The Creationists

Writing hockey books with Kevin Shea

February 10, 2020 Steve Waxman Season 1 Episode 3
The Creationists
Writing hockey books with Kevin Shea
The Creationists
Writing hockey books with Kevin Shea
Feb 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Steve Waxman

You know that old saying that we all have a book inside of us?  Well, it turns out that hockey historian Kevin Shea has has seventeen books inside of him with two more on the way. In episode 3 of The Creationists podcast, Kevin reveals how a story about Bozo the Clown helped to turn his passion for hockey into an unexpected second career as an author.

In 1999, Kevin Shea was a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf fan who turned an unusual Christmas gift into his first book deal.  In this episode of The Creationists, Kevin discusses the process of piecing together his research and interviews with authoritative voices to tell compelling stories about the characters that laid the foundation for the history of hockey and how he got Wayne Gretzky to write the forward to his first book?

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook.

Show Notes Transcript

You know that old saying that we all have a book inside of us?  Well, it turns out that hockey historian Kevin Shea has has seventeen books inside of him with two more on the way. In episode 3 of The Creationists podcast, Kevin reveals how a story about Bozo the Clown helped to turn his passion for hockey into an unexpected second career as an author.

In 1999, Kevin Shea was a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf fan who turned an unusual Christmas gift into his first book deal.  In this episode of The Creationists, Kevin discusses the process of piecing together his research and interviews with authoritative voices to tell compelling stories about the characters that laid the foundation for the history of hockey and how he got Wayne Gretzky to write the forward to his first book?

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook.

spk_0:   0:02
Welcome to the creationist podcast about people who create I'm your host, Steve Waxman. There's an old cliche that says that we all have a book inside of us. Well, for hockey author Kevin Shea, that actually means 17 books with another couple on the way. In this episode, Kevin shares a story behind writing his first book, Center Ice, and how he got Wayne Gretzky to write the forward. One

spk_1:   0:25
day I get a phone call. I worked at a record company of the time. I got a phone call at the record company and it was a guy said, Hi, Kevin. Yeah, how can I help you said It's Wayne. Yeah, How can I

spk_0:   0:35
help you, sir? What's Wayne Gretzky? You're right. And I hung up, so I

spk_1:   0:40
get a call back. Seconds later, said Kevin, It's Wayne Gretzky. I said Leonard, another guy on staff who was always pulling stunts. Leonard, I know it's you and I

spk_0:   0:49
hung up again. I called 1/3 time. Kevin, Before you hang up, it's Wayne Gretzky. Here's my phone number. Call me back at that number when you sit down to write or do anything for that matter, the scariest part is the beginning. For a writer, that means staring at a blank page. To that end, I started my conversation with Kevin, asking him how he begins. So

spk_1:   1:11
I start to structure it in my mind. First of all, is is try and put together a a mental table of contents on how I'm going to put together various pieces of this. And then I start to do a ton of research to fill in those reported table of contents pieces as we go along. So it's all starts with just trying to get the the skeleton of the book together in my mind and then how I'm gonna move forward with it. And that's the way I start.

spk_0:   1:41
So before the before you're looking at that blank screen. Though you've done some research, right, you've done some interviews. So do you have you? Do you turn on the computer thinking about turn on the computer, having an idea of how you want to start? You have opening sentences in your head already.

spk_1:   1:59
I always try and put together the opening chapter in my mind. Always do not necessarily word for word, but certainly the paraphrase of my mind to to get things going. What I find would be a really dramatic sequence that would would draw in the readers and still give some feeling as to who the subject was or what the subject was, or whatever it happened to be. Give the book a little personality at that point and moving forward that way so that opening page, that blank screen is really an opportunity for me to to kind of play with it. It changes as we go sometimes. But for the most part, the way I structured in my head has already been predetermined,

spk_0:   2:39
right through to the end.

spk_1:   2:42
No, not necessarily. Usually, what I'll find is that as we go through, whether it be interviews or research or whatever, I'll find a really lovely way to to wrap things up in something that was said in something that I can come borrow from, ah, conversation or from some research that I've done and that I can use that as a chance to wrap up the whole piece of that point. Usually that comes as we go along. Sometimes I have to work at it. Sometimes it's just there and bang ah ha moment and we find out the way we're gonna close it, and then I have to build the closing chapter around that.

