January 17th, 2020
I asked Wanda where she would like to interview:
Fenway Park, September, 1965. I know I have school tomorrow morning, but the Red Sox season is almost over, and my mother said I could go to this game. i love this team, even though they’re terrible. Loyal to the end. Red Sox forever! I’m alone in the bleachers, in the front row, with very few other spectators on this cool evening as the sun sets around this tired old ballpark with the manual scoreboard in left field. None of my friends could come tonight, but I don’t care. It’s the last gasp for this season. After buying my traditional Fenway Frank, I only have enough money left to buy tokens for train fare home. They’re my team, no matter how bad they are. They’re playing the Kansas City Athletics, whose crazy neon green-and-yellow uniforms, accented by shoes made from kangaroo leather, stand out like road signs in a construction zone.
With my score card in one hand and stub of a pencil in the other, I’m keeping track of the game, as usual. It’s the sixth inning. The Red Sox are losing, and the bleacher bums around me are getting vocal about it, screaming things to baseball players who are so far away, they can’t hear a word of it. I look down into the visitors’ bullpen and see an old black man get up and begin to soft-toss a ball. Easy and slow. As he begins warming up, I notice his front leg kick gets higher and higher, his kangaroo-leather shoes glistening in the glow of powerful ballpark lights. I look up his number on my program. “It’s Satchel Paige!” I look at the security guard, who normally wouldn’t allow anyone to get close to the chicken-wire screen separating the bullpens from spectators. He looks as if he’s falling asleep. I get up from my seat and press my face against the barrier. “Mr. Paige?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replies. “Do you mind if I watch you?” “No, ma’am, be my guest.” My heart beats what seems like a million miles a minute. I am watching a legend. I stop keeping score. He lifts his leg high and throws, harder and harder, looking up at me, grinning, between every pitch. At age 15, my baseball life is complete. Or so I believe tonight.
Laura Mae: What inspired you to enter the world of writing?
Wanda Fischer: I have been a writer for as long as I can remember, going all the way back to elementary school. I’ve been inspired to write since I wrote my first “real” book (beyond the Dick and Jane books). I can remember writing short stories and poetry as far back as the second grade.
L: How long have you been writing for?
W: For more than 60 years.
L: What are you currently working on?
W: I wrote my first novel, “Empty Seats,” about three minor league baseball players. I received several requests from readers to write a sequel, because they wanted to know what happens to the three characters. I am working on that sequel. Originally, I began writing a sequel about the three characters when they were in their sixties, but I decided that I needed to write about them in their twenties. I don’t have a title for that yet. I’m also writing a memoir about my experiences in baseball, which will be called “Satch in the Bullpen and Other Baseball Memories,” which is an allusion to the fact that I had the chance to watch the legendary Satchel Paige pitch in the bullpen in Fenway Park in 1965.
L: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
W: I participated in a summer reading program when I was in the tenth grade (so long ago!). Our teachers had selected writers whose works focused on the immigrant experience, such as Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather and others. Those books left a major imprint on my life. I also enjoy Edwin O’Connor’s “The Edge of Sadness” and a number of Irish writers, including those who write short stories and plays.
L: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
W: Trying to find a publisher and/or agent. I have written many query letters and approached countless publishers. I must be doing something wrong, because, despite the fact that I did public relations and marketing for 40 years, I can’t get a rise out of anyone.
L: What is your favorite writing trope? Least favorite?
W: Foreshadowing, and then making sure the hints I give in my story somehow come true. Least favorite? Trying to be too literal instead of using a solid metaphor.
L: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
W: I play competitive tennis. I’m also a singer/songwriter and have recorded one CD. I’ve done a folk music show on public radio for more than 40 years (37 on my current station, four at my previous station), and the Folk Alliance International inducted me into their Folk DJ Hall of Fame last February. I also love to read to inner-city first-grade students.
L: What would you say is your favorite book or series of all time? Why?
W: Right now, I’d have to say “The Given Day,” by Dennis LeHane. It contains so many intriguing elements. First, it talks about Babe Ruth and baseball, then it explores racism, immigration, Irish immigrants in Boston in the early 1900s (that’s when my ancestors came to Boston and essentially took over the police and fire departments), social justice issues, the founding of the NAACP, and historical facts.
