Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Todd Denault

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Ten Questions with Todd Denault

Todd Denault talks to Open Book about writing, hockey and why Jacques Plante was the most important goaltender in the history of hockey.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey.

Todd Denault:

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey tells the story of one of those rare people who fundamentally changes his chosen profession.

In addition, to being the most successful and decorated goaltender in the history of hockey, Plante was also the most important. This book tells the story a man who emerged from the poverty of his youth to the pinnacle of his chosen sport. And he did it his way, overcoming the scorn and disdain of many critics and even some contemporaries to establish a new way of playing his position, one that was soon emulated by all those who followed.

OBT:

Why is Jacques Plante such an important figure?

TD:

Before Jacques Plante, the position of goaltender was usually tendered by a player who remained anchored to the confines of his net with the sole purpose of stopping the opposition’s oncoming pucks.

Jacques Plante was able to transform the position of goaltender. Goalies had traditionally allowed the puck to come to them; Plante actively went after the puck. Thanks to an inquisitive mind and an unshakeable belief in himself, Plante was able to widen the boundaries of the goaltending position. Amongst his many innovations, Plante was the first goaltender to play the puck, pass it up to his teammates, communicate with his defensemen, signal for icing and, most famously, popularize the wearing of a protective mask. And while many of these ideas were roundly scorned at the time, Plante’s continued and constant success validated his ideas, so much to the point that many of his innovations have over time became standard practice amongst all goaltenders.

OBT:

Tell us about the research you did for Jacques Plante.

TD:

When I began doing the preparation for book, the research began with one primary goal in mind, and that was an overriding desire to discover the “real” Jacques Plante. For me that involved gathering any and all information I could find about Plante.

The finished book is based on a few different research techniques. For someone like Plante, who enjoyed a lengthy professional career with numerous teams, this meant interviewing teammates from the start of his career in Montreal, like Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore and Henri Richard, and those who played with him a decade later in Toronto, like Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler. In addition, those who worked in the media during Plante’s career were also crucial to the book. When it came to selecting interview subjects, I tried to talk to those who had interacted with Plante at various points in his life.

I supplemented these interviews by going through any book, magazine or newspaper that featured a reference to Plante. For someone like Plante who was quite outspoken and enjoyed a prominent career, there seemed to be no end to the materials available. Needless to say, this type of research involved many hours in various libraries. Coupled with Plante’s honesty, these materials proved crucial for the book in addition to being so bountiful.

And finally, I was able to view a tremendous amount of video featuring Plante. Some of the games that Plante starred in have thankfully been preserved on video and provided a first-hand look at not only his unique style but also gave me a glimpse of him at his best.

OBT:

What did you find challenging about writing a biography?

TD:

I find that when preparing a biography, particularly about someone who is deceased, the hardest part is the realization that there are parts of someone’s life that are just impossible to fill in. Usually, the level of an author’s research corresponds with the amount of loose ends that he or she is able to tie up, the more research one does the less loose ends.

In the process of researching one often unearths little tidbits of information that only leave more questions as opposed to providing conclusions. Usually, these little nuggets of information are very inconsequential to the finished book. However, for an obsessed researcher, this information, begs to be answered. But when dealing with someone who is deceased there are some questions that the author just can’t find an answer too, because he or she doesn’t have access to the one person who would know.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

TD:

Currently, I write in a room where I can close the door, before sitting down at a desk with a keyboard and a screen and with all of my research materials within hands reach. I also like to have a little music on in the background.

Now if I could upgrade from the basement room I currently right in to a room with plenty of windows that brought in natural light then that would be ideal.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

TD:

One night when I was struggling to write last winter, I decided to make a trek to the local rink. And sitting there drinking a hot chocolate, that was neither hot nor chocolate, in a rink that felt like the coldest place on earth, I watched a group of boys, around ten or eleven playing house league hockey. Sitting there on the cold, paint-chipped bench in a seventy-year old rink, what struck me most was the enthusiasm of those skating before me. In front of me were these kids playing hockey for no reason other than the love of the game.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

TD:

Pierre Berton’s The National Dream which tells the story of how Canada went from being an idea on a piece of paper to the country we live in today. Each volume of The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation, each of which tell the story of those who have contributed to the Canadian identity. And lastly, I would pick Ken Dryden’s The Game, the greatest book ever written about the game of hockey.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

TD:

I am currently reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, a great book with amazing detail. When I’m working on a project I tend to read historical biographies as a diversion from what I’m researching. In terms of what I’ve recently read Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, the third volume in his epic biographical study of Lyndon Johnson, is an unbelievable read as is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, which explores the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

TD:

In a word – read. I don’t think it’s possible to be a good writer, much less one that is attractive to prospective publishers, without being one who loves to read. Your reading will inform your own writing.

OBT:

What is your next project?

TD:

I am currently mulling over potential ideas.


A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Todd Denault is a freelance writer who has had his work featured in numerous online and print publications. A graduate of Carleton University and Lakehead University, Todd resides in Cobourg, Ontario. Jacques Plante is his first book.

For more information about Jacques Plante please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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