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InterMat Reads: To Be The Best: Overtime

It's a neat feeling to have read a novel and become such a fan of the main characters, you wish there would be follow-up books so you could be a part of more of their adventures.

That's the kind of feeling many wrestlers and their families have experienced from the "To Be The Best" series of young adult novels focused on Ron Castle and his younger brother Nick -- both Midwestern high school wrestlers -- and assistant wrestling coach Sean MacCallister, written by former wrestler H.L. Hertel. The first book -- simply titled "To Be The Best" -- was followed a couple years later by the grittier "To Be The Best: Rematch." Now, five years after "Rematch" Hertel has penned "To Be The Best: Overtime" the third installment in his series of young adult novels, now available from HH Castle-Mac Publishing.

Here's how the back cover of "To Be The Best: Overtime" sets up the story: "Nick enters his senior season with everything in life being nearly perfect. He has a loving girlfriend, a following of fans, a legendary coach and, like the end of his junior season, he is ranked first in the state. Yet, the cracks surface quickly as past agitators and teammates alike seem focused on keeping him from realizing his wrestling dreams while others seem intent on damaging his relationship…"

The book that almost never happened

In his most recent interview with InterMat, Hertel disclosed that "To Be The Best: Overtime" came close to never coming to life on its own.

"Finishing the epilogue to the second book, I thought 'this is the end of the series'" said Hertel. "I was going to tell readers about what happened to Nick as a senior."

"Driving to work one day, it hit me: 'What goes through a person's mind who's concentrated on one goal and hasn't achieved it?' It then occurred to me: there could be one more story there."

"I wanted to give (Nick) benefit for all his hard work."

Later in that same interview, Hertel said, "I never wanted to need to make up an outlandish plot line just to keep things going."

"In the first two books, I had a road map as to where they would head," the author continued. "With 'Overtime', once I had the ending picked out, I had some thoughts in mind."

"It took five years from start to finish," Hertel said of his third book. "I had other tangents to deal with, such as turning the first book into a stage play." (He's also penned a "To Be The Best" prequel for WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.)

In the introduction to "To Be The Best: Overtime", Hertel addressed the issue further, writing, "At some point, someone is bound to ask me, 'Why did it take so long to write your third book?' so I may as well address this up front and note that this is the quickest I've ever written a book.

"The original 'To Be The Best' took 14 years from the time the original first chapter was written until the time it was published. 'Rematch' was published three years later but, in truth, was largely written in tandem with the original…"

"Since much of my writing happens in the middle of the night (after the 50+ hour work week and family activities), or on those rare weekends during which my family goes somewhere (Girl Scout camp) and leaves me home alone, it takes a while to get to a final product…"

Realism to the third power

One of the hallmarks of the "To Be The Best" series -- including the final installment, "Overtime" -- is its realism.

Heath Hertel
"I like to put in twists and turns and temporary cliffhangers so a reader keeps turning the pages," Hertel said. "I don't want them to think it was obvious from page 1 how the book would end."

Wrestlers of all ages will find Hertel's descriptions of what takes place in a wrestling room during practice -- and during actual, high-stakes matches -- to be compelling and realistic.

At times, the narrative goes beyond realism into grittiness.

"I've always tried to keep the books from getting too fluffy," Hertel disclosed. "A sad part of life is that unfortunate things happen to folks through no fault of their own."

It's an issue which came up in a 2011 InterMat interview concerning the second book "Rematch" especially with elements of the storyline involving assistant coach Sean MacCallister, who had to deal with alcohol dependence, a recurring health issue, and job loss, among other challenges.

In the new book, MacCallister's life seems to be headed in a better direction at first, but then challenges arise with his new job and a particular co-worker, and with a long-distance relationship.

"Even when terrible things are happening in life, if somewhere along the way you've impacted someone's life in a good way, you'll end up in a good place," Hertel told InterMat in 2016.

"Overtime" maintains the realism of the previous editions of the "To Be The Best" series, but is less gritty than the second book "Rematch." While Hertel had cautioned back in 2011 that "Rematch" might be appropriate for readers in ninth grade and beyond, he said that the new "Overtime" book is geared to seventh-grade readers and beyond.

"To Be The Best: Overtime" is a page-turner in the best sense of the word. The characters are genuine, individuals you can't help but cheer on despite life's challenges. The action is realistic and believable. Quick, concise chapters not only propel the storyline forward, but are also compelling, especially for young adult readers who face multiple demands on their time. (And, while "Overtime" is the third and final installment in a series, it stands on its own. A reader does not have to read the first two books in the series to enjoy this latest book.)

"To Be The Best: Overtime" is available for purchase on its own -- or as a three-book package, with special savings. To order, visit the "To Be The Best" website.

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