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.


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.


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.”



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.


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.”


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
Hit Away
National Pastime
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!


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.

Saving the Best for Last

RN3FINALCOVER10-9-15 copyIn 2009 I became interested in self-publishing, and after exploring the options, I reprinted She’s on First as a self-published book in February 2010.

I was so pleased with the results (a new cover design [by Robin Koontz, who also designed the cover above] plus I restored a small scene that my editor had cut back in 1987) that I realized I would self-publish more books. My best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (Harcourt, 1993) proved undoable because in order to reprint the 100 photos in the book I would have had to pay thousands of dollars in permissions. (And I feared that if I published the text only, without photos, both readers and libraries would be very, very upset.)

Maud Nelson, 1890s

Maud Nelson, 1890s

But while I couldn’t afford to reprint Women at Play, I could afford to put together and publish a new book, one that consisted of my research notes — the raw materials from which I sculpted Women at Play. Such a collection of newspaper articles, posters, diaries, and letters would, I felt, interest baseball researchers. Also, I thought such a book would interest English teachers at the junior high, senior high, or college level. A collection of original sources, all on the same topic, could prove valuable to those who teach the research paper.

Excited about this, I started to put together my concept of the book. Almost immediately I realized that this was not a one-volume project. Rather, it would take three volumes — because I wanted to keep each book at about 150 pages rather than publish a large-format, 450-page book. From the get-go I decided what each volume would logically contain, starting with women ballplayers of the 19th century and moving forward to the early 1930s.

Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 1, contains articles on Maud Nelson, the most important person in the early history of women in baseball; on Margaret Nabel, founder of the New York Bloomer Girls; and on the African-American players of the Baltimore Black Sox. It also contains articles on John Olson, Maud’s husband, founder of the Cherokee Indian Baseball Team (though they were really Seneca Indians).

Leona Kearns

Leona Kearns

I published Volume 1 in November of 2010, and I thought I could publish Volume 2 by 2012. As it turned out, Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2 took me longer to put together: it was published in July 2013.

Finally, in October of 2015, five years after I published Volume 1, I’m publishing the third (and last) volume of Research Notes for Women at Play. Because all of the information in Volume 3 comes from the years 1925-1935, none of it is public domain. This means that I could quote only modest amounts of most articles: it means that I spent a lot of time writing accurate summaries of article contents.

But Volume 3 is different from the two previous volumes in another way, too. A reader going through it from beginning to end may feel she or he is reading a novel. Or deciding a court case. Or perhaps reconstructing a “what really happened” crime scene.

That’s because Volume 3 contains the story of the Philadelphia Bobbies, Eddie Ainsmith, and Leona Kearns, their disastrous trip to Japan to play against men’s teams in 1925, the abandonment of three players, and the death at sea of one of them.

Margaret Gisolo of the Blanford Cubs

Margaret Gisolo of the Blanford Cubs

Contrasted to the tragedy of that story, Research Notes, Volume 3 also contains the exciting story of Margaret Gisolo, who helped lead her 1928 American Legion Junior Baseball team to the state championship. Margaret later played for Maud Nelson’s All-Star Ranger Girls, and later still founded the Department of Dance at Arizona State University, where she was a much loved and highly respected professor. The book also tells the story of Leona Kearns’ younger sister, Nellie, who, along with Margaret, played with the All-Star Ranger Girls.

Volumes 1 and 2 have worked in the way I wanted them to. They are used by baseball researchers looking for information that might help them learn more about a team . . . an individual . . . a rare photograph. They are also used by teachers, and in more imaginative ways than I would have considered. Some teachers, for example, use the books to teach about sports journalism in the past . . . about the manner in which women athletes were written about  . . . even about clothing styles.

If one must spend five years sifting through thousands of pages of accumulated articles and arranging them in a useful order, then it’s a reward in itself, to the writer, that the final volume is the most exciting.

And a reward to the reader, too, I hope.

Baseball signed by the 1934 All-Star Rangers players.

Baseball signed by the 1934 All-Star Rangers players.

