How I Came to Write This Book – Part 5

Dive Deeper / How I Came to Write This Book – Part 5

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 5

How I Came To Write This Blog Part 5

Part 5: LIFE LESSON TAUGHT BY A FOUR-YEAR-OLD

Their names were Samantha, Loreal, Cory, Dwayne, Maurice, Eddie Jr., Natasha, Andrew, and Clifford. They lived in the neighborhood surrounding the relic we called home, Grainger Stadium; we, being me and Gary Fitzpatrick (who, at age 30, had left his job as a DJ at an FM-Radio Station in Boston to follow his dream to own a ballclub). The year was 1984.

At age 24, I was the General Manager of Gary’s fantasy, and a willing participant in his game as the Pied Piper — the children adored him. It was the magical time before the dawn of our now litigious society; so we had no worries about letting the kids roam free on our professional playground located within walking distance to their homes.

 

Life’s Simple Pleasures

We took time out from our busy schedules to play with them some days, and found that ice cream novelties were a shared pleasure. Eddie Jr. was the youngest of the group. At age four he knew which door lock fit every key on my janitor-like-ball-and-chain. One day he followed me through three locked portals to the souvenirs warehouse in hopes of a new toy. While I was up a ladder searching for a particular pile of trinkets, I suddenly heard the quick slamming of three doors and his little munchkin voice sing-songing outside the open small windows near the ceiling, “Val-er-ie, I locked you in-nn,” to the accompaniment of shaking keys.

Yep, he did. It was only after threatening him that he would never eat another ice cream treat from our humble confines that he set me free. Another time he walked into the office while I was at my typewriter, hands behind his back, and a sheepish giggle on his lips. He swung his little arms around with fists closed. I tapped one. He opened his palm to reveal a red rose (the only one that had, thus far, revealed itself on the bush beside our headquarters). He had clipped the flower right at the base of the bud, but it was more precious to me than a dozen of the long-stemmed variety.

One day I was holding him in my arms inside the park before a ballgame and a woman said to me, “Oh, your son is so adorable.” I simply thanked her. But after she walked away, he looked at me with a half-amused and half-scolding face and said, “I’m not your little boy.”

No, he wasn’t. He was the child of the mixed race couple that lived in the trailer across the street. One morning he heard me on the phone say to the person on the other end of the line, “I’ll meet you here at my office…” He had been on his way out the door (his hand on the doorknob), when he stopped in his tracks and wheeled his head around with a look of consternation. “This ain’t no office,” he said. “It’s yo house.”

 

Take Time to Smell the Rose(s)

It was one of those V8 moments where I could have easily whacked my forehead, saying, “Of course he would think this place is my house…he gets up in the morning and runs over – I’m here… his mother calls him home at night – I’m still here. Dah, college girl. You think maybe you’re workin’ just a bit too much? Maybe you oughtta mix in a day off now and then.”

What a joy those kids were. A couple years later when I was finally living my own dream with a job in the Bigs and Gary was still in Kinston, I looked up my ol’ club in The Baseball Blue Book to see if my former boss had added anyone I knew to the staff. (The Blue Book was a directory of every front office member of every club in both the Major and Minor Leagues.)

When I found Kinston alphabetically among the members of the Carolina League, I was shocked to see a long list of names. But upon closer scrutiny, my shock turned to laughter. Gary had given every kid from the neighborhood an official title, from Team Physician to Director of Souvenirs. They were all there.

I often wonder where those children, now adults, are today. I should have kept in closer contact. I hope their lives have been better than some from that place, especially the one whose body was found in the backyard of Clifford and Andrew’s neighbor when I was still working nearby.

Perhaps that incident should have made Gary and me nervous, more vigilant, but it didn’t. Like the children, we thought of it as just another part of living our own television drama. Truly. That’s what those days feel like in my memory, surreal, almost as if someone else had lived them.

Eddie Jr. thought my office was my house, and I thought my life was a TV show. We were both wrong. It was part of my education that led to FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM, a story about the neighborhood we call Earth, and strangers who become friends on the road to truth.

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 4

Dive Deeper / How I Came to Write This Book – Part 4

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 4

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Part 4: O.K. vs. T.P.

