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Monday, June 9, 2014

American Past Time by Len Joy (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with JKS Communications Virtual Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for American Past Time by Author Len Joy!

Author Guest Post

How To Write A Novel In Eight Years, 
Nine Months & Three Days

On June 23rd, 2005 my niece, asked me if I would write a story to be read at her wedding in September. I thought that was a really bad idea and eventually she abandoned the notion, but not before I wrote a thousand word story called, “The Toast,” about a thrice-divorced salesman named Clayton who is asked to give a toast at his niece’s wedding.

A year later that story had evolved into a four thousand word story titled, “Dancer Stonemason is Missing,” The same characters, but I added a father named Dancer. I have no idea where the name came from—it just popped into my head one day.

In the fall of 2006 I started a novel course at the University of Chicago Writer’s Studio taught by Patrick Somerville, (“The Cradle”). I hadn’t realized that most people who sign up for a novel course have a novel they are already working on. The structure of the course was that each week we would workshop a new chapter in our novel.

I decided I would write a novel-in-stories and use my Dancer Stonemason story as the first chapter. Every other week I wrote another chapter/story. Eight weeks later I had a 20,000 word “novel.”

In the summer of 2007 I attended the weeklong Tin House Writer’s Program. My novel, now titled, “The Stonemasons,” was read by Whitney Otto (author of the bestselling novel, “How to Make an American Quilt.”)

Whitney encouraged me to continue with the project. I told her I feared becoming that guy from the film “Sideways,” who lugged his phone-book length manuscript around for years, searching for a publisher. To that Whitney said, “That’s what we all fear.”

Since Whitney had only read part of the manuscript I hired Sands Hall (author of bestselling novel, “Catching Heaven.”) I had taken a class Sands taught at University of Iowa’s Writer’s Festival the summer before. Sands gave me detailed feedback on each of the stories. She suggested I abandon the novel-in-stories approach as it was dragging down the story line.

In the earlier versions the story took place on the day before the niece’s wedding. When I rewrote it I added a chapter that takes places in 1953, when Dancer is a young man. It is about a baseball game that has a profound impact on the rest of his life. It’s a good story, but I was concerned the baseball setting might turn off some readers who weren’t sports fans.

In the summer of 2008 I attended the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference and workshopped that opening baseball chapter. It was well received. After the conference I hired Barbara Croft to read my entire manuscript, which was now 60,000 words and titled “American Jukebox.” Each chapter title was the title of a song. Barbara gave me excellent feedback and encouragement. She pointed out the gaps in the story line, character inconsistencies, and which chapters worked and which ones were weak.

I rewrote the novel once more, eliminating some chapters and adding several new chapters. By January 2009 I was convinced I was ready to start looking for an agent. I already had two chapters published as standalone stories and had taken an honorable mention in a "Best First Page Contest." Unfortunately the agents weren’t as convinced as I was. I only got two agents to read the entire manuscript and both said the same thing: good story and characters, but lacks a hook and would be hard to sell.

So I started rewriting in November 2009.

In the summer of 2010 I attended summer workshops at Skidmore and Norman Mailer. The workshops helped me to see what was working and what wasn’t. When I returned from the Norman Mailer workshop on Cape Cod I thought I had a clear vision of how to finish the novel.

I finished it (again) in September 2010 and hired Marita Golden who was my instructor at The Norman Mailer Writers Colony to give the manuscript a critical reading. She gave me some excellent, but discouraging news and I started the rewrite process all over again.

In June 2011 the first chapter of “American Jukebox,” won an honorable mention from the New Millennium Writing Competition and then in July an editor from Grove-Atlantic agreed to read the manuscript. I waited nervously for two months but they ended up declining. The editor was positive about the opening but thought I needed to narrow the scope which covered almost fifty years.

In August 2011 I attended the Sewanee Writers Conference where I met Pamela Erens (author of the critically acclaimed novel, “The Virgins,”). I asked Pamela if she would be willing to read through the novel after I rewrote it one more time with the condensed time frame. Shortening the timeframe eliminated over half the characters, which was really difficult. They had become like family members.

