2016 Virginia Festival of the Book


The 2016 Virginia Festival of the Book is March 16-20 in Charlottesville. This is a great event for all stripes of writers, authors and readers. Find out more at VaBook.org.


My Author Appearance at Virginia Festival of the Book

VAI will be at the Virginia Festival of the Book on Thursday, March 19 (tomorrow), in Charlottesville. I will be on a panel with three other sports authors, talking about my most recent book, DRAW IN THE DUNES: The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World.

I attended last year and spoke about my first book, THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. I had a great time.

I have finalized my reading selection. I am going to read a short section that illustrates how team members feel about playing in the Ryder Cup, especially at the opening ceremony and right before they tee off. It will include an anecdote about U.S. foursomes partners Raymond Floyd and Miller Barber, and how Barber, who was supposed to hit first (the opening shot of the 1969 Ryder Cup), couldn’t do it. (Portions of pages 128-131.)

If you are in the area, I hope to see you there.


VA Festival of the Book Announces New Program Director

Jane Gulow.

Jane Kulow is the new program director of the Virginia Festival of the Book. Kulow is a longtime Festival volunteer, most recently serving as assistant to the Virginia Foundation president. Her professional career and personal interests revolve around literacy and literary culture, including her current tenure as trustee of Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.

Kulow replaces Nancy Damon, who retired after two decades with the Festival.

2015 Festival Information

The 2015 Festival will take place March 18-22.

The application form to be a presenter at the 2015 Festival is at vabook.org. The deadline is October 1. Previous presenters must reapply.

Those wishing to host or create a Festival program should consult organizers. Reservations for space at the annual Book Fair will be available online in mid-September.

The Daily Progress: ‘Book Festival Blossomed with Damon’

Nancy Damon.
Nancy Damon.

The thank-you note arrived a little more than two weeks after I sat on a sports stories panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. The note was signed by festival director Nancy Damon.

“At the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, we thank you for your participation in making the Festival the amazing event it is,” wrote Damon. “We are so happy to present a sports-oriented program.”

I’m not David Baldacci, who was at the festival this year. Nor am I John Grisham, who appeared in 2013. But I felt special nonetheless, thanks to Damon. She apparently wrote, signed and sent similar thank-you notes to the hundreds of authors who participated at this year’s festival.

I was told by a reliable source that Damon does nearly all of the work. That surprised and impressed me.

Now she’s retiring and is deserving of the accolades that appeared in the The Daily Progress (Charlottesville):

It will be hard to imagine the annual Virginia Festival of the Book without the quicksilver, whirlwind presence of Nancy Damon.

But next year we won’t have to imagine. We’ll know.

Ms. Damon is retiring as the festival’s director.

She’s led the event for the past 14 years and has been involved since its founding 20 years ago. And she’s done an amazing job.

Read the entire article

Book Excerpt: ‘Down to the Last Pitch’ By Tim Wendel

I had the pleasure of meeting writer, author and teacher Tim Wendel two weeks ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. Today is the official publication day of his new baseball book. Read the following excerpt and grab a copy.

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Buy at Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Buy at Amazon / Barnes & Noble

From Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press.

Round ball. Round bat.

Ted Williams once said that having them greet each other so the impact is square and solid remains the most difficult feat to accomplish in sports, and any slugger who has come before or after him will echo those words.

What do we make of those moments when ball and bat do meet just so? When the ball flies off the bat as though it had a mind of its own and for an instant the only role it knows in life is to soar over the outfield fence like a flock of geese heading for the horizon? What registers in the batter’s box? What does one remember?

“It’s the feel,” said Frank Robinson, who hit 586 home runs dur¬ing his career. “You don’t feel anything down the bat handle. I’m not trying to make a joke. That’s how it is.

“When you’ve really hit the ball there are no vibrations. You could be swinging through air. That’s how perfect it is.”

Besides the feel in the hands, there is the sweet smack to a well-hit ball. Robinson cautioned that each ballpark has different acoustics and dimensions, so the sound can sometimes fool you. But every slugger worth his salt knows the crisp reverberation that a home run ball often makes.

At first Robinson described it as “a gun shot,” but then he searched for better words. A gun shot, in this day and age, seemed too callous for something so magical.

Robinson and I once discussed such things during batting practice at a major-league game. As the home team continued to hit, Robinson paused, simply listening, waiting for that sound again. Even though the clamor built for another game, Robinson was able to tune such diversions out. When the next batter stepped into the cage the rhythmic rat-tat-tat of bat-hitting-ball began again. It could have been a carpenter driving nails or a woodsman splitting wood, except there was a particular fullness or certainty to this particular sound.