My character T.P. in FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM is loosely based on a man I knew as O.K. during my minor league days in North Carolina. He was not homeless like T.P., but he was a talented golfer. One day he showed up at the office with a gift for me, beckoning me outside into the parking area to present it. He opened the trunk of his caddie and withdrew a shiny new putter. Then, he handed me a driver, teed up a ball on the tree lawn along the nearby edge of the blacktop lot, and said, “Show me what you got.”

I knew how to play, but was by no means a player. I still recall the goofy peach pantsuit and matching spike-heel pumps I was wearing that day – At first I thought I would have no chance of connecting with the ball with any kind of authority in those shoes. But, as it turned out, they must have given me some stability when they sunk into the grass. I hit the drive of my life. It cleared the lot and landed in a yard on the next block, as straight and true as a thoroughbred winner in the homestretch.

O.K. was thrilled. He slapped himself on the knee as he bent over with a giggle and said, “I just knew you was a player!” Then he invited me to hit a round with him. I was a little nervous about accepting (because he was old enough to be my father, and black… Such was my mentality in those days). But he was a die-hard fan who attended most of our games. I felt safe with him.

 

Golf Lessons vs. Life Lessons

My instincts were correct, and O.K. gave me lessons that day that far surpassed anything I could learn on a golf course. He picked me up at the office and soon crossed the metaphorical tracks (in this case, the highway that connected Greenville to Kinston). Within minutes I was in another world – a poor black one.

I had heard the term shanty-town, but had never seen one until that day. The links-style course we drove to was in need of a mountain of TLC, but we played in the too-tall grass anyway. Afterward he introduced me to a drink he called silly-bub (which I’m sure could have made me quite silly if I had drunk more than a small glass, but O.K. didn’t try to over-serve me). I believe he did, however, serve a higher purpose that day by mentoring a young naïve girl from Ohio. He showed me a side to life I needed to see.

I don’t recall if it was him or someone else who told me that he had once been the pro at the local Country Club. I don’t know if it’s true, but I assume so. I am fascinated by the thought of another African-American breaking barriers like the ones Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby shattered in the MLB.

Every baseball team has its group of die-hards. In our case, and at that time in Kinston, they sat in separate sections by choice. But, on nights when there weren’t many more fans than the black folks behind home plate and the white ones behind the home team dugout, they would holler back and forth at one another with a running commentary of jokes about what was happening on the field. Oh, how I wish I had taped just one of those evenings. They sometimes had me (and each other) in tears. Of course, O.K., was the king of their comedy.

He was an unforgettable figure at a time when I wish I would have been less self-absorbed, and more aware of the potential long-term friendships I could have enjoyed. I did keep in touch with a few people after I left my days in the weeds of A-ball, but not enough. Besides people like O.K., there were the Brownings of Greenville who opened their home to me for a couple months when I was a refugee from college on an internship I could barely afford (in the athletic department at East Carolina University), as well as the kids from the neighborhood. (I’ll share more about them in my next blog). What a stunad I was to not nurture relationships with such wonderful people!

God Bless O.K., the Brownings, and all the rest, wherever they are today.

Why Fatima?

Dive Deeper / Why Fatima?

Why Fatima?

Why-Fatima

So, here’s the thing…I’m a doubting Thomas… and I question everything. If I read an article in the newspaper that sites a particular study, the first thing I do is rip the study apart in my head: how was it conducted, who paid for it, etc. And, of course, if they give a few details about how it was constructed and conducted, there are always more questions to ask.

I’ve enjoyed lively political and religious debates with friends and family members. Some of my dearest loved ones and I are not on the same page, but that doesn’t matter… we would still go to the wall for each other.

 

CONVERSATION SPURS QUESTIONS

So it’s November 1998, and I’m having lunch in the Terrace Club at Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) with two guys from one of the top research firms in the United States – one is a devout Jew; the other is a devout Catholic. (The Jewish member of our trio is someone who I still consider a friend, and it was so fun to talk to him last year when he surprised me with a phone call as the Indians were marching toward the World Series.)

