HAROLD KASSELMAN’S FIRST NOVEL has been in the top 10% of Kindle paid books for a solid year — no small accomplishment. It has ranked #1 in baseball and in sports psychology, and it’s a good read. I had the pleasure of reading it before publication, and I read it again before I interviewed Harold this week. You can find the book, in Kindle and paperback editions, on Amazon. It’s rated four and a half stars, with 150 reviews. I wanted to know where this particular story came from (it’s a very inventive plot but could have been one of a thousand courtroom novels), and how he went about turning concept into reality. Following is the email exchange we had this week:
JP I think the starting point has to be this: have you ever seen anything like your plot in real life, either as a baseball fan or as a prosecutor?
HK I have never seen anything in person in baseball that was prosecuted as a crime but I did see an incident in 1965 on television that likely would have been prosecuted today. Hall Of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giants hit Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat. Marichal was batting and Koufax threw a fastball at his head. Marichal said something to Roseboro and Roseboro stood up and faced Marichal. The latter then went berserk and struck Roseboro on the head( no helmet was worn since he had taken off his mask). He had to be hospitalized and had a huge knot in his head and needed stitches to close the wound. The point is that Marichal had flattened two Dodgers earlier in the game by knocking them down with pitches because they had gotten hits off of him. There were never any criminal charges filed. Today I believe there is a good chance a DA would file charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
There was an incident in 1999 in college where a pitcher, later drafted by the Cubs, deliberately threw a ball at the head of an opponent which resulted in multiple fractures of the face and head. The latter never played baseball again. Charges were filed against the pitcher but a grand jury declined to indict. Based on what I have read, that decision was disturbing. But the victim did settle a civil suit for an estimated $400,000. If such an incident happened when I was prosecuting, I would have done all I could to have ethically gotten an indictment for aggravated assault. The point to be emphasized is that customs on the playing field cannot be immune from societal laws when they cross the line to criminality.
JP Which came first, the desire to write a novel or the plot idea for this novel?
HK The truth is, I was bored after I retired from the practice of law. Someone suggested I write a book but I said ” lawyer books are a dime a dozen” (shows you how old I am). But I liked the idea and the challenge so I thought about something that combined my two passions, baseball and the law. I was always haunted by the Ray Chapman death from a pitched ball thrown by Carl Mays in 1920 and I began to wonder what would happen in today’s society if a player died from a pitched ball. From there it was relatively easy for me to take the scenario though the legal process.
JP Have you had any reaction from your lawyer friends about the entire concept of bringing a felony charge against a pitcher in a bean ball case like yours?
HK Several lawyer friends told me the same thing. Before they read the book, they thought such a prosecution would be fanciful or capricious. When they finished reading, they were convinced of the viability of such a case. Still, most had very strong feelings about the outcome.
JP Did you write the book with the intention of making a moral point?
HK Yes in large measure I did intend this to be a morality piece of fiction. I think many players in all sports (recall the New Orleans Saints’ scandal about bounties for taking out players from the opposing team) are too often cavalier about gratuitous violence in sports. Admittedly, there is a certain degree of consent to physical contact. But when someone in a sport throws a 95 MPH fastball at a player’s head because that player “showed up the pitcher” on a prior home run, or when someone deliberately tries to disable an opposing football player by causing a concussion or knee injury, doesn’t that cross the line? At what point does that gratuitous violence become criminal activity? It’s a fine line and there is no easy answer. There is always the danger of a slippery slope, and how labeling someone a criminal will deter the players from playing the game the way they learned to play.
JP How would you apportion responsibility between Buck the manager and Tim the young pitcher?
HK I think that is such a core aspect of the novel that I’d rather let readers decide whether the manager or the pitcher bear any criminal responsibility, and if so, their respective liabilities. I have a point of view but part of the fun in the read is answering those questions by the readers themselves.
JP You have revised the original story somewhat since A Pitch for Justice was originally published. What impelled you to do that?
HK The luxury of an e-book and self-publishing is the ability to change chapters, phrases, even subplots at anytime. I made the mistake of rushing to publish because I was so excited about my project. If there is one thing I would tell other novice writers, it is to edit your book (even if it’s just yourself) over and over again before you publish. I had a few mediocre reviews that could have been avoided if I had followed that advice. The truth is I read the reviews especially on Goodreads. While many loved my original ending, others felt robbed and were disappointed. Accordingly, I abandoned my original ending and created a new one which I believe readers find more satisfying. Next I decided, whether it enhanced the novel or not, to create a subplot that made the book more exciting and suspenseful rather than purely a legal/moral work. I also listened to the voices of some reviewers who candidly skipped over some of the romantic chapters. I agreed with them because I never really wanted a romantic involvement. So I compromised and deleted an entire chapter that really wasn’t necessary. Frankly, every time I read the book(after it had been published ) I came up with fresher ideas and new twists to keep the reader wondering and on their toes. It was easy to re-publish so I did it. The paperback is the most recent version.
JP Are you planning a sequel, or another novel?
HK I would like to do a sequel with prosecutor Jaime Brooks and maybe even Tim Charles but I’m struggling to find something unique. If I do, I’ll write it, but I need the obsessiveness that compelled me to write my first novel and I haven’t gotten there yet.
JP The novel has done well in Amazon sales and rankings. What have you done to market it?
HK Yes, I have been fortunate that I have been #1 in baseball and in sports psychology in 2014 in the paid Kindle store. I have been in the top 10% of kindle books for over a year so that is gratifying. I haven’t really spent much on advertising. I joined several Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Goodreads groups, I tweet a bit, and I’ve written several blog posts. Still, I am convinced of the viability of the Kindle countdown program to get the word spread and even the free downloads. I have had almost 22,000 books downloaded for free and I was #16 overall in Amazon’s rankings out of thousands. It gives you exposure and keeps you on Amazon’s popularity lists in their search engine. But the bottom line is word of mouth is important and you have to have a good product. If I were to recommend an email site that I have found most productive and cost beneficial, it would be EReaderNewsToday. Or if you want to gamble and spend a lot of money, Bookbub will get the greatest exposure but your profit will be minimal. It’s too rich for my blood.
JP What was your daily routine while you were writing? Did you work every day?
HK Once I started to write the book(after research and outlines) I didn’t want to take a day off. I knew where I wanted to go and I loved the experience. I would write three to four hours a day. On the weekend even after going out to dinner, I would want to go back and write some more. I’m in love with the story. Maybe that’s why I have continued to tinker with it as recently as last month. I hope I get that feeling again about another project.