled it what I wanted to!

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Titles are on the outside, plots and themes on the inside . . . if you want to know what it might be like for a woman playing in the major leagues, read beyond the title of She’s on First.