Friday, April 15, 2011

Fred Bowen

For many in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, author Fred Bowen is known not only for his sports stories but his weekly column that appears in the Washington Post. Fred has several new books and has also been testing a variety of new techniques with his school and conference appearances. He recently tried a webinar, but then he discovered that he really missed the feedback from the kids. When you actually see your audience you immediate feedback and you know immediately if thing are "clicking." Fred also noted that he is used to walking and talking which is not what happens in a webinar. He also remarked that it will also be a learning curve using Skype which does offer more possibilities for interaction than a webinar.

Fred remarked that PowerPoint presentations, while often overdone, can be effective. For example, he can show his books and other pictures such as his high school golf team buddies and then that same group 37 years later. This kind of long term relationship is really an important part of the books that he writes—friendships that develop or are related to sports. What are his sources? Fred told me that there are always "things going on" in the sports world. His experience coaching kids for many years resulted in Playoff Dreams. The same is true of Off the Rim, a story about a kid who wants to be a star but has to learn to contribute, especially in a team sport like basketball. The same is true of football—"sure everyone would like to be the quarterback and when one tries out and doesn't make quarterback, it is those who are really interested in playing the game and being part of a team that stick it out in another position. The ones who just wanted to be stars leave. You need more than Michael Jordan on your team to win."

If you follow soccer, you probably know how many games are decided by one goal, or one play, even though every player has to play hard all the time. There seem to be so many different plays that can appear to be meaningless, but that person who got the ball at midfield and manages to assist in making a score certainly can make a difference. There are plenty of situations/issues that arise in sports and that kids see and understand. They can relate to issues when they are brought up in a sports related milieu--especially issues such as honesty which in turn carries over into their daily lives. He related a story about a Cornell team that tossed themselves out of the playoffs when they realized that they had not won the game fairly. Fred not only tackles these tough issues in his book, he does the same in his sports column, like his piece about Hamm and how he probably should have returned the medal when it was discovered that the score was miscalculated. Also the football player Albert Haynesworth who stopped trying to play his best, had an attitude and action that was really unacceptable no matter how you feel about a coach (or teacher). Not working hard or not going to work are examples of unacceptable behavior. The penalty in this case was suspension from play and in all probability never playing for the Redskins again.

Stepping back in time, Fred related how he really began his writing career. He wrote movie reviews for a local newspaper and after his son, Liam, was born he moved to movie video reviews. This type of writing was quite a change from his work life—as a lawyer his writing was not geared to the general consumer like those who would be reading movie reviews. His career for the government as an attorney at the Department of Labor ended in 2008 after 30 years. He is now devoting his full energies to writing books and his newspaper column. As Fred noted--"It really is hard to believe that I have been writing it for ten years. The column is fun, but it also keeps my name alive and kids always want to know when my new book it going to be published." He also gets a real kick about being on top of "hot" sports issues. For example, his editor called on a Tuesday with the news about Haynesworth and requested that it be the subject of the next column. In two hours Fred had his 450 words ready to go and it appeared in the Thursday edition of Kids Post. He knows that his columns are read and discussed in schools and is delighted when teachers compliment him on what he has written. It gives Fred a real chance to say something—present his message.

Why sports books? Well in addition to playing sports himself, Fred discovered in reading sports books to his son that they were "clunky." They did not seem to take sports seriously and believe me, said Fred, kids do take sports seriously. His first attempt at writing a book didn't work—but over time he honed his craft and then wrote T.J's Secret Pitch. One of the people who helped Fred is Valerie Tripp—yes the one who writes the American Girl stories. The idea of marrying history and the story is what helped set her series apart, so why couldn't Fred do the same? He did, and the result has been a very successful series—all published by Peachtree with more books under contract at the time of this interview. Lest people think that Fred is rolling in dough—he made it a point to say that he has not made piles of money. He is just delighted that he gets to write more books and feels that they are at a good price point for this economy (Fred Bowen's Sports series are original paperbacks). So far Fred has written about basketball, football, baseball and soccer. Nothing on golf and yet he is a golfer. Kids have also requested stories about lacrosse. But Fred is branching out. His first picture book No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams was quite successful and he has another one that will be published soon.

One of the real pluses of having a writing career is that Fred can now work from home. He also has more time to read books by other authors and pointed out how much he enjoyed Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. In addition, Fred now has more time for school visits. One of his programs incorporates a writing exercise with kids. It starts by developing a series of talking points—developing a list of what to write about. His goal is to demystify the whole writing process and to break in into logical pieces. It is a good exercise and seems to be a successful program.

I mentioned earlier that Fred used to read sports books to his son Liam. Well the love of sports must be part of the genes because his son is now a graduate assistant and pitching coach at a Division 2 school—Lincoln Memorial University and has aspiration of moving up to Division 1. He has also been struck by the writing bug and has maintained a notebook for himself about running a college baseball program. As Fred said, "until you have thought it out enough to write it out, you haven't really thought it out." His son was also number one in the state of Maryland for sports writing in a school newspaper and was one of the finalist in the Hemmingway award (it is only fair to mention that his mother also is a writer), so he had his talent coming from both parents.

Fred has a daughter who is a senior at the University at Mary Washington and has also had some wonderful experiences in sports. She played field hockey and managed to become a "mvp" during her high school career. Not only did her skill level increase, but so did her confidence and ability to see herself in a leadership role. For Fred there could be no better example of the positive influence sports can have on a young life. He plans to keep on writing books and wants more kids to discover his stories and take away the messages that he presents.

Marilyn Courtot

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season
Fred Bowen
Illustrated by Charles S. Pyle
Crack! Imagine the sound of the bat hitting the ball as major-league hitter, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox brought his batting average to .406 at the end of the season. His passion was baseball and he practiced playing through his years in school, the minor-league and then the majors. Ted Williams wasn't satisfied with an easy way to hit .400; he was determined to go all the way. He learned how to determine which pitches to swing at and he practiced smooth, strong swings to constantly improve his batting skills. The story focuses on his journey toward his magnificent feat. Wonderful, color illustrations capture different moments in Williams' career as they lead up to his well-earned moment of a record batting average. In addition, there are a few photographs of Williams. On the back cover, fans will find his baseball statistics. For those readers interested in additional information on about Williams, the author cites a couple resources on the cataloging in publication page. 2010, Dutton Children's Books/Penguin, $16.99. Ages 7 to 9. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780525478775

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