REJECTION FOR FASTBALL FARI

After several rewrites of Fastball Fari, I felt I had a product ready for the publisher.  Next, I needed a literary agent.  I struggled over the query letter, as most first-time authors will, trying to tailor my pitch to the interests of each particular agent.  However, making a choice was difficult; Fari was fiction, but what “genre” or category did it fit into?  Was it “sports fiction,” or “contemporary fiction?”  Sports fiction was not well represented, but there were many agents working with non-fiction sports.

I thought the hardest part about getting a book published was writing the book.  But I was wrong.  The hardest part is trying to get anyone’s attention.  I admit I never considered the “genre” of Fari while I wrote the book, or whether it could be easily categorized.

Back in those days, with no access to internet, I relied on snail mail in sending queries to prospective agents.  I printed out letters and sent them off to the most likely agents, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their answers.

The movement of mail from rural Costa Rica to destinations in the U.S. usually took around three weeks, and the return trip was just about as long.  Sometimes, I’d wait two or three months for an answer, and every answer was a rejection, and most were form letters addressed to “Dear Author.”

Rejections in life, among our friends or family, can be a devastating experience.  Rejections in the literary world are common, but still able to deliver a prick to the heart and mind.  In my case, rejections led to doubts; maybe the book was no good, or maybe the query letter was no good, or maybe the agent didn’t like the story  These doubts hit me especially hard because I lived in a social vacuum; there was no one to turn to for critical analysis or support.

In spite of the doubts, I felt Fastball Fari was a good story and deserved to see the light of day.  I also knew that it needed more work and I continued with the rewrites.  However, I see-sawed back and forth in my opinion of the book; sometimes I thought it was crap, sometimes I thought it was great.  Many times I wondered if I suffered from a grand illusion.

Advertisements

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ME

On January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched what became known as the Tet Offensive.  A few days later I got involved in some extremely strange stuff at a place called Saigon Port on the Saigon River, a few kilometers north of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Our base was a sprawling supply depot nestled under a bridge carrying Highway 1 over the Saigon River.  The depot was on the south side of the bridge and didn’t have much military significance – we unloaded barges and boats – but the bridge was a crucial strategic target.

We were stevedores and clerks, not combat troops.  However, during Tet Offensive we had to provide our own security since most U.S. and ARVN troops were occupied with other attacks – particularly in and around Saigon, including the U.S. Embassy.  There was a small detachment of ARVN at the north end of the bridge, but lightly armed.

The Viet Cong attacked at around midnight.  They overran the guard post on the north end of the bridge and fought their way towards us on the south side.  As the attack progressed, our commander called for air support.  Fifteen minutes later three Cobra helicopter gunships arrived and commenced firing rockets and “mini-guns” (giant Gatling guns firing up to four thousand rounds a minute).

The VC and NVA tended to use green and blue tracer bullets, while the U.S. favored red.  The giant tracer bullets of a U.S. fifty caliber machine gun looked like a string of fiery baseballs zooming through the night.  The Cobra mini-guns also carried tracers, but the high rate of fire made the tracers look like a laser beam.  Occasionally, a bullet ricocheted off metal or the ground and traced a high, lazy arc through the sky.

A firefight at night is an awesome light show, with green, blue and red beams of light crisscrossing the blackness, punctuated by bright flashes from rockets and grenades.

The sound was equally awesome.  The mini-guns split the atmosphere with a continuous, screeching roar, like tearing apart a giant sheet of steal.  The fifty calibers thumped with dull, staccato booms.  Random bursts of small arms fire popped like strings of firecrackers.  Rockets and grenades set off sharp cracks of thunder.

Modern warfare is quite the spectacle and cannot be equaled as a horrifying experience.  Also, there is no other extreme adrenaline rush than to shoot at people and get shot at.  I can see why men can find it attractive, exciting and powerful.  (I say “men” because it’s men who make war.)

I went through an experience so deadly horrendous that it changed my life.  And this is good; I am who I am and live where I live because of this event, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

WRITING IN THE RAINFOREST

Writing in the rainforest can be troublesome. Thousands of years ago the former Indian inhabitants of this area told their stories with stone carvings and sacred spheres, which were also probably troublesome, at least time-consuming.

In the modern era, at University in the 1970s, I wrote papers on an electric typewriter. I learned how to cut and splice, using scissors and paste, and blotted out letters or words with “white-out.” Today’s college students have never heard of such things, but back then an electric typewriter was the latest writing tool. (The computer I worked with was half the size of a refrigerator!)

Then I moved to the Costa Rican rainforest, to a place with no roads, no electricity and no phone lines. The ambiance was perfect for writing – no people, no distractions, everything natural.  But I didn’t like writing with pen and paper; much too slow and messy. I tried writing on an old manual machine, but each letter required a powerful downward stroke. It was even slower. The most irritating problem resulted from the high concentrations of salt and sand in the atmosphere. The house is next to the Pacific Ocean and the waves throw up a fine mist of seawater and particulate. The machine’s keys and all moving parts soon melded together, immovable. (Oiling everything helped with the movement, but played hell with the paper and ribbon.)

