Some know Mike Lupica, the reporter. He began his newspaper career covering the Knicks for the New York Post at age 23. In 1977, at 25, he became the youngest columnist ever at a New York paper with the New York Daily News, a newspaper he continues to write for more than 30 years later. Along the way, he launched the Sporting Life column in Esquire, published articles in Playboy, Sports Illustrated and Parade, and has received numerous honors, including the 2003 Jim Murray Award from the National Football Foundation.
Others know Mike Lupica, the sports personality. The 58-year-old has made frequent appearances on ESPN's Sports Reporters.
But when we caught up with Lupica recently, it was because of his work as a writer of novels for young adults. Lupica has had seven consecutive New York Times bestselling novels, including the No. 1 bestsellers Heat and Travel Team.
In his new book, Hero, Lupica introduces the reader to Zach Harriman, a 14-year-old kid grieving the death of his father while slowly discovering he holds superhero powers.
Unlike his other young adult novels, Hero leaves the Little Leaguers behind. However, Lupica holds on to a simple truth found in all of his stories: "Anybody can get knocked down, but if you get up in a triumphant way, that's the measure of your heart and your character.''
When you attended Boston College, did you study English or journalism?
I majored in English. At least back then, they didn't offer a journalism degree at Boston College, and I wasn't thinking about becoming a newspaperman. I wanted to major in English to read good writing, to expose myself to as much good writing as possible. I already knew that's what I wanted to do because I have no other skills, and if my writing goes south, I'm in trouble.
When you're working on a book, do you shy away from other writers' books or do you get inspiration from them?
You definitely do less reading of anything else when you're busy writing, and you definitely don't want someone else's voice to get into your own writing DNA. Elmore Leonard, one of my big mentors and good friend, told me that sometimes to help get him started writing, he randomly picks up one of his old books. Sometimes I'll do that. Actually, right now I'm writing a sequel to Hero, and I find myself going back and re-reading parts of it for that reason.
If you were not in the throes of writing, what books would you be reading?
The top of the list is Djibouti by Elmore Leonard. At 85, he's still at the top of his game. I also received a galley of Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane, and I'm so happy that he brought back Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. I also have Star Island by Carl Hiaasen, and it's a scream. Then, I always keep a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. I pick it up from time to time to get me fired up.
What's your favorite Hemingway short story?
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. I've read it countless times. That short story is one of my two all-time favorites.
What's the other one?
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw. I got to meet him, and that was incredibly exciting for me. It was near the end of his life. One day, I had found myself and Jack Whitaker (a sportscaster) playing golf with his wife. She invited us to have drinks with her and her husband. I saw his writing room. He had just gotten a box of his collection back from the publisher — Five Decades. He pulled it out of the box and signed one for me. I've been so lucky to meet and get to know writers that are absolute heroes of mine.
I imagine you've always marveled at how moral lessons can be found in sports. Is that the case?
It's true that sports does hold life lessons, but I don't go looking for sports to be a morality play. My books are about finding out what you have inside you.
For example, my book Travel Team was based on real-life experiences I had coaching my son's basketball team. He was small, and he got cut from a basketball team. I took all the kids who got cut that year and started a team of my own. I told my agent I saw something great that year, and he encouraged me to come up with an outline for a novel. In my opening lines for Travel Team, I wrote, "He knew he was small. He just didn't think he was small. Big difference.''
Here in Florida, Safe at Home is on our Sunshine State Readers program this year.
That makes me happy to hear.
You've gotten a lot of reluctant boy readers to pick up a book and read because of your sports characters, and now a superhero character. Can you talk a little about girls?
Miracle on 49th Street focused on a girl protagonist, Molly. In Safe at Home, there's Gracie. Some of my other solid girl characters include Ellie in Heat and Tess in Travel Team. I always include strong, good females as well as strong males in my books. I have to. I've got a cool wife and an 11-year-old daughter, along with three sons.