Friday, September 3, 2021

Q&A with Fred Bowen




Fred Bowen is the author of Soccer Trophy Mystery, a new middle grade novel for kids. His many other books include Gridiron. He writes about sports for The Washington Post's KidsPost section, and he lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Soccer Trophy Mystery, and how did you create your characters Aiden, Ava, and Daniel?


A: My Fred Bowen Sports Story series books combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of sports history in the back. 


With Soccer Trophy Mystery the sports history came first. I have always loved the story of how the original World Cup soccer trophy disappeared and has never been found. Any time I tell the story the hair on my arms stands up.  I wanted to write a kids’ mystery that somehow incorporated that World Cup story.


As for the characters, when my daughter, Kerry, was growing up she had twins in her class. One was a girl and the other was a boy. I always thought that was an interesting combination that might be good for a book. 


I used the characters of the twins, Aiden and Ava, in Soccer Trophy Mystery because it was important to have both the male and female point of view to solve the mystery.


Q: You've been writing your Sports Story books for kids for 25 years now. Did you imagine back then that you'd still be writing them a quarter century later?


A: Not really. Although when my wife, Peggy Jackson, and I thought up the idea of a series that combined sports fiction, sports history and had a chapter of sports history in the back, we thought it was a good one. And whenever I told people about it, they usually said, “That’s a great idea.”


I think there are a few reasons why the series has lasted so long. First, I have always loved sports and sports history and I think that enthusiasm shows in the writing. Second, kids are interested in sports. Lots of them play and watch sports and so the subject is a natural way to connect with kids.

There are also some practical reasons for the success of the series. I don’t have the same characters in each book so that keeps things fresh for me and the reader.


In addition, I write about different sports – baseball, basketball, football and soccer. Each sport has a different look, sound and feel. That is another way to keep things interesting for me and the reader.


Finally, I have had a wonderful publisher – Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta – who has been very supportive over the years. For example, they are updating and reissuing the older books with new covers to celebrate my 25 years as an author.


I recognize I have been lucky. I am deeply grateful for the support I have received over the years from my publisher, librarians, book sellers, and especially my readers.


Q: Over the years, do you think kids' relationship to sports has changed at all, or remained mostly the same?


A: That’s a great question. I think kids’ relationship with sports has definitely been changing over the years. 


Fewer kids are playing organized sports. An Aspen Institute study showed that in 2018, only 38 percent of kids ages 6-12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent 10 years earlier. Those numbers have improved a bit in the last year or two, but still fewer kids are playing sports.


There are a several major reasons for this. First, studies indicate kids quit sports because they aren’t having fun. They don’t like the yelling and the pressure. Second, sports are expensive. Many kids who come from poorer families are priced out of the leagues and games.


Finally, I think more and more kids are connected to a virtual world of video games than to the physical world of real sports. When I was coaching my kids’ teams back in the 1980s and 1990s, some of the players were what I would call “video kids.” Now, almost all kids are more connected to a virtual world in some way.


I don’t think this is a positive development. Just look at the statistics indicating a huge growth in kids and teens with anxiety and depression. I think we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think this is somehow connected to the amount of time kids spend online.


Still, I think there are lots of kids who play sports and watch the games on television and look forward to going to the ballpark. Sports and sports books really speak to these kids.


Q: How did you enjoy writing a mystery this time around?  


A: Soccer Trophy Mystery is my first mystery and the first mystery in the Fred Bowen Sports Story series. It was great fun to write and I think it will be great fun for kids to read. 


I am not a big mystery fan. I read more history and nonfiction books than mysteries. Still, I read some and enjoy the process by which the detective in any mystery goes from person to person gathering clues and information and piecing together what happened. 


I tried to capture that process in Soccer Trophy Mystery in a way young readers (ages 7-12) could understand and enjoy.


One of my editors liked the book so much she wants me to write more sports mysteries. I am not sure I will but I know I enjoyed writing this one.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) coming out this January. It is called Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association and is illustrated by the fabulous James Ransome. 


James and I had teamed up to produce Gridiron: Stories From 100 Years of the National Football League in 2020.


I have also signed a contract with Peachtree Publishers for three more Fred Bowen Sports Story series books. There will be a basketball book in 2023, a baseball book in 2024 and a football book in 2025.


I hope to keep writing kids’ sports books as long as I am having fun writing them and the kids are having fun reading them.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am still writing my weekly kids’ sports column for the KidsPost page of The Washington Post. It appears every Thursday in the back of the Post’s Style section.


I have been writing the column since April 2000. That means I have written more than one thousand columns!


Sometimes people ask me where I get my ideas for the weekly column. I tell them it is a challenge sometimes but there is always something interesting happening in sports. And, like writing the books, it’s great fun.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Fred Bowen.

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