Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to an author who started her writing career in Public Relations. After retiring from that field, she decided to try her hand at novel writing and planted the seeds of her debut novel with #NaNoWriMo 2017. Being a strategic writer, this author planned her book in a time period that she knew would bring those conflicts readers crave without crazy plot devices. Additionally, this talented author works in radio and even recorded a CD!
Introducing Wanda Fischer!
When did you start writing as a career?
I have been writing as part of my career since 1980. I spent 40 years in public relations/marketing/media relations, with a couple of side trips in broadcast journalism. I retired from the PR/marketing/media relations field in 2014. I only worked for not-for-profit and governmental organizations, and my final "day" job was with the New York State Office of Medicaid Inspector General. Although I'd been published and had won awards for annual reports, feature writing and advertising campaigns, I had always wanted to write a novel. I heard about NaNoWriMo, which takes place every November, where writers are challenged to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I decided I would try that in 2017 and see if I could get rolling on a novel. I did it, and the seeds of my first novel, Empty Seats, were sown.
What's your current work in progress?
My current WIP is a sequel to Empty Seats, mainly because a number of readers of the first novel asked me to write another book to explain what happened to the three characters I created in the first book. I think I'm going to call it Stealing Home, but I'm not sure yet. I've written about 70,000 words so far. Empty Seats has a surprise ending, and some readers found it to be jarring. They'd expected one of the characters to have a happy ending. That's not what happens. Empty Seats is set in 1972; the sequel is 1976. I had originally begun a sequel that followed the three characters when they were in their sixties, in 2013, but I decided the characters needed something closer to the end of the first book to make sense of their lives.
You novel Empty Seats is a fiction title about baseball. What made you decide to write about this subject?
When I was in high school in the mid-1960s, I wanted to be a sportswriter. I was crazy about sports, and especially about baseball. I attended many professional sporting events in Boston, including the Red Sox and Celtics. I learned about statistics and strategy and even learned how to score a baseball game from one of the radio broadcasters. A chance encounter with the center fielder for the then-California Angels, Rick Reichardt, while I was walking from Fenway Park in Boston to the train station, changed my mind about pursuing sportswriting as a career. I was chatting with him and told him about my career aspiration. He stopped me in the middle of the bridge over the Mass Pike and said, "You seem like a nice girl. I just want to warn you, you're going to need to grow a very thick skin. The guys don't want women in the clubhouse or the locker room. They don't even want women interviewing them. I'm just telling you the truth. It will be really hard if you go through with this." I thanked him for his candid appraisal, and he went to the old Kenmore Hotel, where players stayed, and I took the train home.
When I got home, I did what we did back then: I wrote him a letter, again thanking him for the information he gave me and for speaking to me about the situation. He responded with a letter saying something to the effect of, "I only wanted you to know what you're up against." A couple of years later, Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton came out with an autobiography, Ball Four, which confirmed everything Rick had told me.
I'm still an avid Boston Red Sox fan, but my career took a different path. I even auditioned to be the public address announcer for the Red Sox in 2012 and served in that capacity for a full game between the Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins in 2012. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love baseball, and I can always hold my own in any conversation about the nation's pastime. And, by the way, when my novel was published, I tracked down Rick Reichardt and sent him a copy!
Why did you choose the 1970's as the time period for this story?
First and foremost, I didn't want the fictional players to have access to cell phones! I wanted them to be away from home and have to discover ways in which they had to solve their own problems. During the 1970s, long-distance phone calls were expensive; people wrote letters instead of making expensive phone calls. I wanted these guys to have to think twice about calling home for trivial things. Additionally, baseball was different then. Players--even those in Major League Baseball--didn't make the outlandish salaries they make now, even though they earned the adulation of the public. What hasn't changed, however, is the intense competition of trying to make it from the minors to MLB. I wanted to use not only the timeframe but also the relationships to tackle that competitive phase of baseball.
How does your book rebel against the status quo?
I take on many topics outside of baseball in this novel. For example, one character, Bud Prescott, comes from the deep south. His grandmother was a suffragist and also was involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. She allowed Civil Rights workers from the north to stay at her Georgia home, much to the chagrin of the local KKK chapter. She educated Bud, who's her only grandchild, about what Black people encountered, before and after Civil Rights legislation was passed in 1965. On Bud's way to college, he's stopped by a police officer for no reason, and he had visions of what might have happened had he been Black.
Jimmy Bailey gets in trouble with the law for a crime he didn't commit. He shares a cell with a young black man and discovers his cellmate cannot read. He works with him to improve his reading skills after learning that teachers in the Boston Public School system were just passing Black kids on to the next grade without teaching them. Jimmy reads to his cellmate and finds books to interest him in reading, ultimately helping him get a GED.
Also, simply a woman writing about baseball, especially one in her seventies, is rebellious, I think!
Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
I ended up self-publishing. I attempted querying and finding an agent, but in the end, I decided that I could be querying until the cows came home. At my advanced age (70--soon to be 72), I decided self-publishing would be the best avenue to take. I made many mistakes with this first novel, especially with the editing process. I think I should have taken more time in selecting an editor and proofreaders. I'm happy with the cover and the person who designed it.
What advice would you give a writer who is struggling to get their manuscript written?
Keep at it. Don't get discouraged. Some days are better than others. Try to set aside some time to write every day. If you can't, don't beat yourself up about it. Just do the best you can.
You also work in radio! Tell us about that.
When my husband started medical school in 1975, we had only been married for two years. He was never around, so I decided to volunteer at the local community radio station to help with the program guide. We had been a folk music duo before he started medical school, but he never had much time for music while he was in school. This station had a folk music show. When the host decided he was going to move to California, they looked at me and said, "Hey! You know folk music! You're our new folk DJ!" That was in 1975. We moved the New York's Capital Region in 1979. I tried to get a show here at first, with little success. Then, in 1982, when I was volunteering at WAMC (to help with the program guide, ironically), they called me and asked if I had any tapes of my previous shows. I dug them out and passed them on. My show started on September 18, 1982; originally, I followed the very popular "A Prairie Home Companion." I once told Garrison Keillor that he was my "opening act." He thought that was great. I'm still on the air every Saturday night from 8-10 pm. I take requests and love interacting with listeners.
You released a CD in 2003. How was that experience?
I had no idea what I was doing! I had accompanied a couple of professional folk musicians to recording sessions and took a lot of notes. I thought I was prepared to go into the studio to record. I was so wrong! After a couple of studio sessions, and a big hit to my budget, I figured out a lot of things. Called "Singing Along with the Radio," the CD features people I'd always wanted to sing with. It turned out to be a fun project once I got an idea about what I needed to do to prepare prior to showing up at a professional studio. I recorded songs written by other people, so I needed to find out how to get copyright permission via music licensing agencies. I wrote one song myself, which meant that I had to set up a copyright for that as well.
How has your experience with radio and music affected your writing?
Music is always in my mind when I'm writing. My first novel is set in 1972, and, to keep me in that timeframe, I looked up music that was popular then, as well as what I was singing out in public at the time. When I put together a radio show, I'm conscious of lyrics and how songs fit together. It's the same way as weaving a story in a novel. Words have to be crafted together in a novel; that's the same way I put songs together for my radio show.
What are you reading currently?
Feathers and Stone by Jan Sykes. It's a little different from what I normally read, but I recently met Jan online, and I wanted to read one of her books.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I'm attempting to make Empty Seats into a trilogy about these three guys. The book has a surprise ending, and I'm writing a sequel about the three guys in 1976, and then have another in the works about them when they're in the sixties, in 2013, which was an important year in Red Sox lore.