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While you may not immediately recognize the name Sean McIndoe, chances are that you're familiar with his “other” name, Down Goes Brown. What started out as a blog in 2008, downgoesbrown.com, grew into a career, and a pretty damn funny one.
McIndoe has become a sought-after writer for his insight on the National Hockey League, to the point that he was added to the hockey staff of the already-loaded The Athletic for the 2018-19 season. He's already created a following through his work in The Hockey News, Sportsnet.ca, ESPN, and Grantland. Plus there are the podcasts, Twitter posts, Facebook.
So one of the obvious questions when discussing his forthcoming book, The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL: The World's Most Beautiful Sport, the World's Most Ridiculous League, is “How did you fit the book into your schedule?”
“A typical season for a hockey writer starts when camps open in September and ends around the second week in July once free agency has calmed down. That's when most of the big name writers disappear to the cottage to recharge. In my case, it gave me two months to write most of the book last summer,” McIndoe said through an email—because we couldn't fit in the time to talk on the phone.
“Then it was a case of squeezing in all the editing and back-and-forth during the season, which was interesting because it was a big chunk of work on something that I couldn't tell anyone about yet. And then this summer I spent quite a bit of time in a studio recording an audio version, which was an experience.
“It was a lot, and I'm glad to be done. Books are fun, but there's a reason most of us aren't doing them more than once every few years.”
Depending on how you count, it's either his first original book, since his first, The Best of Down Goes Brown: Greatest Hits and Brand New Classics-to-Be from Hockey's Most Hilarious Blog (published by Wiley), was mostly a collection of already-written pieces, or his second. Oh wait, what about the e-book—The 100 Greatest Players In NHL History (And Other Stuff): An Arbitrary Collection of Arbitrary Lists—he wrote with Greg Wyshynski and Dave Lozo in the interim? (One thing you can't deny, the man likes long titles!)
McIndoe and his agent pitched some ideas to “traditional publishers” and the history of the NHL, told in the unique, sarcastic, sardonic-yet-deeply knowledgeable and humorous Down Goes Brown style, was the one that caught the right eye. Random House Canada has the book coming out at the end of October.
With all the other books celebrating the NHL's centennial, why go back to the proverbial well?
“It's something I've wanted to for a while now. I've always been fascinated with NHL history, and work it into my writing when I can, so the idea of going all the way back to day one and starting there seemed like fun,” McIndoe wrote. “I knew it would be a big job, but it was one of those things where I tried not to think about it too hard during the pitch process because I'd scare myself out of it. So I just pretended that it wouldn't be too bad until I'd signed the contract and it was too late.”
The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL tells the story of the league from 1917 to current day, and it doesn't miss out on much of the key points. But where he really shines as a wit is with the footnotes and Strange but True entries as separate entities between chapters, asides that will have you laughing and rolling your eyes at the ridiculousness of it all.
“The Strange But True mini-chapters were always part of the plan. I felt like they'd work well, especially early on where some of the material is a bit heavy,” he explained. “As a reader, you know that there's something light and fun waiting for you every few pages, which keeps you engaged. As for the footnotes, I loved using them for asides and throwaway jokes when I was at Grantland, so I thought it would be fun to bring them back for the book.”
While McIndoe is really knowledgeable about hockey, and really gets joy out of telling some of the funnier NHL stories, like the spinning wheel that landed Gilbert Perreault in Buffalo, and Mr. Rogers on a hockey card, he was surprised along the way, and hopes it shows.
“There was stuff that I had never heard of before, like the Bernie Wolfe expansion goalie story, where I was like, 'No way, that was a thing?' Which was great, because that's the same reaction I'm hoping readers will have as they go through the book,” he said.
It was a challenge to pare down the history into 272 pages. “I wanted to cover everything, even in broad strokes. I've always believed that there are times where you have to show your work, and some of the early stuff has to be there as the foundation for all the stories that follow. But at the same time, I know that modern-day readers are more interested in the recent stuff, so the book couldn't just go at the same pace for the whole century. In the end, there are times where we plow through a decade in a chapter, and others where we'll drill down on a specific incident or season in much more detail.”
Asked what he wished he could have included, McIndoe took a broad shot at the Maple Leafs above all world of hockey media (and another forthcoming book): “I feel like the Wayne Gretzky high-stick on Doug Gilmour should have got 15 of the book's 25 chapters, but my editors eventually convinced me to only give it ten. (I'm kidding. Or am I?)”
He did generously share a detail on the beginning and end. “I left the first and last pages until the end, because I wanted to see where the book would go,” he said. “Once I was done with the bulk of it, it was easier to go back and come up with a good close and (more importantly) an introduction that would let the reader know what they were in for.”
And who are those readers? Just fans who already know Down Goes Brown? Or will it find a wider market?
Obviously, McIndoe hopes so.
“People who've been reading my stuff over the years will know what to expect, but I don't think it should a tough sell to new readers. Hopefully, it comes across as a book by a diehard hockey fan who knows his stuff but doesn't take any of it too seriously.”
HOW ONE PHOTO INSPIRED A NEW JACQUES PLANTE BOOK
The newest book from prolific children's writer Andrée Poulin is about one of the greatest goalies ever, one who changed the game, but you wouldn't know it by initially picking up the book. It's called That's Not Hockey! and it's about Jacques Plante, and his iconic, coach-defying mask.
