Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Author Interview: David A. Kelly talks about the Ballpark Mysteries

Ballpark Mysteries #3: The L.A. Dodger (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))I recently reviewed Ballpark Mysteries #1: The Fenway Foul-up and Ballpark Mysteries #2: The Pinstripe Ghost by David A. Kelly, but I have to admit, I really can't wait for Ballpark Mysteries #3: The L.A. Dodger (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) which will be released at the end of July. I'm so fascinated by this series, I couldn't wait to find out more, so I was fortunate enough to interview Kelly about his inspiration behind the series, what readers can expect, and the amount of research he puts into each one. . .

What inspired the Ballpark Mysteries series?
The Ballpark Mysteries were inspired by my love of reading and the level of excitement my two sons found from playing baseball. When I was younger, I used to love mystery stories—from the Hardy Boys to Encyclopedia Brown, and even to the Partridge Family mystery stories (try to find those now!). As I was reading books to my boys, the excitement and fun of mysteries came back to me. But my sons, like lots of boys and girls, were interested in sports and physical activities. They were so interested in playing baseball or watching baseball games that it opened my eyes to the power of sports and activities like baseball to fire the imagination of boys and girls. At the time, I was writing technical and business papers, so the opportunity to explore more creative writing and to focus on baseball and children was a real pleasure. I looked around for children’s books that featured both sports and mysteries, but didn’t find many that fit the bill. That's when I realized that there was something missing in the market—adventure/mysteries that were set in the dozens of really cool cities and ballparks around North America.

What can readers expect from the series?
In each Ballpark Mysteries book, boys and girls can expect to discover something new (did you know that astronaut's don't eat pizza or that there's a hidden message in Fenway Park's scoreboard?) as well as be absorbed by an interesting whodunit that takes the main characters, Mike and Kate, into some interesting situations. The Ballpark Mysteries are simply mystery and adventure books set in baseball stadiums.

Each Ballpark Mysteries book is set in a different major league ballpark and while it usually involves a baseball game (book five is set during the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game!), baseball is more of a backdrop to the action, adventure, and mystery that drives each story forward.

Readers certainly don’t have to know anything about baseball (or other sports) to enjoy them. And because each baseball park and team is so unique, there are great opportunities for even the biggest sports fan to learn something new. In each book, Mike and Kate visit a ballpark to take a tour or see a game, but lots of the action may also happen outside the ballpark. In the third book (due out in July, 2011), they visit a number of interesting landmarks around Los Angeles, while in the fourth book (set in Houston, and due out in Spring, 2012), they get to visit NASA and try on space suits.

You're also the author of Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. Did you find it more difficult writing a series?
What a great question. Writing a series is a lot different from writing a single book—at least from the conceptual perspective. When it comes down to putting words on paper and things like sentence length and construction, it's very similar. But when I'm thinking about the plot, characters, settings, and other elements of the stories, it's very different.

Ballpark Mysteries #2: The Pinstripe Ghost (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))The things that happen in one book, in the plot or to the characters, can have consequences in future (or past) books, so as a writer, I have to spend more time thinking my characters, their actions, the stories, and the settings through. I also need to make sure I lay the right groundwork for future books, or don't shoot myself in the foot by closing a door in an early book that I might need open later. For example, because the Ballpark Mysteries are a series, I had to learn a lot more about the characters before I started the second and third books. I needed to figure out who their families were, and how they might figure into future stories. I needed to uncover character traits that would be consistent across multiple books, but not boring. I needed to find ways to put the characters into the same setting (a baseball stadium), but have each story be unique, interesting, and engaging without seeming repetitive. It's definitely more of a challenge to write a series like the Ballpark Mysteries, but it's also very rewarding. For example, in book three, The L.A. Dodger, Mike and Kate visit Los Angeles, and I was able to let them do a number of interesting things that they hadn't done in the Boston or New York City book.

What was your reaction when you saw the illustrations for the Ballpark Mysteries series by Mark Meyers?
Ballpark Mysteries #1: The Fenway Foul-up (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))When I first saw the illustrations for the Fenway Foul-Up, the first book in the Ballpark Mysteries series, I had to think about it for a little while. My first book, Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse, was a non-fiction book that tells the story of Babe Ruth, his years on the Red Sox, what happened when he was traded to the Yankees, and the heroic victory of the 2004 Red Sox in the playoffs and World Series. The illustrations for that book were very realistic—they look almost like photographs that have been artistically rendered. In my mind, when I was thinking about illustrations for the Ballpark Mysteries series, I was picturing the images from Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse.

But that's not how the Ballpark Mysteries are illustrated. Since the Ballpark Mysteries are fiction, the goal was to create illustrations that accentuated the scenes, made them seem interesting and inviting, and portrayed movement and energy. Mark Meyer's illustrations do just that. In fact, they're really perfect for the series. He's captured the way that Mike thinks and jumps into action, and the way that Kate observes and hypothesizes solutions. Now that I've spent some time with them, I really enjoy how they convey all the action and interesting settings.

How do you go about researching all of the different ballparks featured in the series?
Researching baseball parks is a tough job, but someone's got to do it! After spending lots of years sitting behind a desk writing, it's great to be able to get out and explore different cities, ballparks, and sites.

While I would never complain, the research for the books is hard work. For each book, I've been flying (or driving) to the city where the ballpark is located and researching for anywhere from two to six days. In addition to taking tours of the ballpark and catching a game (if the team is in town), I spend a lot of time visiting sites around the area, trying to a feel for the people, the environment, the weather, and other local aspects. I start with a list of sites or places to visit that I've found through previous online and book research. There are an amazing number of books about baseball stadiums and teams, many (but certainly not all) of which I have on my bookcase now.

While the "on-the-ground" research may sound like fun, it's actually a lot of work because I usually have picked out too many sites to see or things to try, so I have to be very efficient and move from one location to another quickly, one after the other. Again, I'm not complaining—it's fun, but it can be exhausting.

The other challenge that I have with researching is that I usually don’t know what the book is about at that point in the process, so that means I have to take notes and pictures of everything I'm doing, in a city or at a ballpark, because I don’t know exactly what piece of information I'll need when I go to write the book. Will I need to know what the press box looks like, or where the stairway is near the main entrance to the stadium? That's why I come home with huge number of pictures and pages of notes from each trip. But don’t worry—it's not all work. I usually make sure there's time to sit down and have a hot dog, an ice cream cone or some popcorn. After all—it's research!

A big thanks to David A. Kelly for sharing some of the stories behind the Ballpark Mysteries. To learn more, please visit the official website

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