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With the publication of How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life, Karl Subban has taken a step towards supplanting the über-hockey dad, Walter Gretzky.
The book, released on October 3, is a pretty great look into the lives of Karl and Maria Subban, who raised five children—two girls and three boys—in and around Toronto, Ontario. The three boys all played junior hockey with the Belleville Bulls and were drafted into the NHL. Their oldest son P.K. Subban, is a superstar, currently playing defence with the Nashville Predators. Next in line is Malcolm, who is a goalkeeper that struggled to find time in the NHL with the Boston Bruin, and was recently claimed off waivers by the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The third, Jordan, is also a defenceman, and is the property of the Vancouver Canucks, though he has yet to crack the big-league lineup.
The book is about far more than the route that the Subbans took to the NHL, however. Originally from Jamaica, Karl Subban fell in love with hockey when he arrived in Sudbury, Ontario, even if his sporting skills were better suited to the basketball court. He turns his attention to education, and ends up a teacher, then a principal, at Toronto-area schools, as well as a coach, on the court and on the ice.
Other voices come in and out of the narrative, including all the Subban children and his wife Maria, but also key hockey figures from the careers of the boys, coaches and management, giving the book a variety of viewpoints that may not be immediately apparent,
Interestingly, Karl Subban's co-writer on the project, Scott Colby, who is the opinions editor at the Toronto Star, knew each other from years back when Karl was a basketball instructor. Both Karl and Scott took the time to answer some questions for the Society for International Hockey Research.
Karl Subban and Scott Colby
Q: How long had the idea of writing a book been around in your mind?
Karl Subban: The idea of writing a book started percolating in my mind while I worked as a principal at Brookview Middle School over the last seven years of my career.
Q:Were there any surprises or insight into your own past that came about through the process?
Karl Subban: Looking back to my days in Sudbury, Ontario as a new Canadian, I now understand the power of sports. It became the bridge that connected me socially to the people around me. For my parents it was food, music and work that connected them to their friends and new community.
Q: How did the idea of weaving in stories from the other members of the family come about, as well as the voices from George Burnett, etc.? (It was noted in the back of the book that you were not present for the interviews.)
Karl Subban: Scott and I planned the development of the book together. However, it was his idea to have the voices of my children, George Burnett and others in the book. I loved the idea because it made our story real and authentic.
Q: With hockey, education and life lessons all mixed together, who do you think the target market is?
Karl Subban: The target market is everyone. Everyone was born with potential. It is our job to fulfill it and to help others to do the same. There is no better joy.
Q: Did your wife and children get a chance to read it before it went to press? They are such a part of the book that it seems a collaborative effort in many ways.
Karl Subban: My wife has helped me to to be the best version of myself. My children have gotten the best out of me and they have given me their best. They have not read it yet but they have heard most of it at the kitchen table where I did most of my work. Without them there would be no book. Maria's contributions and feedback along with my children's childhood memories and stories gave life and personality to How We Did It.
Q: What surprised you most about working with Karl on his book?
Scott Colby: I was pleasantly surprised to watch Karl learn how to think like a writer over the two-and-a-half years we actively worked on the book. Just as I was taught the tools of powerful storytelling from other writers, I tried to coach Karl on techniques that made his writing more literary than academic. As the book evolved and he saw what I was doing with our interviews and his own writing -- and the excellent edits Pamela Murray from Random House was making -- Karl learned how craft a compelling story from beginning to end using his own voice; how to start, how to build the narrative, what to leave out. Karl has a big personality and is a natural storyteller. He just needed some guidance.
Q: How did the idea of weaving in stories from the other members of the family come about, as well as the voices from George Burnett, etc.?
Scott Colby: I took a journalistic approach at times to this book. It was a natural way to approach the story and Karl felt the same way. Karl always says, "The bigger the dream, the bigger the team." The Team Subban story is a big one, so we had to get as many voices into the book as possible. Also, another theme Karl and I had for the book was to always try to make it better, right up to the final deadline. Memories are funny things, for example, so interviewing Karl's family and the coaches made for a better book because it enriched the storytelling. A lot of blanks were filled in. Finally, Karl agreed 100 per cent that the book should represent what actually happened, good and bad, and we did that, to the best of our abilities. Having the other voices was crucial to achieving that goal.
