Almost four years ago, To Hell With Fate author, and long-time friend of mine, Kevin Cunningham privileged me with an interview, and he graciously agreed again to be interviewed on his new writing ventures that knot together an original idea he’s been working on since then, and a new television show that has many surprising similarities (though neither knew about the other).
Just for fun, I’ll share a bit of pre-interview banter. My words are bold, Kevin’s are not, and aside from inserted links and images, this is copy and pasted directly from our interview conducted via messaging:
October 22, 2016
I’m around, whenever you’re ready. I’m indulging a little Wiki editing on Westworld.
Well, let me know when you are. 😉
(Is this going to be included on the interview? LOL)
LOL, it is now!
First off, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed again! The last time was three and a half years ago.
Damn, it’s been that long? I need to get my publicist on that, making sure I stay in the public eye!
But seriously, thanks for having me. I love talking with you!
I wish you were right here. I’dd offer some rum while talking!
February 2013! Just a few more months and it’ll be almost four. You certainly should be in the public eye more.
In that time, you developed an idea that ended up being the pot of a new television show, though they didn’t know about your book, and you couldn’t have known about the show. In fact, you may have had the initial concept before Fox did. Would you mind telling us a bit about that?
Sure. The story is about a girl attempting to become the first female major leaguer. Much like the TV show “Pitch”, the main character is a pitcher, but one key difference between the stories I’m writing and the show is that the story I’m writing follows the girl’s journey through the minors; in the TV show, the show starts with her Major League debut.
I hope that that difference is what will help my story stand apart from the show. I almost feel like her major league debut is more of the ending, or at least close to the ending. The minor leagues in baseball, where players develop, is years of toiling in a very different environment that what we fans usually see in the Majors. It’s truly where friendships and camaraderie are forged. In terms of journey, this is truly where the start of Christina’s confrontation with the men of baseball will begin, and where the overcoming of stereotypes and triumphs (and failures) will be much more personal.
My series, which will have the overarching title The Art of Throwing Overhand is planned currently as a five book series, which my publisher thinks is insane, and perhaps I am. But I am nothing if not ambitious.
You bring up a fantastic point about how the minors is where players develop more, and that is a very important distinction from the majors. I grew up going to a lot of Modesto A’s games (minors), as well as dozens of Oakland A’s games (majors) a year. The play on the field is different, and so is the feeling in the stands. Do you think you will have any comparisons to the majors in your series, and are you concerned that “Pitch” could influence your storyline choices?
Well, the minors have become a passion of mine. I spent nearly a decade covering the SF Giants minor league system for a website I eventually took control of (sfdugout.com), and more recently have once again begun covering the Giants for McCoveyChronicles.com. That’s been fantastic for me personally, as I do love the development of the game. And you’re right, the minors are a very different style of play, as well as a very different environment for fans. In popular culture, it was probably best represented by the film “Bull Durham”, but generally hasn’t been well hit upon in well-known stories since.
In the stories I’m writing, there will be small ones at first, but to most of the characters, it will be a distant dream…almost so distant, it’s as much a point of resentment as it is hope. The comparisons will be much sharper in the final two books I have planned, where the Majors are much closer to the main characters. But that is absolutely a big part of the story, because above almost everything else, it is a story about baseball, and why people love baseball. All people, including women.
As for Pitch influencing my storylines, I won’t lie that I was concerned about it. But as I saw more of the previews, what I really saw were the differences between what I had very much plotted out, and what they were doing. There may be similar themes that are touched upon, as would be unavoidable, but I was happy to see a lot of distinctions as well.
That said, there were a couple of things I have changed a little because they would be too close. I think that kind of way that the show affects my story will be more prominent.
I’m a little upset about the naming, though. Their show is called Pitch. The series of books, each book has a name taken from a type of Pitch (until the end). Book 1 – The Curve; Book 2 – The Change; Book 3 – The Heat; Book 4 – The Slide…and the last book name I’m keeping hidden. I thought hard about changing those, but I want to keep them.
We’ll see what my publisher says, though.
I really admire your decision to show that sports are for women too. Women are often left out of professional sports, to the point that even being a fan of baseball, football, or any other sport is seen as something “for the boys,” and women are so often treated as clueless about sports, no matter how much of fans we may be. As for playing? That’s still seen as strange. Manon Rhéaume, the first woman who played professional hockey, as been somewhat swept under the rug.
Those titles are clever. They show an evolution of a player.
What inspired you to go a route that has been so overlooked, and that is risky in its own right?
