A Passage for Trumpet

We’ve all been there, at one time or another.  Everything seems to be going wrong, the world, gray, dark, and bare, as if by some perverse design, conspiring against us and keeping us down.



The main characters in The Eye-Dancers all struggle with this as well, feeling that life, in one way or another, has dealt them a bad hand, that they have too many obstacles to overcome, too many pitfalls littered along their path.  Over the course of the novel, however, they must learn to view things differently.  Their very survival depends on it.



So does Joey Crown’s.  In a first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “A Passage for Trumpet,” Crown, a down-on-his-luck trumpet player, is at the very end of his frayed and thinning rope.



As the story begins, we see Crown in an alley behind a club, listening to the performers inside, wishing he could join them.

“Joey Crown, musician with an odd, intense face,” Rod Serling tells us in a voice-over, “whose life is a quest for impossible things like flowers in concrete or like trying to pluck a note of music out of the air and put it under glass to treasure.”

Indeed, this is a man with a keen sense of beauty, of the delicate, silk-like strands that hold life together, but who has been battered and shaken by circumstance and a string of bad choices.



As he loiters in the alley, the club manager steps outside and sees him.  It is clear the men know each other.  Crown has played at the club before.

“I brought along my baby,” Crown says, flashing his trumpet.  “I thought you might need somebody with a horn.”

“Not tonight,” the manager says.  “Last time you played trumpet for me, you loused it up.  I had to share you with a bottle.”

Crown assures him he’s sober now, that he’s “forgotten what the stuff tastes like.”  But when he picks up his case, he knocks over a hidden bottle of whiskey.  It falls to the ground and shatters.

“Why, Joey, why?” the club manager asks.  “You had it!”  Why has he thrown it all away–the talent, the career–with alcohol?  Why did he always have to get drunk?



Looking the manager in the eye, Crown says, “Because I’m sad.  Because I’m nothin’.  Because I’ll live and die in a crumby one-roomer with dirty walls and cracked pipes . . . I don’t even have a girl. . . . But when I’m drunk–oh, when I’m drunk, boy, I don’t see the dirty walls or the cracked pipes.  I don’t know the clock’s goin’, that the hours are goin’ by . . . ’cause then I’m Gabriel.  I’m Gabriel with the golden horn.  And when I put it to my lips, it comes out jewels.  It comes out a symphony.  It comes out the smell of fresh flowers in summer.  It comes out beauty.  Beauty.”

He turns, ready to leave.  “When I’m drunk,” he says.  “Only when I’m drunk.”  He walks off, tosses his case aside in disgust.

“Man, I’m tired of hangin’ around,” he says  to nobody in particular.

The next morning, Crown sells his trumpet at a pawnshop.  Reluctantly, he accepts the proprietor’s offer of $8.50.  Later, he returns, half-drunk, and sees the proprietor placing his trumpet in the window with a price tag of $25.  Crown mashes his face against the glass and taps.

“Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna get that price,” the pawnshop owner shouts through the window.  “I got an overhead, too, you know.  Guys like you, you don’t understand that.  What kind of responsibilities someone like you got, huh?  Nothin’.  Nothin’ at all!”

Crown turns away from the window.  “Yeah,” says.  “Nothin’.  Nothin’ at all.  No responsibilities.  No nothin‘.”



Without hesitating, Crown steps off the sidewalk, in front of a passing truck.  A woman nearby shrieks, Crown falls to the pavement, not moving, not breathing.

The screen fades to black.

Night has fallen, and Crown stirs, gets up.  As he soon discovers, though, things are not as they were.  He talks to a policeman, who ignores him.  He asks a man for a light, but he ignores him.  He approaches a woman working at a ticket booth, asks her for a light, and she ignores him, too.  It is as if he doesn’t exist.



“Look at me!” he screams at her.  But she doesn’t.

Finally, he concludes that he’s dead, his suicide attempt a success.  That’s why no one can see or hear him.



He returns to the alley he visited the previous night, behind the club.  From somewhere further up the alley, he hears someone playing the trumpet.  He seeks out the source, intrigued.

“Don’t stop,” he says, when the trumpet player looks at him.  “It’s comin’ out beautiful.”

