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Thursday
Jul072011

Q&A With Alan Shipnuck & Michael Bamberger

Alan Shipnuck and Michael Bamberger, Sports Illustrated writers and authors of several solo non-fiction works, have joined forces to novelize the Tiger Woods scandal in The Swinger, due in stores and via download starting Tuesday.

Telling the story of "Tree" Tremont through the eyes of a former newspaper-writer-turned-paid staff member, The Swinger is a raucous, lively and at times laugh-out-loud funny look inside the world of professional golf and modern celebrity. While it sails along only to bog down briefly during the protagonist's stay in a sex rehab clinic, the surprising ending should leave those still frustrated with Tiger's post-scandal actions feeling satisfied.

And I guarantee you’ll never think of Altoids, Vijay Singh, the wine cellar at Augusta National or, for that matter, Tiger Woods, the same way again. 

Shipberger offered to answer questions via email in advance of the book's July 12 release.

 

GS: So a certain famous golfer crashes his car on November 27, 2009, is outed as a serial philanderer and patient of a PED using shaman, then returns to the course a different man who is clearly not the same golfer he was before. Somewhere along the line one of you two had the bright idea to write a novel inspired in part by the events. Considering we writers tend to not share our ideas with other writers, approximately when and how did you two first hatch The Swinger?

SHIPBERGER: In December 2009, Michael told Alan he was thinking about writing a novel about a sportswriter who goes to work for a swinging golfer. Alan told Michael he was thinking about writing a fictional autobiography of a swinging golfer. We talked briefly about collaborating but each of us wanted to keep noodling on our own. The 2010 golf season began in earnest and neither of us got very far. Writers tend to procrastinate. Maybe you've noticed. In November 2010 we had a roughly 40-second phone call that went something like this:

Michael (in Philadelphia): Maybe we should do this together.

Alan (in California): Cool.

Michael: Christine's calling me to dinner.

Alan: Yeah, and I got to get the girls to gymnastics. Send me the first chapter and let's see how it goes...


GS: Ultimately what was the "why" factor in using Tiger's situation to inspire a work of fiction about the modern day PGA Tour and a superstar player?


SHIPBERGER: Tiger's situation, as you say, was just sitting there,
begging to be explained more. The New York Times Reviewer, Janet Maslin,
wrote that we don’t insult the reader’s intelligence by claiming that these characters bear no resemblance to persons living or dead, and our protagonist, Tree Tremont, certainly does shares some qualities with Tiger. But he is not Tiger. Tree has shades of Manny and Lance and Wilt in him, among others.

Our novel is our fictional reaction to Tiger's situation. We've been covering Tiger his whole career. The scandal that upended his life and career is one of the biggest stories in recent sports history but with the walls that Tiger puts up how could any reporter really get close to it? So in creating the alternate universe of the novel we were able to truly get to know the world's greatest golfer, and understand his struggles and motivations and insecurities and passions. When Tree finds himself in the middle of his own scandal we can see and feel every thought and emotion.


GS: Once the idea was agreed upon, how did you decide to collaborate and how did the writing process work?


SHIPBERGER: We'd talk about ideas and loosely map-out the chapters and then take turns writing. Each of us would edit the other. There was no ego invested in who had written what - we were constantly improving each other's ideas and words. It also made the book come to life very quickly, in about two months. There was always pressure to keep typing, because we didn't want to disappoint the other guy. We enjoyed the benefit of a 27-hour workday, with Alan in Monterey County and Michael in Philadelphia.


GS: How far along in this process did you get before you decided to seek the support of a publisher and presumably, frequent interruptions from their lawyers asking questions?


SHIPBERGER: Part of what got us to finally start working on this book was a conversation Michael had with a very talented editor at Simon & Schuster, Jofie Ferrari-Adler. We sent him chapters as we went and he was a thoughtful editor and tireless cheerleader. We also had terrific guidance and suggestions from our bosses at SI, Jim Herre and Terry McDonell. Once the manuscript was finished lawyers from both S&S and SI vetted it. We're lucky to live in a country that prizes free speech. We've taken advantage of it, in this book and in our SI writing, too.