Instead, the cover features a young child, obviously from days gone by judging by the clothes and the rag-tag hockey gear for pond play.
“That was the publisher's choice. I would have put him as an adult hockey player, to show it's about him, it's about the Canadiens,” Poulin is telling me over the phone. It only says “Jacques” on the back cover, not Plante—though inside the book, it's all about “Jake the Snake” (but that nickname isn't there either).
The publisher, Annick Press of Toronto, is aiming at an age group roughly in the five to seven years of age range, which is the only reason Poulin can think for the absence of Plante on the front and back covers of the picture book.
She also didn't have a say in the illustrator, Félix Girard, which was not her experience over the years writing dozens of books for the French-language market in Quebec. This is her first book written first for an English market, though a French version will be released.
Girard, who is from Quebec City, did a wonderful job, especially with the challenges of illustrating the past, so older clothes, houses, equipment, fans. What is not there are any NHL logos. “It was hugely expensive,” confessed Poulin. “If you look carefully at the illustrations, you'll see that nowhere can you see the Canadiens logo.”
Poulin confesses she is not a hockey fan. “I don't really watch hockey. I mean, I grew up with brothers, and there was Hockey Night in our family, but I wasn't that interested,” she said.
But there was something about a stand-alone photo in the Globe & Mail newspaper a few years ago that caught her eye. It was Plante's debut with the mask in the Globe & Mail's “A Moment in Time” feature, highlighting moments from the past.
“I saw this photo, and it was two or three lines in the caption saying that he was hurt, and from that night on, he insisted on wearing the mask, but that he got insulted. I read that, and said, 'Oh my God.' Right there, I just saw the story, the story was there in these three lines,” she said.
It wasn't just about the hockey aspect, though. Plante suffered through much abuse, from colleagues, fans, the media, and more. “He was way ahead of his time, he had a vision. And when he started wearing the mask, people were very mean to him,” she said. “It actually took a lot of courage to do something that, at the time, was so unusual, to stand up to these insults.”
Intrigued, Poulin scouted around to see if there had already been a picture book on Plante. Turns out there had been: The Goalie Mask, by Mike Leonetti, came out in 2004. Given the length of time since it came out, and her own desire to tell the story, Poulin pitched the idea, and Annick Press bought. “It was an easy story to write, because the reality itself was just a good story.”
Even though it was aimed at children, Poulin did her homework, reading plenty on Plante, including Todd Denault's biography on the goaltending great. “I knew exactly what kind of information I was looking for,” she said. “I wasn't looking for hockey statistics or how many games, I was looking for information about the man, Jacques Plante. How could I make him human, to make him accessible to young children? That's what I was looking for.”
Since her other books are in French, it begs the question, was That's Not Hockey! written in French or English first; turns out it was a little of both.
“I knew from the start that I would submit it first to a publisher in Toronto, so I started writing it in English,” she explained. “I wrote them at the same time, and sometimes the French impeded on the English, and I would find a way of saying something in English, 'Oh, that's good,' and I went and changed the French. That's the first time I'm done that, to work on the two versions simultaneously.”
As with her many other books (see www.andreepoulin.ca), both picture books and chapter books, she sought out a test market first.
“For a picture book, it's a bit difficult, because there's only text ... so it's difficult for the kids to imagine, so when you read a picture book manuscript it's almost like the script for a film, you have to imagine the illustrations. I did test it with two classes. But I also do it for my novels,” she said. “Once I finish writing it, even before I send it the publisher, I will send the manuscript to a school, to a class, and say, 'Can you read my story and tell me what don't you understand, what is boring, what is too complicated, what did you like?' That's very helpful.”
There's no immediate return to sports for Poulin. Her next book is a middle grade novel written for the first time in free-verse, and set in India—but the idea to write in free-verse was inspired by a sports novel, Kwame Alexander's celebrated basketball novel, The Crossover.
My son, Quinn, is a little older than the target demographic, but did review That's Not Hockey!
MCGREGOR MAGIC CONTINUES
Here's a review of The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane,bythe father-daughter team of Roy and Kerry MacGregor, also by my son Quinn, who devoured it in one sitting, routinely expressing his enjoyment aloud along the way:
- George Grimm, author of We Did Everything But Win: Former New York Rangers Remember the Emile Francis Era (1964-1976), shared some news on Facebook: “Good news! Sports Publishing has agreed to publish my new book, Guardians of the Goal - the History of New York Rangers Goaltending! It should be available in the Fall 2019.”
- It's an invitation only event, but if you ask around, you can probably score an invite to the book launch for Damien Cox's The Last Good Year: Seven Games That Ended An Era. (It's the book that Sean McIndoe was alluding to above, about the Leafs versus Kings from 1993.) Penguin Canada hosts the party on Tuesday, October 23, from 7-9 p.m., at The Sport Gallery, 15 Tank House Lane, in Toronto's Distillery District.
Some of the regulars from the Society of International Hockey Research who go to hockey book launches in Toronto will no doubt still be in Dallas when Cox's book launches, following the fall meeting, hosted by the NHL's Dallas Stars. (Alas, I won't be in Dallas.) For those going, and for those who can't go, it's worth seeking out the two books on the history of hockey in Texas that I wrote about in 2017. Here's the column, with details on the books, Texas on Ice: Early Strides to Pro Hockey and Texas on Ice: 1941-42 American Hockey Association Season, by Jason Farris, the Chief Operating Officer of the Dallas Stars.
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