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]."