Posted below is an interview with Clay Snellgrove about his new novel, The Ball Player.
Interviewer: When did you write this book?
Clay: I wrote the book in 2002. I did several revisions when I decided to ready it for publication.
I: The book revolves around a professional baseball player. Was this character supposed to be you?
C: Yes and no. I find it impossible to write
fiction without putting some of your own experience into it.
We write well what we know. However, while the ball player in
the book does find himself in situations I was once in, several
of the character’s experiences come from stories I've
heard or that I witnessed happening to other people.
I: You’ve said this book is not about baseball. What did you mean by that?
C: When people find out I write, they immediately ask me if my books and stories are about baseball. Most people know me because of my connection to the game, and it is hard for them to image me writing outside of it. The Ball Player is a novel that happens to be about a professional baseball player. I made sure the story was read by people who do not care for baseball, and they enjoyed it. I also had avid baseball fans read it and they also gave the novel praise.
I: There are some interesting stories about how different writers find time and inspiration to write. What was your process when writing The Ball Player?
C: I had finished my fifth season in pro baseball.
I then decided to stay in Canton, Ohio to continue dating a
girl (now my wife). A friend helped me secure a $300/ month
apartment that I furnished with a bed, card table, two directors
chairs, TV, VCR, and a Play station 1, which I used to listen
to CD's. There was nothing else in the three room abode. No
phone, no cable, no internet. The apartment was the bottom floor
of an old house that had been worked into a two unit rental
when the neighborhood had deteriorated.
I took a job waiting tables, and spent two hours each morning writing. Sometimes I wrote after a workout, during which I might go through the story in my head. I wrote at my card table on an ancient Toshiba lap-top I had purchased in 1997 with my entire signing bonus ($1,000).
My biggest concern each day was word count. I charted the amount
of words I wrote each day along with the time it took. I carefully
noted my words per hour and for some strange reason this motivated
me. Even when I was unsure as to where the story was headed,
I pounded the keys to keep my words per hour up. I had to get
rid of some of the stuff I wrote, but I was surprised to find
several of my favorite chapters came from those days I wrote
only for word count.
I: What is your writing background?
C: My fourth and fifth grade teacher, Ms. Mullin, assigned loads of work to our class. The work was a good mix of standard lessons and creative projects. I remember writing a lot in those days and being given lots of opportunity to use my imagination. We did write reports, but also were instructed to write newspaper articles about historical events as if we were there, and come up with song lyrics about important figures throughout history. It was challenging and fun. Sometimes my mom would have to make me put my ball glove down and complete my homework. But when I finally starteddoing it, I enjoyed it.
High School English teachers encouraged me as well. I wrote for the high school paper. I then came up only a couple hours shy of adding an English minor to my degree from MTSU. I wrote freelance feature articles for some small newspapers. But most of my writing has been fiction that I have written in my free time.
I: How does being a writer compare to being a baseball player?
C: A speaker at a writing conference I attended once said that when people would ask her, “What do you do?” She would reply, “I’m a writer.” Even though her living was made in the healthcare field, she considered herself a writer first.
I felt the same way about baseball. I made more money working in the off-season than I did in the minor leagues, but I always said I was a ball player. I still feel that I could tell people I’m a ball player and not be lying. Inside, I’ll always be.
Being a writer is similar. I can not support my family with my writing yet (maybe Oprah will read The Ball Player and this will change), but I feel like a writer.
I made my college choice and other life decisions because I dreamed of playing pro baseball. Baseball is a pursuit where you can dream big, and I’m a dreamer. Writing is similar. You can imagine yourself on a best seller list, or picture your work in the hands of some studio president, and then try to make it happen.
I: There is a romantic quality to the book. How do you write relationships that are engaging and real?
C: I always listen when people share stories from their hearts. I ask questions when it’s appropriate and sometimes when it’s not, about what my friends and acquaintances were thinking and feeling during their relationships or brief romantic encounters. I also draw from my own thoughts and feelings.
I’m always nervous when writing relationships, because if they don’t feel real, your entire story fails.
I: The steroid issue has been highly publicized in baseball of late. You touch on it in the novel. How do you feel about the performance enhancing drugs? Did you take them?
C: I never did use them. Thought about doing it several times, but for a number of reasons declined. I never gave the issue much thought until I looked back on my career, which ended sooner than I felt it should, and realized my lack of strength prevented me from making better money and signing contracts. I remember the guys that had used and realized that some of them were the ones that had out performed me and gotten starting jobs and closer looks by the Major League scouts. When I was playing, it felt like steroids were a part of the game and the decision to use was the same as which bat to use. I think all players, regardless of if they took performance enhancing drugs, knew deep down, steroids were cheating, but professional baseball creates an ultra competitive atmosphere. If you look at the decision in terms of your livelihood and feeding your family, I guess cheating doesn’t seem so bad.