“Thanks,” the man with the trumpet replies.



Crown is shocked he can hear him, see him, when nobody else has been able to.  “You’re a ghost, too, huh?” he says, explaining that he stepped in front of a truck earlier and must be dead.

The man offers Crown his trumpet.  “Wanna blow on this awhile, Joey?” he asks.

Again Crown is taken aback.  How does this stranger know his name?

The man smiles.  “I know who you are.  You play a nice trumpet.  I know.  I’m an expert on trumpets.”



After Crown plays a short tune, the man tells him he isn’t dead.  Crown protests.  What about all those people who didn’t see or hear him?

The stranger tells Crown it is they who are dead.  “They’re the ghosts, Joey, they just don’t know it yet, that’s all. . . . You’re the one that’s alive.”  He explains that Crown is in a kind of limbo, “neither here nor there.”  He is “in the middle, between the two.  The real and the shadow.  Which do you prefer, Joey?”

Crown says maybe he just forgot how much there was for him, about the music in his horn and how nice it sounded.  “Yeah,” he says.  “Somewhere along the line, I just forgot all the good things.  That’s what happened, you know.  I just forgot.”

The mysterious stranger tells Crown there is still time.  He still has a choice . . .

Crown, animated, without a shred of doubt, says if there’s a choice, then,  “I wanna go back!”



The man pats Crown on the shoulder.  “All right,” he says.  “You go back.  But, Joey, no more stepping off curves.  You take what you get and you live with it.  Sometimes it’s sweet frosting, nice gravy.  Sometimes it’s sour and goes down hard, but you live with it, Joey.  It’s a nice talent you got.  To make music.  Move people.  Make ’em wanna laugh.  Make ’em wanna cry.  Make ’em tap their feet.  Make ’em wanna dance.  That’s an exceptional talent, Joey.  Don’t waste it.”

He walks away, but Crown shouts after him.  “I never got your name!”

“Call me Gabe,” the stranger says.  “Short for Gabriel.”  He smiles again, disappears into the night.



Suddenly, Crown is returned to that morning, stepping in front of the truck.  The same woman screams.  Crown falls to the pavement, but he immediately gets up, only grazed.  The driver of the truck, worried, jumps out of the vehicle and hands Crown a handful of bills, hoping that will persuade him to keep the doctors and insurance companies out of it.  “Be a nice guy, huh, pal?” he says.

Crown immediately puts the money to use, buying his old horn back from the pawnshop.

That night, as Crown plays the trumpet while relaxing on the roof of his apartment building, a young woman approaches.  She tells him he plays beautifully, and introduces herself.  She is new to the city, just moved in.  “I’ve never even been to New York before,” she says.



“It’s not such a bad town,” Crown says.  “You’ll like it here.”

The woman smiles, asks him if he might be willing to show her some of the sights.



Crown smiles in wonderment.  “Me?” he says.  And then, his confidence boosted, his spirits lifted as high as they’ve been in ages, he excitedly tells her all the places they can visit.


When we are adrift, lost at sea, a thousand miles from the nearest coastline, even then, there is still a song to be sung, lyrics to compose, and a life to live.

Perhaps Rod Serling says it best, in the episode’s closing narration . . .

“Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen . . .”



Thanks so much for reading!


Short Story — “Stone Wall”

The Eye-Dancers, at its core, despite the ghost girls and parallel worlds and strange, recurring nightmares, is a coming-of-age story, where the main characters must confront certain aspects of themselves and deal with the inner demons they have always wrestled with.  This coming-of-age theme is one I have written about many times–often in short stories.

One such story, “Stone Wall,” is a very short tale I wrote quite a few years ago about a moment between a father and a son.  The intent, when I wrote it, was that the short interaction presented in the story was one that would leave a lasting mark on the boy . . . something he would always remember.

Looking at the story now, I question some of the choices I made when I wrote it a dozen years ago.  Dissecting their old stories is something all writers do, I suppose.  But I wanted to share “Stone Wall,” in its original form, and I hope you will enjoy it!









