ESTEVAN - With the release of the Shootout, Lampman's Maureen Ulrich has completed her Jessie Mac hockey series. The fourth book takes a new approach to the plot, still bringing the readers back into the filled-with adventures world of long-loved characters and hockey.
The Mercury reached out to the author to talk about the book-writing process, the series and Shootout itself.
The latest and the last book in the Jessie Mac hockey series took a long time, but now, all that work is completed, Ulrich said she is happy with how everything went. She first thought about writing about university hockey about nine years ago, and that's when she created the first few chapters. But then until recently, not much was happening with the book.
"Since 2014, I wanted to write a book that incorporated a storyline about university athletics … I did start a manuscript at some point, I wrote a couple of chapters, and just kind of got bogged down and couldn't seem to find my way through," recalled Ulrich. "Then once I got into revising the first three books in the series, and I knew I wanted to write a fourth to finish this off, it gave me a chance to think about potential storylines … It feels like I started over. I learned a lot by revising the first three books of the series, which I relaunched in 2020. And I've hopefully applied what I've learned to book four."
Ulrich didn't use a lot from the original novels, written nine years ago, and it took her about six months to craft Shootout. One of the things that made writing this book easier was the pandemic, which put most things on pause and made the writing process so more valuable and enjoyable.
"It was a little bit of a dream, to be able to go back in time and write about things that were not (happening). I mean, some of the girls were allowed to practise last year if they were under 18. But other than that, there was no university athletics across Canada. And I had the time and the space, and then the desire to reflect, and the desire to manifest that story and do it justice," Ulrich said.
The brand-new book continues with the story of the main character Jessie McIntyre, who shares the stage with her younger sister Courtney.
"This book, Shootout, is told from two viewpoints. So there's Courtney, who's 14, who has the odd (numbered) chapters, and then Jesse, who is 19, has the even chapters," explained Ulrich.
In Shootout, Courtney McIntyre navigates Grade 9 at the Estevan Comprehensive School while playing boys hockey for the first time. And her sister Jessie is in her second year with the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies, discovering the hard way what it takes to be an elite player in an elite league. Shootout revisits the Huskies’ 2013-14 season.
Ulrich said that sports play a big role in her life, and her daughter playing for U of S inspired her to take what she knew about university athletics and use it as a platform for the book.
"My daughter played with the University of Saskatchewan for five years. And university sports, they're not the highest level, obviously, in the country, professional sports would take that stage, but they're so classy, and so well done, and so difficult, because these athletes have to balance school along with their sporting pursuits," Ulrich explained.
"So it really takes a special kind of person to be able to balance all of that. And the 2013-14 team, which my daughter helped coach, she was a defensive coach with the women's team, won the Canada West Championship, their very first ever in the program's history. And those girls were such fantastic girls and role models. And I thought it would be great to tell their story …. I wanted the former players who are now young women, nurses, accountants, a lot of them are mothers, they moved on in their lives, and I want them to look back on that experience that they had in 2013-14. And I want them to be really proud and to feel that I've done justice to their story."
Four fictional characters in Shootout, including Jessie, are inserted into the Huskies' saga, surrounded by real-life players and coaches. Ulrich used the Canada West division records of the games, game stories of the U of S Huskies website, as well as players' personal recollections, to create the "real" part of the book. While conversations in the book, of course, are not captured literally, Ulrich said she wrote them based on facts and they consist of something the real characters could have said. She followed the schedule of the 2013-14 team, their results and goals, apart from those by the four fictional characters.
She said balancing between real history and fiction was quite a bit of a job, as she had to replace some real people with fictional characters that were acting differently from what happened.
"In some ways, using a real team and real scores and a real schedule, made it easier because then I had a blueprint for how to lay out my storyline. But I had to push aside three players who played on the third line, which is where my main character and a couple of the other characters play. And in my acknowledgments, I give them credit as being the real mucker and grinders, third line. They're mentioned by name, but not in terms of what they actually accomplished and contributed to the team," Ulrich said.
While the four characters are fictional, they still had some real-life prototypes behind them, Ulrich said.
"There's Jessie's friend Kathy Parker, who's definitely inspired by one of my daughter's teammates, early on in her high school years. And then the other characters, more or less I contract them to represent the types of girls that I saw play. A first-year defenceman, who starts off kind of naïve and ends up being quite sophisticated by the end of her first year. And then I've got another player who is gay to replicate the fact that there's a lot of gay women who play hockey at a high level and are fantastic people and athletes," Ulrich said.
While the book is focused on hockey there are many other themes sounding through the pages.
"If the young readers were going to pick up some lessons from this, I guess it would be just in terms of everybody's got their story, and just having empathy for people, even people that you didn't get along with, just trying to figure out where they're coming from, that might explain why they act the way that they do. I think there's definitely something to be learned about letting go and when it's time to let go of something," Ulrich noted.
"Maureen Ulrich's Shootout is an ambitious novel that reaches far beyond the scope of an action-packed hockey story. We see both sisters' worlds develop in a convincing manner—in terms of their goals, maturing sense of self, connections with peers and other issues. These range from the dynamics of friendships and families, teamwork, bullying, hazing and peer pressure—to maintaining a sensible balance (whether in a university or high school setting). For each sister, there are bits of romance with puzzling and hurtful challenges. First Nations culture is addressed, along with issues faced by immigrants and by transgender players," said Alison Lohans, award-winning author, in her review of Ulrich's book.
On Oct. 15 at 4 p.m., Ulrich will have a Shootout Zoom launch, hosted by publisher Wood Dragon Books at zoom.us/j/9396154822, with support from The Writers Union of Canada and Canada Council for the Arts.
The hope is to have different live readings and book signing at Estevan Public Library on Nov. 8 and in Lampman Public Library on Oct. 20.
"People are encouraged to register in advance for those. Just because if we end up having to go online, it's nice to get ahold of whoever had planned to come and let them know that there'll be a change. But at this point, we think that we'll be able to go ahead with in-person events in those two libraries," Ulrich said.
Starting Oct. 15, it will be available at Henders Drugs and online.
"Henders Drugs have been so great in carrying the series, and the books have moved really well there. I'm really pleased to have their partnership in this," Ulrich said.