Alumnus author offers big ‘catch’

By Danielle Gaines

Amid the corn and back roads of central Illinois, a high school graduate struggles to find himself. He hangs with friends at the local burger joint, falls in love, becomes a working man and prepares for his freshman year at the University of Illinois.

This young man is Tim Temples, the lead character in Will Leitch’s recently published book “Catch.”

Leitch will be on campus Thursday for a book reading and signing at the Illini Union Bookstore, 809 S. Wright St.

“We are really happy that he wants to spend some time with us,” said Franne Davis, General Book Manager of the store.

Leitch is a University alumnus and a successful freelance journalist. He graduated with a degree in print journalism in 1997.

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“I am excited because this will be my first time on campus in three years,” he said.

While at the University, Leitch was a self-proclaimed “lifer” at the Daily Illini serving as managing editor, editor in chief and a sports and movie reviews writer.

“My first morning in the dorms during my first year at school, I showed up at the DI and I pretty much stayed there until graduation,” Leitch said.

After graduation, Leitch moved to California and got into the “real world” right away. He worked for a publication called U-magazine for a year with eight other talented editors from across the country.

“If I made one mistake it is that I started to get into the real world too quickly,” Leitch said.

Leitch went on to report sports in St. Louis and was then offered a job by the New York Times Web site. Leitch bounced from job to job in New York and even worked for awhile for $11.00 an hour – not much by New York standards – at a doctor’s office. He continued to write no matter what hand life was currently dealing him.

“I wrote for so many things that I never got paid for nor expected to get paid for,” he said.

Leitch now runs the sports blog from his home in Manhattan.

“Catch” is Leitch’s first novel, but not his first published book. In 2005, a bound collection of columns titled “Life as a Loser” was released.

“Before I wrote this book I had never made anything up before,” he said. “It was exciting to make the characters do whatever I wanted.”

Leitch said that his editor and fiance found humor in his excitement over fiction writing. His fiance, Shari Goldhagen, is a “traditional novelist.”

Though Leitch could create characters, he chose to keep locations true to life. He said it seems as though many books featuring young characters are set in an upper-class Boston preparatory school, Hollywood or the rich part of Manhattan. “Catch” on the other hand is set in Mattoon, Ill., and Champaign. Numerous references are made to the University, area restaurants and other central Illinois places and events.

“When I travel I like to notice places that I have seen in books or movies,” Leitch said. “So I didn’t want to make up names. I love my hometown.”

Mattoon’s Bagelfest is one event mentioned frequently in the book. The event is also what brings Leitch back to central Illinois. The festival will be held this weekend and Leitch will take part in many of the events. Davis said that Leitch’s book will be on sale for 20 percent off during the event on Thursday.

“The timing for the event couldn’t be more perfect,” Davis said, noting that the book is set in the fading weeks of summer.