Q&A: ESPN host, Medill alum Mike Greenberg on his new novel

Hayley Glatter, A&E Editor

Between hosting ESPN’s “Mike and Mike,” serving as the grand marshal of Northwestern’s 2013 Homecoming and devoting time to his family, Mike Greenberg (Medill ’89) somehow found time to write another book. “My Father’s Wives” follows the story of Jonathan Sweetwater, a man who goes on a journey to meet all six of the women once married to a father he never knew. Greenberg will talk about the newly released novel at Winnetka’s Book Stall, 811 Elm St., on Saturday, and he will co-host a radio broadcast with ESPN Radio 1000’s Jesse Rogers from the store. Greenberg, who donated 100 percent of the proceeds from his last book, “All You Could Ask For,” to breast cancer research, sat down with The Daily to talk about “My Father’s Wives.”

The Daily Northwestern: Can you tell me a little bit about the development process of “My Father’s Wives”?

Mike Greenberg: I was having dinner with a friend of mine in Los Angeles and he introduced me to another guy, literally someone I had never met in my entire life, and he had just wound up being invited to this dinner. We had dinner with about eight people. We’re chatting and he tells me, out of nowhere, ‘My father was married six times.’” And it was like being struck with a bolt of lightening. I thought to myself, “Gosh that’s fascinating. What a different way of living.”… I finished my previous book not long before that, and I was looking for something else to write, and I thought, ‘That is a fascinating character and that was really the beginning of it. I started with that character and then I decided I wanted it to be somewhat based on me. It’s first-person voiced and it is very similar to mine, and I thought to myself, what situation do I want to put him in. And I thought, “What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to me?” And I thought the worst thing that could happen to me would be to feel like my family was threatened. … There’s nothing in my life that’s nearly as important as my wife and kids and to feel like that was hanging in the balance would be the scariest thing that I could think of happening to me. I decided to put Jonathan, my lead character, in that situation right at the beginning of the book and have him find his way out of it.

The Daily: Why didn’t you write a sports book?

Greenberg: I wanted to be a writer a lot longer than I wanted to be a sportscaster… There’s nothing even remotely as satisfying in my professional life as looking at a blank piece of paper and filling it up. Or, maybe more to the point, of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book. I find that more satisfying than I find anything. So I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’m not opposed to the idea of writing about sports. That is not, nor do I ever envision it being, a priority for me. I’ll write stories that I find to be interesting… and I may someday write a book that’s set in the sports world. I probably will, I’d guess, because it’s a world I’m familiar with. But it’s not something I feel obligated to do. My goal someday — and I know it’s going to take a lot of work and it’ll be a long time before it happens — but my goal someday is for me to release a book and for people to say, “I’m looking forward to reading Mike Greenberg’s book because I like him as an author,” as opposed to, “Oh yeah, that’s the sportscaster who keeps writing books.” I know I’m a long way away from being thought of that way, but that is my eventual goal.

The Daily: How have you navigated the change from journalist and sportscaster to author?

Greenberg: You don’t really have to navigate the change. In life, and I think this is a great message for students, a great message for people at Northwestern, is you can do more than one thing. If you are disciplined in the management of your time, then you should not confine yourself to one box. You should not say, “Well because I’m doing X, I cannot do Y or Z.” … My message to Northwestern students, and I wish someone had delivered this to me when I was there 25 years ago, is don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed into one thing. You can be a lot of different things at once, and that’s what I’m being. Just because I’m a sportscaster doesn’t mean I can’t write books or do any number of other things if I want to.

The Daily: Why is Jonathan a character that will resonate with readers?

Greenberg: I love him. He’s a guy who has really good priorities. He’s a guy who was raised without a real, structured family unit, and that’s all he cares about. His entire life is built around having a stable and nurturing home for himself, his wife and his kids. When that is threatened, he comes to the conclusion that he will do literally anything he has to to try to save them. And I think that if I were to ever find myself in the same situation he finds himself in at the very beginning of the book, I think I would do exactly what he does. I love him. In my mind, he’s sort of an extension of me.

The Daily: Anything else to add?

Greenberg: I’m really looking forward to coming back. The last time I was on campus was when I was the grand marshal of the homecoming parade, and I can tell you that that was one of the best experiences of my life… In my life, the older I’ve gotten, the more important Northwestern has become to me, the more important my connection to the university has become, the more important my memories of my time there have become. And my message to all students, to any Northwestern students reading this, is to really try to take some time to cherish your experience there. The one thing that I think is really sad, and I see this with my own kids who are younger than that, is that young people today, your age and younger, are being put in a position where they’re forced to worry about their future too much and spend far too much time worrying about their future. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t be worried about your future, you should be working as hard as you can, but as I said when I spoke at Medill (in October 2013), make sure to take time to have fun in college. You’re never going to live this way again.

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