“Stone Wall”

Copyright 2014 by Michael S. Fedison


When Dad asked me to go outside with him, I felt a little worried.  He didn’t talk with me much—didn’t have a chance, really.  He tended our herd of Holsteins and worked full-time at the power plant in Montpelier on top of that.  So, usually, when he called for me it was because I had done something wrong and deserved a good talking to.  I wasn’t sure if I had done anything wrong recently.  I couldn’t think of anything, unless calling Jane Hanson a no-good little tramp was off limits.  But that had been over a week ago, and I wasn’t even sure if Dad knew about it.

“Get your jacket, Billy,” Dad said as we walked toward the back door.  “Kinda cool this mornin’.”

I put on my jacket, now a size too small for me, and we walked out onto the back porch.  The air was wet and a thick fog hung over the valley.  In the distance, I could see the summit of Camel’s Hump mountain peaking above the low-lying clouds.  It made me think of a sleeping giant.

“C’mon, Son,” Dad said.  “Follow me.”

We walked into the yard.  It was the middle of March and much of the ground was still covered with snow.  It crunched under our boots.  But the first patches of pale grass were beginning to show up on our hillside, where the cows would be grazing just a few weeks from now.  It looked like a soiled green and white quilt that had been exposed to the Vermont elements for too long.

Dad continued walking, and I followed close behind.  I wasn’t sure where he was taking me or what his purpose was, but I figured I would find out soon enough.  I took a deep breath, inhaling the clean late-winter air.  The air felt sharp in my nostrils, as if it might draw blood if I wasn’t careful.

We crested the hillside and headed for the perimeter of our property.  We were in the high meadow now.  I loved coming here in the summer.  The grasses would sway in the wind and the cows would look so peaceful below me, and the mountains would appear so far away and yet so close.  They would make me think of soaring birds and barefoot rambles in the hollows, of stars that shimmered mysteriously on an oily canvas of October sky.  And sometimes the mountains would cause a longing in me, a longing for something so beautiful it couldn’t be expressed, like the sound of a butterfly’s wings flapping, velvety soft, on a windless summer twilight.  I didn’t understand it all.  I just knew I belonged here, in the hill country.

“See that stone wall there?” Dad said then, jolting me back into the moment at hand.

I nodded.  We were at the very edge of our acreage now.  Just beyond the stone wall was a thick copse of fir trees.

“That wall was built near two-hundred years ago, Son,” Dad continued, “and look at it.  Standin’ firm and true to this day.  Weathered, maybe, but still gets the job done.”

The stone wall actually bounded our property on three sides.  I always thought of it as The Barrier.  I could go anywhere I wanted, within reason, on our forty acres, but never cross over The Barrier.  That would be an offense bad enough to get a spanking.  My brother, Davey, crossed The Barrier without permission once and got tangled up in some barbed wire just beyond it.  He didn’t get a spanking, though.  Dad figured the barbed wire was punishment enough.

The wall wound its way through fields and woods, through flat land and hilly terrain.  It even crossed over the brook that bordered the east edge of our land.  I had never thought much about the wall.  I just knew it was old and, as I have mentioned, not to cross it.

“Your great, great, great grandfather Abraham built this whole wall, all round this forty acres, with his own two hands.  He built it as a dividin’ line.  Set off his property, maybe keep the goats from leavin’—or comin’ in if they were someone else’s.  That’s why folks built these walls in the old days, Son—to divide up the land and keep the animals penned in.  Nowadays, they’re reminders, mostly, relics.  Folks like ‘em, but don’t get much use out of ‘em.  Amazing thing is that they’re still standin’, even after all this time.”

Dad lifted his head, as if listening for something.  I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  But then—

“Hear that?” Dad said.

I did.  Red-winged blackbirds.  I heard their watery call ride the chilly March air.  Their call made me think of the sound swamps might make if they could talk.  It was a wet sound, damp, like the lushness of a springtime shower or the sweet coolness of dewdrops dripping lazily from the grassblades on a fragrant May morning.  It was the sound of spring coming, ever so slowly, ever so shyly, to the Vermont hills.

Dad smiled.  “Winter’s comin’ to an end,” he said.  “The blackbirds are here.  But c’mere, Son.  Let me show you something.”

Dad walked right up to the stone wall and knelt beside it.  He touched the weathered surface of the wall with a work-worn hand.