spk_0:   3:17
So one thing that's similar to song writing a question. It's similar to song writing. How do you know when you're done? I

spk_1:   3:24
never do. I never do I. Once I've put the last period on that final chapter and I've proofread and I'm feeling comfortable. Then I start doubting myself. It's like, Wait a minute, Wait a minute. This just isn't gonna work. Nobody's gonna read this. Nobody's gonna like this Nobody. And I second guess myself and I beat myself up until the editor comes back and said, Oh, boy, Oh boy, I really like what you had to say. Let's move this sort of let's change that or whatever, but I still don't myself every single

spk_0:   3:55
time. How much input do you have into the artwork that goes into the book, whether it's the cover or what What goes on inside the book? It's

spk_1:   4:05
changed from publisher to publisher. I wrote a book about Derek Sanderson, the hockey player with the Boston Bruins in the sixties through the seventies, and we had Derek and I had a chapter or sorry had a title that we were going to use against the wind, kind of first, for He's very musical, and I come from a musical background as well to Bob Seger song. That kind of identified his life, and he really felt strongly towards it. So we wrote with that in mind, the publisher came back and said, uh, crossing the line and then went on and on from there's crossed the line. Derek wasn't going for, but I thought, Oh, actually, that's a whole lot better. And then the cover that we envisioned and try to articulate to the publisher came back entirely different. Entirely different, but way better than we ever could have dreamt. Ah, picture of of, ah, Derek standing in front of a sting glass window, a cigarette dangling from his lips and his hands looking like a praying situation, and and And it was, ah, shot that was taken during his playing days. And it was exactly what we needed to define the book. And so we were delighted. In other cases, it's it's my coming forward with some proposed ideas or photos or whatever and the publisher saying, Yeah, I really like that. You want that? You feel good about that one. Let's go with that one. Whatever. Almost every case has been my title, with the exception of the Sanderson one, and they nailed that one far better than I ever could.

spk_0:   5:33
All right, so now let's go back to the beginning about, uh, you know a little bit about your back history in your love of hockey.

spk_1:   5:40
Oh, boy, Um, I laugh, but with a great deal of truism that I was a leaf fan in utero. My father was a huge hockey fan, my mom a little bit more of a passive hockey fan. My grandmother, my my dad's mother, was a big, big hockey fan as well. It turns out I discovered many, many, many actually, decades later, not years later, that, in fact, there's a former Leaf who was a member of the family as well. But it's in our blood at that point, and I think that's part of it. I was an OK hockey player, played, played pretty competitively, enjoyed playing, but through my actual playing career, my real passion was reading a boat specifically about the Leafs. But everything I could pick up my dad, God rest his soul was just ah ST in my eyes for 100 reasons. But one was that from the time I was a young boy, he would put a He would pay in advance for a copy of the Hockey News, which came out every week at that point. So when he would go into the drugstore to buy cigarettes or whatever it happened to be, he'd say, Here's the money for the hockey news. Will you put my son's name on it, Put it under the counter. He's gonna come in later in this week. Well, I was seven years old going into the pharmacy and coming in, and I came here to pick up my parcel. In there for me every week was the hockey news. Read it, Cover it! Cover. I could tell you everything about the East Coast Hockey League, the International Hockey League, everything in the National Hockey League. Who did the ads, who was in what? It wasn't until years later, probably three or four years later, that I realized that Dad had actually paid for those. I thought they were a gift for me. Some reason came in every week. There they were free can't get over it. So, uh, but I think that was part of the fueling of the fire that raged in my heart for hockey at that particular time. So it was like that. My dream was always to go to Maple Leaf Gardens and watch a hockey game. And every year for Christmas that was on my Christmas list. But I was growing up in Windsor, Ontario, with the times. It wasn't an easy, easy fix. First of all, A. You had to take a train, a bus or drive up there, maybe a hotel. Although I had an aunt in the city at the time in Toronto with the time and then come back but be getting tickets. My folks had no idea how to get tickets. There's nothing like that at all. So every year, you know, I'd get some hockey socks and hockey stick in whatever happened to be but no hockey tickets, went over to the Detroit Olympia and saw a couple of Redwings games. But not until I was in my twenties and it wasn't until I moved to trot out when I was in my thirties that I actually got a chance to see the trauma May beliefs play. And I I thought I was. In fact, I knew I was in Mecca. It was Nirvana for me at that time.

spk_0:   8:28
So how about your love for writing? How did that begin?

