December 10, 2009

Interview With The Author: Kirstie McLellan Day

A couple of weeks ago I named Theo Fleury's book Playing With Fire as the Hockey Book Reviews.com 2009 Book Of The Year.

It was a pretty easy choice this year, due to Theo's tragic story, the book's impact and bestselling status. But I was also full of praise for the book's authorship. It is Theo's story, but Kirstie McLellan Day is the book's unsung hero. She understood her subject probably more than she wanted to. By doing so, she kept the emotion and the anger in the text brilliantly.

I recently had the chance to chat with Kirstie McLellan Day, seen below with Theo Fleury at a recent book signing. Here's the interview:

From one author to another, what is it like to wake up in the morning, look at the bestselling books list in a variety of newspapers/media sources and see your book at the very top?!

As you know Joe when you are a storyteller, your main goal is to have people listen to your stories. So it is really gratifying to hear that someone is touched by your work. I am a little compulsive so I keep checking to see how we are doing. We have been the bestselling book in Canada for eight weeks at this point, but a lot of that credit goes to Theo. He is out there doing interviews, meeting people and signing books. Just awesome dedication.

How did you get the job of writing Theo Fleury's autobiography?

I had written a book called No Remorse: A Father's Murderous Rage with Liba, the mother of two kids who were murdered by her evil ex. I will always be grateful to Liba for allowing me into the most private part of her life. And then Diana took me on an amazing journey when I was writing Under the Mat. Next I was hired to write the educational and inspirational story of JR Shaw. Each book gave me such a sense of fulfillment, almost, not quite, but almost like bringing a new life into the world. That's a high you just can't beat. I began looking around for someone else's story to tell. I wanted to write a hockey story, and coincidentally my husband met up with Theo at a golf tourney. Theo told Larry he was ready to tell his story and Larry put us together.
You were one of the first people to hear Fleury open up. How long have you known Theo?

I first met Theo the day we made the deal to write the book. He told me about the abuse in our second session, about a week later.
How hands on was Theo in the writing process?

Theoren is an awesome person and wonderful raconteur, but he will be the first to admit that when we began, his memory was not completely intact due to what the had put his body through. Theo did something really smart, he referred me to people who had known him during his lost years and I interviewed them, brought their stories back to him and those recollections helped trigger his memory. I filled in the blanks with a lot of research, and then created a story structure. I'd taken a couple of screenwriting courses with Robert McKee and his teaching on story and structure helped me shape the book. Walk us through the process. Did you interview him and then go to work, or did he write and you polish? How does writing another person's autobiography work?

I am very lucky in that I have worked with people like Theoren who make such an impact on others that I can hear their voices in my head. First, I pulled hundreds of articles on him and then wrote questions. I'd interview him, come home, research the facts, confirm with a second source, write it up and check in with him to make sure it was accurate. Theo and I are both from the prairies, he has a distinctive way of speaking, and a wonderful, colorful way of phrasing things that I was able to pick up on.

Theo's story is ultimately an incredibly sad one. It is hard to read some passages, because what happened to him so his so maddening and unfair. How hard was it to hear Theo tell you his story?

Three years ago, when he first told me the story of how he was abused, he was angry. But in order to write it accurately, I had to peel the onion. When I was polishing the book before publication, we had a session where I hammered him for details and I was wiping away tears as he gave them to me. Thankfully he had come pretty far in his healing and had reframed the incident so he was calm and centered.
This book is very much a big part of Theo's healing process, and the public image is of an incredibly strong man who has overcome demons no one should ever be saddled with. You've seen Theo's progress in his healing process over the past few years. In your opinion, how has he handled it all?

Theo has handled it all with great dignity. Moving forward he is determined to stop abusers. He spends a lot of time trying to help homeless people and alcoholics because he knows they have problems for a reason. He is putting the majority of his time and energy into the Theo Fleury Foundation.
The brilliance of the book is it really captures Theo's emotions - the highs, the lows, the anger, the desperation. As a writer, how did you recreate that environment on the pages of the book?

This may sound weird, but, once I am working with a subject I can hear him or her in my head.
Did this book challenge you in unexpected ways? How so?

The book took a lot more time to write than I had anticipated because of all the research and interviews involved.
You also wrote the story of another famous Calgary family - the Hart family of professional wrestling, specifically the late Owen and his wife Diana in Under The Mat. What is it that attracts you to these tragic real life stories?

Great question. My grandmother, Nonie was a wonderful storyteller. She regaled all 24 grandchildren with vivid, heroic, but often tragic tales of her life. Her grandfather was a great friend of Victor Hugo's. And Nonie's mother told Nonie all the stories Hugo told her when she was small. I remember Nonie sitting in front of my cousins' big picture window at White Bear Lake, with all of us gathered at her feet sharing salty, buttery popcorn. The fire would be going, and lightening lighting up the trees outside while she sat smoothing the wrinkles from the front of her skirt and would begin, "Once when I was a very little girl..."

You have a very fascinating career outside of the literary world. You are the CEO of a very successful television production company and have even appeared before the cameras. Give yourself your best plug and tell our readers all about yourself.

My official bio says: As CEO of Pyramid Productions, Kirstie McLellan Day oversees all of the entertainment company’'s ongoing series and has a diverse background in TV, film, radio and print. Her company has 74 employees and twelve productions underway for international clients. And up until I started writing Playing With Fire, I was very active in building and running our TV production company. We are the largest most prolific production company in Western Canada and make about 400 shows per year for every network in Canada and several in the US and around the world. You have probably caught the odd one: Whatever Happened To? Inside Hollywood, Flames This Week, The Most Amazing, Star Crossed, The Criminal Mind...and many more. But writing takes so much time that our President, my husband Larry, handles the day to day business now. And we have a terrific senior management team that includes our general manager ,my sister our Julie Sinclair, and our Executive VP, Sheila Rae. I still consult and do a lot of script supervision.

Are you working on any new literary projects?

Sure am. I have a new book in the works.

1 comments:

Kelly Jenkins,  December 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

Hi Kirstie
I just read the Ron MacLean Book 'Cornered' and my family is heartbroken. My grandmother was the darling Nina and our family is portayed as a non-loving and abusive family which is absolutely incorrect. I would love to set the record straight.

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