“Feel that, Son,” he said.

I felt it.  It was cold and old and hard.  It made me think of Dad’s will when he set his mind to something—unyielding, unbendable, stern, and proud.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“It’s hard,” I said.  “Solid.”

“And old, Son, very, very old.  It’s been here longer than any of the trees we got still standin’ on our farm, I’d say.  It’s seen a lot of hard times, blizzards, winter winds, even a few floods.  But it’s still standin’, true and sturdy.  You know why?  You know what it is makes this wall last so long?”

I shrugged.  “I guess not,” I said.

“Look at the stones,” Dad said.  A gust of wind picked up, and I almost put the hood of my jacket over my head.  But I didn’t.  I wanted to show Dad I could take it like a man.  I was almost thirteen, after all.

I looked at the stones but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  They looked like stones, granite stones, nothing more.

“Look at the sizes, the shapes,” Dad said when he realized I wasn’t understanding.

There were hundreds of individual stones just in this one small section of the wall.  I examined them.  They were various shades of gray.  I touched several of them.  Some were smooth, some rough and craggy.  Some of the stones were actually colder to the touch than others.  The most striking aspect of all, though, was the shapes and sizes of the stones.  No two were alike.  Some were small, barely larger than a pebble.  Others were the size of a pumpkin, big and round and cumbersome.

“They’re all different,” I said.  “No two are the same.  Some of ‘em are pretty close, but no two are the same.”

Dad nodded.  “Ayuh,” he said.  “They’re all different.  Different but not different.  That’s why this wall’s been standin’ here for so long, Son, and why it’s gonna keep on standin’ long after I’m gone.”

Dad got up from his crouch and sat on the stone wall.  He motioned for me to sit beside him.  I nearly let out a squeal when I did.  The coldness of the wall went right through my jeans.  But I just sat there, my backside freezing, hoping I would get used to it soon.

“Y’know what I mean, Son, what I’m tryin’ to say?” Dad asked me.  Another gust of wind came up, but Dad appeared not to notice.  He looked out over our meadow.

I shook my head.  “Not really, Dad.”

“They’re different—the stones—but not different.  They’re all different shapes and sizes, but they’re all stones, see?  They’re all sturdy and hard.  They ain’t gonna sway when the wind blows, when the rains come, when the storms come crashin’ through.  They’re gonna hold steady, lodged in this hard wall.  They’re different, but they’re the same, too.

“Sometimes, different is good,” Dad continued.  “Sometimes, we get stodgy, too set in our ways.  I know I have.  Take the Bakers up the road.  They’ve been here since before you were born, but time was, they moved here from California, and some of the folks didn’t take too kind to ‘em at first.  And when Harry Baker suggested we take down the church steeple and repair it, we almost lynched ‘im.  But he was right.  That steeple was old, dangerous.  It needed fixin’.  It took an outsider to see that, Son—someone from away, someone different.  The Bakers’ve helped this town out in lotsa ways since then, too.  Sometimes, different is good, Billy.”

“But they’re the same, too,” I said.  “They’re all stones.  All rocks.”

Dad nodded.  The wind came up, stiff and strong again, rustling the boughs of the fir trees, sounding lonesome, longing for something I could not see, hoping for something I could not touch.

“Lots of folks in the world,” Dad said,  “and lots of notions.  A man, he needs to be like a sturdy stone wall.  Listen to ideas that help him out, learn new things, new ways of lookin’ at things.  Be open-minded, or else he’ll drive out the Harry Bakers of the world, and he’ll be worse off because of it.  But a man needs to know when different ain’t good.  He needs to be able to separate the good grain from the bad, the wormy fruit from the good fruit.  That’s what old Herb Preet has to do up on Newkirk Hill Road in his apple orchard.  Separate the good from the wormy.  You gettin’ me, Son?”

“I dunno,” I said.  “Sometimes, different things are good, and sometimes they’re bad?”

