Interview with William R. Douglas
Author of The Death and Resurrection of Baseball: Echoes from a Distant Past
William R. Douglas is a first-time novelist. After obtaining a Journalism Degree in 1980, his career took a turn down the road of Information Technology. In the IT Field, he was still able to enjoy writing, no matter if it was technical documentation, newsletters or other material. He lives in the small town of McHenry, Illinois, with his wife Laurie and cat Peaches. They enjoy spending time with 6 kids and 8 grandkids and are very active in their local church.
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How would you describe The Death and Resurrection of Baseball to a new reader?
- Great question. A short answer would be, that the title is the hook, but the story is much deeper than just about baseball.
The long answer is that the story centers around the exploits of a 12-year-old boy in the Northern Illinois City of McHenry a full 140 years from now in the year 2166.
He is of average intelligence, and well-liked by his family and friends. He has developed a thirst for exploration and a great love for the outdoors. He goes exploring in the woods one day across the river, in an area marked off limits since the wars end. While there, he finds a relic from before the war that has a strange phrase on it. It sends him on a quest for its meaning. Soon, other family and friends are involved in an effort to bring back the lost game of baseball, extinct before the war.
What was the inspiration behind The Death and Resurrection of Baseball ?
- I write about that extensively in the Preface.
The writing of my first novel was the culmination of several inputs, all important ingredients towards the story.
Those inputs came at different times in my life, and, in fact, were decades apart. I list them below, not in chronological order of their occurrences, but in an order that best illustrates what went into my thought processes that led to the germination of the idea behind the storyline for this debut novel.
In 1993, I read David Aikman’s profoundly disturbing novel, When the Almond Tree Blossoms. In it, Aikman (who once worked as TIME Magazine’s senior foreign correspondent), presents a scenario for a second American civil war, based on ideological lines (i.e., conservatives vs. liberals). The novel ends with a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine cruising up the Potomac River, flying the flag of the resistance.
At the time of publishing, in 1993, the Cold War had just ended a few years earlier, with the fall of the Soviet Union. Here on American soil, what was just beginning was the current era of political polarization between liberal and conservative ideologies, which has continued, in varying degrees of ferocity, to the current times and remains on a deadly trajectory.
Ten or so years ago, I came across an article about games that kids used to play, way back before the American Civil War of the 1860s. These old, “extinct” games had long been forgotten, due to the passage of time and the changing whims of what kids like to play.
For the bulk of my working career, I have worked in the Information Technology field. I spent most of that time working with servers. I was in the IT field when the Internet for the masses exploded onto the world stage in the 1990s. This newly interconnected world and the free flow of information has also been a temptation for nefarious individuals, criminal enterprises, and rogue states to engage in all manner of theft, large and small. From time to time, they’ve also engaged in the spreading of computer viruses for the sole purpose of destruction.
In 2011, I read William Forstchen’s novel, One Second After. This New York Times bestseller tells the chilling tale of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack against the United States that throws the entire country back into “horse and buggy” mode.
EMP attacks render all electronics, from the most complex to the most mundane, permanently destroyed. Since nearly every aspect of modern America has a printed circuit board as a critical functional component, the destruction of all of them at once, via an EMP attack, would be catastrophic, to say the least. In Forstchen’s novel, 90% of the U.S. population is dead within several months.
One Second After caused quite a stir within the halls of the U.S. government, and in fact, the author sent a copy of the book to every member of Congress, hoping to stir action. To date, the entire nation’s modern infrastructure remains gravely imperiled in the event of an EMP attack.
When I was a child, growing up in the 1960s, baseball was still king and was known as “America’s Pastime.” As my childhood went on, baseball changed. Money became a larger component at the professional level, with collective bargaining and free agency. Later, in my adult years, professional players went on strike (for more money). I expect that by 2030, at the very latest, we will all see baseball’s first billion-dollar contract. A ten-year, $100 million-a-year contract to play ball. What effect will that have on the average fan struggling from paycheck to paycheck? What if it turns off huge numbers of fans?