The devout Catholic was a recent grad of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, located in Ohio. I was meeting him for the first time, and, although I only knew him briefly, he made quite the impression. I was born and raised an Italian Catholic a half hour up the river from where he went to college, but to call me “devout”would have been a stretch. Maybe the waters of the mighty Ohio run more pure further south. 😀

At any rate, I tried to make polite conversation with my new business acquaintance. Since I knew a little bit about his alma mater I made a flip remark – a question actually. (Why it came out of my mouth, I still don’t understand to this day.) I said, “So do you think The Blessed Mother really appeared in Medjugorje?”

 

*SIDENOTE*
Now, Medjugorje is a town in the former Yugoslavia that I had heard about from my mother (she being of the devout Catholic variety). I didn’t pay much attention to her details, but for some reason I remembered that it was a place where the priests were Franciscans. I guess I figured that having attended a college run by the same order, he could shed some light on the apparitions for me to pass along to my mother.

 

His response forever changed my life. He said to me, “She still is!”

Thankfully the Internet had come a long by then, and I began researching the subject. If you’re curious as well, then I recommend that you read the book written by one of the visionaries called: My Heart Will Triumph.

The events in Medjugorje have not been sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, but you can’t learn about them without being lead back to Fatima, Portugal 1917, and the supernatural events there that have been approved (and are being honored this 100th Anniversary year). The information you dig up can take you somewhere between two extremes – supporting the belief that those events were nothing more than a centennial vintage of fake news, or reinforce religious fanaticism and the apocalypse.

For me, those Internet searches from 1998 lead to book reading over the course of the next 15 years that culminated in a conclusion for me:  I don’t think those three little kids in Fatima, ages 7, 8 and 10, who were shepherding their sheep when they experienced the first of several supernatural encounters, were faking it.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF FATIMA

With Portugal under Marxist rule at that particular point in time, and the Lisbon newspaper carrying the story as it did, and all the subsequent accounts that have been written to credit or discredit these kids, I still keep coming back to the same question: if they were lying, then why wouldn’t they have eventually come clean and gotten themselves off the hook? Instead, they ended up going through hell in hopes of keeping as many of us out of there as possible.

Damn, I hate reading that last sentence back to myself. I feel like it makes me sound like a lunatic. But, here’s the thing. The story of Fatima put me on a path that lead me to a far happier life than the world of high profile pro sports ever offered (and that was a pretty cool life). We are all inundated with so much busyness and so much noise in our daily lives that it’s no wonder we forget that we are spiritual beings with the need to feed that part of ourselves just as much as we do our body and our bank account. If you can relate to THAT last sentence and are feeling a bit depleted, then pick up a copy of my novel and begin your own journey toward a more beautiful life.

Language Matters

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Language Matters

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One of the reasons why my character, Darius, in FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM, is multilingual, is because I’m not…and I wish I was. I can speak broken Italian well enough to get help from someone for basic needs (or make marginal polite conversation), but otherwise I’m a dunce in that department. I have even forgotten pig Latin.

On more than one occasion, my inability to speak either Spanish or Italian has been a source of frustration. My maternal grandmother came to this country at age 40 in 1947 and never learned to speak English.

They say the human brain is best equipped to learn other languages between age two and young adulthood. I began trying to learn Italian at the same age my grandmother was when she came to the United States, and I can vouch for the fact that the wheels just don’t turn quite as well once you are past that milestone.

Mom told us stories (harrowing stories) about my grandmother, Angela, raising four little children in war-torn Italy while my grandfather was here in the United States. I wish I could’ve talked to Grandma about those experiences from her perspective, but due to the language barrier, it was not to be.

 

Barriers in the Professional World

During my time in minor-league baseball, our team was loaded with Spanish-speaking players. In my second season, I remember a couple of months where we did not even have a Spanish-speaking coach.

I recall a conference on the pitcher’s mound one game, among the Hispanic pitcher and catcher, and American manager. It was brief, but effective. I asked our manager after the game what he could possibly have said to the two of them since he did not speak Spanish. He answered, “I know two words in Spanish: throw strikes!”

Another incident that stands out (not for its humor, but for its challenge) was when one of our top pitching prospects from Venezuela, named Oswald Peraza, who later played in the big leagues, lost his passport in the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tall, lanky young man was in tears in my office (perhaps out of fear that he might be deported for losing it).