“Ayuh,” Dad said and for some reason, I thought to myself, Dad isn’t young anymore.  He won’t live forever.  “You got to let yerself grow, hear people out, take in the big stones with the little ones, you might say.  That’ll build you up, make you a better man.  But you need to be stony, too, solid.  Like this wall here.  Ain’t nothin’ here but good hard granite.  No wood.  No nails.  Wood rots.  Nails rust.  You felt the wall, Son.  It’s tough.  Don’t break easy.  Doesn’t sway and bend in the wind, going here and there.  That’s the way a good man needs to be.  You believe in what’s right, and you don’t bend.  Don’t let some smooth talker get you to do somethin’ that you know ain’t right.  Stand up for yourself.  And when the storms come, they won’t blow you down.  Different, but the same.  Just like this wall.  You understand now, Billy?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think so.”

Dad nodded.  It was quick and subtle.  It seemed he wanted to say something else, but he didn’t.  He sat there for awhile, his face turned to the wind.  Perhaps he was thinking of red-winged blackbirds and crocus flowers and dandelions.  Perhaps he was thinking of me, of the challenges I would face as I grew older, of the choices I would make.  I could have asked him what he was thinking.  I could have.  But I didn’t.

Dad stood up.  I did, too.

“C’mon, Son,” he said softly.  “Your mom’ll have lunch ready soon, I guess.”

We walked back into the high meadow, away from the wall.  We didn’t speak, but the silence was warm and comforting, like an old mitten that fits snugly on your hand and protects you from the cold.  Dad walked briskly, and I had to hurry to keep up with him.  I wished he would slow down, linger, to extend the moment and not have it be so fleeting.

We headed down our hillside, our home coming into view.  Smoke rose up from our chimney, billowing into the chilly air like ungraspable tendrils.  I loved the sight of it and again wished Dad would slow his pace.  But he kept on going and soon we were back inside, and I was taking off my jacket, and we would be eating lunch, and Dad would have chores to do, and so would I.

Dad never spoke to me of stone walls again.


Thanks so much for reading!


The Doll in the Basement

There was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about that day–at least, not at first.

It was just another in a string of  lazy end-of-summer afternoons, the kind of day that lingered, unhurried, like a traveler sitting on the front porch of some country store in a small New England town, feet up, sipping lemonade and chatting with the guests.




And that was fine with me.  With the new school year set to begin the following week, the day could take as much time as it wanted as far as I was concerned.  I was about to enter the fifth grade, and the teacher, a veteran of three-plus decades, had a reputation for being a no-nonsense disciplinarian who expected his students to perform from the get-go.  I knew I had to be ready.

But that was next week.  No need to dwell on it, not while a last sliver of summer vacation stood, like a buffer, against the onset of roll call and homework.

The day was hot, clear but humid, the air like a moist blanket that needed to be wrung out, drip by drip.  I decided to head down to the basement–the coolest space in the house.

The basement was split into two distinct zones.  The front, or “Light section,” as I liked to think of it, was partially finished, with food shelves, a freezer, a pool table, and a ping pong set.



Every time I went down there, I felt as if I were being greeted by an old friend.  I could relax, unwind, let my imagination wander, as I dreamed up new stories to write or new games I could play with my friends.

But the back . . . the back of the basement was unfinished, darker, with metal pipes straddling the ceiling; an old furnace, tucked away in a corner that hummed like a living thing on cold days; a mysterious window, which I had nicknamed “the window to nowhere,” that led to a narrow crawl space; a workbench built in against the far wall, cluttered with hand tools and scraps of wood and paintbrushes; and a snug, pitch-black little compartment under the stairs, where all manner of knickknacks and other assorted sundries were stashed.



I enjoyed scaring my friends with ghost stories about these tucked-away corners of the basement, and they were genuinely in awe of “the window to nowhere.”



But while I acted cool and confident in front of them, the truth was . . . I was uncomfortable being in the back of the basement, alone.  I imagined furry things curled up in secret nests; slithery, poisonous things that lived under the workbench or behind the water heater, who would reach out with tentacled limbs and pull me in.  Sometimes, when I ran upstairs, I could swear I heard something stirring in the shadows behind me, and my pace would quicken, my feet rushing, rushing . . .



But on that day, with the afternoon heat at its worst and the reality of fifth grade and the demanding teacher on the near horizon, I didn’t think of unseen monsters or dark creatures with fangs and feral, angry eyes.  I just wanted to escape to someplace cooler.

