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Extra Innings Trilogy Summary

READERS:  Here’s a Brief Summary of ALL THREE Books:

In post-WWII Mississippi, a group of junior high white boys experience a menacing side of their small bayou town when they decide to include their Negro friend, T.J., in a crucial game against their cross-town rivals for domain over the school’s baseball diamond.   Determined to move their Deep Southern town one step towards racial equality, the boys find themselves coming head to head with the hard lesson of learning how to love in the face of hate.

For the story’s main characters, identical twins Jimmy and Billy McGee, this is just one of many coming of age lessons they will experience as their teenage years proceed.  The twins had always found novelty in looking and sounding alike and had always gotten along until girls entered their worlds.  Suddenly, their lives’ primary focus switched from baseball to the opposite sex.  In what seemed like overnight, life became a race for Jimmy and Billy to each establish his own identity in their fishbowl of a town.  These struggles sparked a mini-series of drama both at school and at home but, perhaps, the most intense battles were fought over gaining their parents’ acceptance, as well as, one another’s blessing over their unparalleled plans after high school.

Jimmy, the more conventional of the two, planned to attend college at Ole Miss and pursue his dream of playing in the Major Leagues.  Billy, however, saw a much grander path for himself and secretly enlisted in the United States Air Force with high hopes of being deployed to the Korean War zone.  Little did either know that the impact their decisions would bring upon their relationship would prove irreversible.




Why Twins?

Identical twins have always fascinated me.  It was purely a selfish reason to have the main characters of Extra Innings be identical twins because it gave me a purposeful excuse to research the topic.  As the original storyboards were being developed and my excitement grew I realized that this topic gave the story very unique opportunities.   After all there are very few fictional novels on the market about identical twins.  I think the trilogy would make for a fun movie.

I was fortunate enough to encounter a handful of identical twins throughout my research.  One question in particular, I will not disclose in this blog as it will give away too much information. Readers will just have to complete the trilogy to find out.

One of the first and very apparent concepts I learned was that the general stereotype of identical twins acting identical is grossly mistaken.  Learning this really helped me to develop the characters of Jimmy and Billy McGee.  I wanted them to be almost polar opposites so I was pleased to learn this concept is widely justified.  At the same time, this is where the pieces throughout the story become intellectualized WITHOUT becoming ponderous.

The correct term for identical twins is monozygotic.  This is where two embryos are formed from a single (mono) fertilized egg.  Because the two embryos are formed from a single egg/sperm fertilization, the twins have the same genetic origins and, therefore, the identical DNA.  However, despite this shared gene set, they have clearly individual personalities.  Studies are done as to whether parents should encourage this individualization more by not permitting the twins to share the same bedroom growing up or not to dress them alike, etc.  Right from Chapter 1 of the Diamond Thieves the reader learns that Jimmy and Billy both share the attic as their bedroom  I touch a little bit on their infancy and the whole concept of “twin ESP” and “twin talk” but mostly the story focuses on how the cavern of their individuality expands as their teenage years move along.  Still, what I find fascinating is how despite their differences they both often find the same platform with which to express themselves.  My favorite example of this is in Book 3 (A Hero Among Thieves) when both twins are experiencing stress they both express it through writing.  Jimmy, the more deliberate and intellectual of the two, completely emerges himself in a research paper at Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) while Billy, the more free-spirited and creative type begins to write songs and poems about his experiences in Korea (during the Korean Conflict).  It’s also interesting that Jimmy naturally begins to develop a rigid routine to his mornings at college while Billy is forced into a rigid routine with the United States Air Force.

In book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) the reader is immediately told that Jimmy and Billy McGee are “clearly individuals.”  Behaviors, actions, expressions and thoughts help to illustrate this.  However, this book constellates more around the battle over their baseball diamond and how to handle the prejudice of their enemies “the mob” with respects to their good friend T.J. who is black.  With respect to this topic, both Jimmy and Billy have the same feelings although Jimmy (like his character describes him) is more in tune and responsive to T.J.’s emotions.

Book 2 (Race of the Gemini) lives up to his title by digging deep into the progression of these boys growing more different.  The story describes a lot of how one twin (Billy) feels like a living shadow of the other (Jimmy).  This was an interesting idea that I picked up in many of my interviews with twins.  They felt that the other was more of a favorite of one or both parents.  Some felt the jealousy of one twin being more popular in school or better at sports or a natural at socializing.  As I asked more questions I was very intrigued by the pressure and jealousy that was felt around this topic.  Often times these feelings sparred a sense of competition between then, hence the title “Race of the Gemini.”  The trick with writing about this was trying not to intentionally downplay one twin over the other.  If the readers found themselves having a favorite among the two brothers, I wanted that to be their choice and not triggered by some intentional or subliminal seed I planted.

