October 17, 2019

Joe Schuster has baseball novel published after spending 10 years writing first book

Joe Schuster, professor and chair of the communications and journalism department, holds a bat given to him by a former student. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE

For Joe Schuster, the idea began with one simple sentence. Using his love for and background knowledge of baseball, he turned that idea into his first novel, “The Might Have Been.”

“I had a sentence occur to me,” Schuster, Webster University professor and chair of the communications and journalism department, said. “That sentence was something like, ‘The best summer of his life, he was 24,’ and I thought, ‘That’s kind of sad. You don’t want the best of your life to be when you’re 24 because you have so much more to go.’ So I thought ‘What kind of character would that be?’ Then it evolved into a character that would play baseball because I’ve always loved baseball.”

Schuster’s fiction novel is centered on the character Edward Everett Yates. In the story, Yates was a minor league baseball player in the 1970s who finally gets called to the major leagues by the Cardinals. He hits for the cycle in his first start, but injures his knee on the outfield fence. The game is eventually called before five innings are played, meaning the game doesn’t count. The Cardinals eventually cut Yates and he tries to live without baseball.

Jump 30 years later, Yates is managing a minor league team in Iowa. Yates, his past acquaintances and the players he manages bring the novel to its crisis. Schuster said in writing the novel, it took a lot of work to discover the plot.

“I didn’t have a strong enough grasp of the story,” Schuster said. “I think a lot of times narratives pop up when someone comes up with an interesting character, but they can’t quite find the balance of conflict and opposition, and desire, and all those things you need to make a story.”

Schuster worked on writing “The Might Have Been” for nearly 10 years. He said even though he’d worked on stories before,  this was the first one he saw finishing to the end. His first draft was approximately 1,000 pages, then cut to 500 and eventually shrunk to about 370 pages.

“A lot of the pages I didn’t end up using, I don’t mind not using,” Schuster said. “I was trying to figure out the story so I was just writing and writing, and writing trying to figure out the story.

“As I wrote, I discovered where the story was going. Then it went through nine drafts after I finished the first draft before it was good enough to send out.”

Schuster used two sabbaticals and summer and winter breaks to work on the progression of his novel. He’s had published articles and book reviews in many publications throughout his career, but said he had a harder time writing fiction.

The cover of Schuster’s book, published by Ballantine Books. COURTESY OF JOE SCHUSTER

“Writing a novel, you have to kind of live in the novel and have to be with it every day,” Schuster said. “Even when you’re not working at it, it’s still going on in your head, so it’s hard to do when I can’t sit down day after day to do it.”

Schuster said his experience in interviewing former baseball players for articles helped him write the novel and get an understanding of the type of characters.

“A lot of it I knew from interviewing so many former ball players,” Schuster said.  “(I heard) what’s it like to be good enough to get to the major leagues, the top of the game.”

Schuster’s love for baseball began as a child. He played the sport when he was young, but soon learned it wasn’t his calling.

“I played little league baseball when I was a boy and tried out for my high school team, but the coach wisely cut me since I was not any good,” Schuster said.

After his friend looked at his manuscript, the friend sent it to an editor of Ballantine Books. The publishing company signed onto the novel in late 2010. He said the process to have a book published is not an easy one.

“The major houses and publishers are not publishing as many novels that aren’t genre novels,” Schuster said. “If its not as good as it can be, then you don’t stand a lot of chance of publishing it.”

The big day finally came for Schuster at Left Bank Books in St. Louis. The company hosted a reading of excerpts from “The Might Have Been” on March 20.

“It’s great; it’s a little surreal,” Schuster said after signing autographs. “I probably have 100 signed books myself. I’ve gone to some of these things, and it’s surreal to be on this side of the situation.”

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