I’m really proud of the titles, because they have double (and sometimes triple) meanings, both for the pitches and the events in the stories. That’s why I can’t ditch them.
To be honest, I came upon my character, Christina Covington, accidentally. I’ve always thought baseball would be a sport that could be gender integrated, and I’ve debated people on it. Even in some video games, like an old neo-geo futuristic baseball game, it would feature co-ed teams. But I hadn’t really thought about writing that story until NBC ran a stupid little contest.
The reasons against integrating are getting harder and harder to defend.
How did you find Christina, and what contest?
Basically, NBC did a contest where they solicited people to come up with their own pilots, with the reward being the opportunity to shoot a pilot. Basically, they had run out of ideas.
After years of covering the minors, I’d always thought a minor league team as a great concept for a show. Multiple characters, a storyline with an end (who makes it?), and room for comedy. The dugout bench taking the spot of a coffee-house couch, and you’ve got a fun show. But, as I was thinking of the idea, I knew that the show would be tough to showcase female characters. They’d be relegated to girlfriends/wives, and maybe front office people, but all side characters. Some shows have done okay with that, like Friday Night Lights, but it left me uncomfortable.
That’s how Christina came to mind. She was the female player trying to make it. I initially struggled with the idea, because if I did that, the show would HAVE to be about her, because of course it would. And that’s not a sitcom, generally, by the genre. The guy I was planning to put together a pitch with (haha) fell apart, but Christina’s character was still in my mind. How would she be handled? What would teams do to work with her? The possibilities were fascinating and intriguing.
More and more, I found out more about her. And that’s the way it was. There weren’t a lot of conscious decisions about her personality, nor her history. About her storyline in the books, sure, but the girl in my mind that first day has been pretty much unchanged. It’ll be difficult when the questions come about why I “chose” to make her of mixed race…I didn’t. She just had a Japanese mother and an American father, and that was how she always appeared to me.
The fact I couldn’t get her out of my mind led me to want to write her story, not as a sitcom or comedy, but a very real treatise on her, and sports, and the culture around her. It’s only proven more timely as I’ve started writing.
I’ve gotten to the point I even had her nightmare one night. Not as in, I dreamed up what her nightmare would be. I experienced her nightmare, as her. I hadn’t even been planning to write one in there…but now I can’t not include it.
This sounds more and more intriguing,and I must pause to ask if there’s any estimated potential release dates for these books.
I want to say next Spring, but I’d have to kick some real ass to get this done right. And I don’t want to put it out unless it’s right. If I do finish it, though, you’ll be the first to know.
I’m more excited than usual to read a book that isn’t yet available! And yes, better to do it right. There is only one chance, especially when burning such a new trail.
Do you anticipate any pushback for being a man writing a book about a woman’s experience in baseball, which must surely address sexism and preconceived notions many baseball fans have about what they believe baseball is “supposed to” be rabid adherence to outdated baseball traditions?
To be honest, my fears about comments received back at me is one thing that slowed me on this project. Over the past couple of years, one of the common topics I see is about “Appropriation” and “Whites taking advantage of minorities works” and many racial and gender-based discussions about that, and those are extremely valid topics that need to be talked about and recognized. I am a straight, white male and I know I’ve gotten benefits just from being that way. I try to be as sensitive as possible, but I know that there are things I can’t know about those struggles.
But at the same time as perhaps not being qualified in those areas, my time spent writing about baseball is something I think that gives myself a qualification to write this story. I’ve had to convince myself of that. And if I’m not able to experience the struggles Christina herself would go through, what I can bring forth are the real reactions of those she will come into conflict with. And I’ve done my best to put myself in her shoes, and think about what I would do. I felt vindicated that one particular method in which I’d deal with a possible subject that only a woman would go through was actually done, almost to the letter, by Ronda Rousey earlier this year.
I know that between writing a female main character, and one of mixed race, I may upset some people. That’s likely unavoidable. But I am working with friends and professionals to try and address those perspectives as realistically as possible. I am lucky enough to have a very diverse group of friends, from potential Olympians to many different races, and they’ve been very gracious to be honest with me about this story and giving me feedback on things I don’t get quite right.
As far as the men who want to follow baseball’s traditions…to be honest, I don’t give them a second thought. Because they’re the ones who need to be challenged…and if they aren’t pissed off, or feeling threatened, or the kind of thing that prompts negative reactions…then I probably haven’t written it right. And I’ve been a Giants fan alone at Dodger Stadium, and an Oakland Raiders fan, so not much scares me on that front.
