I’ll admit. I was not familiar with the story of Octavius Catto – black activist after the Civil War – until I came across his story in an unexpected place: MLB historian John Thorn’s terrific book Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game.
Catto was very much a renaissance man. Catto was an educator of boys in Philadelphia. He was an abolitionist, who helped fight for the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, securing voting rights for blacks. (Note of remembrance: women still had not attained suffrage at this time.) But of all the things he loved, perhaps his “rose bud” moment as he died, he loved baseball. He was an accomplished ball player who ran the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. They even had an undefeated season in 1867.
His sudden demise is a tragic one. On election day 1871, the first time that Catto would be able to exercise his right to vote, he got word of voter intimidation voters coming from the Democrats – especially amongst the Irishmen of the city. Wanting to protect himself, he left his school and went to Freedman Bank, withdrew $20, then continued on to a pawn shop, where he purchased a hand gun. As he was walking through the streets, gun in his pocket, an Irishman named Frank Kelly recognized him, brushed passed him, turned around and shot him in the back. Catto fell to the ground, but as he tried to get up and escape, Kelly approached and shot him dead in broad daylight, amongst many witnesses.
Kelly was put on trial and acquitted by an all-white jury.
I’m fascinated by this tragic tale for a variety of reasons. I have already written a play about the incident and I’m looking to do some more creative writing surrounding it as I think it has much to say to us today. It’s going to involve some fantasy. Maybe you didn’t see that twist coming! Stay-tuned for more about this remarkable ballplayer.
His courage and ballplaying skills were largely forgotten to history, except that a statue of Catto was erected in Philadelphia in 2017. A man who earned the right to vote but never got to exercise it. A man who loved the game of baseball, but never again suited up to play.
Who are the other lost heroes of the American past? I’m sure they are longing to have their stories told as well.
I had a fun, hour-long radio interview with Fran Lewis about my novel A Diamond for Her: Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses. I mean, what author doesn’t love to talk about their own works?
I answered a wide-range of questions about how the idea of the book germinated to some of the crazy stories and chapters included. I also talk about historical figures Theodore Roosevelt, Satchel Paige, Gus Greenlee, and Jackie Robinson.
Here’s an archived link to the interview if you are so inclined:
He loved her enough to build her a baseball stadium.
With a tip of the cap to the works of W.P. Kinsella, A Diamond for Her is a historical and magical story of love between two people – Raymond & Rochelle – and two grand institutions – America & baseball.
In 1920, railroad man Raymond Blythe had a series of disturbing dreams-giant creatures with Greek names playing baseball. He was determined to find out what they meant. The dreams set him on a bizarre quest to find a connection between Iowa, Theodore Roosevelt, baseball, and his deceased father. While searching for answers at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, he met a young librarian named Rochelle Christy. This meeting sets him on another quest-to win her hand in marriage even if it means he has to establish his own baseball league in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains.
I hope you’ve been purposely heading out of your house to support local businesses during the pandemic. They need our support now more than ever.
With the release of my new novel this week, I wanted to mention that the BEST place to purchase the paperback version of it is AT YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE!
If they don’t stock it, please ask them to order it for you. They’ll be happy to do so! I published this one through IngramSpark which has favorable terms for independent stores. This way, they don’t have purchase it through Amazon, which is their competitors!
If you do order a copy, please ask the store if they would consider stocking a couple copies for its release.
I thank you. The independent bookstores will thank you. All the info you need is listed below. The book releases in 3 days!
By the way, if you like history or baseball, I think you’ll enjoy it. If you like both, I think you’ll love it!
Title: A Diamond for Her: Myths and Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses
As a writer, it’s impossible to be original, but it’s crucial to be unique. What’s the difference? Being original means attempting something which has never been attempted. Under this definition, it’s difficult to find writing that is completely original because there have been thousands of writers and hundreds of thousands of stories and story-types which have proliferated over the years. There’s more out there today than there ever has been. A true original – someone who pushes undiscovered boundaries – is rare. But the key to writing is to find your own uniqueness. What is it about your perspective which brings a unique twist to that cozy murder mystery? What historical angle are you using to highlight an aspect of a historical event in a new way?
There are endless ways that a writer can be unique because no one has had your particular experiences. The key is to use what you have, use your own voice, and tell the story in an interesting way. Then you can stand out – even amongst the myriad great writers out there today.
Recently, I’ve been reminded that one of the most important aspects of writing which will help you stand out and show your uniqueness is receiving input from other sources. Whether through reading other books, listening to music, chatting with friends, or reading the news, input is crucial in building ideas and taking our writing to unique places we otherwise would not have gone if we hadn’t been actively listening to what’s feeding our mind.
