Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald had the profound duty of being writers – arguably some of America's finest. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and their transcendent tales have stood the test of time, inspiring the storytellers of today to abandon all else for the sake of the written word.
One such writer is William Hazelgrove, a bestselling author and St. Charles resident, who decided to follow in the footsteps of his favorite literary icons (Hemingway and Fitzgerald) when he ditched his corporate job in the city for the often unstable, unreliable and cutthroat profession of a full-time writer.
"You don't choose to be a writer, it's just who you are and the question is can you accept that?" Hazelgrove said, adding that he's held down every imaginable job from being a janitor to working in a bakery in order to feed his need to write. "Talent has to be developed, and you have a responsibility to your talent."
After nearly two decades of honing his talent, Hazelgrove has managed to publish five novels – "Rocket Man," "Ripple," "Tobacco Sticks," "Mica Highways" and, most recently, "The Pitcher." His work has been optioned for movies and earned him starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Book-of-the-Month selections and the American Library Association's Editors' Choice Awards.
He also spent nine years as the writer in residence at Hemingway's Oak Park home, where he "penned" the story for "Mica Highways" while cooped up in the "dusty, dirty" attic of one of his literary idols. From the attic, he also created the blog "The View from Hemingway's Attic," which he still writes for on a near-daily basis.
Hazelgrove's latest novel, "The Pitcher," was released Sept. 1 donning a golden, embossed seal labeled by the Junior Library Guild as a select young-adult novel for the fall.
"The gold stamp on [the book's cover] tells librarians and teachers that this is a book for [them]," Hazelgrove said. "It takes the guesswork out of it."
"The Pitcher" tells the story of a poor Mexican-American boy who encounters a broken down World Series pitcher grappling with the death of his wife. In the midst of the impending deportation of the boy's mother, the unlikely pair team up to help bring the boy's baseball dream to fruition.
"F. Scott Fitzgerald said that every novel is a moral, and I think that's true," Hazelgrove said, adding that he lives by the advice of his favorite author when crafting the stories and characters for his book, and that "The Pitcher" was no different.
"'The Pitcher' pivots around a dream and what this boy's mother will do to make sure he has his dream," Hazelgrove said. "It also explores the immigration issue – how the system is rigged – and how the odds are stacked against [the boy] before he even has a chance."
The idea for the story was birthed after a run-in with an ex-professional baseball player he met in Florida. Hazelgrove and his son were playing catch in the street when a "big guy walked out with a cigarette" to watch Hazelgrove's son throw some pitches.
"He watched my son pitch for a while and gave hime pointers and philosophy on life stuff and then went back in his garage ..." Hazelgrove said. "That's when the lightbulb went off."
Hazelgrove said he teams his own life experiences with current issues, often from the perspective of minorities, despite being a caucasian suburbanite.
"I've always identified more with the outsider and the underdog," he said. "I always struggled a lot to survive as a writer ... and I know what that's like. I know what it's like to be hanging on by your fingernails."
During his career, Hazelgrove has experienced "the literary dream" – being wined and dined by editors in Manhattan – as well as insurmountable rejection – his first book took seven years to publish from the time he began drafting its pages. But the author adheres to a bit of his own advice for professional perseverance: "You have to write regardless of success – it's an art form."
Hazelgrove will host a book-signing and release party for "The Pitcher" from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 12 at Town House Books, 105 N 2nd Ave., St. Charles.