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Spitball literary magazine latest to review ‘Nine Bucks a Pound’

June 21st, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound, Reviews

Spitball Spring 2014Spitball Magazine, the organizer of the Casey Award given annually to the best baseball book, included a short review of Nine Bucks a Pound in their Spring 2014 issue, which was just released (arriving at my house the first day of summer). Here’s what they had to say:

Here at Spitball we are pretty sick of hearing about PED, which makes James Bailey’s accomplishment with his new baseball novel, Nine Bucks a Pound (Sun Field Press), all the more amazing. It is the modern story of a deal between the devil and Del Tanner, a first baseman in the Minnesota Twins organization, who injects batting power-increasing illegal drugs long enough to boost him out of the minors. Bailey’s goal of presenting a believable character whose motivations are understandable, if not excusable, is realized; even if Tanner’s downfall is predictable. Other well-drawn characters, plausible dialogue, and a sure feel for the landscape of professional baseball round out the pleasures to be had in reading the book.

Not bad. I hope they keep it in mind when the time comes to compile the short list of Casey candidates this winter.

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Dinosaurs, prime numbers, and fanboys

June 18th, 2014 · Writing

I read slowly these days. Actually, I read at the same speed I’ve always read, I just take forever to get through books because I spend so much time working on my own. I used to get through about a book a week. Nowadays it’s more like a book a month or maybe longer. I can’t even remember when I started Thirteen Moons, but it was at least two moons ago and I’m only half done. Though in fairness I have taken time out to read two other books. Thirteen Moons is well written, it’s just boring, which is why it gets bumped when something more enticing comes along.

The latest book to bump it was Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, by Tom Moran, which I discovered last Friday when I followed a link to a story about how the Guardian (a British newspaper) honored it as their first self-published book of the month. Several reviews on Amazon compared it to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, one of my all-time favorite series. So I bought it and started reading. I had to figure out how to synch my Kindle with the Kindle app on my phone (it wasn’t difficult), because I kept wanting to read it whenever I had a free moment. I was hooked from the start all the way through the finish.

I turned into a fanboy, thinking of people I know who might like it as I read. When I finished I posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and a pitch for it on Facebook. All for a book by a guy I’d never heard of five days ago. I’ve had a couple of readers evangelize about my books a bit, including one who bought half a dozen copies of The Greatest Show on Dirt to send it to friends of his. (I thanked him with a free copy of Nine Bucks a Pound when it came out this spring.) Every once in a blue moon I get an email or a Tweet from someone who writes to say they enjoyed one of my books. (That definitely makes an author’s day, by the way.) But I’m not sure I’ve moved any/many readers like I was inspired to spread the word on Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers.

So, well done, Tom Moran. You’ve given me a new goal: turn a reader into a proselytizing fanboy.

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Maybe Jeff Pearlman!?

June 4th, 2014 · Reviews, Writing

Back in 2010, I reviewed a book for Baseball America called Top of The Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Players of All Time. What struck me at the time was the randomness of the contributors, some of whom had no discernible connection to the game aside from being a fan. One might make a legitimate case that ought to be enough, but my point was as a reader I wanted access to something I couldn’t get from simply being a fan myself.

I wrote:

The concept of “Top of the Order” is a good one: “25 writers pick their favorite baseball players of all time.” Original, never-before-published essays on 25 baseball heroes. How can you go wrong?

I mean, what if you lined up Roger Angell, Donald Honig, Peter Gammons, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski? Maybe mix in some newer voices like Josh Wilker and Will Leitch. All writing about their favorite players, providing insight or some kind of personal connection.

Okay, what if you didn’t get those guys, but still had some pretty good writers? Roger Kahn, Pat Jordan, Jim Bouton, Jonathan Eig—maybe Jeff Pearlman. How about an ex-player turned writer, like Doug Glanville? Not bad. Get W.P. Kinsella to write the foreword. Sounds promising. Who else have you got? Some music and film critics? Eh. A couple of fiction writers? Okay. The lead singer for The Hold Steady? Gosh, why didn’t you say so?

The day it ran I received the following email:

James:

Maybe Jeff Pearlman!?

That Pearlman guy is the best baseball writer of his generation. The absolute best. :)

Enjoyed the review.

