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Q&A with Ballpark Mysteries Author David A. Kelly

April 4, 2012

Spring is here and with spring comes Baseball Season! What better way to celebrate the opening of the new season than with a guest post from Ballpark Mysteries author David Kelly!

                       

What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

There a few that made really strong impressions. One of them was Harriet the Spy. The mixture of investigation, sneaking around, and the thoughts that Harriet has was right up my alley. I loved the idea of spying on other people and keeping a log of what I saw. I even went as far as to go down to the Woolworths store in the village to look for the right types of miniature pens and small notebooks that I could carry with me to write notes and observations. Another book that made a strong impression on me was one called The Mad Scientists Club (and its follow-on book, The New Adventures of the Mad Scientist Club, both still available today). These books were excerpted in Boys Life and detailed the adventures of a club of boys who used science and smarts to play tricks on the people in their town and do cool things like win a hot air balloon race and build a miniature submarine. Of course I also liked mysteries, like Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys. (I think I got up to number 57 before I stopped. . . .)

What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?

Although all the children’s books I’ve written have been focused on baseball, I can’t say that the sports pages are first ones I open in the morning. I’m a baseball fan, but not fanatical. I take a more casual approach to the sport—following teams and games as I can. I think that being a casual fan is actually helpful for me because I’m able to bring a balance to the stories I’m writing, so they contain not only sports action but also adventure and mystery. In fact, the books really aren’t just about baseball—they’re mystery and adventure books set in baseball stadiums. So I’m a bit like my main character, Kate. She loves watching baseball, playing baseball, and going to baseball stadiums. But baseball is only one of her interests, so she keeps it in perspective.

As an author, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?

I’d love to have the time to subscribe to, and read, more authors’ and editors’ social media streams, but usually I’m so busy that I can only do it occasionally. From an author’s perspective, I also work to keep feeding my social media streams. I usually try to update the Ballpark Mysteries facebook account (http://www.facebook.com/#!/ballparkmysteries) every week or two, and I try to tweet about different events and updates (@davidakelly). One of my main characters, Mike, also keeps a blog on the Ballpark Mysteries website (www.ballparkmysteries.com/blog)

You’re obviously a baseball fan, is there something specific that inspired you to write The Ballpark Mysteries?

I became inspired to write a children’s book back in 2005 when I was spending a lot of time reading early chapter books to my sons, who were in elementary school. It certainly helped that I’d always loved reading and was looking for an alternative to the business, technology, and travel writing that I did for my job. I spent a lot of time analyzing successful children’s books—looking at how the chapters were put together, how the sentences were written, and the mechanics of the chapters. Overall, it’s been a fair amount of work, but it’s really fun to be working on something creative. In one sense, writing a children’s book turned out to be the easy part. Getting a children’s book published is harder. It takes dedication, good writing, and lots of patience and persistence. It’s not something that happened quickly for me, but with luck and hard work, it did. How many books are planned for The Ballpark Mysteries series? That’s a great question. I can tell you that I have 30 books planned, since there are (as of now . . .) 30 major league baseball teams. Nine books are under contract at this point. If they keep selling well, I imagine we have a good chance to get to all the teams. If we did that, we could expand the series to take on the World Series, the Hall of Fame, and spring training, and more.

Did you visit each of the ballparks you’re writing about? Do you have a favorite one?

Yes, I think it’s really important for me to visit each of the ballparks in the books. When I started off (with the Boston Red Sox mystery, The Fenway Foul-Up), I didn’t make a special trip to the stadium because I’m usually there a couple times a year (I live about 15 minutes away). However, for all the subsequent books, I’ve journeyed to the different ballparks. Now, I usually plan on spending about 5 – 6 days onsite, researching a city, team, and ballpark. I try to attend 2 – 3 games (day and night, if possible) and take a ballpark tour. But then I also spent a good deal of time really taking in the local sites and looking for interesting situations, locales, and historical facts that might fit into the story or drive the mystery plot. The research part of the process is fun (how great is it to have a job where you HAVE to go to baseball stadiums?), but it’s also a lot of work. I usually spend all day on the go, taking lots of pictures, writing notes, and pushing to make sure I get to see all the sites before I have to head home. It’s definitely not relaxing! Do you play baseball? Well . . . no, not officially, although lately I’ve been playing catch with my sons to help get them ready for baseball this year. I did play baseball when I was growing up, but I wasn’t particularly good. I usually played in the outfield (positions like first base, shortstop, or pitcher just seemed too hard), and I struggled at the plate. But I enjoyed it, and those memories are some of the raw material for imagining what my main characters Mike and Kate think about.

