My third published book, and first novel, Rounding Third takes place on a high school baseball team in Ohio. I’m reluctant to say too much about the story because I want the story to unfold for the reader. It’s not a mystery, but there are lots of surprises and twists and turns, and many people have told me that just when they thought they had the story figured out it went off in a new direction. The main character, Bobby feels like he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere and doesn’t really have any friends until a new player, Josh, joins the baseball team and the two shy boys start slowly becoming friends which lead to unforeseen consequences for them, their families, teammates town.
Tell us something about yourself.
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and went to Penn State. I was on my high school’s baseball team, although like the lead character in my novel, I didn’t play. I wrote about the games for both the high school and local papers and I went on writing about baseball, most recently writing about college baseball for San Diego Magazine and interviewing one of my boyhood heroes, Pittsburgh Pirate great Vern Law for the web site Baseball Savvy.
In addition to Rounding Third, I have co-written two nonfiction books–“Going for the Green: selling in the 21st Century” and “Day Is Ending: a doctor’s love shattered by Alzheimer’s disease”. “Going for the Green” was a business book in the form or a novel to make it more readable. In addition to the two published books, I have written for dozens of magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and many others. A play which I co-wrote, GAM3RS, was produced in New York, at MIT, and other places around the country, had an 8-week run in San Diego this spring and returns to San Diego in October before it moves to Los Angeles in October. It has received rave reviews wherever it played and has been optioned to be a web/TV series.
What inspired you to write this book?
I lived parts of it in high school—and since its publication have been surprised by the number of people who have asked, “Did you follow me around in high school?” because parts of it rang so true for them. None of the book is really made it. Not all of it happened to me, or anyone person, I just strung together stories from various people. Besides wanting to get this story off my chest—writing some parts was very cathartic—I also thought it was a story that need to be told because I had the feeling that so many people would relate to Bobby and his problems and reading it would also be cathartic for them. I am glad that has proved true.
How did you choose the title?
With some other things I’ve written, I struggled to come up with a title, but this one leapt out at me very early on. I liked the phrase “rounding third” which giving the reader the sense of movement and action, and anyone who knows anything about baseball knows if you are rounding third, you are trying to make your way home, but aren’t quite there yet. And in a figurative sense, that is what the two main characters in the book are trying to do. Someone pointed out a third meaning, the sexual one, as in, “I didn’t even get to third base with my date last night” and since there is teenage dating and some sexual tension in the book, I guess that works, too.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
I sent it out to several agents, all of whom liked it, but some wanted changes I wasn’t willing to make, and others were stymied as to what to do with it. They felt that with a 17-year-old protagonist that is should be pitched as a Young Adult novel, but with the adult themes and scenes in the book that it would be a hard sell. One publisher was interested enough to suggest a three-book deal for Rounding Third, its sequel and another high school sports novel. I already had the sequel planned and partly written and I quickly outlined the other book, but before we could sign the deal, the publisher went out of business. That is happening a lot with publishers downsizing or closing and I finally decided that rather than wait for my agent to sell it to a big house, I’d just go with a small publisher and get it out there.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I never seriously thought about being anything but a writer. From the time I could hold a pencil and print, I was writing stories. I won a short story contest in 4th grade and I like to say I turned pro in 9th grade when I started getting paid for stories in the local newspaper.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I try to write every day, but life and other work often gets in the way. I get bored sitting in the quiet of my home office and like to go out to a coffee shop to work when I can. A few years ago, a local newspaper did a story about me. The reporter had seen me working day after day at a crowded and noisy coffee shop and questioned how I could write under those conditions. She quoted me in the story as saying something like, “Once I’m in the zone, you could set off a grenade on the chair next to me and I wouldn’t flinch.” I have amazing powers of concentration when I am focused on something I really want to write and it is going well.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Three of the main characters had name changes as the book evolved. I wanted to give the main character a name that could “grow up.” Originally it was Billy who decides over the course of the book that he wanted to be called Will. But two other things I had written in the meantime ended up having main characters named Billy and I didn’t want to get in a rut. So he became Bobby which becomes Rob later in the book. It also needed to be a name that would have been common 100 years ago because he is Robert Francis Wardell IV. A “modern” name like Chad or Ryan would be less believable.
Joshua Schlagel started out with the last name Schlessinger, but with all of the controversy over the dumb comments of radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger as I was writing the book, I changed that because I didn’t want the reader to lose their place in the story even for a moment to think about her because of that name. I still wanted it to sound German and be a bit unusual.
And after the book was completely done, I changed the name of short stop Danny Miller to Danny Taylor because it just occurred to me that the short stop on our high school team had the last name of Miller and I didn’t want anyone to think Danny was based on him. He was not, but I still wanted a common, all-American-sounding name so he became Danny Taylor.
Why did you set the book in Ohio? Were you from there?