Here’s my example. I’m currently reading MLB historian John Thorn’s fantastic book on the origins of baseball entitled Baseball in the Garden of Eden. I just so happen to be reading this as I’m also working on the sequel to my baseball novel which comes out March 23. Twice this week my novel has taken wonderfully unexpected turns because of something I read in the baseball history. I learned about a young ballplayer named James Creighton, who was baseball’s first martyr. He died at the young age of 21 after swinging too hard. As soon as I read his story, it coupled perfectly with a story strand in my novel and I was off, and amazed, at where the idea took me. I was also a little scared. What if I hadn’t been reading this history at the time? My novel would not have been as rich!
A few pages later in the same history, I came across the tragic story of a black ballplayer named Octavius Cotta, who was murdered for trying to vote in 1871 Philadelphia. It’s such a heart-breaking story and it spoke to me deeply. Within one day of first reading about him, I have already finished a one-act play based on the events surrounding his death. It is, in my opinion, one of the best plays I’ve written in a long time. I would not have written it without reading that book. In addition, this same tragic story will have great implications on my novel as well. There’s a terrific way to bring his story into mine and I’m thrilled.
Two days worth of reading netted me one new play and two new crucial story strands for the novel I’m working on. If I hadn’t been getting this input, my writing output would not have been as good.
Unique and engaging writing is a combination of using your unique experiences and knowledge and coupling them with a continual stream of new input. The mix of ideas will provide lots of fodder for many different writing projects. What kind of active input are you using for your writing?
My goal in writing A DIAMOND FOR HER was to make the story interesting even for non-baseball fans. Well, according to Rose Auburn, who reviewed it for her website, I succeeded. Rose writes:
“I will confess that I know nothing about baseball (I’m English) and A Diamond For Her is steeped in baseball lore, knowledge and mechanics; it is a veritable homage to the sport. My lack of interest did not massively detract from my enjoyment of the novel.”
She ends her review by calling it “An endearing, light-hearted and original novel that is wholly accessible even if you do not have a keen interest in baseball. Highly recommended.”
Of all the tricky and painstakingly difficult tasks that indie authors must contend with, I will admit that marketing is the trickiest and the most painful. I’ve pretty much tried it all at this point, and perhaps at a later time I’ll highlight what I have learned and what I still have failed to learn. But this is not that post. This post is about ripped abs. The kind of abs my protagonist doesn’t have.
Let me break this down. For my new novel releasing soon, it approximately falls into these genres: historical fiction, sports fiction, historical fiction romance, magical realism. These four generally sum it up.
As I loaded the details of the book into my Amazon KDP account, I had to boil it all down to two categories for marketing purposes. I decided to choose the following: fiction/sports and fiction/romance/historical. I thought it sounded logical.
But here’s what happened. Once the book was setup for preorder and it populated it’s page on Amazon, suggested titles related to my book started being listed underneath it. This is normal. What should be showing up there would ideally have a clear relationship to the type of book I’ve written. If so, then I know I’m marketing and directing my novel to the right readers.
But have I mentioned that I’m terrible at stuff like this? Task me writing a hundred thousand word novel. That’s easy. Task me with choosing a proper category for a book, and I’ll end up staring at ripped abs.
Every single suggested title related to my new book have gaudy displays of ripped young males ready to seduce or reproduce or do whatever they do. These books literally have nothing to do with my book. My protagonist is a young robber baron in 1920 who sells his shares in the railroad so he can build a baseball stadium for the woman he loves. He does not have ripped abs. If he did, he wouldn’t share them with the world. He does not work out. He does not seduce women. He is not the type to be on the cover of a book with his head not showing. Could the category be any more wrong?
I’m guessing I shouldn’t have chosen ROMANCE as the main category heading. My story is a romance. But it’s a romance with clothes on. A historical romance, but I guess it’s just not a Romance/Historical.
Sigh. Okay, so now I’ve made a change. Here are my two categories now: Fiction/Historical & Fiction/Sports.
I guess within a few days I’ll find out if the Amazon algorithm can decipher what I really mean.
Please just let me write.
If you want a great historical romance with no ripped abs, check out the links below. If you want ripped abs, check out the books below my book at the link. (At least for the next few days)
The following is the prologue of A Diamond for Her, my new novel releasing March 23. This is written from the perspective of the story’s narrator, Dr. Charles “Shoeshine” Henry. The novel is available for preorder in Kindle format from Amazon and in paperback through any local or online bookstore including Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, Walmart, Amazon, Books-a-Million and many more. Or ask for it at your local independent bookstore! Enjoy and thanks.
