Thursday, March 14, 2019


“Where do you get your ideas?” This vague question is asked in two contexts: During Q@A sessions when audience members haven’t read your books; or by readers who know your work and are genuinely curious as to the mental swamp from which they emerge.

My answer is equally vague: Sometimes writers choose the topics about which they write; other times, topics choose writers.

For me, it’s much more enjoyable and engaging when the latter occurs. A topic jumps up and grabs you by the throat and says, Write me. I’m in that mode now.

I attended a boarding school in the 1980s, when my parents were searching for an academic community to help their “learning disabled” (we don’t call it that anymore) son, and a school was looking for hockey players. It was a match made in heaven. Sort of. Like many students who arrived with large athletic dreams, I had been a big fish in a small pond; at boarding school, with students from around the globe, I soon realized Maine wasn’t the hockey hotbed I thought it was.

One student didn’t have that problem. His name was Mark Green, and, simply put, he was in a different league than I (and just about every other teenage athlete in New England) was. I now teach and live at a boarding school. And after nearly 30 years of high school, I can say confidently that Mark was the best high school athlete I have come across. He was New England’s top lacrosse player, probably the best offensive hockey player, and could throw a football 70 yards. He was six-foot-four, 200 pounds, and recruited by Div. I colleges in all three sports. He was two years older than me when I was 16, and to say that I learned the difference between what it meant to be a good hockey player and a great hockey player skating alongside Mark would be an epic understatement.

This is when Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte were coming up, and Mark was exceptional, even skating against them. But Mark never made it to the NHL, which, always surprised me. I never knew why. When I played with him, the accomplishment of that goal for him –– no matter how lofty –– seemed a forgone conclusion.

For years, I wondered what happened to Mark Green. Like a lot of writers, I’m interested in human interest stories, and I read the news all the time. Then, when I returned to boarding school –– following stints covering the city desk at a daily and a weekly and teaching public school and community college –– I began coaching hockey. The memories of Mark and that team (four players were chosen in the 1987 NHL Draft) returned. And my curiosity led to some late-night Internet digging. One story led to another, and I stumbled upon this one.

It led to so many questions and hopefully to a story, not fully realized yet but one that’s tapping my shoulder and whispering scenes. It’s a story that’s complicated and has more questions than answers and won’t be told completely, but one that offers a starting point for a novel. And it’s one that is certainly worth telling.

Sometimes you choose your stories. But when you’re lucky, your stories choose you.

1 comment:

Anna said...

What a wonderful example of the way we can brood about an event or little whisper for years and then have it leap to life in words and story. Makes me wonder about those teasing little fragments that won't go away: what can I do with them? Thanks, John. The real-life story is sad but full of possibilities.