You’ve hit on a topic that I’d like to interview you more about at a later time, if you’d be so inclined. As you are someone who is making an actual attempt to tackle issues in a way no one else has, as you get further in the process of finishing the first book in this series, would you allow me the opportunity to pick you thoughts about appropriation, perceived appropriation, and attempts at increasing diversity in literature?
I would be happy to, though that is definitely a topic I’d hope could be addressed from many viewpoints.
An ideal situation would be a round table discussion. I’ll get to work on getting that set up.
Hopping back in time a bit, To Hell with Fate has been out a while now. The story is somewhat light in comparison to The Art of Throwing Overhand. In the time between writing To Hell with Fate, and now, how do you feel your writing style has changed, if at all?
Honestly, I feel it hasn’t changed enough, and that’s prompted some of my slowdown. To Hell With Fate was a story that played out over a couple of days (and kind of a couple of years), but it allowed me to write some of the minutiae of the characters’ actions. I tried to take that approach, and soon I found myself 150 pages into my story and no baseball.
One of my biggest challenges has been to try and write the broad strokes. In some ways, that’s both easy and hard with baseball. A baseball game is like a series of Russian Nesting Dolls posing as stories. Every at-bat is a story in of itself, with each pitch setting up the next. Every innings is its own story, contained within those at-bats. Every game has a story. The games fit into the stories of the season. And of course, the seasons are just part of the story of a player’s career, or a team’s history.
Stepping back and looking at things from a longer perspective has definitely been one of my challenges in this story, and changing my writing style. That said, I wrote three pages just on one pitch Christina threw, and I may keep it in there because I love it.
Which probably means I’ll have to cut it.
Perhaps it could serve as something of a teaser at some point. Baseball is so much more of a mind game than casual viewers usually realize.
In what ways to you relate to your protagonists in both To Hell with Fate and in The Art of Throwing Overhand?
To Hell With Fate was a very personal book to me. It’s fiction, but yet it was inspired by some very real emotions I felt and went through growing up. It’s funny, the character I always saw as the protagonist in To Hell With Fate is not the one that others saw…but then, I thought it was the one closest to who I am, where as others saw the girls I used (in my mind) as a Greek Chrous as the main characters.
In some ways, Christina (from The Art of Throwing Overhand) shares some characteristics of both of the girls who get a lot of time in To Hell With Fate. Christina does not start as a loud, outspoken character. She has to be pushed to get there, like Jessie from To Hell With Fate. And yet, there’s a frustration bubbling underneath her surface. She’s not perfect, and that’s something that others need to adjust to. The longer the book goes, she become more like Samantha from To Hell With Fate. She finds her voice, and suddenly that frustration inside her doesn’t have a filter.
Christina’s journey is to balance those two halves. In that end, it’s a little like both Sam and Jessie’s arcs in To Hell With Fate, but in a much broader scope, and underneath a much bigger microscope. That lens of fame gives what Christina goes through a much different context.
In what ways do you find it hard to relate to these three characters, and how do you overcome those challenges in writing?
You know, I don’t find it as challenging as some think. Jay, my editor, once told me that I write children so well. But Sam and Jessie just came out as honest, curious and/or bitter versions of who I feel I am. It took more bravery to just let that younger side of myself talk to write them.
Christina is harder to relate to: I’ve never been the athlete. What I’ve always been, however, is the observer of athletes. I’ve been writing about sports nearly nonstop since my Freshman year of high school. That is how I’m dealing with that challenge here. At some points, I’m not writing about what’s going through her mind. I’m writing about how she’s reacting to it. That is how I hope readers will connect with what she’s feeling or doing.
This is such an ambitious undertaking. What advice do you have for other writers who may have similar ideas in their own heads, but who may be too intimidated to take the plunge?
I feel almost unfair giving advice until I overcome the intimidation I feel every day. But if there’s anything I can say, find someone you trust to talk to about it, and get their feedback. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself with them. I’ve been lucky, both among my friends and people on Twitter who have been incredibly supportive and have encouraged me to continue, even when I feel almost ready to to give up on myself. Peer support is so important.
It’s helping you push onward, which is just what writers need sometimes. Just that push.
Thank you very, very much for your time, and I can’t wait until The Curve comes out.
Thank you Alys. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, and really, thank you for all the support you’ve given me through this book and To Hell With Fate. I hope I can meet your expectations, and thrill everyone else!
More information about Kevin Cunningham can be found at the following: