This week saw the release of SuperFan! A new WWE novel for middle grade boys and girls by Jeff Gottesfeld. Jeff has an extensive writing background in fiction, film, television, and stage. Frequently partnering with his wife (Cherie Bennett), Jeff’s previous works include Anne Frank and Me, A Heart Divided, The A-List not to mention 2006 film Broken Bridges as well as TV shows such as The Young and the Restless and Smallville!
Wrestling 101 had the opportunity to catch up with Jeff to discuss the new book and lots more…
Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself to get started?
My pleasure. I’m basically a jock who’s also a writer. I played competitive tennis when I was a junior, which is another way of saying that Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal would have destroyed me and left no traces, but I was good enough to play for my high school and college, and teach during the summers. I still play. I ski, I lift weights, I run, I play golf, and I’m a serious sports fan, too. My favorite American football team is the New York Jets and Premier League team is Tottenham Hotspur. That said, I want to go to Celtic FC game sometime so I can sing “Fields of Athenry.”
I was raised in the New York City area, and now live in Los Angeles.
How did you get into writing?
I always wrote, though I didn’t set out to be a writer, per se. The first things I ever had published were politically naive letters-to-the-editor of the local newspaper when I was in grade school. Then I did the school newspaper thing in high school and college, and kept at it into law school. (Yes, I’m a lawyer who doesn’t practice. Better other people than me!). Coming out of law school, I went to work in business and professional publishing, but still wrote freelance nonfiction for magazines and newspapers for fun. Then I met my ex and former writing partner, Cherie Bennett. We started collaborating on fiction, screen and television stuff, and even some work for the stage. Through all that, I kept up my essay writing on various subjects (though not WWE).
Along the way was some pretty cool stuff. The first ten books (as Zoey Dean) in the bestselling THE A-LIST series for Little Brown, a couple of TV shows, the Paramount movie BROKEN BRIDGES, and a pretty racy novel for adults called TURN ME ON. Now, I’m writing on my own, and with some other partners.
So how did you come about this opportunity? Did WWE contact you or did you pitch your idea to the WWE?
Did WWE contact me or did I pitch? Both, sort of.
I’ve got a pretty good relationship with the publishing house Penguin Books, and the editor-in-chief of a couple of their young reader divisions, Bonnie Bader. A couple of years ago, Bonnie and I were meeting about another project when she mentioned offhandedly that her company had just entered into a big-time kids’ books licensing agreement with WWE.
You should have seen my eyes get big.
I told her that I was part of the WWE Universe and had been part of the WWE Universe back before the WWE was the WWE. I told her how and why WWE works so well as entertainment for guys. She told me that most of what they had planned was non-fiction, but novels were not out of the question. I asked if I could pitch a couple of ideas to her, and she was more than open. I came up, with Cherie’s help, with two that Bonnie liked a lot Several months later, Bonnie asked if we wanted to take on SuperFan! (It had a different title then, but let’s called it that). Cherie didn’t, but I did. So I wrote a massive chapter-by-chapter outline which everyone seemed to love, and then it was off to the races for me at the keyboard.
Have you always been a fan of WWE? When did you start watching?
Okay, I’m going to date myself here.
I had a terrible bicycle accident when I was in third grade. For many weeks in the hospital, there wasn’t much I could besides watch TV. So I watched. And I saw stars like Bruno Sammartino (I know he’s got a scratchy relationship with WWE now; may that please change!), Cowboy Bill Watts, Gorilla Monsoon, Haystacks Calhoun, Professor Toru Tanaka, “Crazy” Luke Graham…you get the idea.
Then, I sort of drifted away for a couple of decades.
Then, with the ascendancy of Stone Cold, The Rock, and HBK, it became impossible not to pay attention again.
“Watching” turned into fanaticism when I first pitched the idea for SuperFan! in 2009. I honestly don’t think I’ve missed a RAW, and hardly any SmackDowns, since then.
What’s your favourite memory of wrestling?
Three of them, and maybe not what you’d expect.
First favorite is boyhood. It’s Hall-of-Famer Bobo Brazil — who in my opinion had a huge impact on race relations in America; he was so loved by so many — delivering his signature “Cocoa Butt” move to the forehead of it-didn’t-matter-who. Great stuff.
Second favorite is in my twenties. I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and worked out at a very tough and spartan gym called “The Gladiators.” When I say tough, I mean tough. There were guys shooting steroids in the basement, and we’d lose somebody to prison every few months. Those guys taught me how to pump iron. Among the membership was WWE Hall-of-Famer “The Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz. He’d be working out next to me, and I’d just be in awe.
Third favorite is a memory that was made just within the last few months, but I’m sure is going to last forever. Mark Henry tearing the door off the steel cage during the steel cage match between Big Show and Alberto Del Rio, and then putting the hurt on Big Show with that door. I saw that with a seven-year-old WWE fan, and she wanted to see the replay four or five times.
