I just know Augusta Scattergood and I would’ve been best friends had we met as kids. We would’ve been the quiet ones, in the back of the room, trying to read our library books during math lessons. As it turned out, I met Augusta in person on one of the saddest days of my life. But our hearts made a powerful connection and we became instant and fast friends. Last spring, I hosted Augusta, Barbara O’Connor and Sue Hill Long at a writing retreat at our beach house which we call Shangri-Lar. And wouldn’t you know it: each one of the four manuscripts revised during that retreat has not only sold, it will be published in 2016. Woo-hoo! But today we are cheering for Augusta, and her wonderful new book, The Way to Stay in Destiny. Pour yourself a glass of sweet tea, find a rocker and sit a spell.
THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY: The Baseball Connection
When I was about the same age as my narrator Theo Thomas, my family uprooted itself for a short stay in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. It was for health reasons. It was temporary. We rented a little house that was purported to have once been occupied by Mickey Mantle, in his early, less infamous spring training days. My brother, sister and I thought that was the coolest thing in the universe. Hey, it was a long time ago. Our TV options were limited.
We spent time speculating about walls where baseballs may have been tossed.
Fast forward a few years, and a tiny idea for a novel that would take place in the Florida neck-of-the-woods where I’d just relocated was percolating in my brain. Those adventures, looking high and low, up and down the beach, and inside closets for baseball clues seemed like a plot possibility.
Theo M. Thomas, however, has no siblings. My narrator also has no loving parents, and he’s stuck with an uncle he hardly knows. Uncle Raymond is a complicated character. He was hard to write. I didn’t want him to be a horrible person. I wanted Theo to eventually uncover some goodness in the man who might be in his life for a very long time. I gave them baseball.
If you’re stuck in a town where you know no one and you’re a likeable boy like Theo, you solve your problem by making a friend. Enter Anabel, who loves baseball as much as Theo. Out of that friendship came the Hank Aaron Destiny Day project.
My first novel, GLORY BE, required careful research into Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement. Although my new book is also historical fiction, the research techniques were different.
Yes, I clocked hours fact-checking 1974, the year THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY takes place. I spent time making the music connections that Theo and his protector, Miss Sister, have. But additional research called for observing fishermen on the docks, touching Spanish moss hanging from trees, watching my young neighbor tossing a baseball. Oh and Hank Aaron, a true baseball hero. Even though his character is peripheral to my story, he was a joy to read about.
All those years ago— searching for signs of a famous baseball player in a little rental house near the beach—turned into a story about finding friends and finding home. And how baseball might make that possible.
When students ask that question about “inspiration,” I tell them that ideas come from the least expected places. A scribbled thought, a scrap of history, a letter read and not forgotten. Hang on to those memories, those possible stories.
I’ll close with a favorite and very true quote:
“Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory…but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story.” ~ ALICE MUNRO
Augusta Scattergood enjoyed her years as a school librarian, working in New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia and Florida. She now lives in Florida and New Jersey, where she writes middle-grade novels published by Scholastic Press. She also spends way too much time finding Facebook friends with cute puppies. Visit her website or follow her blog.