Swagger Writer Rich Wallace wrote Wrestling Sturbridge, a YALSA's 100 Best of the Best for the 20th Century. He's written more than 25 novels, targeted to MG and YA male audiences, usually featuring sports themes. His latest book, War & Watermelon, is a semi-autobiographical story about a 12-year-old boy's pilgrimage to Woodstock in 1969 with his older brother.
JE: How old were you when you finished your first manuscript, and I mean one that you could hold up and say, “Wow! I wrote a book.”
RW: Well, I wrote a lot of comic books in third grade. I finished an actual novel manuscript at about age 30.
JE: Do you have any manuscripts hidden in a drawer that for whatever reason will never see the editor's desk?
RW: Yes. Who doesn't?
JE: When you begin a new novel, do you already know the beginning, middle, and end? Do you have your time period down? Or do you just wing it?
RW: I begin with a character in a situation and then start winging it. After a chapter or so, I start to think about where it might be going.
JE: Is it fair to say most of your writing is memoir-based and if so, how focused are you on the facts and how much is poetic license?
RW: Yeah, there's a great deal of me in every protagonist, and I draw on events from real life. But I take whatever license I need. A friend from childhood read War and Watermelon last week and got in touch with me about it. He remembered a lot of the events from that summer of 1969 in our New Jersey town, and kept asking things like, "Did your brother really get jailed in Syracuse for protesting the Vietnam War?" (jailed in Buffalo, but basically true), and, "Who were those two girls at the swim club?" and then he named four possibilities. I told him the girls were drawn in part from the very four girls he mentioned, and many others.
JE: Will you admit to having a favorite book that you wrote?
RW: I still really love Wrestling Sturbridge, which was my first and perhaps my purest novel. Very clean storyline. No excess. High intensity throughout.
JE: Which one was hardest for you to write and why?
RW: Probably Playing Without the Ball. I was recently divorced and my oldest brother, (Bobby--he's Ryan in War and Watermelon) had just died of cancer. Rough time, so the darkness comes through in the setting and the main character. I was fine, but I was sorting things out.
JE: I know you kept a journal when you were growing up, (which I wish I had done!) Was that common knowledge at the time?
RW: I hid my diary from everyone! No way did my parents know about it. Too many very personal revelations in there. It was my way of sorting things out, gaining some perspective. I probably mentioned it to my boys at some point if they were having a hard time with something, and I think one of them took me up on it for a while.
JE: If a producer came up to you and said, “Rich, we’re gonna make a movie based on one of your books,” which book would it be and why?
RW: I get feelers almost every year about certain books, particularly Wrestling Sturbridge, Playing Without the Ball, and Dishes. I plan to write a screenplay for one of them soon.
***If you haven't already, enter our contest for a chance to win a free copy of War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace.
For details, go to the post for 10/12/11.