Jeff Pearlman

I took it then, and still do now, that he was being tongue in cheek with the “best baseball writer of his generation.” Still, I felt mildly awkward, for essentially having been called out—albeit in a sporting, non-dickish way—for belittling his contribution. Though my review overall was fair—not gushing, but my criticisms were focused mainly on a couple of the essays that just didn’t seem to work, including one which discussed players’ “sculpted buttocks”—I’ve always felt a little bad about it, if only for the offhanded remark about Pearlman.

I knew next to nothing about him then, and even that wasn’t so much known as assumed from the little awareness I had of his career. He was the guy who wrote the John Rocker story for Sports Illustrated. He had written a book about the 1986 Mets being bad guys. He had written a book about Roger Clemens and how he fell to earth. Ergo, he was a writer who liked to either take guys down or chronicle their fall. In my mind. Based on virtually nothing.

In the years since, I’ve become a regular reader of Pearlman’s blog. Aside from a blog about indie publishing, an N.C. State sports blog, and Carolyn Hax’s advice column, it is the only site I make a point of regularly visiting, on average 2-3 times a week. (Unlike me, he updates frequently enough to warrant regular check-ins.) I can’t even guesstimate how many times I’ve felt like a complete twat for making assumptions based on things he’d written (that I hadn’t even read, other than the Rocker thing 15 years ago), but it’s probably at least equal to the number of times I’ve read his blog.

Judging by the entries there, we had/have a lot in common. He’s three years younger than me, so most of his pop culture references are square in my sights. Politically, we’re both left of center. He’s mentioned several times being a gawky, scrawny, not-popular-with-the-ladies teen who spent most of his adolescence obsessing over sports. Check. Honestly, had he gone to my high school we probably would have been in the same fantasy baseball league together (and, yes, I started playing in high school).

Most of what Pearlman blogs about has little to do with sports, which is one of the reasons it keeps drawing me back. I get sabermetrics and all the new-fangled stats, but I don’t care enough to keep reading about them over and over. Or about how prospect X is the 37th best prospect in the minor leagues, yada, yada, been there, read that. I guess at this point I’d rather read something different. Something about everyday life from someone I can relate to. That’s why I used to regularly read Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods site when he kept it up.

I recently re-read Pearlman’s Top of the Order essay. His player was Garry Templeton, because as Pearlman put it, to an impressionable 9-year-old from lilywhite Mahopac, N.Y., he was “the ultimate badass.” It was actually quite entertaining and well written, and had it come earlier in the book, before I’d been thrown off by Vic Power and Michael Jordan, I probably would have appreciated it more then. When he writes of his adolescence it reminds me of scenes from some of Jonathan Tropper’s novels, particularly The Book of Joe. I imagine occasionally what a novel by Pearlman would be like. I’m convinced it would fall in that Tropper sweet spot, filled with dysfunction, snark, and awkward hilarity, though I see no evidence he’s planning to ever write one.

I’ve given up reviewing books for the time being. Mostly it was the time hit; it took too much time away from working on my own writing. But one thing I don’t miss is trying to feel like an expert on things I wasn’t as knowledgeable on as I should/could/might have been. Sometimes in order to really thoroughly review a book, one needs to read another book or two on the same subject. When time permitted, I did this. When it didn’t, I did my best. Sometimes that involved making assumptions based on limited knowledge. Sometimes that wasn’t the best approach.

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Review: ‘Nine Bucks a Pound’ puts a human face on an ugly issue in America’s Pastime

April 28th, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound, Reviews

Nine Bucks a PoundI thought I used to read a lot of sports books back in the heyday of Bailey’s Baseball Book Reviews. Lance Smith is making me look like a loafer. Over the past year he has tallied more than 100 posts on his site, The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books. This weekend he turned his spotlight on Nine Bucks a Pound, rating it 5 out of 5, outstanding. Here’s the heart of his review:

What I really liked about this book is that it puts a human face on a topic that comes across as black and white.  Especially to those who are not baseball fans, those players who took these substances are bad and those who didn’t were good.  Del’s trials and tribulations, which were both good and bad, show that it is a very gray area. The reader follows Del from the minor leagues to his award-winning rookie season with the Twins, his relationship with his long-time girlfriend Dana and his parents.  These are what resonated with me while reading this book – Del’s decision had more effects than just an increase in his home run totals.
The baseball scenes in the book are well written as well.  Whether is on the diamond, in the clubhouse or just in the mind of Del as he is trying to figure out the pitcher while in the on-deck circle, fans of the game will love both the action on the field and the interactions of the players with both each other and the press.
With excellent character development, a story that never stalls but keeps the reader moving forward and many emotional moments that range from elation to downright sadness, Bailey has written an outstanding novel that should be read by fans of not only the game of baseball, but also of human nature stories as that is the strength of this book – it puts a human face on an ugly issue in America’s Pastime.