GS: "Tree Tremont" is both a sleaze-bag and an incredibly sympathetic character manipulated by a host of folks, most impressively his father, agent and one particular company that sponsors him. Yet I don't think Tiger will be posting a blurb on his website. Will you be sending a copy to Tiger or Finky, err...Steiny?


SHIPBERGER: We don't think of Tree as sleazy. He's more like a freak show. He grew up in a bubble, like a lot of superstar athletes. At an early age he had global fame and unimaginable riches, and with that came a ton of pressure and temptation. He's certainly selfish and makes a lot of bad decisions but he is not irredeemable, as the book shows. The book explores his growth as a golfer and as a person. Tiger's people have had the book for a while and we hope Tiger picks it up. He's an ideal reader: he'll get all the jokes and understand the historical allusions and recognize the various folks who make cameos in the story. The shrillest criticism of this book will likely come from people who don't read it.

Covering one of the greatest athletes ever, in his prime, has been a thrill for both of us, and seeing Tiger's life implode has been sad, really. We tried to write about our character Tree Tremont with sympathy. We had no interest in "piling on"--what would be the point in that? Tiger's fall from grace raised huge, unanswered questions. Why is an athlete's sex life anybody's business?  On the other hand, were we doing our jobs--were we telling people what he's really like? (Turns out, we didn't know ourselves!) Are the enablers around him in any way culpable for his misdeeds? Can redemption be achieved through sport? We used Tree Tremont to get at these questions. We don't know what made Tiger the way he is, but, through the magic of fiction, we were able to come up with some ideas about how Tree Tremont became the way he is. Many people think the Tiger story came and went and now it's time to "move on." We think it's way bigger than that.



GS: Some people in the game not used to having their feathers ruffled are taken to the slaughterhouse in The Swinger, does that concern you in your future attempts to write about the PGA Tour?

SHIPBERGER: "Slaughterhouse" is a little strong, Geoff!

[GS: I enter into evidence the scene where the fictional Commissioner--a large man with a dye job--is conspiring with Tiger...errr...Tree to cover up his positive test for nearly every PED known to man. Go on...]

We do poke a little fun but we think it's pretty gentle. We love the game and the people in it. That's why we are able to write about golf with the enthusiasm we do. We think golf is better when it's written about with candor. Sometimes that means some people get upset. That hasn't stopped us in the past. It didn't slow us down in writing this book. We'll keep doing what we do.

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Reader Comments (30)

Bamberger is my favorite sports jounalist. He is the reason I discovered Machrihanish (tTo The Linksland!) which re-ignited my love of golf after a failed stint as a touring pro.
But this is a risky project. No-one will read about Tree without imaging Tiger. And your protagonist has got to be sympathetic surely? I haven't met anyone that has any sympathy for Tiger. Still, I'll be first in line at the bookstore.
I'll let you know if they pull it off.
Cheers
Shane
07.7.2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Can't Miss
These guys are profiting off a scandal that was broken by the National Enquirer. They should be proud of themselves as traditional journalists.
_ _ _

"We had no interest in piling on--what would be the point in that?" Um, okay.

"The shrillest criticism of this book will likely come from people who don't read it." For good reason.
07.7.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNRH
Looking forward to my copy arriving. Tree Tremont...i'd like to have sat in on the name 'brainstorm' session!
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrant
Yes, they're not "piling on," allright....
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSari
I'll say this - if the excerpt in the August Golf Magazine was supposed to make me want to go out and buy a copy of the book and read it - mission fail. I'll stick with their weekly writing in SI. I won't be criticizing the book, but I won't be reading it either.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRickABQ
NRH, I'm not sure how old you are, but clearly you are living in the past. What exactly is a "traditional journalist?" - Don't bother answering, it's a redundant question.

