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Field of Dreams, anyone?

Anyone who knows me would be able to guess my favorite movie. Yes, Field of Dreams. I was a starry-eyed twenty-one year old on my honeymoon when I saw it, so you can forgive me for my sentimentality, can’t you?

But beyond that, of the numerous times I’ve watched it over the years, it’s still impossible for me to hold back the tears at the ending. Just perfect. And despite what people might think, it’s not a baseball movie – far from it. It’s a treatise on fatherhood and America. (and baseball!)

When I started writing novels nearly ten years ago, it had always been my dream to write a baseball novel in the vein of WP Kinsella. I won’t pretend that I write with his lyrical flow and smooth insightfulness, but nevertheless, I did it. I wrote my baseball novel.

A DIAMOND FOR HER: Myths and Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses.

Tentative release date: April 1, 2021

I’ve said this a lot about my past novels as well, but this time I really mean it: I can’t wait for this to release. I never had so much fun. I felt like a kid walking out of the cornfield to see the magic and wonder before my eyes. And while my novel doesn’t include corn fields, I couldn’t help having a little fun with WP Kinsella. The protagonist, in a way, is on a quest to find him. WP Kinsella, in his novel Shoeless Joe which inspired the movie Field of Dreams used author JD Salinger as a main character of the plot. I thought it would be fun to return the favor, and while the late WP Kinsella does not make an appearance in my novel, his footprint does, and it was a blast doing it.

Here’s the blurb (still a work in progress) and a few images which will loom large over the novel. Cover reveal coming soon!

He loved her enough to build her a baseball stadium.

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.

A Diamond for Her chronicles the fictitious history of the Winasook Iron Horses, who were the founding members of the Allegheny Independent League from 1921-1955. Baseball magic was born in these mountains proving time and again that anything can happen inside the diamond.

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.

Presidential Politics in My Hometown

In 1960, my father attended a political stump speech from a Democratic presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy. You may of heard of him. It was in the middle of the intense campaign season as Kennedy vied for the White House against Republican Richard Nixon. The speech was in Butler, Pennsylvania, a small city of 20,000 thirty miles north of Pittsburgh. For me, Butler was the place where I went grocery shopping with my parents on Friday evenings as a kid. On good days, we’d stop in Woolworth’s on Main Street and us kids would talk to the famed parrot in the animal section before having to decide which of the myriad candies would be ours for the ride home. But all this glory would have been nearly fifteen years after the speech my dad heard in 1960.

The speech was given on a platform in front of the magnificent courthouse in Butler. I must show you a picture. This is the building I marveled at weekly as a child.

Butler County Court House

There’s a reason I remember the Kennedy speech in Butler even though I wasn’t alive yet, and that’s because my father filmed it. He took his 8mm and recorded the live speech in that glorious home-movie kind of way – you know the kind: grainy, slow-motion, nostalgic. One of the highlights of my childhood would be when my dad would pull out the movie projector – once a year, perhaps – and show the old films of his army days in Germany in the 1950s, the years of us kids growing up, and the Kennedy speech. It was just a very cool glimpse of the historical past that I was able to live through my dad’s experience.

Now today, sixty years later, President Donald Trump will be appearing in Butler as part of his final week battle-ground state blitz leading up to election day just a few days away. I spoke with my parents yesterday and they asked, “Did you hear the big news? Trump is speaking at the Butler Airport tomorrow.” I hadn’t heard, at that point.

The Butler County Regional Airport is in Penn Township just a few miles from the house where I grew up. “It’s down route 8” is what the locals would say. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the Penn Township baseball fields, one of the visiting fields my Senior League Rams team would play at when I was in 9th and 10th grade.

I can picture the excitement and buzz that such a campaign event will create in my hometown. It’s a rural area – especially when I was still growing up in the region. But the southern part of Butler County has experienced a lot of growth as the Pittsburgh metropolitan area spread northward. A lot of former fields have housing developments. Butler has long been a blue collar area: steel mills, Pullman Standard rail cars, and other various industries. Now it’s in the center of the fracking renaissance which has provided income and jobs to many other the region. There’s even a fracking site just right down the road from my parents house.

This is a vital region for Trump if he expects to win Pennsylvania again as he did in 2016. His popularity in Butler and the surrounding counties – Allegheny County to the south notwithstanding – is tremendous as evidenced from the huge quantity of signs and memorabilia I saw firsthand this summer when driving through the region. The on-the-ground feel of the state bodes well for Trump. We’ll soon find out.

In the meantime, I am encouraged to see my hometown once again an important stop for presidential politics. I kind of wish I was able to attend the rally today, so I could have a common experience, spanning sixty years, with my dad.

“What’s next?” asks a writer.

“What’s next?” is always a conundrum for a writer settling on a new project. There isn’t ever a correct answer.

I’m the type of writer who always has several irons in the fire with a few others simmering in the periphery. The year of the pandemic has placed its mark on my writing tasks in various ways. As I ponder what’s next, let’s review what has happened so far.

