It was 30 years ago, almost exactly to the day, that a box arrived at our house containing author’s copies of my first book. A few days later, on November 1, 1992, my parents hosted a launch party. I was 29 years old. Still living at home. Wouldn’t be married for another four years. Definitely the greatest day of my life to that point. And it still ranks pretty high!
I’m 59 years old now, and pushing 50 books to my credit … which doesn’t even count all the books to which I contributed during 20+ years with Dan Diamond & Associates, helping to produce publications for the NHL. Many of my titles over the years have been non-fiction books for children. I’d never envisioned myself as a children’s author, but, I have to admit, it’s been a pretty good gig! To be honest, I’m not sure I ever envisioned myself as a hockey writer either. My first book — although strongly hockey-themed — was a novel, and, I suppose, I imagined I’d become a sports novelist.
By Canadian standards, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada, was a modest success. I was paid an advance of $3,000. (I remember my father saying, “write 20 of them a year and you’re doing OK.” I also remember seeing a Harold Lloyd silent movie from the 1920s where his character was paid an advance of $3,000 for a book he had written, so that gives you a pretty good idea about the publishing industry!)
Hockey Night “earned out,” as they say in the book business, and I received another $300 in royalties on sales. That’s $3,300 … for just over two years work. Since then, some of those nearly 50 books didn’t even earn that much, although at least one has earned more than 20 times that amount. So, writing hasn’t exactly been a road to riches, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it most of the time.
Following up on Hockey Night, I had an idea for a second hockey-related novel. I did a ton of research, and even wrote a few chapters, but it never happened. Years, later, I was at least able to use the research for one of my non-fiction children’s books. But I also remember thinking, “if a novel about hockey made $3,300 in Canada, a similar novel with a baseball theme for the United States should earn $33,000 just because the potential audience would be 10 times larger!”
I started writing that novel in 1995. Baseball plays a part in it, but not nearly to the extent that hockey did in Hockey Night. It’s essentially an historical fiction/time travel story. I wrote about 16 chapters at the time, but put it aside a couple of years later. I often said I stopped working on it when my father died, and while that was true, it was more because I was married by then, was a step-father to a school-aged daughter, and needed to find a full-time job.
Within a few years, I was able to combine my NHL work with writing books about hockey for kids, and have since written several adult hockey books too. (It certainly helped to be “Eric Zweig, of Total Hockey!”) All but one of those books was non-fiction. Still, I never gave up on that other novel. It was often in my head, and sometimes I would even get back to it, mostly re-writing the chapters I’d already written while trying to figure out how to advance the story.
When my association with the NHL ended in 2018, I sort of figured I was done with hockey. It was time to get back to the novel. But offers to do more hockey books, and kids books, kept coming in! I’m certainly not complaining. Turns out, I still mostly enjoy the work, and some of the projects even paid decent money. Others covered subjects I really wanted to write about. (Like the Kenora Thistles!)
Finally, this past January, with nothing new on the immediate horizon, I got back to my novel. I’m pretty close to finished it now, and I’m pretty happy with it! Still, it’s the first thing I’ve written since Hockey Night came out 30 years ago that doesn’t have a publisher attached to it already, so it’s a little scary too. I’ve called on a couple of contacts, who are willing to help out when I’m ready (which I will be soon), so it’s also pretty exciting!
In the meantime, there are the four new books I have out currently: the two kids books, Awesome Hockey Trivia for Kids and It’s a Numbers Game! Football, plus Engraved in History (the Kenora Thistles book) and Hockey Hall of Fame: True Stories. If you haven’t seen or heard the latest on the Kenora book, you can listen to my CBC interview from earlier this month with Jason D’Souza of Fresh Air, or read the story by Nick Faris of The Score. On November 3, I’ll be taping an interview about the Thistles for a TV station in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Also, I’ll be at the Sports Card Expo at the International Center near Pearson Airport in Toronto on November 10-13 at the Rat Portage Press table with the Thistles book. My publisher, Rick Brignall, will have copies of other hockey books he’s done, and I’ll probably have some of my other new titles there as well. Come on by if you’re in the area.
And, we’re still working on dates for potential events in Kenora and Winnipeg in November … so I’ll keep everyone posted on those when we have them.