By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – It has been many years since author Steven Sandor was the editor of The Morinville Mirror, but the author, journalist and editor has never forgotten the community he once called home. In fact, Morinville is the backdrop in his new novel Playing for Keeps.
The novel, Sandor’s third book and first aimed at youth, tells the story of a young soccer goalie making his way while living in a hockey town. Throughout the fast-paced story readers will find the Ray McDonald Sports Centre, Georges H. Primeau School and St. Jean Baptiste Park as the setting for Branko and his story.
Sandor said there was a strong desire on his and his publisher’s part to set the story in rural Alberta, something not common in a lot of sports novels. “They all tend to be hockey and they all tend to be set in places like Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver,” he said. “I thought with soccer’s growing popularity we have a chance to speak to the game and how it’s grown in Canada and – as well – make it sort of a prairie story. The publisher was pretty excited about that as well.”
Morinville became Sandor’s choice to set the novel because it was the first place he lived when he came to Alberta. Sandor was a reporter and editor of The Morinville Mirror in the early 1990s and covered hockey in the community during that time. The choice of Morinville allowed Sandor to add those French-Canadian roots to his novel. “I think it is an ideal place to set a Canadiana story because it’s close to Edmonton [and] because of its prairie roots,” he said. “But at the same time those strong French-Canadian roots make it a very, very interesting place. It gives you a lot of fuel for the Canadiana aspect of it.” To show those roots Sandor has added the Pelletier brothers, two hockey players with promising future careers, as major characters in the novel.
The author’s first two books were non-fiction sports books: Hockey Sites & History, and The Battle of Alberta. Sandor said the transition from non-fiction to youth fiction was in part due to his desire to encourage young people to read. “I’m a real passionate believer in giving young people any sort of gateway into reading,” he said. “Whether it be Harry Potter. Whether it be comic books. Whether it be sports stories. We have to give as many exciting opportunities for kids to get excited about reading. That, to me, is part and parcel to it. If I can give something I have a passion for – which is soccer – and impart that so a child is enjoying a book and will read something else later, that is really important to me.”
Playing for Keeps is published by Lorimer Publishing and is available at all major booksellers. Sandor is currently working on his second sports novel. The book is about football and is also set in rural Alberta. For more information on the author visit stevensandor.com.