Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chris Ballard Book Signing for "One Shot at Forever"

Attended last night a reading and book signing with Chris Ballard, author of (among other titles) the just released One Shot at Forever: A small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season.

Ballard writes for Sports Illustrated and the story told in the book first appeared as the SI feature "The Magical Season Of The Macon Ironmen". I haven't read the book yet, but the magazine story was an excellent read about a high school baseball team... including its players, iconoclastic head coach, and impact on its small town of Macon, Illinois.

I've posted a number of times on Ballard with both his SI pieces and interviews on writing and was happy to see that he'd be doing the event. Though it was a bit of a drive to Books Inc. in Berkeley, I figured if I fancied myself as both a writer-type and someone who appreciates solid sports writing (affirmative on both counts), I should make the trip. Definitely glad I did as it was an interesting event that struck me on a few different levels...

Small world, this writing - Was somewhat surprising to me that an appearance by a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated (who wouldn't be interested in that??!!) would wind up to be a fairly small (maybe 25 people) gathering... with many of the people connected to Ballard (he lives in the area) or the book. Along with family and friends were: a daughter of one of the books central characters (Coach Lynn Sweet), one of the opposing high school pitchers from 40 years ago and at least one other published sports writer, Jordan Conn, a 2010 UC Berkeley J School graduate and writer of an excellent ESPN profile I recall reading a few weeks back. I guess I figured that since excellent writing (both the reading of and hopefully producing) is of interest to me, than it is to everyone else. Not that the turnout was bad, all the seats were pretty much filled, just struck me that there wouldn't be more people similarly interested who would make a point of attending.

The mystical world of quoting - The portion of the book that Ballard read from was both interesting and really descriptive... with much of that coming from the quotes in the book. To this point, I've always viewed written quotes as a sort of Dark Arts that I haven't trafficked in so don't understand how to either get or utilize. I raised this "how to get quotes" question to Ballard and the answer both made sense and demystified things a bit for me. In short, he said that you're not always going to have available quotes (and there's stretches of the book without many), but the ones he does have often came from just a few sources... both interview subjects with detailed recollection of events (at least they thought they remembered) and old newspaper stories from the time. I took from the discussion that quotes are great as a writer, you work to get them, but then utilize what you have available.

Idea of an entire book on a 1971 small town high school baseball team - Yea, it's easy to bandy about how "it's like Hoosiers", but I was fascinated by the idea of Ballard selling to both an editor and himself that a book on the subject could be written and then appeal to a large enough audience. Prior book from Ballard was The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA and it seemed to me this subject much more obviously commercial. Ballard's response to this also made sense in that he said the magazine story generated a lot of reader feedback and interest from people wanting to have it made into a book or movie. He also made the comment of how writing One Shot at Forever was challenging at times, but... I feel the challenge at times in writing a simple blog entry so it makes sense to me.

Writing what you know and it can work out - This wasn't necessarily anything Ballard directly said, but I took from the event affirmation that things can get accomplished if you work at them. Specifically in relation to writing, Ballard was a perfectly normal and seemingly very nice fellow who has built for himself a solid writing career.

Extrapolating from this, my thought is that if I continue to work at writing (by continuing to write), the work I produce will continue to improve and increase the chances of making a living from words written down on a page (not, you know, from this Words Written Down blog, but from words literally on a page... well, not meaning I wouldn't want to sell anything via Kindle or on the web, but... well, never mind).

Back to the point... there's a lot to be said for things like Journalism School and writing conferences & resources (McSweeney's, Mayborn, Nieman and Creative Nonfiction to name a few), but there's also a lot to be said for becoming a writer by just writing about things you know that are of interest. Heck, it was Stephen King who said in his book On Writing something to the effect that people love to read about work... so, if someone is a plumber who loves Science Fiction, why not a Science Fiction novel about a plumber? Granted, I'm not that and don't love that so won't be doing that, but... the point still holds.

Wrapping things up... was a cool event with Ballard and I'm looking forward to reading his book (which is good since it cost a lot more to purchase than just get from the library). Also, I previously linked to an interview with Ballard about this new book and today saw another interview on the book posted to the blog of Ingram Content Group publishing CEO Skip Prichard.