spk_1:   8:32
Wow. I always loved creative writing from the time I was in public school, but where it really took off was in university. I took a creative writing course. I wish I could remember her name. She's a very, very well known novelist. She was my, uh, my instructor at the time, and I can't think of her name for the life of me right now. But anyway, I was in the creative writing course at University of Windsor, and the first project that they came across and assigned to us was Here's a photo of a Brooke with a willow tree. Write an essay about the photo and I wrote one. It was really, really pedestrian. And the mark that I got was really, really pedestrian as well. The next assignment was right, something that you're passionate about. At the time I was reading about, I was actually working part time at a radio station and I loved radio like I love talky. So I wrote a story about C k L C K L W radio, which was the big radio station in Windsor at the time. Broadcast over, I think they boasted 36 states and three provinces, blah, blah, blah. There was huge top 40 radio station. So I wrote a piece inserting interviews and sound bites and everything else. Verte view Britain sound bites and and handed in very proudly and came back and I got a note. See me and e I think I got an f on it, See me and I went to the teaching Assistant said, I don't understand what, uh what's that all about? It said, Look, att, Kevin, There's no way that the person who wrote about the Willow tree is the same person who wrote this. You've clearly plagiarized story,

spk_0:   10:09
so I didn't plagiarize it. I wrote every word of

spk_1:   10:11
it. I swear to God I did, and there's just no way and and I explained it to myself and and took the story to, ah, to the instructor and she came back and said, I can see that a light went on when you were writing about the radio station. That certainly didn't come on when you wrote about the willow tree. So I'm gonna go back and market, and I got the A that I was hoping for. I think I got a plus, actually, actually, if I can segue way, Um, so that same year, the assignment was to interview someone and write a story about it. So everybody aimed for the sky and and we're trying to get rock and roll stars or whatever it happened to be. I aimed a little bit lower. I had just read that bozo the clown had had resigned from the local radio, our local TV station, Bozo the Clown. This was a huge story because we've grown up with Bozo. So I interviewed the gentleman is guy named Art serving who I was quite stunned to walk in and meet. And, of course, he wasn't wearing the red nose and the white face paint. Anyway, I interviewed Art Survey and found out his back story and why he was leaving and his feelings towards it. I wrote this story and submitted and got a really good mark. The school year was over. Got my my credit and then I got a package in the mail. I don't know when. Probably August of that year, and inside was a copy of a magazine with a paper clip on the top. I opened the magazine to where the paperclip wasn't. There was a story that said Bye bye, bozo with the byline by Kevin Shea like Oh my God and a check for $50. Wait a minute, I could make money out of this. I just wrote from the heart. I wrote a story that I thought would would engage people. And so, sure enough, my professor and turned along to ah magazine turned it forward to a magazine called Toronto Story Windsor this month, and they thought enough of it to publishing. I was on my way

spk_0:   12:13
just so that everybody knows we're best friends and we're sort of connected with regards to that first book. Sure. So why don't you start telling the story of how you came to write that

spk_1:   12:26
first book? So I had written magazine articles. I'd written newspaper columns, all these sorts of things, but had never dreamed about writing a book by any means that had never even thought about. And, uh, you, Steve Waxman and another dear friend of ours, Kim Cook, used to get together on a regular basis, have a bite to eat, solve the world's problems, have more laughs than should be legally allowed. And and every year we got together for a lovely Christmas dinner in exchange gifts as well. And so the Christmas of 1999 we got together at a lovely restaurant, and it was time to exchange our gifts. And we did exactly that when it was my turn to receive my gift use. Steve said, Kevin, Kim and I have gone together on the gift together, and here you go and pulled out this big box, this great big box. Well, my eyes popped out of my head. I couldn't figure what the heck I was getting or what it could be that they would go in together On Turns out it was your idea, Steve and wouldn't was inside was all kinds of things. Pads of paper and floppy disks. You have to remember the era and pens and pencils, and in a book called Writing for Dummies in The Two of You Looked at Me square in the eye and said, Look, we've heard you tell stories every time we get together and you're gonna write a book this year. Guys, I can't write a book. You're gonna write a book this year? Sure enough, six months later, ah, Publisher came forward and offered me my first book deal on the condition that I could write a book in a month. I didn't know any better. I was working full time at a record company at the time, and and we had this offer and and they said yes. So this is now June, I think Maybe July and they said, Can you write a book by August? And sure, of course I can. Soon as work Day was over, I rushed home, worked as long as I could before he fell asleep on my computer and was able to knock it off within a month. It was a story about the Smith family and their ties to make believe gardens. The Smiths Consummate had had found. It may put the metronome Maple Leafs and it overseeing the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens. His son, Stafford. It owned the team during the late sixties and early seventies, and it was supposed to be handed down to the grandson of Con Tom Smith never got so far. He'd been a manager with the Colonel Marlborough's hockey team, but that's as far as it went. But it was about the Smith family and was lucky enough to, ah, to be able to write my first book. And there it was with my name on the front.