I felt so bad for him, first because I couldn’t understand why he was so upset, and then later after I figured out why, because it took an effort for me to calm him down and make him understand that everything would be OK. Miraculously, when I called the airport in Charlotte, they had it in their lost and found. Thank God for good Samaritans.

 

Barriers in Personal Experience

Because I look like a native, during several of my trips to Italy I have experienced older people in distress looking to me for help. Thankfully my husband is usually near at hand to come to their rescue.

Sometimes when I watch an Italian film with English subtitles I recognize that the translation is not exact. I think about that a lot: how much is lost in translation? But, I have found that when face-to-face with others who speak differently from us, certain gestures are universally understood: a smile most of all.

You might think anger would be number one, but I would disagree. One day when we were staying with relatives in my husband’s hometown in Calabria, I was awakened by the shouting of a woman on a balcony next door to another lady in the street below. I said to Billy, “What are they arguing about?” He answered, “They aren’t arguing. They’re just having a conversation.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that…just quit arguing and instead, try to better understand the other person in order to have a fruitful conversation. I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic because, quite frankly, I’m very hopeful.

 

Universal Language

I spent two weeks at a language school in Taormina, Sicily last summer, trying to improve my Italian. The whole time I was there I kept thinking, “why bother.” Almost all the other students there (from a wide variety of countries) spoke English.

Even in the Catholic Parish I belong to in Scranton, Pennsylvania there is a language barrier between English-speakers and Spanish-speakers. But, I know that will change over time, just as it did after the wave of Germans, Poles, Italians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, etc. first came here decades ago and later assimilated into our American melting pot.

It’s an incredible place, this country of ours. There are many people in Scranton who are descended from the same little town as my husband. Ninety percent of them, like my husband, own their own business. Much of that 90%, in turn employ others who were born and raised here in the United States. Not all of them read and write English very well, but they are not dummies.

Shortly before my grandma Angelina passed away at age 79 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, I went to visit her. She had lost control of the muscles in her neck, jaw, and throat. She was embarrassed that her mouth hung open uncontrollably, so she kept a hand with a tissue in it over her mouth most of the time. At one point she motioned for a pen and paper. I retrieved them for her and in perfect English she wrote: You look beautiful.

What a young fool I was to sell her so short. After all, this was the same woman who 50 years earlier had run around her house like a crazy person making it look like a disaster area, scaring the hell out of her children who thought she had finally lost her mind. But, when German soldiers burst through the front doors and began perusing the interior, they got an even bigger scare. Fear gave way to relief once the soldiers turned on their heels and walked out the same door.

Grandma had gotten wind that the Nazis were “on tour” going from house to house to choose one as a headquarters. She wanted to make sure they didn’t choose hers. I wish I knew the words then to tell her in Italian how much I loved and admired her, but thankfully, she understood.

Why I Chose Calabria as a Setting in My Novel

Dive Deeper / Why I Chose Calabria as a Setting in My Novel

Why I Chose Calabria as a Setting in My Novel

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Me and my husband with our cousins, Sarah, Aaron, and Bethany in San Mango overlooking the sea.

When you ask someone where they would like to visit given the opportunity, many will say, Italy. I don’t blame them. I have been fortunate to visit many times and have traveled most of that picturesque Mediterranean peninsula.

The first time was in 1996 with my parents, youngest brother, and Mom’s sis, my dear Aunt Mary (God rest her soul). Mom and her big sis wanted to go back to visit their Zio Julio. Thanks to WWII, they were separated from their father (who was in the U.S.) for 10 years, so their uncle filled that paternal role as best he could.

The story about how he saved my Uncle Mariano (thanks to medicine he acquired via the black market) from a leg amputation or quite possibly death by infection was just one of many amazing tales my mother shared with us about growing up in a war zone. At 85, she is still one of the most compassionate people I know toward the plight of those in Syria, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere today, because she’s been there and done that. However, she considers herself one of the lucky ones. Her experiences, she will say, “were minor by comparison to what has been suffered by others.” (I will say, “I’m glad to have been born in the U.S.A.”)