So I went down and played pool with myself, pretending to be a high-stakes player performing in front of thousands of riveted spectators.



It was fun for a while, but after a few minutes, I wanted something else to do.  I peered in toward the back of the basement.  Sunlight filtered in through a small window, and I could see particles of dust dancing in the beams.

Why not?  I thought.  Maybe I could discover something new with which to frighten my friends.

The first thing I did when I went back there was yank the chain that lit the naked lightbulb fastened to the ceiling.  The sunlight through the window helped.  But it was not enough–I needed full-on, bright light if I were to venture into this section of the basement, alone.



I walked slowly, alert, ready to bolt in a heartbeat if anything should happen.  The sound of footsteps upstairs, muted by the floor above my head, descended upon me.  It was a comforting sound, secure.  It injected me with a fresh dose of courage.

I continued on, heading for my father’s worn, paint-speckled workbench.  Clotheslines crisscrossed in front of it–though no clothes were presently on the lines.  What did hang from one of the lines was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll.



I jerked back, not expecting to see her.  Whose doll was she, anyway?  My sister, never a big collector of dolls to begin with, had recently started college.  It wasn’t hers.  One of my cousins, perhaps?  I didn’t know.  And I hesitated, considered turning around and going back to the relative safety of the front portion of the basement.  From upstairs, I heard the dull thud of more footsteps.

The doll was pretty, wearing a dress, with a bow in her hair.  But something about her disturbed me.  I had never liked dolls anyway–maybe that’s all it was.  They always seemed like living things, sentient, only pretending to be dead.



But when the lights were turned off, and night fell over the house like a shroud, I imagined them walking, on whispery feet, down the hallway, rummaging through dressers and drawers, scheming their secret schemes.

I approached the clotheslines and the doll, slowly, quietly.  Finally, I stood there, face-to-face with her.  I shook my head.  Why had I been afraid?  How ridiculous!  She was made of porcelain, not flesh and blood.  Besides, what could she possibly do?  I scolded myself for being so jumpy over nothing.

I swallowed, reached for the doll.

The doll winked.

I stumbled back, nearly falling over, and was sure I could hear the murmur of some unseen piece of machinery grow louder, closer.



I turned away from the blonde doll with the blue eyes and the hair bow.  I raced for the stairs, forgetting to switch off the light on the way.  As I took the stairs, two at a time, my mind imagined the doll on the clothesline, smiling now, her eyes staring, empty, calculating, wanting me to return.



I never did.  I did not venture alone into the back of the basement again until that doll was gone, nor did I tell anyone about what I’d seen.  I’d occasionally head down with my father if he needed to search for something on the workbench–though I always made sure to keep my distance.  I peeked in, sideways, checking to see if she was still there.

Finally, nearly a month later, the doll was gone.  Just as I never learned where she had come from, I never learned where she went.


To this day, I still ask myself:  Did that doll really wink at me?  I was nervous as I approached her, so it’s possible my mind created the illusion.  Marc Kuslanski would favor that theory.

But I have always believed that she did in fact wink.  I saw her eye close, slowly, and then open again–as clear as the sunlight that filtered in through the small window on the other end of the basement.  Perhaps, in her own way, she was the reason the blue-eyed “ghost girl” appeared in my nightmares years later, the same girl who haunts Mitchell Brant‘s dreams at the start of The Eye-Dancers.



That version makes for the better story, anyway . . .



Thanks so much for reading!


Swinging for the Fences (Or, I Will Not Be Pigeonholed)

On the afternoon of May 5, 1925, in St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park, legendary Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb sat beside a sportswriter in the dugout before the game between the Tigers and the old St. Louis Browns.



“I’ll show you something today,” Cobb, then in the twilight of his playing days, at the age of thirty-eight, said.  “I’m going for home runs for the first time in my career.”

This was a bold proclamation for the player nicknamed The Georgia Peach, to this day the all-time leader in career batting average, at .366.



For years, Cobb had tormented opposing pitchers with his seemingly robotic ability to hit safely and reach base.



One of the game’s great competitors and nastiest personalities, the left-handed batter was almost universally disliked leaguewide.