spk_0:   14:56
You kind of jumped ahead, though. One part. How do you find a publisher having never written a book before?

spk_1:   15:03
Well, that's a good story to thank you, Steve. Well, actually, you help me with that as well. I had no idea. I just I had a story in my head about Ah ah, family who was based on luck now. Ontario, a Chinese immigrant family who had a restaurant there and and they had 10 Children. Three of the boys were phenomenal hockey players. They would have been, if I can parallel it. The Wayne Gretzky's of their time, and they hadn't been invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in 1944 but they were only 14 15 and 16 years old at the time. And yet here they are made believes training camp. So I thought, Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What a story this is. I thought there is my book right then and there. So I put together ah, proposed chapter, and and ah, you and I went to which I could remember the name of the bookstore to, but anyway, was on Young Street just north of bluer. Now it's a Starbucks. And we went through the various books that had anything to do with hockey and wrote down the names of the publishers and their addresses. And I sent my proposal off to every publisher you could imagine. And after a period of time rejections or or or just nothing came coming back. But all of a sudden, Fend Publishing, which was a brand new publishing company out of Bolton, Ontario, tied in with with, uh, larger distribution company. But fen publishing wanted to specialize in hockey books, and this laid it on their desk at just the right time. So I got a call from a guy named Jordan Family, the publisher. His father had run HB fen and had given Jordan the license to start his own his own imprint, and Jordan called me and said, Look, Kevin, really like your writing like your your passion don't want your book But I think you'd be good for a book that we've licensed in, or at least that we've secured. And that was the book about the Smith family that I inferred earlier.

spk_0:   17:04
So now that you've got the deal and you've got one month to write it, how did you even start? Well, I

spk_1:   17:12
started to interview. First of all, I knew a great deal about the Smith family already, and it actually done some research for no apparent reason. So I had some things there, but I started with interviews with Tom Smith, the grandson. It was a challenge because Tom, it had 60 some some cancer surgeries on his jaw that made it very difficult for him to talk. It made it. His energy level was very, very low, so he I couldn't have the extended interviews that I had hoped I could knock him off 34 hour segments. That way it was more like 20 minutes, 30 minutes, although I could do them every couple of days. But again, I had a full time job so I wasn't able to do that. But it started off with the interviews. I talked to other people about the Smith family, those who knew Stafford's might. Those who had worked with Con Smyth, those who knew Tom Smith. So I built a foundation. A bill about built a foundation around it, along with Tom's memories as well. And I just started. I knew where I wanted to go, as I mentioned earlier how I don't the table of contents in my mind. I was going to start with Con Smyth, work through Stafford and then get to Tom, and that's the way it took place. I didn't have a whole lot of time to move around or whatever, but that's the way it went, and it felt pretty good when I was done.

spk_0:   18:24
Do you remember holding the book for the first time?