 

Personal Ties to Various Regions in Italy

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San Mango prepares for the Feast of the Madonna

More on all that in a future blog, but for now, let me tell you about her village. It’s located in the shadow of one of Italy’s most famous mountains, Gran Sasso, in a rolling valley of fertile fields; a pastoral setting of tiny towns of stone-on-stone offering strolls back in time. Sadly, earthquakes in that area have since devastated some of those towns including little Vallecupa, my Mom’s home village. But don’t let that hold you back from a visit to the Abruzzo region and some of the best food you could ever eat.

My husband and I once stayed inland and upland from the hopping beach town of Pescara along the Adriatic coast. I remember that we had to eat dinner early that night because Italy was playing Spain for the European soccer championship, and the staff of the castle where we stayed (very inexpensive) in Loreto Aprutino did not want to miss a kick. The castle, its views, church, and antiques were well worth the stop. The meal was one of my all-time favorites.

I realize that most folks want to visit Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast (as I first did), but if you can swing a side trip to another region like we did with Mom, time spent off the beaten path is well worth it.

My father’s parents and my husband are from the region where my story begins, Calabria, one of the least known regions of Italy, but a must-see. The beaches as well as the views from the high hill town of San Mango D’Aquino, and the quaintness of its main church, are just as I describe in my novel, Fatima and the Sons of Abraham.

 

The Best Places in Calabria

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“Main Street” in San Mango D’Aquino

San Mango D’Aquino is easy to get to from the Autostrada A3. (It really does only take 15 minutes to scoot down the mountain to the beach towns of Falerna, Nocera Terinese, and Campora.) For a fish dinner that will blow your mind, eat at Ristorane L’Aragosta. My paesani at the Hotel Torino are located on a quiet stretch of the rocky shore and may not serve as exotic meals, but you won’t go away hungry after a day of sunbathing.

The Calabrese in this region will tell you to visit Tropea, known to world chefs for its fields of onions, but to vacationers for its incredible beach setting at the base of a rock outcropping where sits (what else) a church. Get there early if you go in the summer, because parking is difficult – especially on the weekends. The town is some 300 steps above the beach, atop ancient Roman aqueducts.

For history or romance buffs, the nearby town of Pizzo is home to the palace where Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Marshal Joachim Murat, former King of Naples, and gallant military leader, was executed in 1815. The letter he wrote to his wife before his death at age 48 is a literary wonder.

On the Ionian Sea side of this region (known as the bottom of the boot of Italy), is the hamlet called Gerace where one of the most amazingly ornate collections of silver can be found. I remember a moment there when the sound of local folk music echoed its way to my ears from a tiny farm cart along the winding road to the hill town and my perch against the cities outer wall.

So many places to see and so little time, I know, but if you are a European traveler, get yourself to Abruzzo and Calabria and discover La Dolce Vita, southern style.

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 3

Dive Deeper / How I Came to Write This Book – Part 3

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 3

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Part 3: Good Characters Are Everywhere

Kinston, North Carolina in 1983 was like a foreign country to me. I couldn’t figure out why everyone moved so slowly.

Southern hospitality was a mixed bag. I had no idea how ticked-off people still were to have lost the Civil War. As a damn Yankee, I truly was a foreigner to some. Others, however, were as gracious and kind as a shade-giving magnolia.

 

Setting the Scene

Our tiny brick office building with the wooden screen door was always opened when we were there…we being Ray and Ruth Kuhlman and me. Mr. and Mrs. Kuhlman, as they insisted I call them, were quite the pair. They had met in Asia during WWII. He had been a Hump Pilot for the Army, flying cargo missions over the Himalayas, and she was a former WAC (member of the Women’s Army Corp). They were two tough birds.

One of the first things they taught me was to pay a bill the day it arrived. They knew they were thought of as damn Yankees, and they also knew that folks used that term with more endearment after word got around town that the Kuhlmans never kept folks waiting for their cash.

After his days in the military, Ray became a pilot for United and retired from them only to never step on an airplane again. They were members of the Officers Club on the Air Force Base in nearby Goldsboro and never lived moments as heady again as those days when they first met. How could anyone? I learned very quickly from them that war for all its ugliness is also one of the most exhilarating experiences one could endure; almost nothing tops it. And as members of The Greatest Generation, they expected no less than everything you had to offer.

