Elskan Triumph is a bottle washer and freelance violin instructor who lives near the Canadian border. He also writes mystery novels and a variety of other genres. A core tenet of his mystery philosophy is that good stories happen where it is really cold in the winter and overbearingly hot in the summer--Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, etc. and some parts of North America and Scotland. Although geography has thwarted him from being a great Scandanvian mystery writer, Elskan channels that dream as he writes from his home in the Northeast.
Where did you get the ideas for this story (Wanderer: An Ice Hockey Novel)?
They come from a number of places. Japanese samurai and Zen stories, for one. I heard and then read about Musashi, a samurai who later became a Zen monk and wrote The Book of Five Rings. He was such an upstart--in his last duel, he overslept and carved a sword from a broken oar, and won with a single hit. Fantastical stuff. I’ve watched some Kurosawa films, particularly Yojimbo. They have a sense of humor and irreverence to them that I tried to capture. Also, arrogance. Plus, the hero is usually really good at what they do. D.T. Suzuki is a Zen Buddhism scholar who includes a lot of good stories and legends in his work, in addition to offering a structure to the whole Zen philosophy. So, that’s a foundation.
I’m also a sucker for the sports movie. It’s a formula, but it works: Underdog team of misfits, they collect some key players, train a lot and eventually overcome great odds. Even the worst of them have good, memorable moments--that final play that everything hinges on. I love it. And, even though I know the result, it still works. Those training montages are inspirational--you see one of these movies and think you can be a professional in an hour (you can’t). No logic, just emotion.
A specific influence is Bernard Malamud's The Natural. Not the movie, but the book. I had thought of telling this story as a baseball story. In Malamud’s book (spoiler alert) Roy Hobbs strikes out. That’s right. In the movie, Robert Redford hits a home run--knocks the park lights out and they explode into fireworks--and everything is right in the universe. It’s a great, magical scene. The book is depressing. Everyone is a flawed and horrible character, except when Hobbs is playing. Hobbs takes a bribe, but decides not to take it--he really tries to hit the ball and win the game. Instead, he strikes out. It comes out that he took a bribe, even though he meant to hit the ball, and his name is ruined. Everyone, including him, loses everything. I know why they changed it for the movie. Still.... In the book, Hobbs has a moment of peace at the end, and that stuck with me. I tried to do that here.
I also think of “Casey at the Bat”. He strikes out. I try to see it as, “Well, at least he took his swings,” but the end is just a downer. Mudville has no joy. It’s a pretty good ending to an otherwise hokey poem. I could also mention the end of the original Bad News Bears--they lose!--but you can see that’s a lot of baseball for a hockey story.
What made you tell this as a hockey story?
I was going to write it as a baseball story. I grew up with baseball and baseball movies were big at the time. The Natural, Field of Dreams, The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham…. But it didn’t work. The sport seems bloated and every image I had was loaded with a mythology that was beyond my story. Perhaps I could have. I can see it as movie. I recently read an article where people wondered what happened to the great baseball movie, but I can see this as one.
The winter on the ice is what got me. When I look out at fishing shacks and the grey ice and sky I see my story. Bare. Raw. That’s what I’m looking for; something that matches the emotions going on. The training segments are key to understanding a good sports story. Baseball is all hot and spring and sun and I couldn’t get past that. I could, but I couldn’t. I think that’s why baseball stories tend to hark back to before polyester--when times were simple. Or, in a movie like Major League, it’s all a joke. No one finds an epiphany in Florida wearing orange socks. Lately, though, I wonder about the absence of minorities in these stories, because harking back to simpler times also means pre-Jackie Robinson. I’d like to make a purist baseball movie with a cast that looks like our society today. But, with old flannel uniforms and wooden bats.
Hockey is a really interesting sport, with a fascinating past and great fan base. I worry that I sold hockey short in this book because I don’t know anything--I think I don’t know anything, but that could be my own insecurities. Time will tell, and reviews, I guess. Even though it is clearly a business, hockey still has elements that are basic to its mythology. I don’t know any kids who play baseball outside of a league--it starts early--but I like to imagine kids on ponds and backyards just hacking around. I’ve been told I’m delusional and that shows my ignorance. So be it. I’d rather live in that simple world.
After a late season snowstorm it is discovered that a student, Peter, has been living alone for months, his widowed father missing. Concerned about the fate of the boy and curious about his reluctance to help authorities find his father, Horse sets out to discover what really happened.
Naively feeding her school’s anti-intellectual mood by hosting book burning parties, The Night Librarian follows Agnes Jackson as she comes to an act of civil disobedience that destroys the heart of her school and puts her on the run.
You witness the destruction of your father at the hands of Smith, a rouge hockey player-for-hire. Eight years old, you watch from the corner of the room as this great player walks away from your father and causes the ruin of your family. Not yet knowing how, or contemplating the consequences, you vow revenge.
Old Horse is a curmudgeonly, sarcastic and highly intelligent seventh grade teacher in the rural north who supplements his salary by laying sidewalks in the summer. While tearing up one he had laid thirty years prior, he finds the bones of a child. But no child has ever been reported missing from Grace Haven. How could a child be dead for so long and no one miss him?