It took me nine months to rewrite the story which now ended in 1973 instead of 2003. Convinced I would ever escape the query letter slushpile, I sent the manuscript directly to a new publisher, Hark! New Era Publishing. A week later they contacted me and said they would be interested in publishing my novel, if I would make some structural changes.

I had a good conversation with the publisher, Jon Katora, and came away convinced I would be able to work with him and his team. It was extremely gratifying to have found someone who liked my work and was willing to devote time and energy to making it better.

The changes Hark! suggested were significant, but they made the novel much better. It was fun working with the Hark! team and finally, last month my novel, American Past Time was officially finished.

It took a little longer than I expected.

About The Author

Len Joy’s first novel American Past Time releases April 19, 2014 with Hark! New Era Publishing.

He is the author of two short fiction collections, “Casualties” and “Survivors.” His work has appeared in FWRICTION: Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Johnny America, Specter Magazine, Washington Pastime, Hobart, Annalemma and Pindeldyboz.

Joy grew up in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. He graduated from Canandaigua Academy and went on to the University of Rochester where he met his wife. The couple moved to the Chicago area in 1974, and about 15 years later Joy bought an engine remanufacturing company in Phoenix, Ariz. with his brother-in-law.

He started writing classes in 2003 and eventually began devoting all of his time to the creative craft.

In addition to this sharp turn in his career, Joy started training for triathlons. He completed the Coeur d’Alene Ironman in his first attempt at 61 years old. He has a personal goal to one day finish in the top 10 of his age group at the USA Triathlon National Championship. Joy finished in 33rd place in 2013 and plans to make it in the top 10 in 2014.

Joy met his wife, Suzanne Sawada, when they were both freshmen at the University of Rochester. They have been married for forty years and live in Evanston, Illinois.


Book Review

American Past Time by Len Joy
Publisher: Hark! New Era Publishing
Publication Date: April 19, 2014
Format: Paperback - 418 pages
             Kindle - 580 KB
             Nook - 444 KB
ISBN: 978-0-9916659-0-7
ASIN: B00JK53904
Genre: Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: American Past Time

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by JKS Communications Virtual Book Tours.

Book Description:

September 1953. Dancer Stonemason is three days away from his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. With his wife and son cheering him on, he pitches the greatest game of his life. And then he loses everything.

Told against the backdrop of America’s postwar challenges from Little Rock to the Bay of Pigs to Viet Nam, American Past Time is the story of what happens to a man and his family after the cheering stops.

Book Excerpt:


September 5, 1953

Dancer Stonemason drove through Maple Springs headed for Rolla. His left hand rested gentle on the steering wheel, and in his pitching hand he held a baseball – loose and easy – like he was shooting craps. The ball took the edge off the queasy feeling he got on game days. His son, Clayton, sat beside him and made sputtering engine noises as he gripped an imaginary steering wheel, while Dede, Dancer’s wife, stared out the window with other things on her mind.

They cruised down Main Street, past the Tastee-Freeze and Dabney’s Esso Station and the Post Office and the First National Bank of Maple Springs and Crutchfield’s General Store. At the town’s only traffic light, he turned left toward the highway. At the edge of town they passed the colored Baptist Church with its neatly-tended grid of white crosses and gravestones under a gnarled willow. The graveyard reminded him of the cemetery up north, near Festus, where his mother was buried with the rest of the Dancer family. She’d been gone fifteen years now and some days Dancer had trouble remembering what she looked like.

Across from the Baptists, A-1 Auto Parts blanketed the landscape with acres of junked automobiles. His father’s Buick was out there somewhere. Walt Stonemason had been a whisky-runner for Cecil Danforth. He knew every back road and trail in southern Missouri and there wasn’t a revenue agent in the state who could catch him.

At his father’s funeral Cecil told Dancer that Walt was the best damn whiskey runner he ever had. Dancer wanted to ask Cecil if his dad was so damn good how’d he manage to run that Roadmaster smack into a walnut tree with no one chasing him. But Dancer knew better than to ask Cecil those kinds of questions.