Watching the game used to be easy (and free). Now, it’s very hard to find a televised baseball game to watch, without paying someone for the privilege, and the funny thing is, you still have commercial breaks. Nowadays, not everyone can afford the top-of-the-line sports bundle to watch their favorite baseball team. Without free televised games, many potential fans are left by the wayside to pass their time watching something else, and in doing so, some have already lost interest in the game of baseball.
Meanwhile, in the youth realm, the shifting tastes of what games and sports kids want to play have been changing.
To be clear, youth are still playing football, but that is coming under increasing pressure because of concussions and other injuries. They are also still playing basketball. Of all the youth sports, “pickup games” of basketball bode well for the sport’s continued long-term health and existence.
Kids are also still playing soccer, and in recent years, lacrosse, in increasing numbers.
Then there’s baseball.
Sandlot ball, where kids gather and play the game without adult supervision, is all but dead.
In-house baseball leagues (i.e., non-travel baseball leagues) continue to see rapidly declining numbers, because of the popularity of travel ball. The enormously more expensive travel-ball leagues have a built-in cut system. You have to try out for travel ball, and if you don’t make the cut, in many locales, you are out of luck. This is a recipe for disaster!
The number of travel-ball teams can never match the number of teams that an in-house league can accommodate. Thus, if the in-house leagues continue to shrink (or disappear altogether), that means fewer and fewer kids playing baseball (and softball), which eventually translates into fewer and fewer adult fans. What if that trend continues? What if it becomes no longer “cool” to even play baseball?
In 2016, the general storyline of the book coalesced around the central theme of baseball having died. But how? Its popularity waned, and kids got interested in other things (like video games) and other sports (like soccer and lacrosse). Adults also lost interest. Financial woes enter the picture for some teams. A protracted labor strike also casts a pall over the game, at all levels of play.
But what else could so utterly eliminate a game from our culture? A proverbial “nail in the coffin,” a second civil war, the likes of which are unparalleled in the histories of the nations of the world. This would be no ordinary civil war. If it were, recovery would be much faster. How do you take a superpower like the United States and knock it down so badly that it takes decades for the country, and the world, to get back up? Take a fratricidal war, that includes a limited nuclear exchange involving four large metro areas, and add in an EMP attack, along with the worst cyber-attack in modern times. That’s how.
The war acts like a giant eraser. Erasing lives, geography, and parts of our culture. In the war’s aftermath, it is this clawing back from the near-total devastation that is an important undercurrent in the storyline. At the beginning of our story, America has recovered, technologically, back to where it was at the war's outbreak. Self-driving cars and trucks. AI-equipped domestic robots. Vertical take-off and landing commercial aircraft. And much more. But there are still chunks of American culture missing, they just don’t know it. One missing piece is baseball.
The rediscovery of a lost and forgotten part of America’s pre-war past and culture is rich in symbolism. For baseball is as much a symbol of America itself as it is a game still enjoyed by millions.
So it was in Destin, Florida, during a family reunion trip in 2016, that I announced to my son, Joe, and brother, Scott, (both avid baseball fans) that I was going to write a novel and that the central character’s name was a melding of their first names."
Which authors do you admire? How have they influenced your writing style?
- Clancy, Forstchen, Aikman and others. I have not allowed other writing styles to influence my own.
Can you tell us a little about the locations in your book?
- Most of the story takes place in my hometown of the City of McHenry, about an hour northwest of Chicago. There are multiple (for the locals) recognizable places and landmarks used. Chief among them is the current site of the McHenry VFW Post 4600 on the east side of town. Also notable locations outside of McHenry are Rockford, Illinois, and Dyersville, Iowa as well as the 'ruins' of the southside of Chicago.
In the story, the VFW post here in McHenry is now hallowed ground. During the war, the area around it had the equivalent of a Gettysburg battle.