In the coming days Lance will be throwing some questions my way for a Q&A to appear on his site. I’ll have a link to that as well when it is posted.

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L.A. Daily News: ‘Bailey has hit it on the screws again’

April 23rd, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound, Reviews, The Greatest Show on Dirt

I’ve reviewed more than my share of baseball books over the past 5-6 years. Until recently, my reviews appeared regularly on BaseballAmerica.com as well as my own site, Bailey’s Baseball Book Reviews. Before I started getting burned out, I read and reviewed 25-30 books a year, which got to be a battle of endurance at times. So my hat is off to Tom Hoffarth, who each April reviews 30 baseball books in 30 days for the Los Angeles Daily News.

I’m grateful Tom found room once again for one of my books, including Nine Bucks a Pound as book No. 23 this year. He doesn’t include many novels, because as he points out “Naturally, you want authenticity as much as entertainment when baseball is portrayed in fiction (like, in “The Natural.”) You appreciate creativity as long as its believable. Otherwise, it kinda drives us nuts.”

Lack of realism is the biggest problem I had in reviewing baseball novels, so I take it as a high compliment that Tom had no such complaints about Nine Bucks a Pound. In fact, he says “Bailey’s first effort, “The Greatest Show on Dirt” in 2012, was worth taking a chance based on our respect for the depth of story lines from the minor-league game that he lived through, and we enjoyed giving the first-time author some swings in the cage. With “Nine Bucks,” Bailey has hit it on the screws again.”

Unlike in 2012, when Hoffarth’s review of The Greatest Show on Dirt ran on April 3, this time I had to wait and wonder. I found out Nine Bucks a Pound would be included only yesterday, after 22 books had already been reviewed. I’m honored it was. Anyone who follows baseball books knows about Hoffarth’s annual undertaking, which has become a staple of spring for readers.

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Letting loose and having fun

April 7th, 2014 · Writing

Hanging with Iron ManAt what age do we become too self-conscious to simply enjoy ourselves? We took our four-year-old son to the Strong National Museum of Play yesterday, mainly to see Iron Man, though that was just the first (and longest, as we waited an hour in line) of many activities. The one that brought the biggest smile to Grant’s face was a dance floor where the outline of his grooving body was projected onto a wall in an orgy of funky color. He was alone when he started, boogying by his own self in his Batman t-shirt, but was soon joined by several other children, ranging by my best guess from his age up to eight or nine. Whether it was the joy of dancing to music louder than they typically hear it at home or the novelty of seeing their silhouettes shimmying on the wall, the kids were momentarily lost to the rest of us. They danced without an inkling of self-consciousness and they had genuine fun doing it.

They were somewhere I can’t go.

I’m not capable of moving like that without looking around the room and thinking how stupid I must look to everyone else there. Not without a lot of alcohol anyway. Worse, I project this mindset on others, and, if you’re honest, you likely do as well. Were an adult to shed their inhibitions and wriggle around on that dance floor like they hadn’t a care in the world, I’d have a chuckle and wonder what was wrong with them. I’d excuse it if they were playing with their kid, sure, but what if they were out there alone? What a nut, right? Who else would make such a spectacle of themself?

I’ve been conditioned this way. Probably starting around junior high, when it became critical to look cool any time there were witnesses. Given the invasiveness of technology, that mindset often governs my actions even when there aren’t any humans in sight. Someone is watching. Big Brother?