You do a lot of school appearances, what has your favorite event experience been so far?

I think my favorite school visit experience was probably also my most humbling. I was visiting a school in Massachusetts after my first book, Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse, came out in 2009. I was speaking in front of about 200 kids, all spread out before me in the gym. I’d taken them through the process of writing a book like Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse, and a little bit about what it’s like to be an author. I also told them a bit about some of the upcoming books I was working on, including the Ballpark Mysteries series. I had lots of questions during the Q&A portion of talk, including questions about the illustrator (Do you know him?) and questions about whether I had ever met Babe Ruth. But the best question came near the end. A little boy raised his hand and asked “So, how many books have you published?” I replied that Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse was the only book that I’d published, but I explained that I was working on others, including a series and a picture book. I thought I had done a great job answering his question until he looked up at me again and asked, “So . . . you’re really not that famous at all, are you?”

What was your favorite genre to read when you were a kid? And what’s your favorite genre to read now?

 I guess I’d say realistic fiction and mysteries. It was always a good day when I was able to get a Robert McCloskey book like Homer Price from the library. As for now, I tend to read a lot of narrative nonfiction and history books, along with some classic children’s books like James and the Giant Peach. I love the way it mixes real, painful issues like having your parents killed or abusive caretakers, with imagination, ingenuity, and a joy for discovering something new. To me, it’s what makes children’s book so important.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

My advice to aspiring authors is to always continue looking for ways to learn. Learn about the market, learn how to understand different levels and reading requirements, learn how to develop a creative social network that can help nurture you, learn how to revise, revise, revise, and learn how adjust your goals and expectations to what’s possible.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Not really. There are days when I should be writing but end up doing a lot of busy work, but I’m usually thinking about the story in the background. Sometimes when it’s slow, I’ll spend a day simply trying to get through the first two paragraphs of a chapter, or trying to transition from one scene to another. Since I’m working on mysteries, I sometimes face real problems up front, when I’m outlining and plotting the book. I can definitely get stuck on that part of the process. When that happens, I usually turn to my wife or kids for ideas and eventually I get through them.

                     

Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?

The Ballpark Mysteries focus on two main characters, cousins Kate and Mike. Each book also has either Kate’s mother or father, and a set of location-specific characters. Lately, I would say that Mike is speaking to me loudest when I’m writing. For some reason over the last few books, his voice is one that has come to the front most easily. However, in the first few books, I found that Kate’s voice was a stronger. I listen to both while I’m writing, and try to make the books even, although each book may tip slightly toward one character or the other. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? One of my favorite chapters to write so far is near the end of The Astro Outlaw (Ballpark Mysteries #4). Mike and Kate are at a Houston Astros baseball game and they’re trying to find a missing (and priceless) moon rock. At the same time, there’s an important play in the baseball game, and something unusual happens. Mike is then able to take the idea from the baseball play and apply it to their situation to solve the mystery. It’s one of my favorite scenes because it combines both an unusual baseball play with the key to solving the mystery. For me, it was the perfect example of what these books should be.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you! I wouldn’t be writing books like the Ballpark Mysteries without real interest from my readers and fans. It’s incredibly thrilling for me to receive emails and letters from readers and parents and teachers. Sometimes they tell me how special the books are to them, and how their son or student suddenly became interested in books because of one of the Ballpark Mysteries. One mother wrote in saying that her son even cried when he came home on Friday and realized he’d left his Ballpark Mysteries book at school and wouldn’t be able to finish it until Monday. I love hearing stories like that, as well as requests for which baseball stadiums I should cover and why (all readers have their own favorites!). Keep those emails and letters coming!

Many thanks to David Kelly for joining us at RAoReading and sharing a look inside his books today.

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2013 3:08 am

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Trackbacks

  1. Ballpark Mysteries Books | The Dugout Scoop
  2. The Wait is Over! – New Titles Available in Paperback | Random Acts of Reading

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