In book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) both twins love baseball, however, Jimmy is a team’s all-star batter while Billy has the Ace pitching skills.  Also, Jimmy has a closer relationship with Skip, who is more mature and logical while Billy was closer friends with Whitey – the wild and fun one in the group.

Lastly, I wanted to play around with the whole concept of “switching places” or “trading places” as this was asked of each set of twins I interviewed.  I was surprised to find that this was not just a childhood experience but also performed on more of a strategic level as teenagers.  This was executed for various reasons allowing one of the twins to practically be in two places at once.  For the McGee twins, Billy insisted on Jimmy covering for him multiple times so he could sneak out of the house and be with his girlfriend or go drinking with his friends.  Jimmy, not being a big fan of drinking became almost the victim here so Billy, who was grounded, could still go out and party.

Overall, I had as much fun writing Extra Innings as I did doing all the pre-writing research.  I hope its readers fall in love with the McGee twins and all their friends as much as I have.  #extrainnings


Why Baseball?

Now that my first book is out, I’m getting a lot of folks asking: “why did you choose baseball?”

Well, as most people know my goal was to write a fictional book that required a vast amount of research, however, I did feel the need to incorporate some theme with which I was familiar. Considering the age of the characters I tried to think of what might interest them during this period in American history and baseball felt the most appropriate to capture the essence of this era. I grew up playing ball with my friends either during recess or during the summers in the town I grew up in a small town (named Wentzville) just outside St. Louis, Missouri. Other than building forts and trails in the woods that surrounded my house, I spent countless hours playing baseball. I also have some great memories of going to Busch Stadium to see the Cards (Cardinals) play. Speaking of major league teams, my dad was definitely more of a following fan. I didn’t watch sports at all growing up but I do recalling overhearing games my dad watched on t.v. or listening to on the radio. Again, these were great memories all positively influencing my current love for baseball. Now, I am a proud Boston Red Sox fan. I love listening to the games on our MLB app and posting fan messages on my Facebook page.

Once baseball was the decided theme for the beginning of the book (remember that the Extra Innings trilogy was originally plotted to be one single book) I began to create storyboards detailing the plot. Obviously, since the baseball portion of this story took place in 1947 and I wasn’t born until 1975, I did have to do some research. This mostly came in the with the help of Google. I had fun digging into the baseball archives for player and team information as well as specifics on rules and regulations of the game which have since changed. This was important because I could not always rely on my current knowledge of how the game is played. Certain illegal moves now were legal back then or had just been outlawed a few years prior to the year of this story.

For example, spitballs were originally outlawed in 1920.  The example of a balk mentioned in Book 1 is when the pitcher makes a motion associated with his pitch but does not complete the delivery.  The balk rule was first introduced 50 years prior to this story taking place but it was mentioned to help reinforce how the opposing team (“the mob”) had to be watched closely for cheating.

I want to specifically talk about Chapter 2. There is a scene between two friends (Fist and Boston) who are trading baseball cards. Researching this was tricky, because I really wanted to feature the more popular players at the time with a particular focus on rookie cards (like Brooklyn Dodger’s Pee Wee Reese’s rookie card from 1941) as those leverage the highest bargaining ability during a card trade.  But at the same time, I didn’t want to select too famous of a player because I believed that might appear too far-fetched to the reader. After all, avid baseball fans would know any and all current players (current being mid 1940’s) and not just the major celebrity players with now legendary status.  One interesting fact to note was that some major league players didn’t get issued an actual “rookie” card until a few years after they were playing.  One example was outfielder Ralph Kiner who began playing for the Pittsburg Pirates in 1946 but wasn’t issued a rookie card until 1948.

Another interesting point to mention is that major league baseball was shut down during WWII as the men were away fighting the Nazi’s. This is when the AAGSL (All-American Girls Softball League) came about (later to become the All-American Girls Baseball League in 1943. (Remember the movie A League of Their Own with Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna).  This era of baseball is not mentioned in the Extra Innings trilogy at all. Based on the nature and personalities of these characters (and their relationship with one character in particular), it would be contradictory for them to speak of this league unless it was negative.

I do feel it’s important to mention that the story of the twins goes beyond the topic of baseball. Only in Book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) is this even a focus. Chapters 10 and 11 give solid closure to the baseball-themed plot and I believe that Chapter 12 does a good job communicating that the reader can expect for Book 2 to incorporate a completely different theme. For the purpose of peaking a prospective reader’s interest to buy my book, I am going to refrain from explaining what that theme is in this blog.  Speaking of Chapter 12, I hope everyone who reads the book really enjoys Chapter 12 as this is absolutely my favorite chapter in the entire book.  Readers have already reported to me that they are (pleasingly) shocked by this chapter.  I love it!  #extrainnings