Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Fireballer! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Mark Stevens: Allow me to start with the second question first, if you don’t mind. What inspired the story was a comment from a longtime friend of mine. His name is Irv. We have talked about books and writing—and baseball—for years and years. Decades. One day he suggested that I write a novel about the first pitcher in professional baseball to throw a pitch so fast that there is literally, physically no time left for a batter to swing a bat. (We’re close to that point now. At the speeds being thrown, up to 105 and 106 miles per hour, a batter has .3 seconds to decide whether to swing. And where to swing. And how to swing. Point-three seconds.) I thought this was an intriguing idea, but it didn’t seem like quite enough for a full story. In addition, to that point, I had only written crime fiction. I had never attempted a novel without a murder mystery framework. Gasp—literary fiction! But the same night Irv suggested that idea, a thought came to me out of the blue. What if that same pitcher, when he was in Little League, threw a pitch that accidentally hit and killed a batter? Suddenly, the story had weight to it. I started writing almost immediately.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in bringing this story to life?
MS: Well, this book came to me very quickly. I almost couldn’t write fast enough. It usually took me three or four years to write a novel, and this one came to me in about 18 months. At least, the first draft. I couldn’t wait to write anytime I got the chance. I also had a secret weapon. I shared drafts of chapters with Irv as I went. He steered me out of the ditch many times. I had never collaborated so closely with someone on plot and character, but I found it extremely productive and beneficial. So, I was writing and rewriting almost simultaneously. I also sent the first half to my agent, Josh Getzler, and he gave me a few big course corrections, as well. But embedded in this process was a desire to try and capture a three-dimensional character on the page for my pitching protagonist, Frank Ryder. What would it be like to pitch in the big leagues knowing that the thing that is making you famous, your fastball, also once took a life?
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Frank’s story will connect with and impact readers?
MS: Josh Getzler, the aforementioned agent, was very enthusiastic about the idea for The Fireballer when I ran it past him and before I had written one word. But he said something emphatic from the get-go: “It can’t be only about baseball. It has to be more than that.” So, that became my guiding principal. I think the end result (well, I hope the end result) is a story that addresses issues like grief and mental health and the human experience of grappling with tragedy.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books, if given the opportunity?
MS: Maybe! I don’t have any clear ideas for Frank Ryder’s next move, so to speak, but it’s a possibility.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MS: I’m currently working on a novel set in the world of rock and roll. My agent has two completed crime novels in his hands. One is perhaps the beginning of a series. The other is a standalone.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Fireballer and your other work?
MS: My website is www.writermarkstevens.com. Follow me on Twitter (@writerstevens) and on Facebook.