I’m half-heartedly watching the Mariners game (not a good night for them), and wondering how to make a graceful segue from Jane Austen, my usual subject matter, to baseball. No problem.
And it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books – or at least books of information – for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. (Northanger Abbey, chapter 1)
So now that you know Jane Austen was down with baseball, you won’t think it such a strange departure that I wrote a novel whose protagonist is a minor league baseball player. (To learn more, go to the page for First of Second Chances.) I thought a story set in my own century and in my own country would be easier to write than one in Regency England. It’s a world I already know, so less research. Right? Not really.
The majority of the story takes place from 1991 – 1993. Recent history, but much has changed even since then, especially in the realm of technology. “Give that girl a cell phone!” suggested one of my critique partners at one point. But, wait. Did people carry cell phones in 1991? No. And no laptops, CDs, DVDs or Internet either.
Next issue: I’d never written a male protagonist before. Fortunately, I’d lived with three men – one husband and two sons – so I had some working knowledge of how they operate and, when in doubt, I could ask them questions.
Finally, the baseball issue. Even though the story wasn’t “about” baseball per se, I still wanted to get that part right, or at least avoid making any glaring errors that would detract from the story for people who understood that world better than I did. I soon discovered that there were plenty of sources for major league stars and stats, but much less available about the minor leagues, especially behind the scenes stuff.
What I learned through researching this book is that people are the best resources a writer can have. If I didn’t have an answer, it often only took a phone call to someone who did. When I explained what I needed, most people were interested, generous, and glad to help. My best source turned out to be a minor league ball player whom I found through a blog search. The blog itself contained a wealth of the kind of information I was looking for. Then, since he invited e-mail questions, I asked for more help and got it! The bonus was that his girlfriend worked in sports medicine, and she volunteered her expertise as well. (Thanks Chris and Juliet!)
Jane Austen wrote about her own time, place, and society, so she probably didn’t face the challenge of research. And then there’s the standard advice to “write what you know.” But if I’d done that, I would have missed out on a lot of interesting information and nice people.