What did you do during summer vacation? Send
me an email with your vacation story of 500
words or less, and I will include it in the
next issue of Babes to Teens. I'm sure
that you all had a great time this summer.
Tell us about it! Just send it by email
to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Summer Story"
in the subject line. I can hardly wait to read
About Tom Hazuka:
CHANCE FOR FIRST is Tom Hazuka's first crossover
novel - for adults and young adults - he revisits
his love for soccer in this exciting, action
Tom Hazuka played varsity soccer in high school
and college, spent his junior year of college
in Switzerland, and after graduation, he was
in Chile with the Peace Corps for two years.
Tom does still love soccer, but his first teen
novel is much more than a soccer story. I asked
Tom about his writing career, and here is what
he had to say.
to read Beverly's review of Last Chance for First on Myshelf.com.
Bev: Tom, could
you tell us about yourself? A mini-biography?
Tom: I grew up in Westbrook, Connecticut,
a small town on Long Island Sound. (The town
of Newfield in Last Chance for First
is modeled on Westbrook, though I changed details
whenever the story needed it.) After graduating
from Fairfield University I spent two and a
half years in Chile as a Peace Corps Volunteer,
coaching baseball. That experience became the
basis for my second novel, In
the City of the Disappeared. The title
refers to the desaparecidos, people
who were kidnapped and killed by the military
governments of Chile and Argentina.
When I returned to the U.S., I moved across
the country for a master's degree at the University
of California at Davis, then a Ph.D. at the
University of Utah. Currently I'm back in my
home state, where I'm a professor at Central
Connecticut State University. I teach classes
in literature and fiction writing. After many
years of playing team sports (we had some excellent
soccer, basketball and softball intramural teams
at U.C. Davis and the U of Utah!), I hurt my
back and these days just swim, bike and play
tennis, along with light weightlifting.
Bev: What did you like to read when you
were a kid?
Tom: When I was a kid about all I did
was play sports and games and read. I read
constantly. I never had a systematic plan;
I read whatever crossed my path. I used to
love to go the library and browse, leaving with
a stack of books that for whatever reason caught
my attention. Once in a while I'd look for
a specific book, but rarely. I sure don't recall
anything like the recent Harry Potter craze,
where a book became a fad and it was the cool
thing to read it because everyone else was.
Now, of course, I hope that Last Chance for
First becomes the next fad!
Bev: Who are your favorite authors now?
Tom: I always have trouble with this question
because there are so many fine writers. How
about if I list my five favorite books? Here
goes (in no particular order):
Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Mark Twain
The Catcher in the
Rye, J.D. Salinger
The Things They Carried,
The Remains of the
Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
I'm also a big fan of Philip Roth, and I love
the short stories of Alice Munro, Raymond Carver,
Anton Chekhov, William Trevor and George Saunders.
I'm leaving lots of people out, but that's a
start at least.
Bev: How long have you been writing? What
was your first publication? Please tell us about
your journey as a writer.
Tom: I never wrote much until Mr. Truxes'
creative writing class my senior year of high
school. During college I mainly wrote academic
papers, but in the Peace Corps I began writing
poems and songs (I've since written over 150
songs). My first publication, a poem called
Dwarf of the Diamond, came out in Ideals
magazine while I was in the Peace Corps. I
was paid $15 and thought publishing was easy
- until everything I sent out for the next five
years was rejected. Hmm, not so easy after
all. My first fiction publication was a short
story, "Falling Out," in Sun Dog: The Southeast
Review, that appeared six years after I
returned from the Peace Corps. My first novel,
Road to the Island (set in the same
fictional town of Newfield as Last Chance
for First), wasn't published until twelve
years after that. So I am far from an overnight
success. I've worked hard to become a good
writer. Young writers should understand that
very few people make much money in this business.
If you want to write, do it for the satisfaction
of a job well done. Don't expect to get rich.
Even books that seem like they're sure to be
popular sometimes fall through the cracks.
When the athletics director at my university,
C.J. Jones, and I wrote A Method to March
Madness: An Insider's Look at the Final Four,
we were sure that it would be a big seller.
C.J. has attended every Final Four basketball
tournament except one since 1973, and the book
is full of fascinating information and stories
from him and well-known coaches and players.
But the book never got the publicity we'd hoped
for. If anyone wants signed copies at a big
discount, get in touch with C.J. or me!
Bev: Checking with Amazon.com, I see that you
have two adult fiction books on the market,
but this is your first Young Adult book. In
retrospect, which do you prefer to write...for
adults or for teens, and why?
Tom: I sincerely don't have a preference between
writing for an adult or a young adult audience.
For me, writing a novel is writing a novel,
and I would hope that readers of any age would
like all of my books. The only difference with
Last Chance for First was the challenge
of writing convincingly in the voice of someone
sixteen years old, when I am quite a bit older
than that. But inhabiting other characters
is the biggest part of being a fiction writer.