Who breaks a story, has absolutely no bearing on whether that story should be covered, or told, or uncovered etc. 'Traditional Media' is failing the people and can not be counted on to give us a clear picture of: Who's starting wars and why, who's dying in wars and why, who's rioting in the streets because the economy is falling apart, who's taking away your civil liberties and why, what governments are hiring PR firms to create fallacies that drive countries to war, what world economic organizations are manipulating currencies and stealing your money....on and on and on. Of course you would have preferred if the tabloids hadn't taken Tiger on and the 'traditional media' had turned a blind eye, because that's the understanding they have. The truth is that team Tiger were committing a fraud, they were selling something that didn't exist for the purpose of financial gain. You may be fine with that, I'm not. I commend the tabloids for being the ones to lead the charge to expose the fraud when all the traditional media sat on the sidelines and debated whether they should jump in for fear of being blacklisted by team Tiger. Is that the behavior of upstanding 'traditional journalists'? I don't think so.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
I haven't read this book, but I think it could be fun and interesting. I wish though the authors hadn't made "Tree" so obviously based upon Tiger. I don't think the authors know Tiger (and think they'd admit as much), but I think people reading this will assume more of this is reality and/or true of Tiger than is actually correct.

Also, I think the book would be better/funnier if it was less based on Tiger and more just a funny story that told life on tour. Some of the excerpts I've seen have made me mildly uncomfortable because they're so obviously based on real people, but the situations themselves are false and embarrassing. Easier to read that stuff if you aren't thinking of a real person.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterelf
I could be wrong but it seems like a lazy way for those guys to capitalize on Tiger's story.

This could backfire on these guys as they try to do their day job. If I was Rory or another player, I doubt I would grant an interview to a guy that may fictionalize my career and personal life for profit.
Thanks for the lesson Press Agent. This isn't about war, politics or civil rights. I never said "traditional media". I never said I would have "preferred" anything. This is about a couple of guys who were presumably out on Tour most of the time who claim to be oblivious to all this stuff that was going on. They get scooped and their ilk would not touch it with a ten foot pole besides reporting on the facts of the accident. Then of course the the voice mails come out and they can't ignore it anymore. The truth is that the traditional media was complicit in this fraud you speak of and seem to somehow have personally lost money over. So now they make a fictional account of a story that was handed to them on a silver platter with backing from S&S? That's just pathetic coming from the same outfit that gives us Gary Smith and SL Price.

Perhaps you can compare and contrast this to the guys who wrote Game of Shadows to understand my point.

Oh, and I am 106 years old.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNRH
@NRH - So you think that the entire Tiger story is out of bounds because the Enquirer was involved in the early stages ? Tiger's fall from being the most popular athlete in the US to his current situation has to be one of the biggest stories in US Sport in the past 5 years.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
@ Brian
No, it is not out of bounds and it is the biggest fall from grace in sports history, non-steroids edition. I am saying that it is pathetic for the types that were complicit and/or ignorant in its making to now profit from it. If they did a fictional account before the scandal broke or a true narrative after it would be a different story.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNRH
why would anyone want to read this? its "art" imitating life

seems pathetic from both writers to do this
07.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterchicago pt
Such a dour group. I for one think it sounds fun, admire the attempt, appreciate the insights in the Q&A and look forward to reading it.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterOB
I just hope it's a paperback. I'm off next week for a hike in the woods and don't want any extra weight!
07.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterpasaplayer
it's kind of ironic that the press he apparently despises is making money off of him (something else that he despises) as a result of his hubris and fall from grace.

it's a story worthy of aeschylus, but we'll have to make do with shipnuk and bamberger. i suppose it could be worse; mitch albom could have adopted it for his "five people" franchise.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterthusgone
@thus -

Perhaps "The Five People You Meet at Perkins"?

You've got a best-seller there.....
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRickABQ
I'll wait for the remainder table...shouldn't be too long.

But speaking of books, "Wonder Girl" was definitely worth the read. The Babe's life is a compelling story from start to finish. It is easy to understand why Louise Suggs and several other of the pioneers didn't care much for Babe. But it is also difficult to imagine another athlete we know about being better than Babe Zaharias, and that includes Jim Thorpe (the first one, not the jailbird). She once won a major track meet as the single member of her team, scoring over 20 points IIRC. As for comebacks, her final US Open victory in 1954 while dealing with the sequelae of her rectal cancer is unlike anything else in golf, including Hogan after the accident. Limping while in pain is one thing. Playing golf at the highest level with a colostomy and annihilating the field is something altogether different. Betty Hicks came in second, 12 strokes back. She also won the last LPGA tournament in which she played. More importantly, in the early 1950s, when *cancer* was the dread disease that dare not be mentioned any time, any place, she went totally public with her diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. That took pure courage. When her death was announced, Hogan and Snead were playing in Great Britain and play was stopped for a moment IIRC.