The Lincoln Cafe, rebuilt on the site of the famous Little Chef diner.
Happy Jacks, a local lunch and Ice Cream place.
Rt 120 Bridge.
Justen Hotel. (Currently named Riverside Hotel.)
Also in this speculative fiction version of McHeny, a near replica of the destroyed Empire State Building was built on the southside of town and is named the Eisenhower Federal Building. It is there that Joe Scott's parents work, as well as the important character Eduardo Chavez.
Lastly, I list the places where I enjoyed writing my novel;
McHenry VFW Broncos Field 3rd base dugout
Bleachers at Field of Dreams, Iowa
Fox Hole Pizza
McHenry Township Park Ballfield Pavilion
Powers Walker House Glacial Park
Glacial Park Picnic Pavilion
Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox Park)
Pistakee Bay at anchor on my boat on the Illinois Fox Chain O’Lakes
Perl Street Park
Hub Street Market
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- Sit down and write. There's plenty of help online if you get stuck.
What's your writing process?
- I sat down and wrote when the story and its progression had bubbled up inside me and I just let it flow out of me onto the 'page'. There were fits and starts along the way.
One time, after a major block, I drove out to Dyersville and hung out at the Field of Dreams for the better part of the day to get 're-inspired'. Towards evening I got my laptop out, sat in the bleachers, and wrote all of chapter 6 and part of chapter 7. Mission accomplished!
Which character in The Death and Resurrection of Baseball has had the greatest impact on readers?
- Definitely 12-year-old Joe Scott. It is evoking strong memories of readers' childhoods and of simpler times. Also favored is Grandpa Moses. A strong man of faith and a survivor of the darkest period of post-civil war America.
If The Death and Resurrection of Baseball were to be adapted for TV or film, who would you see in the lead role? Who did you have in your mind’s eye when you wrote him/her?
- An unknown child actor who is a throwback to a '50s and 60s kind of kid. Really, really is NOT a loner and loves to be outside. Inquisitive and somewhat jovial.
Also, Sam Elliot as Grandpa Moses.
How have readers responded to The Death and Resurrection of Baseball?
- Extremely favorable to date!
The story is evoking strong memories of childhood and of its 'simpler' times as well as giving readers pause when considering our current state of affairs here in the United States.
In the story, there's also been a grand 'reset' of family dynamics back to a strong nuclear family that includes healthy equality with the parents.
The fictional 'Second American Civil War' is admittedly a strong undercurrent in the novel, but not one that over-powers the central theme of baseball having died and the adventure that Joe and his friends have in trying to bring it back.
Where next? What are you working on now?
- Still working on promoting The Death and Resurrection of Baseball. I really feel strongly in my heart that something special is going to happen with it with the masses.
Beyond that, can I and should I proceed with The Second American Civil War novel? It rattles me where we are now as a nation and where we could be headed if We The People do not figure out a way to agree to disagree again. The current tribalism, with no compromise, is a powder keg.
In the year 2166, a post-Second Civil War America is finally back on its feet. Among the countless personal and cultural casualties of the war, the sport of baseball has been dead for over a hundred years. 12-year-old Joe Scott lives in the northern Illinois city of McHenry and goes exploring in the woods one day in a no man's land that a hundred years earlier was the site of the bloodiest battle of the war. While there, he discovers a relic from the distant past, from before the war. It sparks a search for its meaning. Little does he know that the wheels of Providence have been unwittingly set in motion which leads to a stunning discovery in Dyersville, Iowa.
This second discovery has a direct connection with the relic found in McHenry. As events unfold, Joe finds himself at the center of the rediscovery of a sport long lost and forgotten by the ravages of time and war. With no living person having any first-hand knowledge of the game, can he figure out the pieces of the puzzle to resurrect the game of baseball? Will his friends take to the game? What will the adults think?
Soon, the answers begin to unfold, and a magical sequence of events leads to an epic finale on a national stage!