As I mentioned in a post last week one of my high school friends, Doug Binder, told me at our recent reunion that he wrote and published a book, Send Me A Sign. He gave me a copy and I read it within the week.
Send Me A Sign is the true story of partnership, family and children. Dave Grill’s wife, Teresa, dies at an early age after two battles with cancer. She leaves behind not only Dave but also their three children. The story in Send Me A Sign is about how the family recovers from this tragic loss, and about how they find signs in their every day life that Teresa is helping them in their recovery. Part of the healing process is that Dave and his kids, in spite of the “unspoken one year rule,” welcome a new member into their family– a woman named Kellie, whom Dave has known since childhood.
Doug joins us at Motherlogue to share his experience working with the Grill family to write the book (in the photo, the Dave and Kellie Grill are on the left, Doug is on the right), his thoughts on writing, as well offering insight into how one is a sports journalist by day but still has time to write a book.
How did you come to write this book about the Grill family?
I met the Grill family in the summer of 2000, when 12-year-old Lauren Grill was part of a local softball team that qualified for the Little League World Series, which is an event that happens in Portland every August. Her dad, Dave, was one of the coaches. I got to know them over about a two-week stretch and never thought I’d see them again. About 10 months later I was looking for summer story ideas and thought about catching up with the girls on that team. I wondered if they were still playing together as 13-year olds. So I called the team’s head coach, not Dave, and he told me that Lauren’s mother had died of breast cancer.
Knowing how tightly knit the softball team was the previous summer, I thought I might find a story about how the other families had rallied around the Grills and supported them. So I called Dave Grill and began to learn the details of what became a Metro Section centerpiece in the Oregonian that was published on Valentine’s Day, 2002. And from there, we decided to turn it into a book.
What was Kellie and Dave’s motivation for sharing their story?
Kellie and Dave are genuinely sweet people. They believed that by sharing their story with others it might offer hope in times of grief.
Also, I think they have faith that when one door closes, another opens, and that seizing opportunity when life provides it is imperative. Third, I think they viewed the book as a testament to Teresa and that the story would be something the three kids would treasure.
Given that it’s a work of non-fiction and is about a very
personal experience for Dave and Kellie, I’m curious how you included so many personal details. Did they allow you some creative license, or did they give you explicit details about their story?
I mapped a process that I thought would re-capture as much of their memory of events as possible. I spent every Wednesday evening with them for about a year and I spent that time interviewing them and pulling as much detail out of them as I could. Then, I would write the section of story we had talked about together, and give it back to them to read and critique. That way, I could take the nuts and bolts of the story, imagine scenes based on everything I knew about the people involved, and even re-create dialogue. They would go over it and suggest changes or remember something to nudge the facts and words as close as we could to the exact way they happened. We intended from the outset to be as honest and truthful as we could.
Usually you cover sports for The Oregonian, how did it feel to
venture into a topic outside the world of sports?
I enjoy writing about sports, generally, because they provide a backdrop for all kinds of drama and tension and challenge. I found it freeing to be let loose of the bounds of the newspaper to write as long as I wanted to, to say exactly what I wanted to. But at its core I thought it was a great story, and that’s really no different than what I look for in my sports writing career.
How did you find time to write this book while also working as
a journalist and having a life outside of writing?
I had two people, Dave and Kellie, in this with me. Between the three of us, we were able to keep the ball rolling, even if it went slowly at times. We didn’t really begin with a deadline. We devoted one evening a week to it and sometimes that’s the only time any of us spent on it all week. Other times we spent more. But having that one night as an anchor was important because it became a habit and it was always on the calendar. Sometimes we’d spend the time talking about other things and laughing and not getting much done. Other times, we buckled down.
You mentioned to me an editor with whom you worked who talked about writing in scenes. Please tell me more about that approach, how you use it in your writing, how it benefits a story.
About 10 years ago it sort of became the rage in newspapers to employ a technique called non-fiction narrative. At least it was at The Oregonian. We had a writing coach there named Jack Hart who was something of an expert in the technique. It is a way to write more intimately, more descriptively, than the usual explanatory writing that fills newspapers. This sort of scene-setting also allows for emotional connectivity. It’s basically about learning and knowing a real-life story well enough to tell it like you were writing a novel. I used it for pieces of the 2002 newspaper story I wrote about the Grills, and used it much more for the book.
What was your process for getting the book published?
We thought we had a deal in motion with a small publisher in Portland but they went under before we finished the book. Fortunately, the Grills were tenacious and wanted to see this book published, or it might have died. We had it edited, type-set, hired someone for the cover artwork, etc. And then we did a run of 5,000 copies at a printing press in Salem. So essentially it’s self-published, which is not always a bad thing. (If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Send Me A Sign, please send Doug an e-mail: Dbind4 (at) aol (dot) com. Part of the proceeds for this book go to the Komen Foundation.)
Tell us about your next book.
I am writing a book about former marathon world record holder Alberto Salazar and the young U.S. Olympian Galen Rupp, who I think is going to be the next truly great American distance runner. At it’s heart it is another story about relationship – a mentor who has learned from his past mistakes and hopes to fulfill his own career by guiding his student to new heights. This one isn’t so much a love story. This time it’s more about sports.
Thanks, Doug, for sharing your insights and your writing journey with us here at Motherlogue. And, thanks for twenty-plus years of friendship!