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Novelist William Hazelgrove Speaking at Oak Lawn Library November 11 6:30 PM
MICHIGAN CITY — William Hazelgrove, Chicago-based author of such novels as “Ripples” and “Real Santa,” described the stages of his novel-writing in a session of the 31st Writing Out Loud series at Michigan City Public Library on Saturday. He also talked about how some of his personal experiences have shaped his writing.
Hazelgrove said the voice of the main character serves an essential role as he develops his stories, sometimes at the earliest stage. Sometimes the character’s voice dictates what the character will do, which means he might not even know how his own story is going to end.
“If you have the voice, then you have the book,” he said.
One night, Hazelgrove and his son were playing ball because they had learned that a former baseball player lived in a house across the street. Hazelgrove had hoped the former player would give his son some tips, but the man never came out.
The same thing happened the second night. However, the third night, the man told his son to keep practicing.
Hazelgrove came up with the story of a boy who was not doing well in school, but had great pitching ability. He lived across the street from an old man who had lost his wife. The boy also had a dream, a major American motif: To succeed in baseball.
However, Hazelgrove looked at his story and realized something was wrong and identified the problem as the point of view. The story was in the third-person, but it should have been in the first-person. He would tell the story from the eyes of the 13-year-old pitcher, Ricky Hernandez.
“America loves first-person; it allows us to be close,” Hazelgrove said.
He called up his agent and read him the novel’s first paragraph, and the agent said he had a book.
Hazelgrove said some people dismissed his idea, because he was trying to write from a Latino boy’s perspective, but had not experienced the life of a Latino. However, he tried to find universal aspirations among his characters.
He said that sequels are also hard, but, among all his books, he made one sequel, “The Pitcher 2,” because the character seemed right for an evolution.
Other important elements Hazelgrove mentioned were motifs and titles. He wrote “Rocket Man” based on the motif, that is, a unifying element, of a man who was struggling to make his paycheck cover what he needed. The motif was embodied in the job of lighting the rockets for Rocket Academy Day of the Boy Scouts, for which Hazelgrove was the rocket man at the time he wrote the book.
A third important forming element was the title. The title, for him, often came from a fundamental element in the idea. If the title did not stick in his mind, he might not stay with the story.
He spoke of several experiences that influenced his writing. One time, his mother got rid of the home TV set for a little while, and he started to go to the library more often. He remembered two books he read that influenced him: “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell and “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton.
He did not think of Mitchell’s book as a romance novel. He just thought she was a great story-teller. She showed him how to make the story the focus.
He recounted his experience of working as the Ernest Hemingway Writer in Residence at Hemingway’s original home in Oak Park, Illinois, which he lived for 10 years. He convinced the estate to bring writers back there, but he also noticed that he wrote more after he left.
He had to go through the stages of learning from different writers, but he also needed to come out of another’s shadow, he said.
Jerry Holt, chairman of English and modern languages at Purdue University-North Central, interviewed Hazelgrove and commented that, although people worry about the future of literature, it is in good hands if it is kept alive by people like Hazelgrove.
A movie is currently being made of “The Pitcher.” He expects filming in Georgia this winter and hopes for an August release.http://www.thenewsdispatch.com/news/article_d13128fe-5a58-11e5-b9e0-4f0a2e3b583d.html