It can be the hardest part as well, but is often
the most interesting. For example, my favorite
of all my short stories, "All She Wrote" (published
in Quarterly West), is written in a woman's
voice. In fact, several of my best short stories
are from a woman's point of view. Writing from
the perspective of the opposite gender was possibly
a greater challenge than pretending to be sixteen
again. After all, I've been sixteen, but I've
never been female.
Bev: Was any other author an inspiration or
influence for you to write a book for teens?
Tom: No other author inspired me to write Last
Chance for First. I had been thinking for
a while that I wanted to write a soccer novel,
and it just seemed natural to deal with high
school soccer. First, that's the level of soccer
I know most about, and the level where I had
the most success. Second, fiction depends on
conflict, and high school is a time of significant
conflict for everyone. Every kid of that age
is trying to find out who she or he is. I know
I was. So I was confident that plenty of compelling
issues would arise as I explored this situation.
And they did.
Bev: Tell us about developing the characters,
especially Robby and Pet. Is there any of you
in the character Robby?
Tom: There are elements of me in Robby, the
narrator, though he's mostly invented. He's
a soccer star, for example, while I was only
a good but not great player. He has an older
brother; I'm the oldest of four boys in my family.
By the way, Robby originally had an older sister
as well, but I cut her out of the final draft.
Her character didn't add anything to the story
that couldn't be shown through Robby's brother
Paul, so out she went. Besides, at that point
I was hard at work condensing the novel, tightening
it as much as possible. Believe it or not,
in a month I cut 30,000 words from the novel
before it went to press. When Nancy Hammerslough,
my editor at Brown Barn Books, said I should
trim Last Chance for First from 111,000
words to 80,000, I worried that it would be
impossible. But in that month I got the novel
under 80,000 words, and it's much better as
Bev: I know that you played soccer in high
school and college and are still a great fan.
Do you outline and minutely plan your story,
or just write and let the plot develop itself?
Tom: I never plan or outline a book. For me
that would just create writer's block. How
can I outline what I don't know yet? Every
day my writing is a process of discovery. I'm
rarely sure what the characters are going to
do in the next sentence, let alone the next
chapter. Whether I'm working on a novel or
the shortest flash fiction story, I never know
the ending when I start. The great joy in fiction
is discovering this as I go along, what I call
writing my way out of a story.
Bev: Do you have any future plans for Robby
Tom: At this point I have no plans for another
book about Robby, Pet and Jim. Last Chance
for First is actually a semi-sequel to my
first novel, The Road to the Island.
It takes place in Newfield ten years later,
and some of the same characters appear. For
example, Jim is the son of the narrator of The
Road to the Island, and Jim's mom and stepdad
are major characters in the earlier book. But
Robby and Jim were only six years old back then,
so aren't aware of a lot that went on. I think
that readers of The Road to the Island
will get a kick out of the references and connections
in Last Chance for First, and vice versa,
especially when in some cases they know more
than Robby the narrator does.
Bev: Do you have any plans to do an anthology
of your short stories?
Tom: I definitely have plans to publish a collection
of my short stories. In fact, I have two separate
book manuscripts of them. So far, though, publishers
have said nice things about the collections
but worried they wouldn't be commercial enough.
Evidently few short story collections sell well,
at least those by a single author. Anthologies
with stories from many writers don't seem to
have that problem. Flash Fiction, an
anthology of very short stories (750 words or
less) that I edited with James and Denise Thomas,
has sold steadily over the years. You Have
Time for This, a collection of even shorter
stories (500 words maximum) that I recently
edited with Mark Budman, is also finding an
audience. So we'll see. I've learned that
perseverance is important for a writer, as important
as developing a thick skin to deal with rejection.
Bev: Are you working on any major projects
Tom: I'm currently working on a memoir of my
time in the Peace Corps, and what it was like
to return to Chile after many years. I've written
215 pages so far and hope to be finished by
spring of 2009. But as I mentioned earlier,
I don't know how it ends yet. That seems appropriate,
actually, when talking about your life.
Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would
like to share with us?
Tom: Thanks very much for inviting me to do
this interview. I enjoyed it. If readers would
like to get in touch with me about any of my
email address is in the "About the Author" section
of Last Chance for First. Happy reading.
To enter, send an email
to email@example.com, . Include your name
and address, and the word "Contest" in the subject
line. The contest ends on Halloween. Please
enter only once. Multiple entries will be deleted.
Here are the books you will win:
Ninth Grade Slays
by Heather Brewer
Last Chance for First
by Tom Hazuka
Frozen Fire by
Peeled by Joan
Journey to the Homeland
by Hannah Stahlhut
Time Championship winner)
Savvy by Ingrid
Baxter Moon, Galactic
Scout by John Zakour