The Independent Author

Kids, Baseball and Honest Talk About Race

September 24, 2021 Tom Kranz Season 2 Episode 13
The Independent Author
Kids, Baseball and Honest Talk About Race
Show Notes Transcript

Steven A. Falco's novel Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run is about the friendship between two boys, TJ who is black and Jonathan who is white, and their common love for baseball which helped bridge their differences during 1968, a year of racial and political polarization.  Baseball fans will be attracted to Steve's affinity for the sport, the stats and the heroes of the game, especially Mickey Mantle whose star began to fade at about this same time. TJ and Jonathan's honest talks about race are refreshing and as relevant today as they were in 1968. Steve is retired from government service but remains active as chairman of his local Shade Tree Commission which preserves and plants trees in his community. Listen as he talks about his inspiration, his writing process and his volunteer work.

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:00 Tom Kranz
Hi everybody. Welcome back to the Independent Author podcast, I'm your host Tom Kranz, my guest today is Steve Falco.  Steve Falco is a fellow Fanwood, New Jersey-an. He is a fellow public servant in our town here. I was on the council here for a couple of terms and Steve has served as the chair of the local Shade Tree Commission here which means he knows a lot about the outdoors. He knows a lot about trees. He is the kind of the czar of our annual Arbor Day celebration, every spring. He is retired from a life of public service as well, and we'll talk about that in just a second. First of all, Steve happy Friday.

:53 Steve Falco
Happy Friday to you. Tom.

Tom Kranz
So Steve and I met, as I said, working kind of doing volunteer stuff for the town of Fanwood and you still do that correct, you're still doing the Shade Tree Commission?

Steve Falco
I'm still on the Shade Tree Commission, yes.

Tom Kranz
And what is that you do? What is that, you know, for people who may not have a Shade Tree Commission in their local town?

Steve Falco
Yeah. So, we take care of our town trees and we set up a planting plan where we plant trees every year. And we try to educate the public on the importance of trees and the environment.

Tom Kranz
And your group helps Fanwood reach this milestone every year of being included in the Tree City USA program, which means, so every year, pretty much for at least as long as I've been here, the town earns that distinction, we get the fly this flag. What exactly does that mean?

1:48 Steve Falco
Well, you have to meet certain requirements as a town. So you fill out an application and send it to Tree City USA, which is part of the National Arbor Day Foundation and then they will determine whether or not you qualify and we have qualified, I think we have 27 straight years.  You know, you have to spend a certain amount of money on your trees based on your population. You have to run certain programs like you have to have an Arbor Day celebration. You have to have certain ways that you engage with the public. So we meet all those criteria  and we continue to be a Tree City USA which we are very proud.

2:35 Tom Kranz
Right, and family is actually proud of the fact that we care about trees and we involve local school kids at our public schools. They're involved in environmental projects including tree planting recycling and all that stuff.  What this all has to do with you being a writer, we're slowly getting to it. Just kind of want to give the folks out there a little taste of who you are. You're also you've retired, a few years now from a life serving the public in Plainfield, New Jersey. Tell us just quickly what you did for that job.

3:10 Steve Falco
I worked in both the Plainfield and Elizabeth. I worked for the Union County Division of Social Services. And we, as a county agency, we have many programs for the working poor and poor folks in our county. And I was involved in many of these things like job training, working with the homeless, Medicaid, food stamps. I ran a program regarding food stamps for a number of years. Also welfare for people who have no income. So there's a whole host of programs that I was involved in in my 37 years with the County?

Tom Kranz
So you had a busy life and a full life and you still do. You're still active in the town and somewhere along the line, you found time to write a novel called Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run.  And that's so what we're going to talk about for the rest of our little visit here. I read this book when it first came out, it's been a couple years now I'm guessing 2018?

Steve Falco
Actually 2019.

