Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview: R.M. Clark, The Secret at Haney Field by Kell Andrews

A few weeks ago, Booklist Online released an annotated list of the top 10 sports books for youth of the year -- and all of them featured male protagonists. After an outcry, Booklist published a list of sports books featuring girls and women -- well overdue in a summer where one of the top real-life sports heroes was Mo'ne Davis, the 12-year-old Philadelphian who became the first girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history.

So now, with the Major League Baseball postseason approaching, the time is right for The Secret at R.M. Clark, The Secret at Haney Field  MB Publishing, 2014Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery, a new middle-grade novel by R.M. Clark that features a 12-year-old girl who is a baseball savant.

When April O'Day wins a job as a bat retriever for the Harpoons, her favorite minor league team, a perfect summer seems assured. But who are the ghostly "shadow players" she can see on the field after hours? She and her best friend work to uncover a mystery that touches some of the least glorious days of American baseball history.

April is an appealing character -- funny and smart, with encyclopedic baseball knowledge that makes her indispensable to her favorite minor league baseball team -- and the baseball action goes right into the dugout. April's wry voice is a perfect match for an eerie mystery with a satisfying conclusion and a touch of nostalgia. 

R.M. Clark is the author of Center Point, an adult thriller, and another middle-grade timeslip mystery, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, which will be released in November 2014 by Writers AMuse Me publishing. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Most of the books you write are middle-grade. What about the age group appeals to you? 

There's an honesty to middle grade fiction that I find refreshing. The characters at this age have fewer distractions (like relationships, jobs, cars) than older characters, so they tend to stick to the issue at hand. I find it very easy to keep a middle grade plot moving along. Plus, you can add wacky stuff like aliens and time travel and it's perfectly fine with the audience. But my biggest reason for writing middle grade is because the voices in my head speak to me that way. I guess I'm just wired for it.

You obviously have a strong love of baseball. What is your own background with the sport and how did you bring it into The Secret at Haney Field

I played from Little League through high school and two summers of American Legion baseball. I damaged my shoulder after my senior year, so I began coaching. I put in three years as an American Legion coach, starting when I was 19. Years later, my sons started playing and I coached both of them up through the ranks, from age 5 to 16. Plus, I've always considered myself to be an amateur baseball historian. I watched the Baseball documentary by Ken Burns multiple times and I love that baseball is full of colorful characters. One day I decided to create some of my own.

In this book and in Dizzy Miss Lizzie, there's sense that the past is not over and that's it's close enough to access. There's also a strong New England flavor. I'm curious whether those two things are related. 

They are. In practically every New England town I've been to there are houses and buildings and other structures that date back to the 1700s, sometimes the 1600s. They call to me. Those bygone days want to be remembered, so I find a way to incorporate New England history into most every story. We can learn a lot from the past, so I make it happen.

Baseball is often perceived as an all-American game, and it's interesting to see how the history of the game intertwines with darker aspects of American history, such as segregated baseball teams within the larger context of segregation, discrimination, and limited opportunities for black Americans. Why did you choose this as a theme? 

 I think the overall contribution to baseball history by players in the Negro Leagues is still under valued. There were so many talented players who were good enough to play in the majors years before Jackie Robinson but were kept out due a "gentlemen's agreement" by the white owners. Many of the owners and baseball executives who blatantly supported segregation and discrimination and brought great dishonor to the game are still considered bastions of the sport. In this book I wanted to use a more modern example of a "gentlemen's agreement" and show that people can change for the better not by changing the past, but by honoring it.

Despite its imperfections (and maybe because of them), there's a lot that young people can take away from a game like baseball. What what do you hope young players gain from the sport? What do you hope young readers take from your book? 

Baseball is a team sport that relies on individual achievement. There's a unique fairness to it in that everyone gets their chance to contribute (there's no crying or hiding in baseball). Most importantly, it's fun! As for my book, I hope to show that you're never too young to impart wisdom and you're never too old to accept it. When the past comes back to haunt you, make amends and become a better person for it.

Thanks to R.M. Clark for his answers. Now what are your favorite middle-grade sports books, featuring protagonists of any gender?


  1. I love the sound of this--I'm all for "timeslips."

    I've heard that TANGERINE is a great sports book--it's on my TBR pile. I was blown away by Andrew Smith's WINGER, but that's YA.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, RM!

    Alas! I am woefully ignorant of middle-grade sports books, but now I have one in my to-read pile. :)


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