The inevitability of bad days

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I always chuckle when people refer to me as a prolific writer. If anything, I’m the opposite. Sure, since 2003, I’ve put out 10 different books, and written countless stories for SLAM! Wrestling, The Hockey News, and various other newspapers and publications, but there’s a deep shame in me that knows there could have been a hell of a lot more.

Today’s one of those bad days, where I can hardly build momentum to do anything. There’s transcribing to do, editing and posting of wrestling stories, interviews to conduct (none scheduled, so they are mostly cold-calls), some pieces to write for future books, filing, a documentary script to attempt, publicity to beg for … but I find myself unable to do much.

Writing a blog post counts, I guess. That only came about after a second cup of tea though.

In the past, I’ve asked other writers about it and all will confess there are days like this, where you throw on the jogging pants and don’t get much done. It doesn’t mean your brain isn’t working, it just isn’t focused in the most productive way. Being alone in the house instead of in an office environment is part of it, of course, and why I often make myself go to the local library to get some work done.

Perhaps it came to light particularly after the book launch last night of Stephen Smith’s book Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession. I only know Stephen a little, and we’ve helped each other out as fellow hockey historians a couple of times, but I went to the launch as you never know what you’ll find. For a while, I got to spend some time with D’Arcy Jenish, a writer I really admire, so that’s a bonus.

What struck home, though, was when Evan Solomon of CBC was introducing his friend, Stephen, and teasing him about how long it took to get the book out. Years and years. And years. From all accounts, the book itself is worth the wait (my copy is on its way), but it speaks to the complications of this trade.

I have NEVER found the writing to be the issue. The words seem to come easy. After labouring to gather up the interviews, newspaper clippings and with the browser open to hockey stats, I banged out six write-ups for the next book on hockey documents yesterday without much effort. No re-writes, no second guessing. Just writing.

There is no solution. It’s not a crippling issue by any means, just something that will pass. Eventually.

Maybe after another cup of tea. And chocolate.

Finding greatness in The Lost 10 Point Night

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One of the rules that exists, at least in my mind, is that a writer should never sign up to review a book by someone that they know well. Similarly, it’s important to distance yourself from giving your opinion on any books published by your own publisher — which in my case is ECW Press, the company which has put out nine of my books (with two more confirmed for down the road).

The idea is to show impartiality and transparency. Not everyone agrees with the rule, and I’ve seen reviews of my books by people I’ve hired for jobs the past, or worked with for years. Still, any publicity is good publicity as they, and they spelled my name right, so it’s all good.

All this brings me in a roundabout way to The Lost 10 Point Night: Searching for My Hockey Hero . . . Jim Harrison, which is written by the brother of one of my SLAM! Wrestling writers and is published by ECW Press. I’d like to tell you more about it, with the above as a confession of sorts to reveal any perceived bias.

It’s David Ward’s first book, and I did get to go to his book launch in Waterloo, Ontario, a couple of months back, which was the first time I met him. As an aside, nothing ever compares to your first book launch, as all your friends and family make it their mission to be there; later books hardly merit a shrug, it seems.

The book sat around the house for a bit, and I’d planned to read it. Then I started it, got deeply into it, and then distracted. Finally, a trip to the doctor resulted in the necessary time to finish it.

Wow.

This is one great book.

From the publisher:

Jim Harrison grew up on the prairies, played Junior in Saskatchewan, and pro with the Bruins, Leafs, Hawks, and Oilers. Three years before a former teammate equaled the mark, Harrison set one of the most enduring and seemingly unreachable records in professional hockey with three goals and seven helpers on January 30, 1973. And almost nobody remembers.

This is Harrison’s story: the games he played, the agent who stole from him, the woman he mourned, the fights he fought, and the friends he made — and lost — including Bobby Orr and Darryl Sittler. It’s about the injuries he suffered, the pedophiles who preyed on him and other young players, and a Players Association that, he says, “wants me to die.”

But The Lost 10 Point Night is also a response to Stephen Brunt’s Searching for Bobby Orr and Gretzky’s Tears — a book as much about Harrison as it is about author David Ward, a 50-year-old guy who went in search of his childhood hero.

When I finished it, I wrote to David and said, “It’s certainly in the top echelon of hockey books in my opinion, simply because it’s so raw and honest, both on your part, but also from Jim’s.”

The Lost 10 Point Night ends up being both a biography on Jim Harrison and a smaller autobiography on David Ward, which is a difficult path for a writer to walk, especially a rookie.

But Ward knocks it out of the park.

You will find yourself interested in both protagonists — how Harrison’s career progressed and how he ended up as he did, and how Ward got to this point in his own life, throwing away a teaching career to seek out his (somewhat obscure) hockey hero. Ward also weaves numerous other interviews with coaches and contemporaries of Harrison’s to round out the picture.

It’s my favourite hockey book so far this fall, and I suspect it’ll probably stay there.




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Milan Marcetta’s last interview?

Anyone who chases names from the past knows the jarring sensation of learning that someone you just talked to has died.
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On September 1st of this year, I was hunting around for Milan Marcetta, who played in the NHL. With a fairly uncommon name, and the lead that he was probably in British Columbia, I started my search.

With the first call, I got his brother, who steered me in the right direction.

Milan Marcetta had been in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, and hence there was a file on him from Maple Leaf Gardens that I now have access to through the Allan Stitt Collection (which was the basis for my book, Written in Blue & White).

There was nothing really earth-shattering or important in Marcetta’s file, but I’m a curious guy and one of the real rewards of this gig is returning copies of old paperwork to players of the past. The fact is that most of them have little to no record of their days in the NHL and in the minors, especially if they played before the late 1960s, when lawyers and agents began representing players.