4:25 Tom Kranz
That's right. And the book is, it has a unique perspective on several things. It first of all, if you're a baseball fan, it's a must-read. If you're a Yankees fan, that's a big help. And if you grew up or have vivid memories of the 60s, it's also for you. My thumbnail is that it takes place in 1968. There was a lot of political upheaval in our country. For those of us of an age who remember that and the events of 68 along with Mickey Mantle, kind of at the height of his career are, are where the focus of your novel is. Tell us a little bit about how you came to write this and why you picked this subject to write about?

5:12 Steve Falco
I began writing way back in the 80s. I actually wanted to be a writer as a career. But that, it's a difficult career to break into and to get everything together to start selling books, but I wrote it as a, almost as a tribute to a friend that I had growing up and the relationship we had. And I wanted to make a little bit of a contribution to the important issues of our day, which have to do with the race relations in our country. The friend was an African-American and the story involves that friendship between the white kid and the black kid growing up in 1968 which is a real tough time in our country's history when everything was kind of falling apart. There was a lot of racial strife and the book is about that friendship and how that friendship endured all the strains that occurred during that yea.

Tom Kranz
And the thing that the two friends had in common was baseball. Correct?

Steve Falco
Correct.

Tom Kranz
And that's kind of, kind of part of the hook of the whole story here.

Steve Falco
That's exactly right. They were teammates on the JV baseball team. And although they were also friends in school, they had classes together, it's their journey through that season that the book focuses on their friendship during that season.

7:04 Tom Kranz
I got you. And so the book, you know, because it happens it takes place in 1968, you know, that was probably you know if for those of us who remember, if you had to pick one year that was, you know, a turning point on many levels, it was 1968. The civil rights movement was kind of reaching its peak. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. We had that horrible Democratic convention in Chicago. It was, it was kind of one thing after another and talk about racial polarization, you know, 1968 was the,  it's the entire year is in the encyclopedia next to the phrase "racial polarization".  So I'm guessing that the relationship between your two main characters, TJ and Jonathan, is essentially you and your friend, correct?

Steve Falco
Essentially. Yeah.

Tom Kranz
And what's very apparent is that you are a huge baseball fan and baseball and kind of the history of the Yankees. And you're you have this, you kind of focus on Mickey Mantle as what is he is, he's like one of the heroes of both of these kids are where he kind of is a focal point of the story here.

8:17 Steve Falco
Yes. Well he's, TJ is a fanatical Mickey Mantle fan as so many of us were back growing up in those wonderful years of 1950, in the early 1960s. Jonathan was a baseball fan but not necessarily a Mickey Mantle fan and you know. For TJ life was just about playing baseball watching baseball rooting for Mickey Mantle and the Yankees until we started to get into the late 60s when everything started to fall apart.  And, you know, one of the, the idea of Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run is that was the end of this wonderful childhood that TJ had when they were the only thing you cared about was baseball and Mickey Mantle, because Mick was no longer, his career was winding down. He had a very poor year in 1968 and that was when, of course, he hit his last home run and the next year, he retired and that event which went unnoticed, ,of course, his last home run of 1968. But it kind of goes with all the other events of that year that were so earth-shattering and pretty terrible, like the assassination of Martin Luther King and the assassination of Bobbie Kennedy. So, you know, that that's where these because the aspect of TJ being the Mickey Mantle fan, that that's how it fits into this novel.

10:10 Tom Kranz
And but I guess what, what I like about the book and the very end is that despite, you know, and TJ and Jonathan because of their two different, you know, the two different places they came from, you know, there is some conflict there, you know, there's a little bit of anger on Jonathan's the black kid, you know, and TJ finds himself on the defensive a lot.  And the two of them kind of, they kind of, you know, they clashed there. But at the very end, what turns out is that the thing that's still common is that they remain friends and that's kind of an upbeat message, especially today.

10:49 Steve Falco
Yes, and that's exactly the way, that's exactly how the book is supposed to be seen as because they managed to get through all of this conflict. Despite everything, their friendship, they have a reconciliation, their friendship, and their friendship endures. And what, as the last chapter shows, as you just indicated, they remained friends. And you can anticipate that these two young people would remain friends for the rest of their lives. And that, you know, we can overcome these differences if we just treat each other like human beings and, you know, work through the problems.