From then on I wrote only inside my head. While performing various chores on the farm, or simply sitting and staring at the sea, I daydreamed about the stories and scenes and characters.

In 1988 I visited the U.S. and saw my first personal computer – an Apple II.  It was a revelation!  The word processing program was like magic!  When I returned to Costa Rica, I installed a small hydro-electric system and bought my first computer – a Commodore 64 – which was essentially a keyboard with a separate disk drive.  I used a small black and white TV as a monitor.

Over the years, I wrote my books on a succession of different computers, each one falling victim to environmental hazards (including cat hair, dog hair, ants, cockroaches, mushrooms, and other mysterious lifeforms). I had good luck with one particular Hewlet-Packard Compaq, which lasted five years!

Fastball Fari was composed on three different computers. Once, in the middle of a re-write, I suffered an electronic catastrophe and lost all digital traces of Fari; the disks went bad and the hard drive blew up. Luckily, I found an old written copy of the book and wrote it into the new computer page by page.

WRITING AND THE ART OF DREAMING

I had the idea for Fastball Fari many years ago, but I was too occupied with the business of survival to actually write anything. Instead, I daydreamed about the various scenes I wanted in the book – essentially writing it on a mental tablet. When I finally had the freedom and time to actually get the book out of my head, the dreams poured out quite quickly; I wrote the first draft in four months. Since then, it’s been rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.

I especially enjoyed the clash of personalities. I gave the main characters wildly different worldviews and threw them together. For example, Fari and her mother Frances hold quite radical political and social philosophies, and yet Frances must negotiate with the team’s owner, Howard Sikes, billionaire. Frances enjoys the opportunity to make Howard squirm; she’s Fari’s agent and Howard desperately wants Fari on the team.

Fari Madrigal is a quiet, shy girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, which manifests as a collection of social phobias. She lives in total isolation – what she calls “hermitation” – but when she joins the Minnesota Twins professional baseball team her identity is immediately thrust out on the national and international level. Fari reacts strongly and suffers a few panic attacks.  She employs various emotional and mental strategies in trying to cope, but the media is voracious and everywhere. Fari clashes with everyone, except the pitching coach.

A romance blooms as a natural consequence of two wayward souls uniting through loneliness and grief. Chet Macquire, the Twins pitching coach, is a recent widower and recluse. Fastball Fari, hermit and baseball pitcher, charges into his life with all the heat and brilliance of a new sun.

BASEBALL

When I was a kid growing up in Minneapolis during the time of streetcars and “I Love Lucy,” a bunch of us would ride our bikes twenty blocks to Nicollet Park where we’d watch the Minneapolis Millers baseball team – a minor league team in the old American Association. This was when teams had names like the Toledo Mud Hens and the Cleveland Spiders.

We seldom had the money to buy a ticket, but through tricky means we could still watch the game. The outfield fence was made from planks of wood ten feet high. These planks were decorated with knots here and there, and we pried out these knots and put our eyes to the holes. They called us the Knot Hole Gang.

The holes appeared randomly along the fence – low, head-high, and higher still. Naturally, the head-high holes were the most coveted and something to fight for. Usually a pecking order emerged, with the younger kids lying or sitting on the sidewalk, watching from the lower holes, while the bigger, tougher kids took eye level. I remember some guys sitting on the shoulders of their buddies, watching from a higher hole. They’d trade off every inning.

Home runs were the highlight of any game. The wooden fence was ten feet high with another ten feet of wire mesh. Occasionally, a towering home run cleared this fence and the ball hit the street behind us. Imagine fifty yelling kids chasing that ball, battling for it!

It was a time of lazy, care-free innocence, when life was good – no worries, no enemies, no fears. As a kid I was thrilled at the uniforms, the lovely green grass and the thousands of fans in the stands. It was a grand spectacle and exciting.

Now, fifty years later and with a different brain, I can see how baseball – the nine players on the field – reflected the cohesion of social unity and independent purpose. The pitcher was the heart, beating regularly, setting a rhythm. The fielders were the appendages, each one with a different responsibility, but entirely integrated within the whole.

I wonder sometimes: Wouldn’t it be nice if life was like a game of baseball?

CELEBRITY BASHING

The basic premise for Fastball Fari came to me from observations about the role of “celebrity” in U.S. culture. Although the U.S. claims not to have royalty, movie stars, rock stars and sports stars seem to occupy a similar position. These are famous personalities that are followed, admired and “loved” by millions. In fact, celebrities often take advantage of their popularity by lending their images to promotional campaigns for consumer products and services.

However, whenever a celebrity purportedly commits a social sin or criminal act they are roundly condemned and denounced by the public, in collusion with the media. In this way, social/cultural heroes are destroyed and torn apart. This is especially evident with today’s multiple sources of electronic outlets, where celebrities (and politicians) are vulnerable to exposure through the many social networking sites.   There are many examples; Tiger Woods, Paula Deen, Michael Jackson, and others. Celebrity-bashing has a long cultural tradition in the U.S.

Even more disturbing, the very popularity of celebrities makes them targets for disturbed individuals seeking attention and recognition, and they are sometimes attacked or even killed.