A native of Cadomin, Alberta, Marcetta made his way through the western junior league before a variety of Western Hockey League teams employed him as their centre — Calgary Stampeders, Saskatoon Quakers, Victoria Maple Leafs. He also had stints in the American Hockey League, with the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Americans.

Of main interest to most people were his three games with the Leafs — all in the 1967 playoffs, so therefore his name is on the Stanley Cup with the last of the championship Toronto teams. He also played parts of two seasons with the expansion Minnesota North Stars. “It was the first year and the crowds were good in Minnesota at that time,” he told me.

But I found something intriguing in the paperwork. There was a letter on Syracuse Braves letterhead, but I couldn’t find a record of that team even existing in that particular year.

Milan and I didn’t talk too long, but he did help me out with my query — the team from the Eastern Professional Hockey League moved to St. Louis.

We talked about a few of the players and coaches he knew, and I asked if he had any regrets about the way his career turned out. “No, none at all,” he said. Hockey was a big part of his life. “I had 17 years of it, yeah I enjoyed it.” (Post-hockey, he was a property manager in Coquitlam, BC.)

As we all have experienced, sometimes when you are talking to a senior, there are a litany of ailments to list off if you ask about their health. Truthfully, I don’t ask much any more.

Without that knowledge, it was a surprise that Milan Marcetta died on September 18th, the obituary from the Victoria Times Colonist circulating through the email list for the Society for International Hockey Research.

Was I his last interview about his career? Probably. In retrospect, of course, I wish that I had asked him about a lot more things, that our chat had gone longer, but there is little I can do about that now.

Rest in peace, Milan.

Love for the Toronto Public Library

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With the City of Toronto elections coming up, there is a lot of noise about the things in our great city that don’t always work well — transit, affordable housing, bullying, crack-head politicians.

There rarely is much said about the Toronto Public Library system because it is one of the best systems in the world. For some perspective, the TPL’s Key Facts page says that it is the busiest library system in the WORLD, with 72% of Torontonians using it.

Quite simply, I would not be the writer that I am today, with ten books out, plus a ton of others that I worked on (and am working on), without the TPL’s books, video tapes (remember them?), DVDs, and reference materials. When I was at Ryerson University, I can remember holing up at the Lawrence and Northern branches doing my homework. Later, when I moved to the west end of the city, the Annette and Jane/Dundas branches have been my home away from home. Through the years, I’ve made a point to visit as many branches as I could.

And then there’s the incredible Metro Reference Library down at Yonge and Bloor in the very heart of the city. It might be the most valuable resource in the entire city, though I doubt Mayor Rob Ford has ever been inside. Whether I was happily perusing microfilm, looking for old wrestling results, or putting in my Stacks Request for a vintage hockey book, there have been many times I have spent an entire day at Metro Ref.

My local branch, Jane/Dundas, underwent renovations just after my son was born in November 2006. I’d been there a lot before then, including four years as a volunteer, helping kids learn to read on Saturday mornings. In particular, two librarians at the time were especially enthusiastic about my budding writing career, and Norra and Catherine both bought copies of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians when it first came out in 2003, even though I’m pretty sure they weren’t wrestling fans!

When it reopened, Quinn was just over a year old, and I can still remember having the cake at the celebration with him. Since then, rarely a week goes by when I’m not there. I regularly place holds for graphic novels (comics to most people), which I usually read before bed — I have a personal rule NOT to take work to bed, so I never read about sports before drifting off to sleep. There have been a number of inter-library loans, a rarely-used resource whereby you can’t request a library book from a library outside the TPL.

The quiet room has been a wonderful place to force myself to work … which doesn’t always happen at home, when there’s another cup of tea to make or an unfinished crossword puzzle.

Now, coming up on Thursday, November 6th, we’re a part of Family Hockey Night, the brainchild of the best children’s librarian in the world, Jo-Ann Woolverton. (She sets aside new books that come in that she thinks Quinn will like! How awesome is that?) The idea is that we wanted to celebrate Quinn’s book, Duck with the Puck, but didn’t want it to be a crass marketing event. Instead, we’ll have Quinn read his book, answer some questions, and there will be a screening of a short hockey movie — probably Roch Carrier’s The Sweater, and a craft. [CLICK HERE for more info on Family Hockey Night.]

And just as importantly, it brings the community into the library so that they too will know more about what a great place it is.

Thanks TPL!

The first interview

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It was pretty cute today as my son, Quinn, was the subject of his first interview about the book we worked on together, Duck with the Puck.

The local newspaper, The Villager came by to talk to both of us about an event scheduled at our local Toronto Public Library branch on November 6th. It’s being called a “Family Hockey Night” but the genesis behind it was Quinn’s book launch. He’s going to read his book and take some questions, and there will be a selection of hockey books available to borrow, as well as a screening of The Sweater. Should be a fun night.

But what got me was how Quinn, who is seven going on 17 some days, went from poised and comfortable discussing the book one moment to goofy and shy the next.

Some lessons we talked about after the interviewer left:

- look at the interviewer
- try to sit still, and not curl up in a ball in the corner hugging your favourite stuffie, Big Duckie
- don’t eat a big chunk of cheese during the interview, a piece so big that you are unable to talk for a couple of minutes

Naturally, I find myself trying to remember what I was like at his age. We were similar in a lot of ways, I think. Though I didn’t have a book out by his age, I did get many opportunities to see my father interviewed for his annual publication, The Buyer’s Guide to Factory Outlets (in Ontario). When I was a Cub Scout, I got to interview Betty Clay, the daughter of Scouting’s founder Lord Baden-Powell, on local television, so I would have been nine or so.

The hope is that this is the first of a few interviews to promote the book. He is off to a good start and I’m one proud papa.





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