It’s difficult for most of us to put our creative selves on display. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t generalize that. It’s difficult for me to put my creative self on display. For as much as I love to write, it’s hard to shake that “what if they think it’s stupid?” fear when releasing a new work into the wild, or even when first sharing it within my network of trusted readers for feedback. I had a dream last night that I was explaining to someone what the new novel I’m working on is about. Though she listened and offered polite encouragement, her body language gave away her skepticism. It was then I realized I’d left the most important bit out of my elevator pitch, the Chapter One hook upon which the entire rest of the story depends. I frantically tried to recapture this woman’s attention to explain, but in the end settled for spieling it to someone else, a man who struck me upon waking as novelist and all-around good guy Joe Wallace. I needed to tell it all to someone to prove to myself it really was a good concept.

Why does this kind of validation matter so much, even in my dreams? And how much longer can I enjoy watching my son before he falls into line and regulates his behavior based on what everyone else might think?

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Come celebrate the release of Nine Bucks a Pound

March 23rd, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound

Come celebrate the release of Nine Bucks a Pound with me at Starry Nites Cafe, Monday, March 31, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Yes, I know it’s been available for a month now, but the timing hasn’t quite worked out to celebrate until now. So please join us as we talk baseball, books, and whatever else comes up. Starry Nites serves sandwiches, wraps, soup, and more, so you can grab some dinner, a pastry, or just enjoy a hot or cold beverage. They even serve microbrews and wine.

So no excuses. Come hang out, buy a book (or two; I’ll have copies of The Greatest Show on Dirt as well), and have some fun.

Starry Nites Cafe: 696 University Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607

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Talking baseball and Nine Bucks a Pound on The Stuart Bedasso Show

March 11th, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound

I had a chance this past weekend to catch up with an old friend as a guest on his podcast, The Stuart Bedasso Show (Link: http://www.stuartbedasso.com/2014/03/new-show-were-talking-baseball.html). Normal topics run the digital gamut from politic to sexuality, beer, and lately gardening, but we talked about baseball and publishing, particularly my new novel, Nine Bucks a Pound. While I have a long way to go before I can claim to be anything near smooth on the radio (or podcast) I was pleasantly surprised when listening back to the recording that I was well this side of horrible. At times I actually sounded almost like I knew what I was doing. I was clearly at my best when I had a particular story to tell or point to drive home.

I had several opportunities to sit in on Batavia Muckdogs broadcasts with my friend Matthew Coller last summer and got a bit more comfortable each time out. He was kind enough to plug the hell out of The Greatest Show on Dirt every time I joined him. Hard to say how much that helped sales given the reach of an average Batavia broadcast, but it couldn’t have hurt.

It’s nice to have friends in radio. TV would be nice, too. Just saying. Hey, Bob Costas, those are some spiffy shoes you got there. Need a fill-in guest?

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Tampa Tribune: Nine Bucks a Pound ‘bubbles and percolates with action and tension’

March 11th, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound, Reviews

The first review of Nine Bucks a Pound is a doozy. Bob D’Angelo of The Tampa Tribune really delves into the issues facing both Del Tanner and his agent Ian Wicker and the consequences of the choices they make. He sums things up by calling the book “a satisfying cocktail of prose.” I like the sound of that.
Here are some excerpts:

James Bailey has a writing style that is as smooth as the left-handed swing of Del Tanner, the main character in his second novel.  Once again, the Rochester, N.Y., author has written an engaging story with characters readers can relate to — even if the underlying theme is the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Nine Bucks a Pound” (Sun Field Press; paperback; $13.95 paperback, $3.99 Kindle; 338 pages) explores steroid use and the decisions struggling minor-league players sometimes must face. Is it better to toil in mediocrity and never realize your dream of making the majors, or is it better to go outside the rules for that extra edge that could land you on a big-league roster?

He does a nice job of presenting both Del and Wicker and introducing their conflicts, then says:

It’s easy to dismiss those players who use performance-enhancing drugs as cheaters who will do anything to get an edge. And Bailey, in “Nine Bucks a Pound,” is not trying to make heroes of those who crossed the line. But it’s hard not to sympathize with Tanner, who makes it to the majors, becomes the American League rookie of the year, and then has to face a firestorm when his denials about steroid use begin to unravel. The decision he makes in the end shows his courageous side.

In other words, a clear conscience is the softest pillow.

After going even further into the story (it’s a very thorough review), he concludes with:
Bailey’s second novel mixes baseball, romantic tension and testosterone into a satisfying cocktail of prose. It bubbles and percolates with action and tension. Even the cover is eye-catching, as it depicts a bobblehead of a baseball player wielding a syringe like he would grip a bat (I collect bobbleheads; this idea by Rey Flores was really cool).