Cobb’s reputation even followed him into the film Field of Dreams, a full sixty years after his playing days were over.  In one scene, when Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella talks with the legends of yesteryear, who magically appear in his cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson tells him, “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand [him] when we were alive, so we told ‘im to stick it!”





Cobb’s batting prowess was legendary.  He led the league in hitting twelve times in a thirteen-year span from 1907 through 1919, and hit over .400 three times in his career.  But while he did have extra-base power–his 724 career doubles rank 4th all time, and his 295 career triples rank second–Cobb was never a home run hitter.  His career best was 12, which he accomplished twice.



To put that in context, it is important to note Cobb played the majority of his career in the “dead ball era,” where pitchers were allowed to throw spit balls, umpires rarely changed balls during the course of the game, and home runs were an afterthought.  In fact, in 1909, Cobb led the American League in homers with just 9.  It was a different game, one that valued stolen bases and fielding, sacrifice bunts and smarts.  This was the game Cobb grew up in, and the way he loved to play.



By 1925, when he sat in the dugout that spring day and claimed he was going to try to hit home runs for the first time in his career, the game had changed drastically.  Babe Ruth had come along, hitting home runs at a record pace.  In 1920, Ruth had smashed 54 homers; in 1921, 59–numbers that, at the time, seemed superhuman.



Deep down, The Georgia Peach seethed.  He hated the long-ball game of Ruth.  He didn’t believe that was the way baseball was meant to be played.

But on May 6, 1925, he had a point to prove.  If he wanted to swing for the fences, if he wanted to emulate the Babe–he could.

“Just you wait,” he said.  “Just watch.”


Ernest Hemingway once said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.  A character is a caricature.”



When I think of caricatures, I think of one-dimensional characters who, by their very presence, are mere devices to drive a plot one way or the other.  It can be the larger-than-life hero who shows no weakness, cries no tears, and goes through the rigors and dangers of a daring adventure as if strolling through the park on a lazy summer afternoon.



It can be the villain, evil to the core, who exists for the sole purpose of sowing seeds of death and destruction–and to serve as the foil for the protagonist.  We can see no shred of light, no ounce of compassion or goodness in this villain.  There is only the dark side–on every page.



The trouble with characters like these is obvious.  Real people just don’t operate this way.  Every hero cries at some point and has moments of weakness and doubt, not to mention a closet full of skeletons.  They may not always be tabloid material (though they certainly can be), but they do exist.  Every villain has a gentler side.  No one is 100% rotten to the core.  The same person who commits armed robbery one day does something selfless for someone they love on another.  It’s hard, and unfair, to place people in neat little boxes, labeled “Hero” or “Villain” or “Greedy” or “Altruistic.”



To steal a popular title, people are (at minimum) fifty shades of gray.

In The Eye-Dancers, it would be easy to label Mitchell Brant as the liar and storyteller, Ryan Swinton as the comedian, Joe Marma as the fighter, and Marc Kuslanski as the glasses-wearing nerd.  Certainly, at the beginning of the novel, this is how the characters are presented.  But it’s my hope that, as readers get to know them, and enter into their thoughts and fears, their hopes, their insecurities and self-doubts, the characters emerge multi-faceted, not so easily pigeonholed into a tight, snug corner.  Also, over the course of the story, the boys must confront challenges and situations that force them to view the world in a different light, to look in the mirror and determine whether or not they like what they see.

In short, they have to grow and adapt and overcome.  What results, I hope, are real people, not caricatures.




Ty Cobb hit three home runs that day, and two more the next–making good on his promise to “show them something.”  It was a brief flourish of power, a blip on the radar screen of his career built on speed, guile, and precision.



Nevertheless, he had proved his point.  He wasn’t going to allow himself to be labeled as a “singles hitter,” a relic of the dead-ball era who couldn’t adapt to the changing conditions of 1920s baseball.  He could adapt if he wanted to.  He just chose not to.  He believed the game should be played a certain way, the old way, and that’s exactly how The Georgia Peach went about it.



But for two days in May 1925, Ty Cobb went against the grain and stepped way outside of his comfort zone, showing a dimension of himself and his abilities previously unseen and unheard of.

A good fictional character should be able to do the same.



Thanks so much for reading!


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