It’s NHL playoff time, so we caught up with writer Tyler Hellard to chat about his new novel, Searching for Terry Punchout (to be released October 15th, 2018) coming out with Invisible Publishing. Tyler talks about why an awful read inspired his book, what hockey great he’d love to see reading it and why his house is full of books.
Tamara Jong: Hey Tyler, congrats on your new novel coming out with Invisible in October this year. Your bio says you quit hockey at 18 because you were pretty bad at it (I also quit because I could barely skate). Where did you come up with the idea for Searching for Terry Punchout? How long was this story in the making?
Tyler Hellard: I thought of it probably a decade ago. Maybe longer. I was reading a bunch of sports biographies, including Stephen Brunt’s Searching for Bobby Orr, which I lifted my title from (it’s very good). But there was one on Steve Yzerman that was kind of hilarious because Steve Yzerman wasn’t in it—like, he wanted nothing to do with it, which the author notes and just decides to write the book anyway. It was a terrible read, but it got me thinking about ex-athletes who might not want to be bothered by these things and the set up for the story sort of came out of that. All the stuff about small towns and getting away from them is loosely autobiographical. I had a long time to think about the story because while I was ostensibly a professional writer, I had no idea how to actually write a novel. I sat on the idea for maybe five years, occasionally making some notes, and then spent another five slowly picking at it and learning how books are written.
TJ: Can you share a favorite line from Searching for Terry Punchout?
TH: I got nothing.
TJ: If you could have a hockey great read your novel, who would it be?
TH: I grew up a Red Wings fan (Gerard Gallant was from the same hometown as me, so a lot of people around my age loved the Wings). I wish Bob Probert were still alive and would have been delighted to find out he read it. I don’t know if many people think of Joey Kocur as a “hockey great,” but I loved him and would be just as delighted.
TJ: In your article “Paper Trails” you wrote that you stopped buying books and were happy to just read on a Kindle and phone. Then your wife recommended a physical book to you, and while you were reading it, your son pulled out a copy of Calvin and Hobbes. So, you started up with paper again. Then in your article, “In Defense of e-readers” you said you’re a hybrid. I agree that it’s just important people are reading. Are you still a hybrid when it comes to books these days? What’s on your Kindle or nightstand?
TH: Definitely a hybrid. I love physical books—like, the actual objects themselves—and my house is full of them. I tend to read those more at home because I want my kids seeing me enjoy them, along with newspapers and magazines. They just understand what that is more than if I’m reading on my phone. That said, my Kindle is always in my backpack. I walk about 35 minutes to and from work every day and I like to read on the way. Reading while walking is a solid skill but took me a lot of practice and before the Kindle I was mostly limited to small paperbacks that I could fit in my back pocket. With the Kindle, I can read anything. Also, it stays in sync with my phone, so I can slip in extra reading if I’m caught somewhere without a book. I’m a sucker for convenience.
TJ: What do you think would be on Terry Punchout’s warm-up playlist?
TH: I don’t think Terry would listen to a lot of music. The only time it comes up in the book is when he mentions he doesn’t really like jazz. The bulk of his career happened in the seventies, but he’s sort of an old-school guy. Since he’s entirely my invention, I have just decided he’d be a big Johnny Cash fan. If books had soundtracks, I’d love it if he could drop the gloves to “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
Tyler Hellard grew up in Prince Edward Island, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University and now lives in Calgary with his wife and kids, where he writes commercial copy, technology criticism and essays. His non-fiction has appeared in THIS Magazine, The Walrus, and on CBC Radio. Before finally quitting hockey at 18, he was pretty bad at it.