Read more and enter a contest for a free copy of Jack Falla's Saved at Pensburgh.com
Jack Falla's most recent work, Saved, is a fictional story of John-Pierre Savard, a veteran goaltender for the Boston Bruins. Through his years of hockey, JP Savard has experienced love, loss, grievance and rebirth. It's the story of two grown men pursuing their boyhood dreams of hoisting Lord Stanley high above their heads. As the two continue to tally up the seasons, put wear and tear on their bodies and fight through the late stages of their career, the dream starts to become a reality that pits the two "brothers" in a friendly yet competitive civil war.
Jack Falla was kind enough to donate not only his time, but also a signed copy of his book as a gift to the readers of Pensburgh and hockey blogs in general.
Tell me about your start; how you started as a writer.
I started writing hockey in high school for the Winchestar Star in Winchester, Massachusetts. They were hand-written stories that I would into the mailbox on my way to school. No byline, no money, but I got published. I could see how they were edited and I could learn from that. Then I went to Boston University and took a lot of writing courses there. I wrote a little bit for the school paper but not much. I actually started in PR, in auto racing. While I was still in school I worked for the Chrysler Corporation and my main job was to drive around the country and write stories about factory sponsored race cars and drivers. That was great because I got some editing and professional writing experience there. I was with the old North American Soccer League; the Boston Minutemen. There were very few people who wrote about soccer or knew about soccer so even those I was a paid employee of the club I still found myself able to freelance. Started with Soccer Magazine and then worked over to the old Hockey Magazine which launched both my career and Ed Swift's career. That got me some exposure and a chance to really write. So when I got with Sports Illustrated in '82 the NFL was on strike or a lockout, I can't recall; the magazine was obviously looking to fill the hole. Fill it with more basketball, more hockey. So they turned to Ed Swift, who was one hockey writer, and asked if he knew any hockey writers and he mentioned me. I spent one year as kind of a stringer for Sports Illustrated and then they signed me on as a full-time staffer and I stayed there until the '87 season. I got off the road, which is basically what I did. I love Sports Illustrated but I had two kids and a wife who hated my being away every week. So I joined the faculty at Boston University and I continued to freelance and kind of segued out of magazines and into books. My first one I did for S.I; I wrote Sports Illustrated Hockey. Then, with some Canadian writers, I wrote Quest for the Cup, which is a big lavishly illustrated history of the Stanley Cup Finals. And then I had a real hit. My first real hit was Home Ice, a collection of essays ostensibly about my backyard rink but in actuality about how a sport connects us to the people we love; family, neighbors, kids and parents and all that. That book was very well received. The follow-up to that book, Open Ice, should be in stores August 29, 2008.
Let's talk about your last book, Saved, a work of fiction. You spent a good couple of years with magazines covering actual sports with actual players and actual stats. What was it like coming up with a piece of fiction, developing these characters and making them your own?
I'd never written fiction other than Sports Illustrated expense accounts. I never thought I could write fiction. It was my sixty-first birthday when I said to myself, “You know, you've always said you can't write fiction but you never even tried. So why don't you try writing some light humor of the stuff that you like – Dan Jenkins, Rick Riley, lighter stuff like that. So I thought, “I'll write 10,000 words, review this thing and decide if it's worth going ahead with it or not.” I came back from running one day at the high school track, and I was sitting on the back porch taking my shoes off and the window was open to the back den, which is where I heard my wife laughing. So I said, “Alright, let's make it 25,000.” And then it's an official go or no-go decision. I almost made a no-go decision, but I'd gone this far and figured let's punch it to 90,000 and I did and then I rewrote it. My agent took it, sent it out and a division of Saint Martin's bought it and they wanted to change it of course so I put it through two more rewrites. It was a new, dare I say even novel experience. Fiction was much, much harder; trying to be humorous on command.
What helped you push it past that no-go to let's go point?
Well the first decision was when Barbara didn't even know I was around and was laughing about it. I think you reach a point where the bet is so big in terms of time and what you put into it. It's like selling a stock for a loss; you don't want to do that. I decided just to punch it out. With every rewrite I learned a little bit more about fiction writing.
