Author Valerie Sayers discusses baseball, war, latest novel

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

March 10, 2016 at 11:30 p.m.
Updated March 11, 2016 at 6 a.m.

Valerie Sayers

Valerie Sayers   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

For author Valerie Sayers, writing strong female characters is not a duty but a joy.

Sayers spoke to an audience of about 50 on Thursday afternoon at the University of Houston-Victoria's latest event in its American Book Review Reading Series. She also read a passage from her recently published novel, "The Powers: A Novel."

Set in 1941 in New York City on the eve of WWII, the book examines war, baseball and photography through the lense of fiction.

Although Sayers at times used less-than-flattering language to describe Babe O'Leary, a female character central to "The Powers: A Novel," the author admitted to writing much of herself into the fictionalized personality.

"She is a strong character in the sense that she is appalling, she is horrifying, she is a vile human being in many regards," Sayers said with a sly grin creeping. "But she is also quite admirable in the fierceness of her enthusiasms."

Sayers' complex characters and delightfully realistic settings combine with her sharp wit and dry humor.

In one portion of the passage Sayers read Thursday, Babe O'Reilly - an obnoxiously die-hard Yankees fan - argues incorrectly with a young man about the particulars of grammar:

The boy turns to her as the Yanks head for the dugout. Without the least encouragement he says: "I wish McCarthy wouldn't bench Rizzuto. That's who I came to see."

Babe cannot resist: "Whom."

"Actually - if I'm not mistaken - it's who. Predicate nominative."

Babe gives him a withering stare. She cannot for the life of her remember what a predicate nominative is, though surely the nuns beat it into her.

Sayers said she has appreciated baseball for most of her life. The sport appeals to the writerly part of her identity, she said.

"Baseball is so structured, and it follows such clear rules," she said. "I think it is very attractive for a writer facing a structureless, ruleless work to think about the confines or the constraints of something like baseball."

And as with Babe O'Reilly, Sayers' own contrariness has seeped into her appreciation of the sport. Even during her childhood in South Carolina, she rooted for the Yankees, she said.

Although Sayers' bold style hints at a deeply creative mind, the author said she has limited some of her ideas in the name of creating a solid work of art.

Her original plan for "The Powers: A Novel" called for a Joe DiMaggio imbued with superpowers, including the ability to fly.

And she had planned to tell the book in nine segments to parallel the innings of a baseball game.

Nevertheless, the book still incorporates some far-out ideas.

The book, which straddles the line between fiction and history, offers vintage photography printed on almost every other page.

And its realistic characters and setting somehow come across as magical and fantastic.

It's all in the way Sayers tells the story, said Susan Fries, a self-described professional volunteer from Victoria.

"Her writing right away just captured me," Fries said. "I felt like this should be a movie. It was just so visual. I felt like I just was thrown right into it."


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