Tom Kranz
Right. And working through the problems is one of the themes of these two guys together that the book is marked with really pretty honest dialogue between these two guys. They discuss race openly, which is not something that, you know, is happening in America, although I have to say it's gotten better in the last few years. Black Lives Matter has helped that, you know. And you know slowly but surely I think we are talking more openly about it, but the fact that they're honest with each other about it, I think that actually makes the friendship stronger and makes it kind of less of a reconciliation and more of a kind of meeting of the minds. You know, it, the message really is, we can all live together and talk and openly about stuff is not necessarily a bad thing.

Steve Falco
Yeah, that's very well put, Tom. I agree with that.

Tom Kranz
Thank you. I can write your next installment if you like. So, tell me a little bit about how you write. I mean, did you sit down one day and set out, I'm gonna write this damn book. You said you started the eighties, and then the book came out in 2019.  So did you work on this thing on and off for all those years? Or did you put it away and then come back years later, how did you do that?

12:48 Steve Falco
Well, I did put it away. Yeah, one point. I did put it away and put it away. And then, you know, the original draft of it was, I cut a lot out of it there, you know, one of the things with my writing is when I write, I just put everything down. I just write it all out as it's coming out of my and a lot of it is, is good stuff, but then a lot of it is, it's a little too much, which I learned over the years and, and eventually had a pare down the novel.  And I think I was able to get it to a manageable, I mean, this, this novel was well over 300 pages when I first did it. So, I was able over the years to pare it down and as I look back on it, had a better perspective on what I was trying to say. And I think I condensed it into a very manageable novel that people can understand what I'm trying to say, and I think you've been able to you, you understood it. So I think I was successful, but yeah, it took a long time.

14:08 Tom Kranz
Well, you know, and there's nothing wrong with that. My first, the first model I wrote took me 10 years. It sat for a long time. And I finally figured out because I didn't know how to end it and I, you know, I got, life got in the way but there's nothing like walking away for a time and then coming back and then reading it kind of with fresh eyes because and that's kind of the way I write.  I will, like, walk away and then come back and reread over and over again and do exactly what you did. You see all this stuff that you just kind of purged, you know, you vomit the words onto the screen and then you come back to it maybe a week later or a month later, or even a year later. And, and you find all this stuff that is not readable, that doesn't need to be there, that's repetitive, I saw in a movie once that some writer instructed a young kid that you write your first draft with your heart and your second draft with your brain and I kind of get that too. You kind of, you know, let it come out and then come back to it and then kind of keep honing and honing and honing and that really kind of defines the editorial process I think.

Steve Falco
Yea, I agree, totally. That's basically how I did it.

Tom Kranz
Where do we find your book?

Steve Falco
Well, it is on Amazon, of course. You could order it directly from me, by emailing me. You want my email address?

Tom Kranz
I mean, it's up to you.

15:32 Steve Falco
So that's s [email protected].

Tom Kranz
Okay great.

Steve Falco
And I'll probably give you a better price than Amazon. But of course, Amazon's convenient. I recommend people to go out there and purchase it from Amazon, or you could go to the Westfield Book Store. I think they have it in stock there, or they'll order it for you, so, it's out there.

Tom Kranz
Cool. Great. Well, the book we've been talking about again, folks, is Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run. The author is Steven Falco Steven with a VEN, right?

Steve Falco
And I use my middle initial for my writing, so it's Steven A. Falco.

Tom Kranz
So when you search on Amazon, that's what you're looking for: Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run by Steven A Falco. It's a, it's a really fun, interesting and thoughtful look at basically who we are through the eyes of these two kids during 1968. Steve, I really appreciate you coming on. I'll see you out there in the park. And thanks for joining me.

Steve Falco
Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed it.

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