When we locked down starting on March 9 and my theatre teaching went virtual, I found myself with crevices of time I didn’t previously have. That was just about the time that they wiped out the baseball season, which I was so looking forward to . I even remarked to a friend that at the very least I’ll be able to watch MLB in a couple weeks. Ahhh, no.

But baseball was on my mind, so I used those unexpected down times to write the baseball novel I had always wanted a write. A Diamond for Her is its newly chosen title. I used my spring break and May break to power through and finish this novel in record time. It’s my longest novel to date, also. And I absolutely love it, if I’m allowed to be a little biased. It’s on track for an April 2021 release. I had accomplished my summer writing goal before I even reached summer. Now what?

Summer happened. I was able to get a flight back to the states in late June, and I settled into my summer home packed full of my kids also feeling the effects of canceled travel because of Covid. With my writing goal accomplished, I just rested. Worked around the house. Played with that adorable grandson of my. Cooked new dishes on the grill. It was refreshing, truly. For the first time in nearly ten years, I didn’t write in the summer.

in July, I received an email from one of the managers of the Gallery Players’ theatre in Brooklyn. I had previously had two of my plays as part of their Black Box Festivals in the past. She was looking for new scripts that could be performed over Zoom. Theatre and Zoom do not mix. It’s a terrible combination. A tiny screen with poor sound and bad internet connection cannot even approximate a tenth of the impact of having a live audience. It’s terrible. I know. I teach theatre on Zoom. (I do my best and we have fun. But it’s not the same. You know what I mean.) I told her that writing a Zoom play probably wouldn’t motivate me. But I was wrong. Shortly after I wrote her, I got inspired to write “Covid Chips,” a short play about a bar owner, who’s trying to navigate the crazy Covid rules coming out of Albany. It didn’t take long at all to write it. I wrote it specifically for Zoom and sent it off to her. Well, they picked it up and made it part of their new festival coming up in January 2021. That’s really cool. I hope it turns out well. I’ll post the link here for sure.

I finally made it back to my school-year home in Jeddah in early October. It’s been a busy transition as I continue teaching full time.

But today I finally took a breath and posed that question to myself: what’s next?

I guess I’m ready to write again.

Here are my options:

  • An alternate history Vietnam War novel I’ve been toying with. I’ve even written the first chapter.
  • A sequel to the baseball novel I just wrote. I am intrigued by this possibility if I can find the right plot trajectory.
  • A police romance novel I have been stewing about for several years.
  • There might even be a fourth book tagged on to The Forgotten Child Trilogy. My brain has given me some ideas.
  • Anything else?

On top of that, I started compiling a book of 1-minute monologues. I have a long way to go with this one, and no matter what novel approach I choose, this will be my side project. I have various other play projects to get back to at some time as well.

What to chose? Which path to follow?

I guess I’ll let you know soon.

Brutal Political Sport – Supreme Court Vacancy

This was a nightmare scenario for the Democratic Party – stalwart liberal and iconic justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing away before the November 3 presidential election.  Let the political sport season begin (like it hasn’t already).

One the one side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirming that he will indeed bring Trump’s nominee to a vote, regardless of election politics.

On the other side, Biden and the Democratic leaders insisting that the winner of the presidential election should chose the next justice. There are even some not-so-veiled threats to “pack the court” with additional justices if the Dems win and the GOP moves forward to confirm Trump’s nomination.

Who’s right? I think it’s easy to tell. The rightness of the situation, in my view, is using the shoe-on-the-other-foot-doctrine. Let’s break it down.

Many claim McConnell is a hypocrite for not allowing a vote on Obama’s nomination to replace Scalia in 2016 when Obama was a lame-duck president. But he clearly isn’t being a hypocrite. He is acting in 2020 the same as 2016 – in the best interest of GOP and conservative politics. In 2016, he was hoping for a Republican win so the new president could appoint the justice. In 2020, a Republican is president, so he naturally wants to move forward quickly in case Biden wins in November.

It is not the slightest bit hypocritical because if the shoe was on the other foot, the Democrats would be doing the same thing. How do I know? Look at Obama and Clinton’s tweets from 2016. Both of them told McConnell that the Senate MUST do its job and vote on Obama’s nominee. They are now saying the opposite in 2020.  There’s a clip of Biden going around showing him saying that there has never been an election-year nominee that didn’t receive a vote. Now he’s saying the next president should decide.

So we can all see what is going on here right? The Supreme Court picks have such importance in our polarized society that either party will use whatever advantage it has to further their views. There is nothing that states that a Senate majority can’t delay a nomination if they so chose. (like 2016)  There is nothing that says that a Senate majority can’t vote on a nominee in a presidential election year. (like 2020)

In this uber-politicized environment, there is no benefit for either party NOT taking advantage of the easy gains in front of them. The Republicans see a way to shift the balance of the court to a 6-3 majority, but in essence, since Chief Justice Roberts has been a huge disappointment to the conservative cause (Obamacare, etc…), they might feel that it at least gives conservatives a 5-4 edge. They have nothing to lose and much to gain by moving forward. But not moving forward, they will not have earned one smidgen of goodwill from the other side. They only will have lost their advantage.