They gave me the title, Assistant General Manager, which sounded right fancy, but was anything but. The old-fashioned ballpark we called home, known as Grainger Stadium, was full of legend and lore, and allowed me a fair number of memorable moments, as well.

One moment I’ll never forget was when a truly sad incident occurred. When they dropped the news on me I walked out of the office. I was shocked. I just wanted a chance to collect myself in quiet. I’m not generally a weepy chick, but ol’ Ruth chased me down thinking for sure that’s what I’d be up to. When she found me sitting in one of the green wooden seats in the front row along the third base line, she leaned on the end of the railing of the ramp that led into the comfy confines and said to me, “Girly, that better be the last tear you ever shed if you want to make it in this man’s game.”

Years later, when I first saw the movie A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and heard Tom Hanks utter similar words, I nearly fell out of my chair. Ruth Kuhlman was a woman who knew exactly how to work with the men of that time. I learned as much from her as anybody. She loved to let her husband think he was in charge, but she wore the iron pants that ran that Single-A Minor League club (affiliated in those days with the Toronto Blue Jays).

 

Characters You May Recognize

One day, a big man came in dressed in bibbed overalls and a straw hat. I had trouble with the lazy drawl of the Carolinas on a good day, let alone when someone was speaking with a mouth full of chaw. I had no idea what he said to Mrs. Kuhlman. It was the first time I ever actually saw someone pull out a “wad of dough that could choke a horse.”

He peeled off a few hundred dollar bills, tipped his hat and left. “What the heck just happened here,” I asked Mrs. Kuhlman. She said to me that was (so-and-so), the richest tobacco farmer in eastern North Carolina. He just came in to pay for his season tickets.

I never did get to know that man, but you might notice one of the characters in my book, FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM is loosely based on the guy. There’s a little bit of Ruth Kuhlman in my character, Marietta as well.

Ohh, Lordy. I’m just gettin’ started. Tune in to my next installment for more of the characters of K-town.

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 2

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How I Came to Write This Book – Part 2

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Part 2: Lessons Learned

Dr. Charles Higgins is like an egg fresh from the hen—all hard shell on the outside, but full of warm liquid goodness on the inside.

He is forever “Doc” Higgins to those of us who are alumni of the famous Ohio University Sports Administration Grad Program. When Karen Williams (now Hatcher) and I invited him to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant (I think maybe the first ethnic food establishment in Athens at that time), he had to work hard to control the fact that he was positively giddy. No students had ever ventured so far! I often wonder if anyone has done so since. But Karen and I (who grew up together…which is a whole other blog) saw right through him. Salt and Pepper, as our classmates called us (because she is black and I am white and we were inseparable at the time), gave that wonderful man a whole new flavor when we were together.

 

Doc’s Tough Love

Doc had no tolerance for the wishy-washy. He used to get all hot in the face when he was mad at his 30 kids/students, and say, “Make a decision already!!! Then work your butt off to make it the right one.” He was the rock on which Huey, Dewey, and Louie (as in Drs. Higgins, Wilkinson, and Lavery) built the now 50 years strong O.U. Sports Ad Program.

Drs. James Lavery and Owen Wilkinson have since passed, but Doc and our Den Mother, Shirley, are still going strong. Apparently golf and good clean livin’ are the secret chemistry to the fountain of youth… or maybe it’s just the endless tough love he has for the nearly two thousand children he shaped into men and women (who would, in turn, help shape the games we all played into the big businesses they are today).

The man is as good a Christian as they come. I am not. I am a typical Italian Catholic; straight-laces can’t tie me. So one year when I really wanted to attend the class’s annual symposium in May, but the baseball schedule dictated otherwise, I sent a special gift for my mentor who was to be honored at the Saturday evening banquet. I wish cell phones had been invented already, so I could have seen the precise shade of red on his face when he pulled out that pair of smiley-faced Chief Wahoo (Indians logo) boxer shorts.

 

Honoring My Biggest Influences

When I was honored by the class of 2000 as the Distinguished Alumnus, Doc could not have been more proud. When I addressed him from that podium, I saw the love in his face for a young woman who was half of the team that first showed him it was alright to let his always well-cropped hair down now and then.

