Monday, January 21, 2013

A Wondrous Time for Baseball

Frequently what is passed off as a coincidence may have deeper roots than that. Believe it or not, I started writing this post last week. Then on Saturday night, as my son and I ate dinner at the Corner Pub and Grill, he looked at his smartphone and said casually, "Stan Musial died." And so another one of our heroes is gone, and a chapter in my life is complete. 

But this is not a memorial for Stan I write. It is a look back to 1949, because I happened to come across an old Life Magazine while looking for an article on Charlie Chaplin and saw this.

The pennant race between the Cards and the Dodgers was in the home stretch. For the very young, a pennant race was just that, two teams battling it out to see who plays in the World Series. "Play-offs" and "Wild Cards" were as yet undreamed of. And in this year, 4 years following the end of World War II (good guys and bad guys clearly defined),  Life Magazine ran a story on that: "Yanks or Red Sox? Cards or Dodgers?" 
This pictures the two best second basemen in the game: Jackie Robinson and Red Schoendienst. Unfortunately Red fell down while trying to catch a wild throw from the catcher and Jackie went to third. It would be several years before the Cardinals put a black man on their roster.

But the line I like best is "Can Stan the Man Beat the Brooklyns?"
The article says, "The principal reason the Dodgers are worried about the Cardinals is Stan the Man Musial. Although Musial has been having only a fair season (for him), Dodger pitchers cannot seem to get him out." 
I love this photo of Stan because he is not up at bat in that familiar stance. He's sliding. The caption reads, "Cardinals hope for the pennant, Outfielder Stan Musial is safe at third after tripling against Chicago. Despite a poor start Musial, 1948 batting champion, was hitting .319 last week." Yep, Stan had turned a double into a triple with his customary hustle.
Since his passing, the newspapers and the networks and the blogs and the columnists have just about used up all the appropriate adjectives and phrases that describe Stan's achievements, his life, his demeanor, his selflessness. I have memories of Stan, as we all do. Not just at Sportsman's Park, but a night I spent with him and Henry Ruggieri and Joe Gargiola in San Francisco in 1960, when I lived there and they were in S.F. for the opening of Candlestick Park. I have an autographed baseball, an autographed book, a menu from Musial and Biggies. I used to have a Bowman's black and white baseball card of Stan, but my mother threw them away when I was in the Army and they moved. (Get over it, Gerry) Those, along with my EC Comics (seriously, get over it). 

Sometimes I think I'd like to be 25 or 30 years old again, be around for whatever tomorrow brings. But I'm not so sure these days. And I sure am happy I didn't miss the pure excitement of watching the Cardinals take the field, with number 6 in the lineup, and anticipate what he might do that day. He and Slaughter and Schoendienst and Kurowski and Breechen and the others.

I followed the standings, watched Stan's batting average climb up through the 300's, his home run totals move to the top of the list, loved his easy way of coming through in the clutch to win a game with a long ball and watch his easy stride around the bases. No big deal, no fists pumped in the air. It was just his job, to play the best he could. And he always did. I didn't know it at the time, but when the Cards finally got around to adding black players to the roster, Stan was the one who welcomed them, in a city that had more trouble adjusting to the new reality. 

I'll always carry those thrilling memories of Stan the Man. He was a part of my life and love of baseball. As long as there is someone to announce, "Play ball," Stan will be out there, a singular example of what a ballplayer, an athlete and a man should be.

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Next "Big Thing"

Esteemed author, philosopher and literary outlaw Dennis Fleming (see photo) invited me to join in on this remarkable concept for authors. If you want to see how he writes, what he writes, you can find out

Enough backstory. Here's what I have been writing or at least trying to.

First, I have a new play that opens on Friday, Jan. 11, and runs for 2 weekends. It's produced by First Run Theatre. Performances are Fridays 1/11 and 1/18 at 8 pm; Saturdays 1/12 and 1/19 at 8 pm; and Sundays 1/13 and 1/20 at 2 pm. It's a one-act, and I am blown away by what the director Donna Nelson and the cast have brought to my words. The title is "Open Sundays, All Makes Repaired," and it's paired with another one-act, "The Predicament." The theater is at DeSmet High School on Ballas Road.  Here's a link: First Run Theatre

Second, my novel, which was published two years ago, still finds readers and has introduced me to a legion of Charlie Chaplin fans. The title is "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin," and it takes place in Hollywood, today and during the 1930's. And, yes, Charlie is in it. I have been fascinated by his life and films for many years, so writing the novel was really an act of passion. But then I guess all writing is based on that, isn't it? Here's a link to that. 