They turned north onto Highway 60, and the ’39 Chevy coughed and bucked as he shifted into third. As he cruised north, Dancer’s fingers glided over the smooth cowhide of the baseball as he read the seams and adjusted his grip from fastball, to curveball, to changeup. He had a hand built for pitching – a pancake-sized palm and long, tapered fingers that hid the ball from the batter for that extra heartbeat.

It was the Saturday before Labor Day, and Dancer’s team, the Rolla Rebels, was hosting the Joplin Miners. Rolla was only an hour’s drive from Maple Springs, but Dancer had his family on the road early. This was going to be a special game. Not for his team – the Rebels were in third place going nowhere – but because today would be Clayton’s first baseball game. The first time he’d see his dad pitch. Dancer was eight when his mom got sick. He went to live with Cecil’s brother Clem and his wife Ruthie. They had nine kids so one more didn’t matter much. One day in late May his dad showed up at the schoolhouse and told Dancer they were going up to St. Louis to see the Cardinals play.

The Cardinals’ stadium was packed with more people than Dancer had seen in his whole life. They sat in the upper deck behind home plate. Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cardinals and the crowd cheered madly every time he took the mound. In his last at bat he hit a foul ball that was headed straight for Dancer. He stood and cupped his hands to catch it, but at the last moment the man in front of him leaped up to catch the ball. It splatted against his palms and the man yelped as the baseball rolled into the aisle. The usher retrieved the ball and handed it to Dancer.

Dancer fell asleep on the ride home. He woke up when his father stopped the car in front of Grandpa Dancer’s house. His father told him that his mom had passed, but Dancer already knew.

The hot-towel Missouri heat, which had suffocated them through July and August, had finally retreated to Arkansas. A few wispy clouds hung on the horizon, and the air was light and fresh. Dede’s head lolled backwards, her eyes closed as she let the cool wind from the open window billow her white cotton dress. She only wore that dress to church and on special occasions. It didn’t get much use.

Her short blonde hair, which wrapped around her ears and curled down the nape of her neck, was still damp from her morning shower. As Dancer had attempted to shave, she flung open the shower curtain and wiggled her ass, letting the hot water pelt her breasts. “Soap me, honey. Do my back,” she said.

“You’re getting water on the floor,” Dancer said.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “If I squint really hard, you look just like Gary Cooper.”

“He’s taller. Close the curtain.”

Water was pooling on the floor. Dancer took the washcloth and soaped her back and her little butt. As he brought his hand up between her legs, she reached around and slipped her hand into his boxer shorts.

“Come on in, the water’s fine,” she said.

Dede knew he couldn’t fool around on game day, but she didn’t care. She could never get enough, and now they had a problem.

Traffic was light, and Dancer had the Chevy cruising along at close to sixty. Beside him, Clayton pressed his foot down on a phantom gas pedal, and his sputtering engine revved into a high-pitched whine. He drove hard, just like his whiskey-running grandfather. He reminded Dancer of his father. The wheat-colored hair, the dirt tan, and the need to race everywhere even when there was no place to go.

Dancer glanced over at Dede. She had a crooked mouth and a gap between her two front teeth that he hadn’t noticed when they first met because of her eyes. Her eyes were big, wild, and crazy-blue. They had met when Dancer was a senior. Even though she was two years younger, she had been the one to make the first move. He’d never been with another girl, but Dede made it easy. She knew too much for a fifteen-year-old.

But now, with her face half-covered by her wind-tossed hair, she appeared so innocent. She didn’t look like she was two months pregnant. Her belly was still flat, and her breasts hadn’t swelled, not like they had when Clayton was on his way.

Maybe the doctor was wrong.

After Clayton was born, Dancer had found an offseason job at the Caterpillar plant – parts inspector – a dollar an hour and boring as hell. He wasn’t cut out for factory work, but they needed the money. When he moved up to the Rolla Rebels, the pay was better, and he thought he’d be done with the factory, but Dede fell in love with the red brick house on the hill east of town. So they bought the house, and then he had a wife, a baby, a house, a mortgage, and another offseason back in the factory inspecting parts. And now with a new baby on the way, he’d have to work overtime just for them to survive.