spk_1:   18:28
Sadly, I do. It looked amazing. I mean, here's this beautiful book printed on blue ink with blue ink. The front covers wait with lovely photos of the Smyth family and Maple Leaf Gardens. There's the title, and a He was able to secure wing Gretzky to write the forward because he had attended his very first hockey game with his grandmother at Maple Leaf Gardens and had also been the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy is most valuable player in the playoffs in the National Hockey League. So by fluke, I have a contact that way. And sure enough, I got Gretzky to write the forward. So there was the book, um, center ice. And there's by Tom Smyth, forward by Tom Smyth with Kevin Shea forward by Wayne Gretzky. So there are the two biggest names in sports that I could think of at that time. Smyth and Gretzky and my name on the same cover, and I couldn't believe it. The difficult part was once I cracked the spine of that 1st 1st copy that I had realized. Wait a minute, Hang on here. I started to read and and there were all kinds of typos in it. So the very first page of a picture of Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadians hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy after winning the Stanley Cup in 1966. But it said John Bell of O J O H n rather than J E A N a. Wait a minute. I'm a stickler for details and really anal about that stuff. There's no way I made that air. So I started to flip through quickly read the book from Cover to Cover, and I'm in tears. I couldn't believe how many errors there were. For example, Tom Smite best friend was a guy named Doug, and all through the book he was a dog. And the J. P. Bickle Trophy, given to valued employees of Maple Leaf Gardens, was the Jaypee Pickle trophy. So I was horrified 11 o'clock that night, called the publisher and said, Stop the presses, We've got it. We've got a scrap. What we've got here. Kevin's too late. It's in the stores. But don't worry, we'll get it on the second printing, which we never got to. So the book went out and had all of these errors in it, and the reviews for the book were pretty good. Good story, but too bad this guy can't write or to bed. This guy can't spell rather, Or what the heck is wrong with getting a good editor or a proof reader Or so I was horrified that I was mentioning every single review that we had would not that we had that many, but we had enough. It wasn't until years later that he admitted that that there wasn't time to have it. And I'm talking about Jordan Fen now that that there wasn't time to have an editor because it was so tight to printing that he had just running through Spellcheck and inadvertently had accepted things that or or not that were in the book. And that's why we had Dog and Pickling and John. So it was. It was a terrible start, but nevertheless it was my first book and why? Well, I can't say it's my proudest moment. The fact that I had a book made it a proud moment.

spk_0:   21:26
How did you get Gretzky to write the forward?

spk_1:   21:30
That's another crazy story. So there's a friend of mine named Bruce Barker, and Bruce is a radio guy in the Toronto area who knows a lot of people, and and because he's a bigger guy, he's not easily forgotten. So Bruce had mentioned to me many times that he knew Gretzky, and I just kind of rolled my eyes secretly and and thought, Yeah, right. Okay. And, uh, and sure enough, Gretzky came to town one day and and Bruce had recorded Ah, little interview with him, and it started off with Hey, big guy, How's it going? Wayne Gretzky had picked Bruce out in the crowd. In this first, his first words to the media scrum were to Bruce Barker. So I approached Bruce and said, Look it, I'd like to get Gretzky to write the foreword to this book. Can you help me? He put me in touch with Gretzky's personal publicist. So I wrote a letter. I don't even know that email. I guess email was around for sure, but I didn't have the guy's email address. I had a KN address, So I wrote a letter to the guy thinking that it's a long shot, but I'll try. One day I get a phone call. I worked at a record company of the time. I got a phone call at the record company and it was a guy said, Hi, Kevin. Yeah, how can I help you, sir? It's Wayne. So yeah, how can I help you, sir? That's Wayne Gretzky. You right? And I hung up, so I get a call back Seconds later, said Kevin, It's Wayne Gretzky I said Leonard, another guy on staff who was always pulling stunts. Leonard, I know it's you. And I hung up again like I called 1/3 time. Kevin, before

spk_0:   23:03
you hang up, it's Wayne Gretzky. Here's my phone number. Call me back at that number. I

spk_1:   23:08
called back the number Wayne Gretzky. Oh, my God, Wayne, he said. It happens often. Don't apologize, he said. So how can I help you out? I said, Well, listen, I'm I'm reading a book about about Maple Leaf Gardens and the Smith family. I'd love you to write the forward, he said. Okay, give me a hint verbally of what you'd like and I'll get it done. I think he had a ghostwriter. In fact, I know we had a ghostwriter and came back with this amazing forward to the book, and I asked his permission to use it, of course, to have his name on the front and to use

spk_0:   23:42
it. Of course, Kevin sent me a copy when you're done,

spk_1:   23:44
and there we are. So the Gretzky thing happened completely out of left field within the course of that month. If you can believe that it happened from a letter written to a phone call, too many hang ups to it being submitted. I was delighted,

spk_0:   23:58
and I'm still thrilled. I hope that you enjoyed this episode of the creationists. If you'd like to find out more about Kevin Shea in the books and he writes, go to Kevin Shea hockey dot com. If you'd like to comment on this episode, offer suggestions for future episodes or just say hi, please email the creationist podcast at gmail dot com. And please don't forget to subscribe to the creationists and raid us or whatever platform you're listening on. And if I could ask one last favor, please share this podcast with any of your friends who you think might be interested. I'm Steve Waxman, and I created this podcast.