I received a nice email yesterday from a woman named Doret C, a baseball fan and bookseller from Atlanta, who writes a blog called TheHappyNappyBookseller. She wrote a review for Six Innings which you can read in full by clicking . . . here.
But my favorite part?
I loved Six Innings. It’s the best middle grade baseball book I’ve ever read. I was telling my co-workers I plan on selling Six Innings like candy. (I wasn’t kidding.)
I don’t care whether Doret sells it like hotcakes, candy, or coals to Newcastle, but I sure am heartened to receive that kind of enthusiastic response — and to make one more personal connection in the great, wide world of the Blogosphere!
In what I hope will become a recurring feature — Fan Mail Wednesday! — I’ll take comments and questions from actual fan mail and include my responses here.
Aundrea S. writes via email:
Dear James Preller,
Hi, well I thought that your book was really good. It was full of excitement and thrills. Also since I have played on a girls and boys baseball team and a softball team I was the one to read your book. I thought that you put a lot of thought into making this book sound and feel real. I’m wondering if you were like Sam in the book whenever you were a kid? Or were you the one that sat on the bench? Or were you one of the best players on the team? I mean if you ever were on a baseball team. But I’m pretty sure you were because if you weren’t you must be a really good thinker. I also think you shouldn’t make the book go on and on and on and have a little bit more action. But it was really good. My fav parts were when Clemente the big guy messed up on a pitch.
Wow, Aundrea, thanks for reading Six Innings. If it seemed authentic to you, that’s because I’ve spend a lot of years playing baseball and coaching Little League; I’m very familiar with that world. As a boy, I played on many Little League teams. I was a good player, but not, alas and alack, a star (despite desperately wishing it were so).
My mother was the big baseball fan in my family — even today, she always seems to have the New York Mets on the radio, nervously chewing on a piece of ice, fretting when a dangerous hitter comes to the plate, rejoicing in victories — and I followed right along in her footsteps. Me and Mom, rooting together. In fact, we saw the 5th game of the 1969 World Series together at Shea Stadium, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. The truth is, when I think of baseball, I always think of my mother. They are forever linked, baseball and my mom, to the point where I suspect that my love for one is just a confusion of the other. I mean to say, maybe I love baseball so much because it reminds me of my mom.
P.S. Next book I’ll try not to go “on and on and on” so much! Ha! But in a way, that’s baseball. It’s not all action. As I wrote in the book: “To love baseball, to truly love the game, you’ve got to enjoy those empty places, the time to think, absorb, and shoot the breeze. A ball, a strike, a grounder to short. The slow rhythm of the game, a game of accumulation, of patterns, gathering itself toward the finish, like the first few miles of a marathon, not dramatic except for what it might mean later in the race.”
Well, I’m having a lot of problems with artwork on this blog. Some shows up, some doesn’t. I hate this kind of thing. My apologies. Hopefully this gets solved soon.
In the meantime, I need to revise an upcoming novel, Bystander, which is due to come out in Fall, 2009. I look forward to telling you all about it — once I recover from this blog-induced headache.
You know, it’s like cars: I just want them to go. I have zero interest in automobiles. I was never a guy who looked under the hood. Just not interesting to me; I’d rather go see a movie. And that’s how I feel about computers and, regrettably, high finance. My eyes just glaze over. Yet here I am with this new blog — getting frustrated and unhappy because there’s no big green button I can push that says, “GO.” I just want it to work, and I really, really don’t care how.
The waiting is the hardest part.
Every day you see one more card.
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart.
The waiting is the hardest part.
— Tom Petty
Let’s face it: Picture books take forever, and that’s when they stay on schedule. About three years ago I wrote a short, jaunty manuscript called, A Pirates Guide to First Grade. About a year later, it was accepted for publication at Feiwel & Friends. Then came the process of searching for the right illustrator. That was my publisher’s job, mainly the work of editor Liz Szabla and art director Rich Deas. Finally they found a guy I had never heard of — Greg Ruth. I went to his website and nearly jumped out of my socks. This guy had huge talent. I mean, wow. I instantly knew that he was perfect for the book, that he could take it far beyond anything I could have imagined.
A lot of time passed while Greg worked on other things. The book remains unscheduled for now, but I’d guess that it’s coming out in Spring of 2010. (This millennium, for sure; Liz promises!) It is due out, that is, about five years after I finished my end of the deal.
But here’s the fun part. The other day, Liz told me that Greg’s first round of black-and-white sketches were in. She said they looked really, really good. She explained that Greg does really tight sketches, as opposed to the loose, sprawling, unfinished kind favored by many illustrators. I could hear the excitement in Liz’s voice. She sent me an email containing the example below, which will eventually become a full-color, two-page spread in the book.
How great is that?! I mean, really. It’s so cool and fun, it’s just crazy. I can’t wait to see it all finished, to have that book in my hands. But like Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
By the way, the text for that spread, or perhaps the page before, will read something like this:
“Fair winds!” I exclaimed, and headed for me ship.
And a great grand jollyboat it was!
“Ahoy, me hearties!” I cried. “Prepare to be boarded!”
In what I hope will become a recurring feature, I’ll take questions from actual fan mail and include my answers here.
* * * * *
Jason asks, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Ideas are everywhere and anywhere, Jason. They come from my past and from my present. They come from things I actually see — and from my imagination. I do research for every book, and I usually stumble across ideas that way. One strange thing about ideas is that they often seem to come when I’m thinking that I’m not thinking! You know? Doing the dishes, taking a shower, times when the mind is (seemingly) not actively working on anything (and in my life, that’s a lot!). I think that’s why it’s essential for artists and writers to give themselves space, to daydream, to blob around, listen to music, not force the action. At least that’s what I tell my wife!
I don’t worry about running out of ideas. As long as I pay attention to the world around me, watch people, listen to what they say, daydream, and read a lot, I’ll always have ideas. How can you avoid them?
The real work is sitting down and writing.
To me, it’s weird when people talk about “having” ideas. As if it were like “having” a baby and that’s that, job over. Because the important thing is, well, raising that baby. Or working with that idea. Growing it, feeding it, letting it go. It’s not enough to “have” ideas. That’s the easy part. No, you’ve got to stick with those ideas through thick and thin. That’s the trick — all that parenting. Waking up at two in the morning, changing diapers . . . yuck.