Onward to the 10 Questions:

1) What is the title of your new book?

The working title is "The Eulogy Club." It may well be the final title, because I like that combination of words and the curiosity it creates.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

A combination of two events: 1) I attended a memorial service for a friend; 
2) I had lunch with three long-time friends a week later. At lunch we talked about the same stuff we've talked about for years: politics, food, travel, health, movies. After lunch I decided to drive through Forest Park, it being a soft, magical spring day. I stopped by one of the fountains, got out and began to wander around. My friend who had died loved to bike ride in the park. I thought about him, and the feelings that were expressed at his service, words he never heard. I thought about my lunch, about feelings that were never expressed. That's when the idea hit me. Not as a book at first, but as something to do with my friends. A get-together where we would tell each other what usually is said only after death. That quickly morphed into an idea for a novel. The title was right in front of me. "The Eulogy Club." I started making notes that night.

3) What genre does the book fall under?

I've never been much good at genres. Probably nothing more than a novel. Dramatic. Touching. Humorous. Tragic? I don't know yet. Instructive? I don't know yet. Let's just say Fiction for Adults (but not Adult Fiction, because that sounds like one step removed from Porno.)

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

It's too soon to say. The characters have not been fully fleshed out yet. If I want the movie to be a big hit, I'd cast George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Sean Penn and Christopher Walken. The characters are in their early 60's, which seems a good time to speak of death and treasure friendship. So a quick pick would include DeNiro, Walken, Jeff Bridges, Dustin Hoffman. 

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Sometimes the things we think we should say to someone while they're still around shouldn't be said at all.

6) Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Of course I'd rather have an agency involved, but that takes such a long time and so much work, and I don't have enough time or energy to wait around for that. So probably self-publish. But that's a long way away. First I have to write it. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

No comment. I'm planning by the end of 2013. My novel, "Shadow and Substance," took three years to write the first draft. I was working full time in the creative department of an ad agency and struggled to find the time and energy to keep writing on the novel. It actually spent more time on the shelf than in creation. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

No titles come to mind. Any novel that explores friendship in all its permutations, the sense of time running out, the fear of being vulnerable, the advantages and drawbacks of honesty. Sounds like a Russian novel to me.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

 Early on, I bounced the idea off a couple of literary friends. Their reactions were identical: "Wow." Then I read 3 or 4 pages, possibly the opening of the novel, at a St. Louis Writers Guild open mic night last year. Highly positive reaction. Further inspiration comes from a small business I have. It's called The Life Preserver. I make video biographies of people, usually for their kids or grandkids. It's a legacy kind of thing. Older people have this need to say things that they omitted in previous years. Important things that usually fall into the category of "they already know how I feel about them." Which is why I frequently ask, "Did you ever tell your kids you love them?" And the final statement: "What else would you like to say?" 

10) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

I've thought about an Author's Note to the effect - How to say the things you should say to a friend and still keep them as a friend. Something like that. But I don't see the book being a "how to" book. It's just possible that things will go awry in the novel, friendships will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair. Maybe I'll write a blog about Friendship and Eulogies and Memorial Services for the Living. Or maybe I'll have a priest, a minister and a rabbi write testimonials. Which leads to, "A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender says 'What's that book you have there.?' The priest says, 'It will introduce you to Jesus.' The minister says, 'It will give you eternal peace.' The rabbi says, 'It costs only seven dollars, plus shipping.'" Something like that.

Now about the 5 Writers I'm Tagging:

1) Jean Whatley. Remarkable with words, powerful means of expression, highly personal observations, a delight to read. She has just had her first book published, a memoir of the road. It's called "Off the Leash." Here's a link to her blog:

2) Peter Green. Knowledgeable author about World War II, crime, and other compelling subjects.

3) T.W.Fendley. Award-winning sci-fi author who specializes historical fantasy. Here's her intriguing website.

4) Linda O'Connell. She must be published in just every publication out there, has won numerous awards, has a lock on human-interest stories, and a marvelous sense of humor.

5) Dwight Bitikofer. A highly original poet who works well in a jazz environment. Winner of awards; several summers at U. of Iowa. Here's his Facebook page. Dwight the Poet