Mar 16, 2011 Tami Zimmerman Uncategorized
A young, unassuming first-time published writer, Toby Ball, walked into the Manlius Dunkin Donuts to meet with me just an hour before he was set to talk to a group of aspiring writers at the Manlius Library on March 6.
We sat down at the only empty two-top table, next to a window facing Elmbrook Drive. He grabbed a cup of coffee; I sipped on white hot chocolate.
My first question posed to the 1985 Fayetteville-Manlius graduate: When did you decide to become a writer?
He said he became serious about the craft in 1997, after his family moved from the country’s capital to New Hampshire. His son had just turned 6, and Ball was in the process of earning a master’s degree in education.
“We didn’t know very many people [in N.H.] so I spent my evenings, while I wasn’t doing homework, writing,” Ball said.
He realized quickly, however, that instruction wasn’t his forte after he spent one year as a high school social studies teacher. Ironically, he comes from a family of educators. Both his parents are retired teachers; his mom, Faith, taught English for many years in the F-M School District.
“I think having a goal of becoming a published writer is a tough one because the odds are so bad, but I did want to try my hand at writing and see what I could produce,” he said. He didn’t give up his day job.
His first manuscript – the one he labored over while in graduate school – did not get published. He opened numerous rejection letters, developed a thick-skin in the process, and remained persistent.
Regarding his first attempt, he said he’d wanted to write something topical that would grab people’s attention, an issue that might be in the news.
“I wrote a book that was sort of centered around identify theft, which was, you know popular for a couple weeks,” he said. “Looking back, it’s alright. It was a good first try. At least for me, I had to go through [the process] to get a sense of exactly how you go about writing [a novel-length story].”
His second manuscript landed him an agent and a two-book deal. This one, he said, is suspenseful, and is categorized in the mystery genre. Editorial reviews by Publishers Weekly, the Library Journal and Mystery Scene summarize Ball’s work as impressive, convincing and a “satisfying nourish stew.” Ten out of 13 customer reviews on Amazon.com have given it five out of five stars, calling his work rich in characters and plot, an engaging page-turner and “very much like reading an American version of a classic Dostoervsky novel.
Ball describes his writing style as bare bones, kind of dark, not violent or gross, but also not flowery. The outlook is very much like a black and white film, he said.
Ball realized his initial goal to become published was not necessarily an achievable one; it wouldn’t have devastated him had he not found an agent, but self-publishing, for him, was never an option.
“The first [manuscript] I wrote, I finally realized it wasn’t good enough,” Ball said. “It wasn’t going to get picked up. But if somebody said you’ve gotta write two before you get a novel published … you’ve gotta be kidding me, because it’s a lot of work.”
And more often than not, it takes more than two tries.
“Some publishers request a partial [manuscript], which may be 20 pages [or] 50 pages, so that’s step, a small reward,” he said. “[If they request a full manuscript], they’re interested enough that they’re willing to read the whole thing and you have to look at those as victories. It’s not an all or nothing thing, which is hard, because at the same time, unless you have an agent, your work is not going to get to the big publishers. You also have to be realistic that a lot of people don’t find agents.”
Ball makes guest appearances typically at bookstores and once he spoke at his son’s school in Maine.
“I hate reading my own stuff aloud,” he said. “But I like the Q&A session and talking about the process. People usually ask good questions.”
Ball advises writers check out resources online, like Querytracker.net or pred-ed.com, a guide to publishers and publishing services.
He also suggests serious writers “put in the time” to dedicate one’s self in finishing the goal.
“When you’re writing something that’s 80,000 words, and you’re probably going to have to write several drafts to get it to a decent spot, there are no real shortcuts,” he said. “Now that I have time pressures, I have to write five or six days a week – whether I’m feeling it or not.”
We wrapped up our session in time for Toby to head toward his appointment at the library. He said he hoped the snow wouldn’t keep people home. After a full winter, I assured him we were no longer fazed by the forever falling flakes.
As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think of the story I’ve begun. Two paragraphs down. Another 79,500 words to go. And then some.
For more information on Toby Ball, go to tobyball.com. His book may be purchased online at Amazon.com, Powells.com and BarnesandNoble.com. You may also order a copy at your local bookstore.
‘The Vaults’ synopsis
In a dystopian 1930s America, a chilling series of events leads three men down a path to uncover their city’s darkest secret.
At the height of the most corrupt administration in the City’s history, a mysterious duplicate file is discovered deep within the Vaults – a cavernous hall containing all of the municipal criminal justice records of the last seventy years. From here, the story follows: Arthur Puskis, the Vaults sole, hermit-like archivist with an almost mystical faith in a system to which he has devoted his life; Frank Frings, a high-profile investigative journalist with a self-medicating reefer habit; and Ethan Poole, a socialist private eye with a penchant for blackmail. All three men will undertake their own investigations into the dark past and uncertain future of the City – calling into question whether their most basic beliefs can be maintained in a climate of overwhelming corruption and conspiracy.
Source: St. Martin’s Press, publisher