Q: Did you and Karl come up with some questions together for the other people, or was that all you?
Scott Colby: Karl and I discussed ahead of time what we were hoping to get from interviewing each family member and the coaches. We had specific themes or chapters that required these voices, so the questions grew from the themes Karl and I discussed. In the end, I prepared the specific questions on my own, but of course, new questions arose during the interviews depending on the answers I got. In fact, the joint interview with Taz and Tasha went so well -- it was two hours long -- that it inspired writing the Epilogue. Originally, that interview was meant to supplement the Parenthood and Minor Hockey chapters but there was too much good material. So I emailed Pamela Murray at Random House and Karl and I suggested adding a new chapter that was basically a transcript of interviews with the children about what it was like Growing Up Subban. I think it is the perfect way to end the book. The kids were allowed to speak freely and so much of what they said validated Karl and Maria's story. And Pamela was instrumental in helping to shape how that chapter would look and where it should be in the book. She was an angel throughout this process.
Q: How did you share the workload?
Scott Colby: That evolved as we wrote the book. It was a combination of me interviewing Karl and Karl writing his memories. Initially there was more of me interviewing Karl and less of him writing and by the end it was more of him writing and less of me interviewing him. I always prepared the final chapter drafts and sent them along to Pamela at Random House.
Q: It's your first book. How does it compare to writing for a newspaper?
Scott Colby: The elements of powerful storytelling are the same, whether you are writing for newspapers, magazines or a book. My Toronto Star parenting column, for instance, was 750 words and the book was nearly 80,000 words, so the scale of the storytelling was magnitudes greater, which I loved. I still wanted the writing to be as tight and active as possible, but there are so many more opportunities to tell stories when you have that much space. Newspapers have such tight deadlines, that you often do what you can in the time you have. We had a lot of time to write -- and often rewrite -- parts of the book, so that was deeply appreciated. We all wanted this to be the best book we could possibly make. As this was my first book and the fact the book contains so many elements and themes -- hockey, parenting, immigration, education, motivation, training systems, etc. -- and many of these events were happening simultaneously in Karl's life, I found structuring the book was a real challenge. We were adding and eliminating chapters right through the revision process. Pamela Murray's experience and talent was critical during this stage. She helped cut 20,000 words from the first draft we submitted and she found what I feel was the perfect structure for the book so we could weave the stories together in a way that made the most sense for readers.
WHEN BOOK LAUNCHES COLLIDE
Thursday, October 12th is a good day to be a fan of hockey books if you live in Toronto. ECW Press is launching its four fall hockey books in a launch at The SPORT Gallery in the Distillery District: Andrew Podnieks' Fast Ice: Superstars of the New NHL; Lance Hornby's Toronto and the Maple Leafs: A City and Its Team; Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man, written with Ken Reid of Sportsnet; and the book that I wrote with Gilles Gratton, Gratoony the Loony: The Wild, Unpredictable Life of Gilles Gratton. It all starts at 7 p.m., and is open to the public.
In another part of town, at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts, 736 Bathurst St., Karl Subban and his co-writer Scott Colby are having an onstage conversation and book signing, starting at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.). You need to say you're coming to the public event, by emailing RSVPCanada@penguinrandomhouse.com.
FAVOURITE FROM THE PAST
As Todd Denault's health continues to improve, he took a moment to share a gem that he treasures from his bookshelf: “The Game of Our Lives captures the Edmonton Oilers a few years before their dynasty and in addition provides a revealing window into Wayne Gretzky, then in only his second season in the NHL. And while we all know what would happen in the years ahead, this book showcases the team and players on the rise, with all of the hardships that both endure along the journey. In addition, it is a revealing look at the enduring relationship between the sport and our country, and speaks to the greater Canadian issues of our identity and culture.” Peter Gzowski's classic about the 1980-81 season was reprinted in 2006.
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