I set the book in a fictional town I created in the suburbs of Cleveland for a few reasons. It’s not far from Pittsburgh where I grew up and my sister lived in the Cleveland suburbs so I was rather familiar the region. I knew its history which I could use as part of the backdrop to the storu. And it has a very similar mindset to Pittsburgh. But Ohio seems much more middle America than Pennsylvania. The license plates in Ohio used to say “the Heart of it all” and it really did seem like the heart of America and I wanted to contrast that very “normal” America with all of the troubling things that happen in this town.
There are a lot of patriotic references in this book. Why?
There are many flags and references to the Star Spangled Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, presidents, Chevrolet and other symbols of America and there are references to the main character’s father serving in Vietnam, and his ancestors in other wars. And baseball itself is “America’s pastime.” Like the Ohio setting, I wanted to contrast how life should be in America—the America dream of freedom and hope—with the life the main characters live. Again, I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the freedom and safety which America tries to export around the world is lacking in the lives of the characters in the heartland of the United States.
What do you want people to take away from this book?
That no matter what their struggle or problem, they are not alone. And that things are not always as they seem. As Rob learns over the course of Rounding Third, he finds allies and friends in unlikely places and people often have different agendas and motivations that they first appear to. Rob learns a great deal as his story unfolds and I hope others will learn from watching his struggles. I don’t want anyone to think it is completely serious or a heavy-handed look at what is wrong with the country. There are some great baseball scenes and some funny scenes. One of my friends said he could tell I gave Rob my sense of humor.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
While writing it, I realized how much work it is to get things just right. I wrote 24 versions of chapter one. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but couldn’t find the right place to start it. So in some versions I’d start with a majorly dramatic incident halfway through and flashback to the beginning. It took a while to find the right moment and I got a little of really good feedback from friends that helped me focus on the correct approach. I learned whose opinion to trust as I solicited feedback from people on various drafts. Some were so off the wall, I just had to dismiss out of hand. They clearly didn’t get what I was trying to do. It was as though I had asked them to read “Gone with the Wind” and one said, “There weren’t enough aliens in it” and another said, “I didn’t like the part about the white whale at all.”
From publishing it, I learned just how much writing can touch people. I have received so many comments from people either in person or via emails telling me how the book moved them and helped them. As a writer, you really can’t ask for more than that.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Trust my instincts more both in terms of telling the story and finding an agent and publisher. You can only take so much input from others and ultimately it’s your baby and you have to raise it the way you think best. If you try too hard to please an agent or publisher you’ll end up trying so hard to cram your square peg into a round hole that it won’t work for them, or more importantly, for you.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I usually have five books that I’m reading for research for other projects I’m writing so I don’t often get free time to read just what I want. But if I do get time I like to read history and biography because I always like to learn new things. I am a fan of some classics and will re-read Twain or Fitzgerald if I get time. Among contemporary writers, I like Scott Heim and Noel Alumit, whose “Letters to Montgomery Clift” is an amazing first novel. I also like Michael Chabon. I like to read some contemporary writers so I don’t end up emulating the older styles. And there are certain writers I can’t read while I am writing fiction—Hemingway, Vonnegut and Woody Allen all have styles that are so powerful I have a hard time stopping myself from imitating their distinctive patterns.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am working on two nonfiction book proposals that I am hoping will bring in enough money so that I can get back to work on the sequel to Rounding Third which is titled Unassisted Triple Play. Rounding Third ends with the main characters finishing high school. Unassisted Triple Play starts with the start of their freshmen year of college and covers that entire year. Again the title is a baseball term that has parallels in the character’s life. He is juggling the problems of the three guys in his life and continues to grow up. Many of the people who have read Rounding Third have asked me for the sequel that I really would like to finish it and get it published so they can find out what happens next.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
I get asked this question often and I fall back on the Nike answer: Just do it. Supposedly Hemingway said people used to come to him all of the time and say, “I want to be a writer” and he’d say, “then you’re not.” If you are a writer you are writing. If you won’t want to write a book someday, you won’t. If you want to write a book, do it. And don’t let anything, including agents who don’t get it, or publishers going out of business get stop you. I had a story to tell that I believed would touch a lot of people, and from the reaction I’ve received it did and that makes me very glad that I stuck with it and got it done.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
There are a few audiences for my book—I expected young adults and baseball fans to like it, but I have surprised at the wide range of people of people who have liked it from 80-year-old Jewish grandmothers, to Christian Ministers in Montana. Although the problems of the main character—and I am trying to avoid saying what they are so as to not pigeon hole the book—are somewhat universal and many people can relate to his attempts to fit in.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
http://www.waltergmeyer.com/ is my web site which has a recording of me reading a chapter on a radio show. It also has many of the great reviews and comments I’ve been getting and information about the sequel, my other books and the play that I wrote. I have done speaking and signing events around the country and am getting more invitations to speak, mainly at colleges and universities. The book can be ordered from Amazon.
And Rounding Third is available at the Obelisk bookstore in San Diego, Proud Bookstore in Rehoboth Beach, DE, or can be ordered from most bookstores.