Countdown to Heart Of The Game: 4 Weeks
First of all, I want to thank Dawn, who won the auction for the first ever copy of Heart Of The Game!
Second, next week is going to consist of a Q&A session about Heart Of The Game. If you have any pre-release questions about the book, please post them in the comments section, or email them to me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com. I will answer anything that doesn’t lead to a spoiler.
And now, on to the central question of today’s blog: What’s in a setting?
Well, sometimes, not too much. Some of my books, like Learning Curve, have a very generic setting. Part of this was purposeful. I wanted it to feel like “Everytown, USA.” Smallish, nondescript, a small college, a small gay bar, cute little houses all in a row. The kind of place every person has been. And I think that worked because I got email from all sorts of people saying they knew exactly which town I was talking about. They had been to that college, they had been to that bar. It amused me, and still does, that something so nondescript could actually carry such strong associations for people.
In other books, like Trails Merge and Spanish Heart, I had to assume most of my readers had little to no knowledge about the settlings I was working within. Small ski hills in Upper Wisconsin and Mediterranean beaches are not places your average American visits often. I had to paint that picture and very carefully draw connections for the reader about how the settling affects the characters and the plot to the point that the setting almost becomes a character itself. There are points in both books where I feel I accomplished this, and times where I probably could have done better, but that awareness of place and the burden of conveying that to the reader never left my mind.
Then came Heart Of The Game. A large portion of the story takes place in baseball stadiums, mostly Busch Stadium in St. Louis. I do have a friend who, as an adult American had never seen a baseball game at all, and that was a learning experience for both of us, but I found that most Americans I talk to have been to a baseball stadium of some sort or another. Many of the people I talked to have very strong memories of attending ballgames as a child. They all have their favorites. They all have their associations. Many of them feel quite strongly about their baseball stadiums, the new ones, the old ones, the places they used to be, the people we used to be in them. Taking on a setting like that is actually a lot of weight for an author to bear.
But you see, I feel that weight, the weight of all those baseball park memories because I share them. I grew up first on the gulf coast of Florida at a time when the only baseball we saw was spring training games. My father would take us out of school to take us to games, Pirates games, Reds games, Cardinals games, and later Yankees games. I saw the places where ball teams were made and ball players were broken. To me they were the real thing. Then when we would go to visit my grandparents in Illinois, and later when we moved there full time, I got my glimpses of the big leagues. I saw my home field. I saw, what to my young eyes appeared to be, a holy church of the game. I remember the first time I learned there was a Catholic Basilica just a couple blocks from Busch stadium. I went inside to find it dull and hollow compared to the collective spirit I felt moving down the road. It wasn’t that I found faith or God empty. I just felt the glory of his creation clearer amid the sun-kissed fields and fresh air and the sea of red and white all moving together with the same hopes. To me that collective basking in the goodness of God’s creation felt more like Christianity at its finest.
But I digress, or do I? To me baseball and faith are hopelessly intertwined, and the more I talk and travel, the more I suspect that viewpoint is not as unusual as I may have initially thought. When my son was born, Susan and I decided that we wanted to show him every baseball stadium in the country before he graduated high school.
To date we have seen ten of them, and everywhere I go people are the same. They want to show you their home field. They want to tell you about their memories there. They want to tell you about their first game. They want to show you their favorite spot, the hidden gem, this thing of beauty. They want more than anything for you to see what they see, to feel what they feel in that place.
And that was my challenge with the setting for Heart Of The Game. It wasn’t to make something out of nothing, and it wasn’t to make something foreign feel familiar. The challenge in setting a book in a baseball stadium was to take something so many of us already feel so strongly about and give them a vision strong enough to validate what they already know deep in their hearts. I hope I was able to tap into those emotions and give my readers the kind of connections worthy of the memories they carry with them.
I guess you can tell if I succeed or not in just four more weeks.
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