Jean-Pierre Savard – the 31-year-old goaltender for the Boston Bruins. What was inspiration for him? Was it by any chance a similar Boston Bruins goaltender?
Actually no, although Timmy Thomas started reading the book – well, I knew Tim went to Vermont because I saw him play there. But I had the Vermont connection because I knew late in the book I wanted to have a city near Montreal. Now what I didn't know is that in real life Tim married a woman from Essex Junction, as did J.P. Savard's in the book. I didn't know that Tim Thomas used a wooden goalie stick, as does Savard – I didn't know that either. I actually had to send a note to Tim through a Boston Herald hockey writer and say, “Please tell Tim there was no identity theft here.” Well anyways, he started reading it and he told me it spooked him out and he wasn't going to read it until the end of the season. He said he also started reading Ken Dryden's book during the season and it got into his head too much that he had to put it down and read it at the end of the season.
As far as obstacles along the way of writing – writer's block, creative tension, etc. What did you have to work through?
I didn't want a lot of angst and darkness. I know novelists are supposed to deal with that stuff but I wanted it to be funny. It's kind of hard to do that. I don't get writer's block because I go to a desk every day. Some days you write better than others, that's just how it is. But when I'm sitting at the desk typing 400 to 500 words, 200 to 300, I just keep punching and keep showing up. I didn't have trouble with writer's block, but I wish it was more consistently humorous. Sex is a hard thing to write about. If Saved were a movie it would be PG-13. It's a hard thing to do – you don't want to be hardcore, x-rated; you want to do it with taste. I've found sex difficult to write about. In reference to your earlier question about how writing fiction is different than journalism, in the game you have the plot handed to you. You've got the young Penguins and the old veteran Wings but it's handed to you. Coming up with it was hard for me.
It seems like anything that's hockey-related is character driven – Saved, Slapshot, Mighty Ducks ; all characters. As good a movie as Slapshot is, it stands alone as a niche in hockey movies. When I first read Saved I was worried I'd be reading Slapshot in book form. At any point during the writing of this book, were you factoring in these predisposed ideas and trying to avoid them and hockey cliches all together?
There are only three fights in the book and two of them happen early. I wanted to show how Carter (character in book) is a dispassionate guy who fights for reasons of logistics and justice and Quigly just hammers the crap out of people. But I had to build a back-story for Quigly that explained why he did what he did.
The one thing I admire the most is your consideration towards human emotion and building or adding color to the outlines of these people. How did you throw these guys together like this and conclude that they'd make a good team? Would they make a good team?
Yeah I think they would. All characters are made up of people I know made up to a large dollop of my imagination. The Quigly character was a little bit like a guy I played goal behind and Cam Carter is a little bit like my best friend.
Let's talk briefly about your upcoming book. What can you tell me about Open Ice?
Open Ice I think is a little heavier and a little darker than Home Ice was. Open Ice is a collection of 13 essays that deals with mortality, as witnessed in my first essay about attending Rocket Richard's funeral. This wound up being an essay on my own French-Canadian heritage from my mother's side. My mother died young but the French-Canadian blood pumps hard through my veins, and when I went to that funeral I had a tremendous emotional reaction that I never expected to happen. There's one that deals with aging. I talk a bit about my backyard rink again – I took a trip up to Georges Vezina's grave up in Quebec and that led to a whole treatise on why we do what we do and how we choose to spend our lives. I guess it's taking hockey as a lens and looking at life through the lens of the game. Home Ice was my backyard. I sort of wrote it from the inside out. For Open Ice, I go out and I skate the Rideau Canal and that was a reflection on aging and health and things of that sort. When I first met my wife, within the first hour of talking, we got onto the topic of people we most admire. I said John Beliveau and she immediately knew who it was. And we've always joked that my stock went soaring after that in her eyes.
There ya go – that's love man.
(laughs) Yeah, I've always said he can add one more assist to his career total.
Open Ice hits stores on August 29. Be on the lookout for more interviews with other great hockey writers throughout the off-season. For more details on how you can win your copy of Saved , visit Pensburgh.com.