Imrem: New novel inspires memories of sports columnist

Updated 12/29/2015 8:00 PM

Christmas has passed, but it isn't too late to give a friend a New Year's present.

If he or she appreciates a good read, allow me to suggest "A Better Goodbye" by John Schulian.


One Top Ten list of 2015's best crime-fiction debuts offered this summary: "A strong look at desperate characters in Los Angeles on a path to collide together in one violent moment. If only Altman were around to do the movie."

The recently released novel combines two of my favorites: L.A. Noir and Schulian, who was a Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times sports columnist during parts of the 1970s and '80s.

About that time a neighbor greeted me as I moved into a new condo.

"So you're the writer," she said.

"No," I said, "Hemingway was the writer. I'm just a newspaper hack."

Schulian was no newspaper hack. He was as literary as a sports writer could be.

We once were on the same flight to Detroit for a Michigan-Notre Dame football game and decided to share a rental car to Ann Arbor.

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After the game, I figured we would finish writing and have time for dinner before catching our flight back to O'Hare.

It took me very little time to string together about 650 words. Meanwhile, Schulian must have pored over each vowel and consonant as if it were a precious gem, which generally each of his was.

We wound up having to speed from Ann Arbor to the Detroit airport to make our flight.

Guess which of our columns turned out sounding better. On second thought, no, please don't guess.

One difference between us was that I know only about 100 words and 23 letters of the alphabet. Schulian knows more words, all the letters and the perfect order in which to position them.

The impression was that Schulian cared so much about the written word that he took every possible second to make sure each came out exactly the way it was supposed to.


Remarkably, though, Schulian still did some of his best work on boxing bouts that began late on Saturday evenings.

Deadlines were impossible, yet Schulian's boxing columns were terrific anyway. No wonder "A Better Goodbye" features a haunted ex-boxer.

Schulian left newspapers in the mid-1980s to write for TV, and I attribute this quote to him even if it isn't really his:

"Writing for newspapers is a great way to make a terrible living; writing for TV is a terrible way to make a great living."

Schulian wrote for hit shows like "L.A. Law," "Miami Vice" and "Hercules" before co-creating "Zena: Warrior Princess."

Overall, TV wasn't too shabby a next career for a former newspaperman.

In 2005, when the White Sox stopped in Anaheim for playoff games on the way to winning the World Series, then-Tribune sports columnist Mike Downey mentioned that he was going to have breakfast with Schulian.

I invited myself to join them and one of the things Schulian said that morning was that he wrote a novel but couldn't get it published.

Hmmm, I thought, John Schulian, as talented as he is, as successful as he has been, as networked as he must be … this guy wrote a novel and can't get it published?

Yikes! … What chance does any other budding novelist have?

Regardless of whether "A Better Goodbye" is that book, it should make a great New Year's present for someone who appreciates great writing by a gifted former newspaper sports columnist.

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