“There it is,” Robinson said, and moments later a deep fly sailed past the outfield fence. “It’s like you’re out in the woods and you step on branch. A dry branch. It’s that snap that goes just so. But you have to be careful. The sound comes and goes depending upon the ballpark, the crowd that day. You can’t wait for the sound to tell you every time the ball is going out.”

Together we turned back to the batting cage, and here it came again. For a brief second that sound, that snap of a ball well hit, broke through the mounting anticipation of another game, no matter how loud the commotion may have been. Another well-hit ball soared into the sky and landed in the stands beyond the fence.

“Nothing else offers the kind of excitement that a home run does,” Robinson said. “Not even a perfect game. Because a home run is instant—it’s so surprising.”

And so it was again, this time in Game One of the 1991 World Series. In the bottom of the fifth inning Kent Hrbek roped a 2–0 pitch from Charlie Leibrandt to right field for a stand-up double. Scott Leius followed with a soft single into left, with Hrbek holding at third base. Leibrandt may have trailed only 1–0 at this point, but he wasn’t fool¬ing many of the Twins’ hitters.

Then came that sound again. Despite the crowd of more than fifty-five thousand at the Metrodome, pretty much all of them now on their feet, cheering and waving those infernal white Homer Hankies, that sound of a dry branch breaking in the woods, an echo of every long fly that’s ever happened in this game, was about to occur again.

Continue reading “Book Excerpt: ‘Down to the Last Pitch’ By Tim Wendel”

My Email from John Grisham

This morning I told my wife I got an email from John Grisham. She just looked at me, waiting for the punch line. I said I don’t know why John began the message with “Dear Reader,” but I was willing to look past that. John was obviously reaching out to me, a fellow writer and author.

Seriously, though, at some point I did sign on to Mr. Grisham’s email list, so his holiday greetings and reflection on his writing career did land in my email inbox a few hours ago. Whatever you think of his work, whether or not you’re a fan, I think John offers some nuggets for all who write for fun, work, publication and more.

I offer a few thoughts below, but first the note.

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December 19, 2013

Dear Reader,

This is the time of year for taking stock and giving thanks. As I’ve said many times, I feel extremely lucky to be able to write books that entertain so many people. Thank you for buying them. I am delighted you enjoy them.

Twenty-five years ago, I suddenly found myself staring at the opportunity to walk away from a less than prosperous law practice (which I did without even turning off the lights) in order to sit alone for hours each day writing stories. I feel privileged, even blessed to have spent these years doing what I dearly love. And it is still tremendous fun. The words and ideas are flowing faster than I can write.

Through twenty-eight books for adults and four for kids, I have enjoyed every day at the typewriter (or keyboard or whatever writers call these things these days). The creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.

As I approach the slightly mature age of 59, I catch myself looking back, but also looking ahead. What will I be doing at 60, 65, 70, or 80? If I’m healthy, I plan to be writing legal thrillers, sports books, kids books, comic novels, short stories, maybe even screenplays. If I have learned one thing so far, it is that I cannot predict where the next story will come from.

But there are a lot of stories to be written. As long as you are there to read and enjoy them, I promise to keep writing.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday season.


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Obviously, John Grisham is wildly successful in a commercial sense. He doesn’t have to write another word to make a living. He has ample money to do, I expect, pretty much whatever he pleases. I imagine his wealth and fame have led to many new experiences and provided access to lots of high-profile people.

But, according to his above message, one thing John Grisham still wants and lives to do is to sit down at his keyboard and write. It sounds like John plans to write many more books because, in his words, “the creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.”

I saw John Grisham last March in Charlottesville at the Virginia Festival of the Book. He was on stage with Frank Deford, Jane Leavy and David Zirin. The moderated conversation focused on sports stories but veered into other topics.

I recall a few of John’s comments, or at least a few that stuck out for me. He never expected the chart-topping, head-spinning success. Never. Like many of the rest of us, he just wanted to write and hopefully make a living.

I remember this fairly distinctly. John said that when the crazy success came, he thought to himself, “Don’t screw this up,” or “I better not screw this up.” John didn’t want the money and fame to cause him to lose his way like has happened to so many others in various fields of endeavor. He was determined to keep his head down, to keep writing, to keep doing his work.

I think that’s a great mantra for all of us who write. If we follow that example, we’ll also be successful, even if we don’t make it onto the bestseller lists.