It’s tough love from the men and women in my life like him that helped me push past my old ball and chain – fear of failure – and make it to the top tier of the sports world (and later publish my first novel). When I was considering drastically cutting back my teaching schedule to focus on writing, Doc was one of a handful of voices in my head. He was shouting at me: “Just make the decision already and work your butt off to make it the right one!”

God, how I love that man. There’s a scene in my book, FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM, where one of my main characters, Eli, lets his tough ballplayer exterior down for a moment to express his affection for T.P., one of the minor (though my personal favorite) characters. Doc is sprinkled a bit in both of those men at that moment. Thank you, sir, for being one of those larger-than-life people who make living worth the moment it is in time.
Tune in to my next blog post for an introduction to Minor League Baseball in the early ‘80s and some of the best character material a writer could ever ask for (pardon the dangling preposition).

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 1

Dive Deeper / How I Came to Write this Book – Part 1

How I Came to Write This Book – Part 1

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Part 1:  Trust your instincts

Fear of failure may be one of the most natural human emotions. It’s also one of the most useless.

There will always be enough other people out there waiting for you to tank, so why slam dunk yourself before you even get started? Who cares what they think? Even the experts don’t matter. We’ve all heard the stories of people whose doctors said they’d never recover, but they did anyway – or the champions who were told they had no chance of winning.

 

Using Fear of Failure as a Catalyst

Fear of failure in fact shaped the whole first part of my adult life. It began way back in high school (during that time when you’re supposed to decide what you want to study in college). Being a writer was the very first thing I wanted to be when I grew up. I have the distinct recollection of a story I wrote in the fifth grade about nymphs and sprites (actually, I have no recollection about what those creatures were all doing, I just know I wrote something about them), and the charge I got out of the experience was like a thrill ride for me. My terrific teacher, Miss Ann Bulger, was the instigator (she also taught us how to play chess and allowed us to compete at tables set along the windows in the room if we finished tasks early), and when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, she didn’t discourage anyone who said they wanted to be an astronaut someday.

 

Someday…

In the fifth grade, someday, is light years away, but seven years later it arrived. I wanted to go to school at Notre Dame, but Dad suggested that I’d be buried in debt since I was going to have to put myself through the process of earning a degree. As an Ohio girl, I looked at all the state schools and picked Ohio University because of that fear of failure thing again. It was the only school at that time that did not require chemistry of its Physical Education majors. Chem scared the daylights out of me! I had determined that being a teacher and a coach made more sense for me than becoming a writer. In 1977 girls were going to be teachers, secretaries, or nurses. Practical was way less scary. Did writers even earn a steady income? How would I pay my bills, let alone any college loans?

But the biggest reason I chose P.E. was that being an English major required a truckload of reading, and I, sorry to admit, was a painfully slow reader. I remember Sister Mary Loretta placing me in the C reading group in first grade (that’s “C” as in crappy reader). I was mortified and quickly moved up to B for better, but never could crack onto the Academic All-Stars A-list.

It really jaded me. I used to think that reading was boring as compared to playing sports. Why would you SIT IN THE HOUSE reading when you could be OUTSIDE PLAYING? Miss Ann almost turned me around at age 10, but I fell back into my chicken-sh@# mindset after graduating from her dare-to-dream-classroom.

 

From P.E. to Master of Sports Management

When I was a freshman at O.U., a wise instructor took a class period early in the semester to tell everyone about the other programs offered by the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. It was there that I learned about Ohio’s first-of-its-kind (and still best-in-the-nation) Master of Sports Management Degree Program, which is now a dual degree program within the business school where you also earn your MBA. The light bulb that went off in my head at that moment made me feel certain that working for a sports organization would be a better fit for me than teaching, but once again FOF did its thing. Instead of switching majors to broadcasting or marketing or something of that nature, I stuck with P.E. because I felt the chances of me being accepted into a program that only took on about 30 out of 300 applicants each year might be reaching for the stars. Becoming a teacher was a sure bet.

Do you believe in miracles? I was a junior at Ohio when the 1980 U.S.A. Hockey team performed theirs on Olympic ice. The voice of Al Michaels still rings in my head, as does the eruption of thousands across campus that night. A year later, a tiny miracle of my own happened when I was accepted into Ohio’s Sports Management Masters Degree Program.