“Hey Dad, is that the ballpark?” Clayton asked. He pointed at a well-groomed Little League field that was in a clearing surrounded by spruce and poplars.

“No. It’s just over the hill, beyond the fairgrounds.”

Mr. Seymour Crutchfield, the owner of the Rebels, was a merchant. His father had built a general store in downtown Maple Springs fifty years ago, and Seymour had taken the idea of that general store and built stores all over Missouri and Arkansas. When he expanded into Rolla, he bought the Rolla Rebels baseball team because their stadium was sitting on the land he wanted to develop. He built his store, renamed the stadium, and hired his son-in-law, Doc Evans, to manage the team.

Clayton creased the brim of the Cardinals cap Dancer had given him and leaned forward in his seat to get a better look. The hat was several sizes too big, so Dede had bobby-pinned the back so it would stay on.

“Are you going to strike them all out, Dad?”

“Your daddy can’t strike everyone out. He’s not Superman,” Dede said. She winked at Dancer.

Dancer squeezed the ball into Clayton’s small hands. “I’m going to try.”

As they crossed into Phelps County and the outskirts of Rolla, the woods and small lakes that had lined the highway for the last twenty miles gave way to cheap motels, filling stations, and car dealerships. The Phelps County Fairgrounds, with its huge parking lot and grandstand, stretched along the east side of the highway for nearly half a mile. Beyond the fairgrounds and next to the brand new Crutchfield General Store was Crutchfield Stadium, home of the Rolla Rebels.

Dancer pulled the car up to the box office. “They’ll have your tickets here. See you after the game.”

“Not so fast, mister,” Dede said. She leaned across Clayton and kissed Dancer hard on the lips.

“Mom, you’re squishing me,” Clayton said.

As they slid out of the car, Dede leaned back in the window. “Now don’t wear yourself out,” she said. And then she giggled and skipped away with Clayton to pick up their tickets.

My Book Review:

In his debut novel, American Past Time, author Len Joy weaves a timeless classic that transports the reader back in time with a wonderful story that interweaves a changing family dynamic with the favorite American pastime of baseball and iconic historical events that span the decades of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

American Past Time is a compelling story about family, love, youth, the pursuit of dreams, disappointments, struggles, triumphs, learning to survive, move forward, and finding oneself. Set in the Midwest small town of Maple Spring, Missouri, Dancer Stonemason is an up-and-coming pitcher with the Rolla Rebels, a minor league team within the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Dancer's dreams of making it to the big leagues is just days away when he pitches the game of his life, only to lose his chance when his throwing arm fails him. With a growing family that struggles through hard times, Dancer's dreams and plans change, as choices are made that will effect and forever change the Stonemason family.

American Past Time is an intriguing story about life and its trials and tribulations, complex family dynamics, and a journey of self-discovery set within the span of twenty years covering tumultuous events in history from the 1950s to the early 1970s. The reader is easily drawn into the Stonemason family's lives as their family struggles to find their way in small town Midwestern America. This is a fast paced story that will captivate the reader's attention, take them for a stroll down memory lane of historical events, and celebrate the passion of apple pie and the American classic pastime that is baseball.

American Past Time is a heartwarming tale of life and family that captures the true essence of the American tapestry of times gone by.


Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tour Schedule:

June 4
Review at Fiction Zeal

June 7
Interview at Pen and Muse

June 8
Spotlight Feature at Deal Sharing Aunt

June 9
Review and Guest Post at Jersey Girl Book Reviews

June 10
Review at Julian Froment’s
Blog Spotlight Feature at Shut Up and Read

June 11
Interview Feature at Infinite House of Books

June 12
Interview at Literary Lunes Publications

June 15
Guest Post and Giveaway at Like a Bump on a Blog

July 10
Spotlight Feature and Giveaway at To Read or Not To Read

Also on the Tour…
Review at Reader’s Favorite
Review at Labor of Love Reviews

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