RonKoertge has a few favorite pastimes—on a sunny Californiaday you might find him at Santa Anita Park, racing form in hand, or at one ofthe Triple-A baseball stadiums within driving distance of his South Pasadena home. But one way Koertge, whoturns 70 in April, does not spend time away from his writing is surfingthe net. The author of 14 young adult novels, including the newly released ShakespeareMakes the Playoffs (Candlewick, March), does not have a Web site, nor does heplan on getting one. He does not Twitter. The Facebook fan page for his latestbook was created by his publicists.
"Ijust find all that stuff really distracting," he admits. "There's somethingvampiristic about it. It sucks the life out of me."
Whichis why his current project—a two-week blog tour—is, well, out of character.Through March 12, Koertge (pronounce it kur-chee) is making the roundsof cyberspace, answering questions about poetry, baseball, and the differencebetween a pantoum and a pastoral.
Naturally,the blog tour was not Koertge's idea, but something suggested by "those womenfrom San Diego," as he calls them-publicistsSarah Shealy and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media.
"Theysaid, 'Tour?' I said, 'I'm a little hermetic by nature,' " Koertge explains."But they were so winning in their plans and so enthusiastic about the blogtour, I said, 'I'll try.' "
Withoutleaving home, he will have made 13 stops on this tour. Some bloggers simplyreviewed the book, others, like Sarah Bean Thompson, a youth services librarianin Springfield, Mo.,whose GreenBeanTeenQueen blog, which highlights great reads for tweens andteens, included an interview.The tour targeted bloggers who are known for featuring poetry, resulting in alengthy rave from Patricia Stohr-Hunt, chairmanof the education department at the University of Richmond,on her Miss Rumphius Effect blog.
"Theseblog people sent me questions and told me I could say anything I wanted," hesaid. "It was really fun. I looked at their sites. They're all slick andprofessional and they get a lot of readers. If you want to be crass about it,I'm sure it's going to sell some books."
Itdoesn't hurt that there was a built-in audience for his latest book, a sequelto 2006's Shakespeare Bats Cleanup. Both novels are told in verseentries written (mostly) by the main character, a teenage baseball player namedKevin Boland. Fittingly, the idea for the books began in a ballpark. "There wasa kid about 12 sitting in front of us and he was writing in a little notebookthroughout the game," Koertge recalls. "I told my wife, 'I think I have an idea.'But I didn't know it would be poetry." Koertge'shero, Kevin, discovers poetry when he is sidelined for the season, recoveringfrom mononucleosis. His teammates give him the nickname in the books' titles.
Thoughthe novels succeed as entertaining stories, they also work as instruction, as Kevin,in working his own way through various poetic forms, muses over the difficultyof the villanelle, the pitfalls of rhyme, the appeal of a sonnet. In otherwords, this Shakespeare, like his namesake, is very English-teacher friendly.
Koertge,whose writing career began in poetry, chose poetic forms, rather than blankverse, as a challenge for himself. "You're setting the bar so much higher whenyou try to write in forms rather than free verse," he said. "The sestina issuch a bear but I love when it works. The poem (a sestina titled "Frankenstein'sAssistant Gets a Letter") about Igor in Playoffs, to me, is just such ahowl." So is his parody of The Raven, which begins,
"Onceupon a midday dreary, whileI staggered weak and weary
Throughthe lunchroom with its grungy, sticky, icky concrete floor,
WhatI saw there was so oddish, maybe prehistoric codfish?
Stewing camel wrapped in flannel? Tell me.Tell me. I implore."
Oncehis tour ends, on March 12, Koertge will return his attention to his nextproject-a novel-in-verse about the Greek gods. He's not sure it's working buthe's confident he can make it right. "I'm one hell of a reviser," he said.
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge. Candlewick,$15.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-7636-4435-2