Predicting the Future . . . Maybe

KindleCover-SOFWriting a novel requires many decisions regarding subject matter, plot, character, motivation, scene, conflict, rising action, and more. Once I decided to write my first novel, back in the early ‘80s, I chose as my subject matter the first woman to play major league baseball. This is fiction.

I won’t bore you with all the decisions I had to make regarding plot, character and the like, but I will say that of all the decisions, there were two I felt had to be absolutely right — both in order for me to tell the story I wanted to tell, and in order for the reader to enjoy the story.

The first of these was motivation. Specifically, what would motivate somebody to sign a woman to play in the majors? A sense of justice, equality, and fair play, you say? Possible. But, based on history, highly unlikely. Baseball has erected formidable barriers against female players, chief among these barriers the assumption that girls and women have neither the strength nor skill to play baseball. In addition there is the sowing of false concepts through the use of terms such as “boys’ game” and “men’s game” to describe baseball. This false logic is an attempt at victory by definition. There is nothing about baseball that justifies defining it in these sex-exclusive terms.

Thanks to the work of people such as Justine Siegel and her organization Baseball for All, the barriers against women in baseball are being assaulted through a twofold approach: providing opportunities for girls and women to play baseball on their own teams around the world, and continued publicity about and support for women’s gains in the world of minor and major league baseball. But this organization didn’t exist back in the early 1980s, when I was writing She’s on First.

As I brainstormed and researched and doodled, I did come up with a motivation for somebody to sign a woman to a major league team. That motivation is deep and believable. I won’t tell you what it is, because you might want to find out by reading She’s on First.

The other decision I had to make (one which, like motivation, was at the heart of the story) was this: what position would my hero, Linda Sunshine, play? In most women-in-baseball novels, both the one(s) written before She’s on First and the ones written after, the female players are pitchers.

1987, hardback, Contemporary Books

1987, hardback, Contemporary Books

There’s a lot of history behind that decision. In real life, women who have established brief toeholds in the minors have been, for the most part, pitchers. Jackie Mitchell pitched in an exhibition game for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931, striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The great Babe Didrikson pitched spring training games for and against several different major league teams. Ila Borders pitched for the St. Paul Saints of the Independent League in 1997.

Choosing to make the protagonist in a women-in-baseball book a pitcher can help create many dramatic situations in which she faces opposing players one by one: in which she faces men, one by one. It’s a legitimate and appealing solution to the question of “Which position?” And it has history behind it.

But this wasn’t my solution. I saw my hero as a Harriet Tubman: a person who was in the thick of the battle against slavery and who risked her life many times in order to enter enemy territory and lead others to freedom.

While all ballplayers contribute to a team’s wins both during at-bats and by playing their position, I’ve always thought of the infielders as being in the thick of the battle. In particular, I think of the shortstop as being the heart of the infield. And so I created Linda Sunshine as a shortstop. In making her an infielder, I wasn’t coming out of left field, so to speak. During the years I was writing She’s on First, Hank Aaron was quoted as saying that he believed women could play major league baseball because of their quick reflexes. He felt they would most likely play in the infield because of these reflexes.

She’s on First was published by Contemporary Books in 1987 and came out as the lead Paperjacks mass market title in spring of 1988. I reprinted She’s on First in 2010. Here’s a review written by Patrick Reardon on the 25th anniversary of the novel’s publication. To be honest, I had not noticed that it was the 25th anniversary of my novel’s publication, and so I was very pleased to read such a review.

Melissa Mayeux

Melissa Mayeux

What is equally pleasing, though in a very different way, is an event that made news on June 22, 2015 — the addition of 16-year-old Melissa Mayeux to Major Leage Baseball’s international registration list, which makes her eligible to be signed by a major league club. Melissa Mayeux is a shortstop.

When I read this, I was thrilled. Thrilled first and foremost because cracks are appearing in the barriers: cracks from without, and cracks from within. But the lesser, secondary, reason I was thrilled is because Mayeux plays shortstop. This reality reinforces my feeling that all my thinking, all my research, led to a good fiction-writing decision.