I wasn’t going to be a writer, but little did I know then how much material I was about to acquire.

Tune into my next blog to learn about the people who helped create some of the characters and scenes in my book FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM.

The Process of Promotion – My Recent Book Signing

Dive Deeper / The Process of Promotion – My Recent Book Signing

The Process of Promotion – My Recent Book Signing

Val-Bonacci-Book-Signing_Blog-Internal-Image

As we approach the 100th anniversary of Fatima this weekend, I find myself hard at work increasing exposure for the book — which is why I recently met up with the iSynergy team at their office for a book signing.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sending those exclusive signed copies to industry thought leaders across the nation, in hopes that they will find the novel’s theme of interconnectedness intriguing and inspirational. If pitching to the media is anything like pitching to a batter in the MLB, standing out from the crowd is a requisite for success.

 

Working with an Agency

For me, this is the value of working with a digital advertising agency. Not only have we increased reach for the book, but we’ve also developed a dynamic marketing strategy to promote the book in various channels.

The industry has changed quite a bit since I was VP of marketing and broadcasting for the Cleveland Indians, but the energy from a good brainstorming session never gets old. It fascinates me to discuss diverse marketing strategies and then see what resonates with readers. Even more so, having a team that is as dedicated to the success of my novel as I am makes the entire experience that much more meaningful.

 

Food for Thought

This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day — honoring matriarchy and motherhood. Is it a coincidence that this coincides with the anniversary of Fatima, as we examine the meaning of those supernatural events and put to question if motherhood could deliver worldwide brotherhood?
In honor of the anniversary this weekend, I encourage you to step back and reflect on the idea of coexistence and understanding. I believe in some ways, the world today is just as conflicted

How to Become an Author

Dive Deeper / How to Become an Author

How to Become an Author

Understanding the Intangibles

One of the things that always fascinated me during my baseball days was how easy certain athletes made their fielding gems look.

Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel made turning the double-play look so simple during my tenure with Cleveland. I recall one spring training when we filmed a commercial with the two of them behaving like ballet dancers at their positions. It was very funny, but also quite to the point. Their grace at second base and shortstop was truly lyrical. And, every now and then, there were those other times when they would do something mind-boggling–I would almost forget to clap as my brain tried to process what I had just seen.

I think the best authors inspire this too. They write with such grace that the average reader has no trouble breezing through their work, while at the same time oohing and ahhing at a turn of phrase here or there. (And then there’s that moment when you stop and re-read a sentence over and over for its wisdom, hoping to sink it into your psyche forever.) It’s quite beautiful when an author can make you laugh and cry between the covers of the same story.

I have no doubt that there are people who are as naturally gifted at writing as certain athletes are at playing their sport. The challenge is to know if you or someone in your life has this gift and how to nurture it. Just like in sports, there are certain intangibles that you want to look for as coming naturally. Baseball scouts call these tools. They look for speed, agility, heads-up thinking, etc. The body of the athlete also plays a huge role.

One year, when I was at spring training, I was working in the lunchroom where the ophthalmologist was giving players eye exams on Physicals Day. Naturally, when each guy was done he would ask the doctor what his vision measurement was. I was shocked by how many hitters had 20:10 vision (the 10 being in the eye closest to the pitcher). It made me wonder, “were they born that way or did they develop that vision?” We all know, after all, that practice can make you better at whatever you do!

So here are my top 5 intangibles/tangibles that help make an author:

 

Intangibles:

  1. Has an inquisitive mind by nature
  2. Enjoys getting inside people’s heads to learn how to relate to them
  3. Has a strategic vision for the connectedness between people, events, nature, cultures, timing, etc.
  4. Is extremely disciplined by nature/self-motivated
  5. Is the type of person who does not give up easily

 

Tangibles:

  1. Loves to curl up with a book
  2. Loves to write
  3. When given vague criticism, is able to ask a series of questions that drill down to the heart of the problem
  4. Can edit their own work/wordsmith/cut scenes, etc.
  5. Can give over their work for editing

The Gathering at Keystone College is a favorite writers workshop of mine. Becoming an author takes a lot of effort, and they can help you get there.