Nice hat tip there to Rey Flores, who crafted the bobblehead on the cover, which came out even better than I could have imagined.

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Win a Kindle copy of Nine Bucks a Pound

March 7th, 2014 · Nine Bucks a Pound, Reviews, The Greatest Show on Dirt

Once again, I’m underwhelmed by the results of a Goodreads Giveaway. Two years ago, when The Greatest Show on Dirt came out, I gave away eight copies to Goodreads readers. Of those lucky winners, just three of them actually rated it, one of whom couldn’t be bothered to write a review. I suspect the book didn’t interest the other five, as they didn’t have any other baseball books on their shelves or indicate any interest in baseball. They fall into the category of “people who just like to win free stuff,” which seems to be type that typically enters these giveaways. Which sucks for an author on two fronts. First, if the point to giving away free copies of the book is to help get more reviews, that’s a fail right there. And if that’s not bad enough, I’m out of pocket for the cost of the book and the postage.

This time around I decided to give away just two copies, figuring the real value of the contest is just getting some word out on Goodreads about the book’s release. I also noted in the description, “Please note: This is a novel about a baseball player. If you don’t like baseball or reading about baseball, well, don’t say you weren’t warned.” (What I really wanted to say was, “please don’t enter, so maybe someone who does will have a better chance.”) In just over a week, 284 people entered the contest. A frighteningly high number of these folks are what I would call “virtual book hoarders.” One woman had more than 35,000 books on her Goodreads shelf, of which 45 were on her “read” shelf. Forty-five down, thirty-five thousand to go. Wow. That’s a lot. To put that in context, if you were to read a book a day it would take you 96 years to get through 35,000 books. So, yeah, I call mental illness on that one.

Anyway, the contest drew to a close in the wee hours last night. Two winners were selected, neither of whom would appear to be in my target audience given the books on their virtual shelves, but hopefully they will read and review it anyway, or maybe hand it over to someone they know who will.

I’m not holding my breath.

Instead of sitting here going blue in the face, I will stage a new contest for two copies of the Kindle version of Nine Bucks a Pound. How you enter is by commenting on this post sometime before midnight Sunday, March 9 (and with daylight savings time this weekend, that’s one less hour than you might think, so get cracking). In your post you will tell us all your favorite baseball novel and what you liked best about it. One winner will be chosen based on the best response, the other by random selection from all those who entered (assuming more than one person does). Your obligation, should you be so fortunate as to win this book, is to write an honest review on Amazon.com (and Goodreads if you so happen to frequent it).

Here’s a description of Nine Bucks a Pound:

For every A-Rod or Manny Ramirez seeking to boost his game to elite levels via illegal means, there have been scores of unheralded players toiling in the minor leagues, desperate to impress the brass enough to simply survive and advance. Young men who have dreamed of playing in the big leagues since they were old enough to swing a bat. When their natural ability alone isn’t enough, the black and white blurs to gray, their fear of getting caught using banned substances outweighed by a more consuming fear of failure.

Three seasons into his professional career, Del Tanner can read the writing on the wall. A contact hitter at a power position, he recognizes his days in the Twins organization are numbered if he can’t match the production of the other first basemen in the system. When his aspiring agent suggests he try steroids, Del makes a choice that will shadow him for the rest of his career.

In his second novel, James Bailey (The Greatest Show on Dirt, 2012) humanizes the players fans are so often quick to demonize. Nine Bucks a Pound ponders life on baseball’s fringe and the dreams that tempt a young man to heed the devil on his shoulder. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark says, “Bailey hasn’t just given us a great read. He’s given us an important window into a topic we can’t seem to stop talking about.” Adds Russell Rowland, author of High and Inside, “Bailey expertly explores how the desire to succeed at any price can lead to unexpected consequences, mostly involving a man’s relationships with others, not to mention with his own conscience. This is a powerful story about the perils of success at any price.”

Sound interesting? Have at it, for your chance to win a Kindle copy. (Note: If you don’t have a Kindle or a Kindle app, you are welcome to buy a print copy from Amazon for a mere $12.56.) And if you can overlook the fact that you’re actually hurting your own odds in a sense (don’t be selfish, now, kids), please share this post.

 

 

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