The author stayed out of the way of his story, for the most part. He has trouble reporting match play scores, but that is not uncommon. He also referred to one of the courses at Gullane Golf Club (can't remember which), where Babe won the British Women's Amateur in 1947 as a "track." That should be changed for the paperback edition. It clanked like one of HoselRocket's worst efforts. On the other hand, Van Natta does own a putter with an inlaid diamond that once belonged to Babe. Which is really something!
@KLG - "It clanked like one of HoselRocket's worst efforts."
When you write a book, I'm buying it in hardback. Your grant submissions to the NIH might even be entertaining to read.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEast End Golfer
Sigh. Pre-ordered for Kindle. I don't know what got into me.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoey
Is this Opposite Day? Just look at the excerpts...

Shipberger: "We don't think of Tree as sleazy."
Book: "Bite the pillow, bitch. I'm taking the dirt road home."

Shipberger: "We tried to write about our character with sympathy."
Book: "!@#$%^& accessories was how Tree once described the children." "I had to eat my mom's %^&*($ cooking all week."

Shipberger: "We had no interest in piling on."
Book's press release: "Completely outrageous... look at the juiciest scandal in sports history. It's a novel for our times."

Wait! I get it! They are just totally making @#$% up in the book tour, too! Literary genius.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRML
I think I would be more interested in a novel, written by Tiger, fictionalizing the lives of a couple of golf writers.
pasaplayer: If your hike is "primitive," you may discover a practical use for S & B's "tome."
07.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterfroghair
RML, now that's freaking hilarious.
07.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSari
Exploitation is just wrong.
07.9.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroglodyte
@HoselRocket -

When this book on the Babe was first brought up on this blog (several pages back in the archives) KLG had mentioned he was going to read it. I asked him at that time to post a review of the book, as it was one I thought I might read. I, for one, am glad he posted the review.
07.9.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRickABQ
@HoselRocket -

Yep, like everyone who was interested in the Baba book is going to go back 2-3 pages in the archives to look for it a week or two later. It has been my experience on this site that once a topic goes off the first page, the number of postings pretty much drops to zero. Seems to be that way to me. This actually seemed like a perfect place to put a review in my opinion, as the overall topic was another book on golf (or supposedly, on golf). Hey, you don't want to read a post? Skip it. Novel idea right?
07.9.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRickABQ
From the excerpted sex scenes I've read, it seems like the authors have never had sex. I feel bad for them.
07.9.2011 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Because I've always enjoyed the work of both Shipwreck and Hamberger, I'm looking forward to this effort (while certainly not expecting a life-changing experience.) Still, among my many musings as I survey the various pro and con opinions of a book that virtually NO-ONE has yet read is the theme that these two are unfairly "profiting" from TWoods unfortunate... uh, "mistakess"..... er, "misjudgments".... um, "reckless and wanton abandonement of every principle of moral human decency." Here in this country, kiddies, writers WRITE -- and professional writers expect to get paid for the effort. Since Woods is a public figure who profited MASSIVELY by employing a team of relentless PR experts to fashion an image that was complete false simply in order to PROFIT, you're saying that two creative writers should simply ignore this devastating fall and continue to address the critical issue of ... what...Golf Scores? This is a tale for the ages and since TWoods adopted his usual technique of stonewalling, I believe it is the DUTY of the media to address this issue in any way they can. And yes: get PAID for it. Boo-hoo if you're still unhappy that capitalism still functions efficiently: if the book is compelling and entertaining it will sell; if it ain't it, won't. You got a problem with that?
07.9.2011 | Unregistered Commenterbenseattle
um, benseattle? here in this country, blog commenters comment. get over it.
07.9.2011 | Unregistered Commenterthusgone
Been away from the computer, mercifully. Did I say something that HoselRocket objected to so strenuously he got zapped? My mention of him was intended as a compliment; he has a great name. Sorry if he took it the wrong way. Or she.

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