It is crystal clear that either party, who would have control at this time, would press their advantage for maximum gain, regardless of the Nov 3 election.

This is not hypocrisy. It’s politics. Enjoy watching the craziness unfold over the next two months.

The Perfect Song Does Exist

There’s not many things in life as subjective as one’s taste in music. But if I could declare the perfect song to exist, it would sound exactly like this:

From the Paul Simon-esque intro, to the sweet melody, to the flawless playing of Steven Delopoulos, there’s something beautifully nostalgic and welcoming about this song. I have listened to it over and over and marveled at the sublime messages, and the paired down clean and full sound of the band. It’s marvelous.

And the words, sorry, but there’s not a top 40 charted song today that can match Delopoulos’ poetic tones. Is it lost love? Lost friendship? Is it an attempt to reconnect with that special someone who hasn’t been heard from in years.

It’s a call to civility, a call to remembrance, a yearning for reconciliation.

And if it isn’t that deep, it’s simply a reminder: hey friend, I miss you. Don’t forget to write.

And if this seems pathetically maudlin, well, I’m not sorry.

What’s your perfect song?

 

 

 

Know Your History: World’s First Commercial Oil Well

In 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Edwin Drake struck oil, captured it, and established the first commercial oil well in the world. Drake’s well. Here it is in August of 2020:

Western Pennsylvania became the oil capital of the world for the next decade. The oil rush was on. Scores of wells dotted the aptly named Oil Creek area between Titusville, Oil City (see a theme here), and the expanded region. Some folks struck it rich fast. Others were not so lucky. Kerosene had been discovered only a few years earlier in 1853. This made oil a suddenly valued commodity. Through the processing of oil, kerosene could be used to light the big cities of the nation, and that it did for the next forty plus years until electricity took over.

It wasn’t long, however, until substantial oil reserves were discovered in Texas and elsewhere which dwarfed the nascent Pennsylvania industry. Pennsylvania didn’t last as the world’s greatest producer, but it did have a lasting effect on the oil industry and the region. Many towns were forever affected by the industry. (Oil City, Petrolia, Petroleum Center) Didn’t you ever wonder why there were so many Pennsylvania-centric brands of oil: Pennzoil, Quaker State, Kendall, etc…

In an interesting twist of fate, Pennsylvania has once again become a major player in the fossil fuel industry through the prolific fracking done over the past ten years to extract natural gas from the massive Marcellus Shale. Yep, Titusville is right in the middle of it.

Here’s a modern-day railroad bridge over Oil Creek a few miles south of Titusville. (I snapped this one on my bike ride at the fantastic Oil Creek Bike Trail.)

Drake’s Well and Museum can be visited (in non-Covid years) through the spring-fall months as part of Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek State Park.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the by-product of making kerosene is this obscure little product called gasoline? Oh, you heard of it. In the past, gasoline was thrown away. It was deemed too combustible and dangerous to be used. However, once the internal combustion engine was invented, it was gasoline which became king and kerosene became more a second thought.

 

 

My Radio Interview! Have a listen!

I had a great time with author and book reviewer Fran Lewis on her blogtalkradio show this morning. We chatted for an hour about my latest novel Moses the Singer. We delved into themes, characters, story, and how the novel came about.

Learn about the genesis of the main character Musa Marbun and how it all started when living in Asia and seeing the difficult lives of many of the poorer people. I also talked about my years teaching teenagers and how that helped me craft the young musicians in the story.

It was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy!

You can check it out here: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/fran-lewis/2020/08/03/spotlight-mark-sasse

SALE on KINDLE! 99 cents – MOSES THE SINGER – Limited Time!

My new novel MOSES THE SINGER is on sale for only 99 cents July 30 through August 5! This is the first time this novel’s price has ever been reduced, so please take advantage of it. What’s it about?

  • A talented group of teen musicians. A stateless old man living on the margins of society. What do they have in common? Humanity and sweet music.Will, Sanchez, Song-Yi, and Stephanie attend an American international school on the island of Penang, Malaysia. But at night, they are a talented band of musicians striving to win their school’s talent show, so they can further their dreams of becoming professional musicians.

    Musa “Moses” Marbun has been without a country for forty-six years. The crippled and destitute rickshaw driver pedals tourists through the quaint streets of Penang’s capital city to meet his daily needs.

    One day when downtown, Song-Yi witnesses Musa being beaten on a sidewalk for a theft he didn’t commit. As she intervenes on his behalf, an unlikely friendship ensues, which puts the band on a collision course with musical destiny while Musa hopes to end his decades long journey through the wilderness by confronting his past.

    Introducing the Band:
    Song-Yi, lead singer
    Will, guitarist & composer
    Sanchez, bass guitarist
    Stephanie, percussionist
    Moses the Singer

MOSES THE SINGER – only 99 cents!

You can also read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

If you enjoy. Don’t forget to leave a review.