Alright before we go any further, favourite and least favourite wrestler?
The temptation is to cheat and name more than one favorite, and more than one most-hated.
But I’m not gonna do that.
Favorite Superstar right now? I love watching and listening to Cody Rhodes do his thing.
Least favorite Superstar? I’m not a big fan of Santino Marella. A bit too schticky for me. But considering the pop he gets, WTF do I know?
Superfan is not the first WWE Novel to appear; we had ‘Big Apple Take Down’, in which various WWE Superstars were cast as secret government agents. I won’t mince words; the book was as well received as a flesh wound. Many felt the characters were not handled appropriately – how well do you think you’ve managed to capture the personality of the WWE Superstars in your work?
To paraphrase The Rock, what I think about how I’ve managed to capture the heart and soul of Rey Mysterio and CM Punk — the two main Superstars in SuperFan!, who mentor our hero Shawn Reynolds and our villain Spike Murcer, respectively — doesn’t matter. What matters is what the WWE Universe, and particularly those middle grade readers at whom the book is most aimed, think. Believe me, they’ll know.
It’s a bit of an artistic risk to write dialogue for Mysterio et. al., but I did my homework. One good thing. My Superstars aren’t cast as secret government agents, aliens, vampires, werewolves, zombies, or anything other than what they are: WWE Superstars. The book is about a twelve-year-old boy who starts off thinking that WWE is the stupidest thing in the world, and comes not just to be a great fan, but a great person too.
How long did it take you to write Superfan? Did you encounter any problems?
No problems whatsoever.
My style — it comes from writing for TV – is to do an extremely extensive chapter-by-chapter outline. My outline for SuperFan! was twenty single spaced pages, for a book that only runs 144 pages, double spaced. I knew — and my wonderful editors Laura Marchesani and Bonnie Bader knew — exactly what was going to happen in each chapter, which made the writing itself easy. Of course, things do change through the writing-and-revision process, but SuperFan! didn’t change all that much.
WWE got to review the manuscript, of course. They were really pleased with what I did. I think there were nine notes in toto from WWE.
I had as much fun writing SuperFan! #1 as I’ve had writing anything in years. And I got really, really lucky when I decided to make CM Punk my main Superstar antagonist. I’d like to say that I was able to look into the crystal WWE ball and predict the fantastic story unfolding right now with Punk as we head toward SummerSlam. But the truth is I had no clue.
What goal did you set out to achieve when you sat down and wrote Superfan? Do you think you achieved it?
That’s easy. Crank myself back down to the age of my target readers — say, eight to thirteen — and write a book that I wouldn’t be able to put down.
If you’re a kid — a Jimmie, in R-Truth terms — who loves WWE? This is the novel for you. If you’re a Jimmie (or a Janie) who thinks that WWE is the dumbest thing in the world? Well then, this is the novel for you too, because the hero Shawn starts the story feeling exactly the same way that you do.
I wanted to write a story for kids that parents could feel confident buying. The language is clean, the story uplifting, and it’s very supportive of the American armed forces. The turning point of the book happens when Shawn’s father gets the phone call saying that his Army reserve unit is being posted to Afghanistan.
You do mention on your website that this is the first in a series, do you think you’ll be doing anymore writing for WWE in the future?
I know I will. SuperFan! was so well received by the publisher and WWE that they asked me to write a sequel. I just finished it. It’s called SuperFan: Tag-Teamed! Like SuperFan #1, the story culminates at Wrestlemania. in SuperFan: Tag-Teamed!, the hero mentors are Kofi Kingston and Big Show, while the heel mentors are Alberto Del Rio and The Miz. If either of those latter two make a “face” turn during the year to come – my narrative is screwed. I don’t think that’s gonna happen, though.
Many of your previous books have been collaborations however this is independent. How does it feel to be doing this on your own?
I loved it. While there’s a lot to be said for co-writing — it’s extremely common here in Hollywood — there’s also a lot to be said for doing a book on one’s own. In this case, with the subject arena of the novel so specific, I’m glad I got to play on my own knowledge and background.
Do you have any advice for those of us hoping to get published?
Every writer works differently, but as a general rule? Know what you want to say before you say it, whether you’re sitting down to write a blog post, a book for kids like SuperFan!, or what you hope will be the most important novel of the twenty-first century. Work out your story or your piece before you sit down to write it. Better writing will be the result.
Anything else you want to say to our readers?
Yes. If there’s a kid in your life who’s a reluctant reader but loves WWE? SuperFan! could turn him or her into a reader for life.
Thanks so much for the chance to speak with you!
To find out more about Jeff see: JeffGottesfeldWrites.com