Black Rock & Sage had the opportunity to chat with writer David Wanczyk, author of Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. Wanczyk will be visting ISU Wednesday, November 7th. For a schedule of events (all free and open to the public), please see the press release. In the meantime, checkout our Q&A!
- From your publishing background, it’s obvious that you’re a fan of sports. So, what made you decide to take that love for the game(s) and write about it?
DW (David Wanczyk): By the time I started pushing 30, my main childhood obsession—sports—had started to wane in importance for me. But I missed the preoccupation. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling that the do-or-die chatter that surrounded baseball, in particular, was missing something—adult perspective. When I became a parent, it was a little bit hard to be exercised about an error or a late-season trade. In Beep baseball—baseball for the blind and visually impaired—the perspective, the clear feeling of what matters, is on display at every moment. It’s still about winning, but the deeper story is there, too. So the game seemed like a way for me to get back into sports but also to think about the adversities that we face and how they impact the things we love to do. Being obsessed with beep ball was like being obsessed with life.
- How do you pitch Beep, your first book, to potential readers?
DW: Beep is full of colorful characters doing something improbable. They’ll shatter your expectations.
- When did you first learn about the world of blind baseball?
DW: In 2012, I saw a very small item in Harper’s Magazine that listed the rules. But it didn’t include any of the history or anything about the star players. In a way, it defined the sport as nothing more than a curiosity, but I was pretty sure it would all be more complicated than that. I ended up on a road trip with ISU professor, Matt VanWinkle—a great baseball fan in his own right—and we took in the Beep Baseball World Series in Iowa. The clash between the Austin Blackhawks and Taiwan Homerun was one of the most memorable sporting events I’d ever seen, and it spurred me to keep following them.
- It can be difficult to write about disability (especially in sports) and avoid inspiration-porn territory. Was this a challenge you encountered?
DW: Right, yes. And I’m not sure I did it right, but I always had that canned “inspiration” story in mind as something—not quite to avoid, but to write against. Because the game is inspiring, but labeling something that way can be an easy escape from thinking about it with any sort of depth. It’s 5:00 News thinking, and it misses the fact that these inspiring guys might be jerks, or might have zany senses of humor, or might actually have sadnesses that they’re not yet triumphantly overcoming. My first article after that road trip I took was called “Don’t Just Be Inspired By Beep Baseball.” I wanted people to see it as an exciting game with multifaceted participants.
- Outside of the book world, what are some of your hobbies?
DW: I like playing guitar; I like watching Muppet movies; and I like being silly with my kids—rhyming challenges, puns, improvised characters such as “Daddy Porpoise.” I also like fading into the oblivion of an evening by reading the same news coverage I’ve already read three times. And by “like,” I mean, “don’t like but do instead of those other things quite a bit of the time.”
- What would people be surprised to learn about you?
DW: Assuming someone knows who I am—a big assumption—and they know I’ve written a book—maybe an even bigger one—I think people might be surprised to know that I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer. I’ve built up that term my whole life: a writer is someone who is absolutely dedicated and magically wise. But sometimes my dedication fades, and my moments of magical wisdom don’t come as quickly as they should. But maybe a writer is someone who works even when not feeling total dedication and simply tries to create the circumstances for magical wisdom. Who’s always (or often) thinking about the stories we’re dominated by. Maybe in that sense I’ve sometimes been a writer. But I’m still trying to earn the title.
- If you could have dinner or drinks with anyone in the world—dead or alive—who would it be and why?
DW: I enjoy my wife’s company, especially when she thinks my jokes are funny. Also, John Ritter.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring editors and/or writers?
DW: I’m not sure if this will work for everyone, but I’ve been most successful producing work when I make myself write for 30 minutes a day. I can find myself in ruts where I don’t write if I don’t follow that method. And usually the 30 minutes expands because you get over that initial fear and into the fun-and-honing part.
In terms of putting writing out into the world . . . everyone gets rejected. Please remember that tired human beings with various tastes and pressures and budget concerns and voices over their shoulders might be making those decisions, and so I invite you to come up with some (possibly profane) affirmation that allows you to consider those rejections a certain kind of step forward.
On editing, my job isn’t to be a better writer than someone I’m working with, but to ask the questions a reader might. Seems silly to declare or demand something of a creative person, but equally silly not to try to work on a story or poem if you see a possible improvement.
Beyond that, when it comes to smaller publications, we have a great opportunity to make an impact on the writers we’re working with, and we can promote our journals’ work in ways we couldn’t have ten years ago—a couple lines on twitter or facebook can reach people. We should take advantage of that and build up the writing and writers we like.
One person reading a good poem, and one poet hearing positive feedback on what they’re doing. . .that seems to me like a social good that’s worth the work. Then we multiply that a few dozen times.
Also, run a spell-check.
- Besides New Ohio Review, of course, what are some literary journals that we should be reading?
DW: I really like Gulf Coast, which comes out of Houston. They have incredible energy and consistently try new things—whether it’s video, audio, supporting readings, running interesting contests. And their taste is good!
Ohio journals Brevity, Mid-American Review, Cincinnati Review, and Quarter After Eight are worth a second and third look.
- Finally, can you tell us about any projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?
DW: I have a pipe-dreamish idea for another labor-intensive nonfiction book that would require me to learn about an entire subculture and even develop new skills in my own life. I think it would require reading at least twenty books, taking lots of trips, engaging in fruitless practice sessions on the above mentioned skills, and spending evenings interviewing the subjects instead of putting my kids to bed. Right now, this seems daunting, so I think it’s more likely that I will first write the 45-page YA classic, Puberty Stinks: A Winston Stercus Mystery
But that other nonfiction thing? Look for that in 2023.