L: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
W: I wish I’d known about beta readers. I wish I had given a draft of my novel to a few of my friends prior to using the “publish” button. I am normally a stickler for proofreading, and I hired a couple of people to proof my novel, and they still missed several misspellings. It was embarrassing.
L: In a brief statement, have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
W: I wish I had traditionally published, but I ended up self-publishing. I think I may have spent too much on an editor (she was a great editor), and on some other things associated with the publishing process. I think if I were to self-publish another book, I have learned a great deal and could save some money. However, I don’t really know how I would be able to finance another book, even though I have two others in the pipeline.
L: What are you currently reading?
W: “Walking Across Egypt,” by Clyde Edgerton. I have a record album that goes along with the book, and my husband picked this up at a used book sale. I’ve wanted to read this for a while.
L: What genre do you read?
W: I read baseball books and sports fiction, but I read general fiction as well. I do not read erotica and am not generally attracted to futuristic or fantasy novels. Every now and then, however, I will pick up a book in a genre I don’t normally read, and I’m pleasantly surprised at what I find.
L: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Any rituals or ‘must-haves’?
W: I try to write a couple of hours every day except for Saturday, which is the day when I do my radio show. If it gets too crazy at my house, I pack up my laptop and go to the library. I would estimate that I wrote about about 75 percent of my first novel at my local library (can I tell you how much I love my local library while I’m at it?).
L: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
W: I don’t need to listen to any particular music when I write. However, sometimes I have a baseball game on in the background.
L: What’s a word or phrase that people say that always irritates you?
W: “Hopefully,” as in “hopefully, we’ll get this finished by the end of the day.” The other one that drives me crazy is when people use the word “criteria” when they mean “criterion” (plural vs. singular).
L: Who is your favorite literary character and why?
W: Can’t answer this one. Too many.
L: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
W: I get most of my inspiration from life lessons–things I’ve done and/or experienced in life. I remember people I’ve met and conversations I’ve had over the seven decades of my life, and the conglomerations of those encounters, along with news stories and current events (I’m a news junkie), give me all the inspiration I need.
L: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
W: My ninth-grade English teacher, Edward White, who encouraged me to write, told me once, when I tried to do something crazy, “You have to learn to walk before you can run.” I’ve remembered that after all these years. I find myself repeating this to myself frequently, whether it’s vis-a-vis writing or other endeavors. I would advise writers to stick to the basics when they’re starting out. The other important thing for aspiring writers is to READ, READ, READ. You can pick up so much by reading the work of others. You won’t learn to write by reading tweets; you must read BOOKS, SHORT STORIES, even NEWSPAPERS.
When a young high schooler during the 1960s in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Wanda Fischer aspired to be a sportswriter; however, that career option was difficult at best for women at the time. After having to drop out of college for financial reasons, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Northeastern University while working full-time as a secretary at MIT.
She broke into radio broadcasting as both a news journalist and a folk music DJ. She has continued as a folk DJ for more than 40 years; the Folk Alliance International inducted her into their Folk DJ Hall of Fame in February 2019, recognizing her dedication and contributions to folk radio. She’s been on WAMC-FM, the Albany National Public Radio affiliate, since 1982.
She retired in 2014 from a 40-year career in news, as well as public relations/marketing/media relations in government and not-for-profit organizations. After retirement, she parlayed her love for baseball into her debut novel, Empty Seats, which is not necessarily about her favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. Using baseball as a backdrop, the book explores coming-of-age issues and has received accolades from the Independent Press Association and New Apple Literary.
Empty Seats – What Little Leaguer doesn’t dream of taking to the mound and striking out one of his heroes? This novel follows three such dreamers who were were drafted to play minor league ball, thinking it would be an easy ride to playing in the big time. Little did they know that they’d be vying for a spot with every other talented kid who aspired to play professional baseball. Young, inexperienced, immature, and without the support of their families and friends, they’re often faced with split-second decisions. Not always on the baseball diamond.
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