Ruby Thomas had never seen anything as beautiful as Ebbets Field, with its brick exterior and half-moon windows that reminded her of slices of jelly candy.This is the first line of Joesph Wallace's Diamond Ruby.
Earlier this year I was introduced to this book by way of Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf. I picked up the sample chapters for my Kindle, devoured them quickly and then ordered a copy of the book from amazon. I contacted the author, Joseph Wallace, and he gladly sent a Diamond Ruby baseball card my way. I read the book, had more interaction with Joe (he lets me call him Joe). I asked for an interview, which he agreed to.
First, my review.
Prohibition is enforced. The Spanish Influenza epidemic is rampant. Babe Ruth is king. Ruby Thomas can throw a baseball. In the pages of Diamond Ruby Joseph Wallace transported me to Brooklyn in the late 1910s and early 1920s. His writing style is engaging and colorful. I got sucked in early and didn't know how the title character would overcome the hardships that were placed before her. If you're looking for a book about sugar and spice and everything nice, this isn't for you. If you want a book that can speak to you on several levels, let me suggest this one.
Q: Diamond Ruby is set in Brooklyn. You obviously did a lot of research to be able to paint such wonderful word pictures. What sources did you use? How long did your research take before writing? Did you start writing the story line and then flesh out the details?
A: I couldn't write Diamond Ruby until I felt like I was living inside the 1920s Brooklyn world where it was set. To do this, I haunted the New York Public Library's Microfilm Room and read through at least half a dozen newspapers, day by day, one after another. By the time I was done, I'd learned so much about how people lived, what they worried about, what they did for fun. Their world did feel real to me, sometimes even more vivid than the one I was actually living in.
Q: Is your writing style more like "lock myself in a room every morning until I produce 1,000 words" or "writing at the dining room table with kids and pets running amok"? Maybe somewhere in the middle?
A: I need quiet to be able to write well. When I was writing Ruby, I'd go away for three days at a time every few weeks and stay in a motel. It was a kind of sensory deprivation, just me in that room with no distractions, and the words would come pouring out. Sometimes I'd write for fourteen hours a day. My reward would be one good meal in a local hotel.
Q: One of the characters, Helen, is blind. Were you consciously more descriptive in your writing because of that?
A: Helen, like Ruby, was modeled on a real person: a stunt diver who went blind after a tragic accident. I thought of my Helen as the kind of person--strong-willed, brave, plain-spoken--who could get past Ruby's reserve, her solitary nature. She was the kind of friend Ruby would need, so it was easy to write vividly, visually, around her.
Q: Since you weave real people (Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Judge Landis) into the book, did you have to overcome any fears of putting the right words into their mouths?
A: I was definitely nervous about making Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey into important characters! I'm usually suspicious of writers who put words into the mouths of real historical figures. My solution was to have readers see them only through Ruby's eyes. You're never inside their heads, listening to their thoughts. You see them as Ruby does, smart and funny, but never being too wild in front of this tough young girl.
Q: As a writer, does it bring you pain or grief when one of the characters you create dies?
A: Yes, sometimes it's difficult to kill off a character, especially ones who don't deserve it. In Diamond Ruby, Ruby faces some significant tragedies; those were very hard to write because they hurt Ruby (a character I was very fond of).
Q: You've mentioned that you are working on a follow-up book with Diamond Ruby. How's that going? Do you have a publication date?
A: I hope to be done with my sequel to Diamond Ruby, to be set in Hollywood in 1927, sometime next year. Before I get back to it, though, I'm finishing a big thriller, featuring dozens of characters and locations as far-flung as Australia, Panama, Senegal...and Brooklyn!
Q: What's your favorite flavor of frozen custard?
A: I love vanilla frozen custard, but I definitely won't say no to other flavors.
I'd like to thank the author for his time and permission to use his photograph. Yes, I asked. For more information about Joseph Wallace, visit his official website. To purchase a copy of Diamond Ruby go here.