Throw Like a Woman: Book Review

If one were to write a novel about a warrior who somehow entered a walled and fortified city, and sought to function within that city, the first question the writer would have to answer is: How did the hero manage to enter the fortress? A fortress which for nearly two centuries was closed to the hero’s tribe. A fortress whose defenders perhaps catapulted boulders down upon the hero’s tribe if it drew too near. If not boulders, then vats of boiling oil.

The seriousness with which a writer attempts to answer this question is a good sign of the seriousness of the book. In Throw Like a Woman, Susan Petrone answers the question seriously. It is clear that she knows what has happened in both the remote and recent past when female baseball players have pushed the barriers and tried to enter professional baseball, and she uses that knowledge to create a realistic story.

ThrowLikeAWoman copyBrenda Haversham is a 40-year-old recently divorced woman with a low center of gravity. As the mother of two sons, ages nine and thirteen, she struggles to provide them with a few of the perks they were used to when their father’s income supported them. Nothing extravagant: a new baseball glove, an mp3 player as a birthday present, a summer camp that they bike to each morning, and, come September, a few new clothes and supplies for school.

When their father, Ed, fails to show up as promised one Saturday morning to take the boys out, Brenda takes them to the park and pitches to them. When she was a child, her father taught her to pitch, and the kinesthetic memory remains with her. She throws heat to her 13-year-old. And when she takes her sons to Progressive Field to see an Indians-Tigers game, they take turns at a Test Your Speed pitching cage. The 13-year-old is clocked at 48mph, the 9-year-old at 33mph. Brenda then takes a turn and her three pitches are clocked at 79, 77, and 82 mph. She is throwing heat because she is imagining throwing at her ex-husband.

An unknown somebody videotapes this, and the next thing Brenda knows, she’s on YouTube. From there the story escalates. She agrees to pitch for a local team. A sports agent pursues her and signs her. She is signed by the Cleveland Indians and sent to their Class A Lake County Captains as a reliever, and from there to the AAA Clippers team in Columbus. And then: she’s called up.

Not necessarily for her pitching, but because her presence will help sell tickets. Of course, her presence will sell tickets only if she pitches, and pitches well.

Petrone is a good writer, one who understands the art and craft of the novel. Her characters are empathetic. The story moves forward easily, with the reader wondering what will happen next. The baseball conflicts are totally real: Brenda faces what every woman in a formerly-all-male profession faces. For starters, that means disdain, disgust, graphic sexual harassment, juvenile fixation on items such as tampons and jock straps, threats of violence, and the ever-present “invisibleness,” as if she’s not there.

Realistically, not every man behaves in this fashion, and Petrone brings to life not only the women haters, but also just regular men who judge other human beings by their performance, not their sex or the color of their skin. There are plenty of these men in baseball, and it feels good to see them in Petrone’s novel — they are signs of hope.

Throwing Like a Woman is about more than baseball, though. Face it: life is about more than baseball. In Petrone’s story we can see the distance between pampered 20-year-olds and wiser-by-life 40-year-olds. Maturity, or lack of, is one of the themes running through the book. I especially liked the character development in Andy, Brenda’s 13-year-old son, as he begins to take steps into adulthood.

Petrone, along with Stephanie Liscio, writes an Indians-fan blog itspronouncedlajaway, and although there’s no blog in the novel, Petrone is clearly familiar with the media world. In her novel she creates an ESPN show, “Today in Sports,” with host Charlie Bannister. The “transcripts” appear throughout Throw Like a Woman and are great fun.

Brenda Haversham’s name calls to mind Miss Havisham of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Jilted in love, Miss Havisham turns into a bitter character who grips others too tightly, molding them to her wishes and warping their lives. At the beginning of Throw Like a Woman, Brenda Haversham stands on the cusp of her new life. She, too, has been jilted. How will that play out? She is clearly unhappy. Will she become bitter? Will she mold her children into people who cannot experience love?

Or will she understand that life is like the four-seamer — a failure if you grip it too hard. But if you grip it “loosely, gently, to minimize friction between the hand and the ball,” the pitch will fly like a bird.