Sept 29 was the release of the mass market edition of THE PROPHET, which, I have to say, looks handsome in its new jacket. I like the imagery – the empty football field under the lights, a dark unknown town somewhere beyond. That suits the tone I had in mind opening the book, and I spent plenty of time around a football field while I wrote it. Despite my ability to critique the coaching of professional and college teams with ease, it turns out that I don’t actually know anything about the game. Considering one of the two lead characters was a head coach, that seemed to need a little work, and I was graciously invited to shadow the Bloomington High School North team during a wonderful season.
Things started beautifully, when I attended a spring workout and the head coach, Scott Bless, (who appears briefly in the novel) thought I was a scout for the enemy. I was hoping that might be the last identity crisis of the process, but the team’s quarterback spent most of the season locating me on the sidelines to ask “what I saw out there.” I usually directed him back to competent people, but once I couldn’t help saying, “Looked pretty clear to me – you overthrew it by five yards.”
The highlight of confusion came well into the season, in late October, at which point I’d been around the games, practices, and staff meetings for months. Everyone understood what I was doing – we thought – until I asked a few questions during a Sunday meeting and one of the defensive assistants said, “What are you doing, writing a book?” Turns out he thought I was on the offensive staff, and had all year. “Coach Alaska” (he’d grown up in the North Pole, a subject of more than occasional commentary) hasn’t lived that one down yet.
I can’t say enough good things about the patience and kindness that Scott Bless, Tyler Abel and the rest of the North coaches and players and families showed me during that time, and it was one of the really fun stretches of research I’ve ever been involved with, evidenced by the fact that I kept coming back. The game became more interesting to me, I saw new layers to it; the games within the game became particularly fascinating. As much as the research was designed to help me think from Kent Austin’s perspective, it also brought Adam much more alive to me – standing on the sidelines, feeling a part of something and distant from it all at the same time, gave me a better sense of Adam than I had before. And also of The Prophet, watching practice from the bleachers. Just a casual fan. Maybe a townie. Maybe a former student. A little familiar, but impossible to place. Nobody threatening, though, no cause for alarm, he’s just that guy right up there in the…oh…he’s gone now. Oh, well. I’m sure he doesn’t mean any harm…