Today at MUF we’re so excited to welcome Fred Bowen, author of Peachtree’s popular Fred Bowen Sports Story Series for middle grade readers. A lifelong sports fanatic, he has coached youth league baseball, basketball, and soccer. His kids’ sports column “The Score” appears each week in the KidsPost section of the Washington Post. His latest book in the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series is Soccer Trophy Mystery.
Here Fred shares his rules for writing for middle graders, his favorite teams, and the most important thing we can learn from sports.
MUF: Thank you so much for answering a few questions for us. Starting with the hardest question first: What’s your favorite sport?
Fred: I enjoy most sports if they are well played and the teams or players are well matched. But my favorite sport to watch is baseball. My son, Liam, is the head baseball coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and so my favorite team to watch is the UMBC Retrievers.
Growing up, I played lots of sports: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and even street hockey. I wasn’t great at any of them but I loved playing and being active. Now that I am older my favorite sport to play is golf. I am still trying to score my first hole-in-one.
MUF: As a kid, did you love reading, love playing and watching sports, or love both? What led to your career as a sportswriter?
Fred: Both. As I said above, I played lots of sports growing up. I also spent many hours watching sports on television. Living in New England, I was a big Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics fan. Because my father was in advertising, he would get tickets to see the Celtics and the Bruins, Boston’s pro hockey team. So I was lucky enough to see such great basketball players as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and many others up close in the Boston Garden. I also saw the incomparable Bobby Orr of the Bruins play hockey several times.
As for reading, I grew up on the Chip Hilton sports books. The books, written in the 1940s and 50s by Hall of Fame basketball coach Clair Bee, followed Chip and his friends’ sports adventures at Valley Falls High School and State (his college). I suspect the books would seem very old fashioned now, but I loved them. They helped me understand the joy of being lost in a book. I also read sports magazines such as Sports Illustrated as well as the sports section of several newspapers.
Finally, I did not start out as a writer. I studied history at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN) and then went on to law school at George Washington University. I was a lawyer for more than thirty years.
The most important reason I became a writer is because I married my wife, Peggy Jackson, who was, at the time, a journalist. She encouraged my writing.
First, I wrote movie reviews for local papers. That was fun. I got paid to go to the movies! A few years later, after my son was born, I started reading sports books to him. I didn’t think they were very good so I tried writing one. Those efforts produced T.J.’s Secret Pitch, the first in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series. I now have 24 books in the series with Soccer Trophy Mystery being the latest. I plan on writing kids’ sports books as long as I am having fun doing it and kids want to read them.
MUF: For your young readers, what would you tell them are the most important things they can learn about the world and themselves by participating in sports? What if they’re not sporty at all?
Fred: There are lots of things kids can learn from sports such as sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate. But I think the two most important lessons kids can learn from sports are:
- Always try your hardest. That way you can be satisfied even if things do not turn out the way you had hoped. It is easy to say, “I could have gotten an “A” if I had studied.” It is harder to study your hardest and get a “B.” But at least you will know you gave it your best effort
- I have hinted at this lesson in the first answer. Sometimes, you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out the way you wanted. Your team loses or you don’t make the team. Life is filled with disappointments. Sports is often a good (and safe) place for kids to learn how to deal with disappointments but to bounce back and try again.
Sports are not the only place to learn these lessons. Some kids are not “sporty.” They can still learn these lessons about effort and learning how to bounce back from disappointment if they are interested in music or theater or some other activity. The important thing is you have to care about your interest. Don’t be a kid who is always complaining things are “boring.” Find something you like to do and give it your best efforts.
MUF: For writers, any advice on how you created such a successful and wonderful book series? What’s your secret?
Fred: First, thanks for the kind words about the series. One of my “secrets” is I am lucky enough to write about a subject that is interesting to me and my readers. I have been a sports fan for my entire life and so it is a joy to write about the games and personalities in sports. I think my readers sense my enthusiasm for the subject and that is one of the reasons they love my books.
As for the more technical aspects of writing, I was asked to speak at a conference of people who wanted to write for middle readers (ages 8-12). So I came up with my Rules for Writing for Middle Graders. Here they are (although I am sure I broken all of them at some time).
- Write in short, clear sentences;
- Avoid long descriptions;
- Avoid adverbs and the passive voice;
- Subject/Verb/Object is a good sentence structure 90% of the time;
- Show, don’t tell;
- All action should either reveal character and/or move the plot along;
- If you can tell your story (or part of your story) clearly through dialogue, do it;
- Try to break up the words on the page – no young reader likes to see page after page filled with words;
- Think about your reader.
MUF: Finally, how can fans find you? Do you have a website and/or any social media that you use?
Fred: The best way to reach me is to go to my website: www.fredbowen.com
Click on the “Contact” heading at the top of the home page. That will direct kids or any interested people to a way they can send me an email. I always enjoy hearing from my readers and will answer any emails sent to me.