Sunday, February 25, 2024

Q&A with Fred Bowen




Fred Bowen is the author of the new middle grade novel Extra Innings. His many other books include Hardcourt. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.


Q: What inspired you to write Extra Innings?


A: In June 2009, I was leafing through the pages of my most recent Sports Illustrated when I came upon a photograph that stopped me cold. The photo showed a college pitcher striding off the mound, his eyes staring straight ahead. Behind him, the other team was celebrating, dog-piling their teammate who had driven in the winning run.


The caption explained the pitcher was Mark Miller, an All-American for College of Wooster, who had pitched 11 1/3 innings only to lose 3-2 to the University of St. Thomas in the bottom of the 12th inning in NCAA Division III national championship game.


I knew right then I wanted to write about that picture. Or more accurately, about what that picture represented. I think one of the toughest lessons kids learn from sports is that sometimes you can try your hardest and things still don’t come out as you had hoped.


Q: How did you create your main character, Mike McGinn?


A: I remember when my son was around 14 years old. He was too old for summer camps but too young for a job. He was at loose ends most of the summer, doing odd jobs around the house. But Liam loved baseball and that gave his summer some purpose and structure.


I was remembering that summer when I came up with the character Mike. He is 14 years old and is enjoying his last summer without a job. But he is working hard to become a better pitcher.


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Mike and his dad?


A: Mike’s dad is a hard-working guy who owns a local moving business. He worked summers as a kid and thinks baseball is just fun and games. Mike loves baseball and is working hard to become a better pitcher. So there is a natural tension between the two.


Part of the book is about how they work out this tension and how Mike’s father begins to respect Mike’s dedication to the craft of pitching.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book said, in part, “Will tide over youngsters longing for the start of the sport’s spring season.” What do you think of that description?


A: It is always nice to get a positive review from any of the major publications. Most of my books, such as Extra Innings, are part of a series, the Fred Bowen Sports Story series. The books combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of real sports history in the back. Extra Innings is the 26th book in that series.


Over the years, I have noticed that series and especially sports series books do not always receive a lot of attention from the review publications. So it is nice whenever the reviewers do give some attention to my books.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: First, I hope they will enjoy the book and have fun with the story. I always put plenty of games and sports action in my books because I know my readers like those scenes.


But I hope the kids will take away the lesson that I mentioned before, that sometimes in sports (and life) you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out as you hoped they would.


In the history chapter in the back of Extra Innings, I tell my readers about Harvey Haddix. In 1959, Haddix, a lefthanded pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, threw 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves. Thirty-six batters up, 36 batters out.


But Haddix and the Pirates lost the game in the 13th inning. It may have been the greatest game ever pitched and Haddix still got the loss.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I recently turned in another book in the Fred Bowen Sports Story series to my editor. It’s a football book that I am calling Special Teams. It will be published in the fall of 2025.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In 2020 and 2022 I had two sports history books – Gridiron: Stories From 100Years of the National Football League and Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association – published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.


During the pandemic, I wrote a history of Major League Baseball (MLB) as a follow-up to Gridiron and Hardcourt, but my S&S editor turned it down. Maybe a lesson that you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out as you hoped.


Anyway, I am trying to find a publisher for that book. MLB is enjoying a comeback with the new rules providing for a quicker pace of play and more action. Attendance was up 9.6 percent in 2023. Maybe the time is right for a well-written and deeply researched baseball history book for young readers.


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

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