Prologue: A Doctor’s Note
How’s a sane person to understand this game of baseball? The fantastical underpinnings of which are haphazardly stitched together with a dash of lore and a pinch of childish chutzpah. The game is ruled by mechanics, not time, and when the mechanism of the cosmic baseball world clicks into place, the preposterous becomes the stuff of legends, the improbable becomes the mundane, and the ridiculous becomes the inevitable. Oh, what a smidgen of faith will accomplish!
I hope to illustrate the phantasmal nature of the national pastime by recounting the stories of my all-time favorite baseball team—the Winasook Iron Horses, the stalwart franchise of the Allegheny Independent League from 1921 to 1954, when Jasper Eltrane fired the final Iron Horse pitch in Rochelle Stadium.
These stories are not meant to be clever or manipulative, only simple illustrations of the wonder of baseball and the awe of life. If, perhaps, they are more feeling than science—and I pray this will be the case—accept them as they are, for I have not encountered anything in this life that can stir the passions of unsubstantiated, illegitimate logic more than baseball.
I myself am not a baseball player. I’m a semi-retired medical doctor, a lover of stories, and a fan of the greatest game ever invented. I’ve heard it said (or maybe I said it) that if the Greek gods played a modern sport, it most definitely would have been baseball. A team sport that emphasizes individual achievement. A round ball and a round bat played on a diamond with a starting point and ending point of home. Bases used to demonstrate increments of achievement for both players and wannabe young boys exploring the virtues of the opposite sex. A pace of play that encourages conversation, poetry, grand schemes, miracles, and mythology. A history interwoven around a people and their triumphs and failures.
There is much that could be said about the grand scale of baseball, from the towering steel stadiums which changed the landscapes of a hundred American cities, to the scandals that rocked people’s faith in the franchise, to a young determined man named Jackie Robinson, who defied the wrong side of history with the courage to force others to acknowledge his humanity; to the beloved Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente, who gave his life to the humanitarian cause. There’s much that could be spoken about baseball from the macro view of the major leagues, but my purpose is different. I want to simply tell the stories, remarkable in their own right, of one independent franchise that epitomized what it means to be American — and human. Some of the stories I witnessed myself, from my many appearances at Rochelle Stadium over the years. Others were told to me. The most intimate details of the Iron Horses’ entire historical record came from an extraordinary interview with owner Raymond Blythe as he was on his death bed in October of 1971.
I had told Raymond Blythe many times over the years that I had wanted to document the history of the Iron Horses. I had always put it off for a variety of reasons, chiefly my medical practice. But that all changed one day when I was summoned to the hospital during his waning hours. He wanted to tell me his stories, most of which I did not know. While I can attest to the veracity of everything in this book, he told me some things I hesitated to believe. But his insistence and his mortality forced me to include them here as well—the mythology—the insane ramblings of a man who could sell his mother her own apple pie recipe. And yet, in the years that have passed since the bedside encounter, I have given more credence to his stories, and even in some regards consider them part of the historical record. And why not? Baseball didn’t merely form from a boyish imagination or, God forbid, that ghastly rounders game hailed by the British. The poetic lore of Mighty Casey, the prodigious swing of the Sultan of Swat, or the stocky soft hands of the Flying Dutchman cannot be explained by the acknowledged arrangement between two teams to follow a set of rules regarding a ball and bat. Such mundane explanations could never adequately describe what I witnessed that day in 1949 when Archibald Showalter fouled off ninety-five pitches. Nor does it explain what Raymond Blythe found in Iowa on a trip in 1954.
There is a beauty and a poetry and, yes, a mythology which goes much deeper into the universe which necessitates this game. While today’s millionaire players may alienate a generation of fans by their grandiose egos and self-promotion, they cannot degrade a game which has defined our nation. We have become a better people for what we have learned between the lines of the diamond: reward for hard work, compassionate cooperation, fierce independence, and faith in the mystical realms of the unseen.
Finally, a brief note about the storytelling itself. I sometimes recount these stories from my own point of view, but do indulge me from time to time as I try to develop my own literary skills by distancing myself from my foreknowledge of an event in order to tell a proper story in third-person narration. I feel rather sneaky attempting this, but baseball is rife with such messiness—the ghastly DH experiment its greatest example—so perhaps it will work.
All the best,
Charles “Shoeshine” Henry, M.D. Winasook, Pennsylvania June 1985