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December 15, 2011 :: 11:50pm ET
Bookworms
 It ain't easy being a real writer, explains TFP columnist Dennis Bernstein.

LOS ANGELES -- Though I've been a hockey writer for a better part of a decade, when I'm engaged in a conversation about the prospects of writing a book, it's usually a very short one.

The task of producing 3000 words or so every week is daunting enough for various reasons and I respect those who can produce the volume and have the discipline necessary to have a complete work published.

Among those who I call friends, two gentlemen, Tab Bamford and Brian Kennedy, have just completed tomes on disparate hockey subjects.

One dude defines all that Chicago is; he's born and raised in the Land of Lincoln, and is a Blackhawks season ticket holder.

The other is Canadian, holds a doctorate in education and is as learned as anyone in my network.

As dissimilar as these two personalities are, the one thing that connects them is this great game of hockey.

In the course of expanding The Fourth Period's roster, I set out on a nationwide search to find writers in NHL markets two seasons ago. Using my networking ability, I came across one Tab Bamford, who was penning the blog Committed Indians as well as writing for a major website that didn't place hockey first. After one discussion, I convinced Mr. Bamford to drink the TFP Kool-Aid and he signed on to join the crew. He still chirps with the best of them from his first row seats in Section 302 of the United Center and when he conveyed that a publisher was interested in him writing a book on his beloved Hawks despite my bias, I didn't think there was a better man for the job.

Specifically, the project was an expansion of a theme, a series of books for sports fans of specific teams. As a well-known Chitown blogger, Tab eagerly jumped on the mission that resulted in The 100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die and his efforts now proudly sit on the shelves of your local bookseller, likely not far away from the magazine rack that holds The Fourth Period Magazine.

While Tab had the luxury of the lifetime of knowledge about his beloved Indians, not so for the timeframe the publisher wanted completed.

"Most of these books were done in six months, I had two and that resulted in a lot of long nights with Old Styles and stogies," he recanted from the man-cave that was the base camp for the majority of the 78,000 words he produced over eight weeks, a simply maddening pace.

As for the work, it's a quick read, essentially a grouping of short stories in length from 500 to 3,000 words depending on the subject. The list is in chronological order and there was no dispute as to which one lead off the book.

"There was no question the 2010 Stanley Cup victory that ended a 49-year championship draught had to lead off," he explained. "That team was so special; how it was put together, not just the stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but the guys like Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg that were rejects from other teams, guys who were told they weren't good enough. It's about the connection that the city had to this team throughout and culminated in a party in the streets that two million people showed up to attend. It's a no brainer."

A first time book writer but still a prodigious producer of content through his multiple affiliations, the initial words flowed easily to him.

"I got thru the first 85 pretty easily and then things slowed down for me for the final few. Maybe it was the end of the adrenaline rush but we had to slug through those final few. I really had about 115 or so in my mind, so to chop it down to 100 was a bit of task."

While Stan Mikita, Billy Reay and Pit Martin are among the subjects, a higher profile former Hawk lent a direct hand to Bamford's efforts.

"We had the opportunity to partner with Jeremy Roenick on the foreword for the book. I rang him up and in typical JR fashion; he called me back in 45 minutes. He was great to work with and I'm proud to have him kickoff the stories."

Published by Triumph Books, 100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is 336 pages long with photos throughout and is available at all major retailers as well as www.triumphbooks.com and www.amazon.com.

At the polar opposite of the spectrum is Brian Kennedy, certainly the only doctor to sit among us media types in press row at Kings games in Los Angeles. Brian is an associate professor of British literature at Pasadena City College and is a native Montrealer. Unlike Mr. Bamford, I've never seen the Professor drink or smoke, and the choice curse word is uttered infrequently and judiciously. Brian's a veteran book writer, this is his third hockey-themed work and also produces content for Inside Hockey in addition to admitting being a passionate gearhead.

Brian tackles a massive concept in My Country is Hockey, in which he makes a causal connection between the game and Canadian culture, history, politics, heroes, the French-English rivalry and how hockey defines Canadians.

As for the degree of difficult tackling such a broad based concept, Kennedy relates that it wasn't harder, just different.

"My first hockey book was stories, the second one contained interviewed that I made into stories. This one was more was based more on my reading and research," Kennedy explained. "For example, in the first chapter where I proposed to find out where the exact origins of hockey are, there's so many sources and they're all contradictory, you've got to untangle them all.

"I interlaced literature and pop culture too, so you have everyone from Sun Tzu to Shakespeare in this book. The thing that was the same is the time frame to produce the work."

While he developed the notion, the original concept was not his, "my publishing house came to me and said they had an idea. When they told me the title I said, 'that's pretty good, I wouldn't have come up with that'," deferring his ego in a forthcoming statement.

Unlike the narrow time frame that Bamford had with the Blackhawks book, Kennedy related that his took two years from cradle to grave.

"My first book was a labor of love, the second one (Living the Hockey Dream) was a huge administrative project, it was a book that a grinder, a fourth liner would write," he said. "I wound up getting 42 interviews and the magic was trying to get them all to interconnect.

"On this one, it was much like being on a raft at sea, they gave me six to eight topics and I wrote some notes but then the challenge was in finding the voice of this book. I needed to resist being an academic because then people wouldn't enjoy reading it. I had to figure not only what to say but how."

As he's demonstrated so far, in Brian's acute ability to draw analogous imagery to his work and process, he likened this mission to "bungee jumping."

His most compelling chapter in the work delves into a subject that seems to be in the news every day, the violence that is ingrained into the game.

"Violence in the Canadian Imagination," starts with a fascinating query, "Violence. Canadianness. Does it start with hockey or end with hockey?"

Brian related to me how he developed that thread.

"Canadians always talk about Vimy Ridge as the defining moment and the creation of our identity, yet we forget it was a very violent episode," he said. "So, when we see violence in hockey, if hockey IS us, there's a line you can draw and it's obvious. The challenge is to have the reader accept the argument that I'm making. I've bitten off a giant chunk here and it's a tremendous risk."

It's not as if I'm the only one of his peers that's taken notice.

"Forever, it has been a kind of cultural shorthand in a place that a struggled with other modes of self-definition: Canada equals hockey and hockey equals Canada. But it is no longer really so simple, for the game or for the place. Canada has changed and hockey's global footprint has changed, even as that defining myth and the faith in ‘hockey values' remain incredibly powerful," were the words Globe and Mail sports columnist Stephen Brunt succinctly added to the book's back cover.

Published by Argenta Publishing, My Country Is Hockey is also available thru major booksellers and at www.amazon.com or www.lonepinepublishing.com.

In a culture that is increasingly about speed and immediate gratification, I'd suggest you'd spend an afternoon or two reading Tab and Brian's books to both expand your mind and to unplug from the information superhighway. The pair would make a great holiday gift for a deserving fan of the game.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.


 

 

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