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Each summer, when teachers and students walk away from another school year, I turn my attention to writing. Usually it’s music, but sometimes it’s non-fiction. During the summer of 2013, my sights were set on writing a biography of former WVU head football coach and New Martinsville native Bill Stewart.
I was a fan of “Coach Stew.” I loved when the national commentators would describe him as “the nicest guy in college football,” and I was proud he was from the Ohio Valley. I liked what he was trying to do at WVU which, in his words, was to win with class at a high level while producing quality student-athletes. I also believed he could deliver on it.
When word got out that his tenure as head coach was coming to an end, I figured most of his online presence through WVU would disappear, so I downloaded a few of his press conferences. When he died, I was touched by the stories that came out about the way he made a difference in so many lives, and I started a “Bill Stewart Tribute” page on Facebook, where friends and family could share their memories.
In August 2012, three months or so after Coach Stew’s death, I contacted his wife, Karen, to let her know I had the press conferences as well as some of the memorials that came out. She said she’d love to have anything I wanted to share; in turn, she could someday share them with her future grandchildren.
On that note I became determined to put together something more substantial for the family. I found a full game from each of Bill’s three years as head coach, various press conferences, and photos as WVU’s head coach. I also added a memorial section and placed it all in a “Memory Book.”
Having the content from the memory album and watching people on internet message boards and social media misrepresenting what he said and did gave me the impetus to write the book. I had information his friends and fans would enjoy, and I wanted to give him a platform to answer his critics by having the final say. My goal was to place his words in the context of which they were spoken.
Now, I had never written a full-length biography. Furthermore, I researched women who had written sports books, (in particular one about a football player/coach), and my search returned zero. I was not sure if I could write it, and I was not sure anyone would buy it if I did. I reminded myself that God once used a talking donkey to accomplish his purposes, so maybe there was a chance.
I created categories for different points in his life such as birth through high school, college years, early coaching stops, WVU assistant, Fiesta Bowl, and the head coaching years. Then I took what articles and interviews I had, stripped the quotes, and placed them in the appropriate category. Next, I searched the internet to fill any I thought needed filled, and I changed the verb tense to reflect one voice.
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Once I convinced myself I might actually be able to put the book together, I had a few other hurdles to overcome. First and foremost, would the Stewart family support the project? I had no credentials to handle such a task, and I was coming to them seemingly out of nowhere. I wrote the first three chapters before letting anyone know what I was doing. If I failed, no one else need know. Once I had the early chapters written, I contacted Karen. This time I asked if anyone was writing a book about Bill. “Not that I know of,” she said. I sent her what I had done and asked her thoughts; I also promised I would delete it instantly if she was uncomfortable with the work.
Her first response was “Wow.” Then she made a correction on the date Bill proposed to her (it was New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Eve as listed in the article), and I thought, “She’s willing to work with me!” So I wrote another chapter and sent it to her for fact checking. I completed the book in November 2013. Then, in May 2014, Karen contacted me and said, “I finally finished reading through it, and it would be an honor to have this published.”
With the support of the Stewart family, I tackled the next big hurdle. Was stripping Stewart’s words out of interviews even legal? That was a big one. I spent a month consulting various lawyers before I had the approval to move ahead.
The next few months were focused on starting a publishing company, finding the right editor and printer, securing the permissions, and rounding up pictures for the photo section. I made my first public announcement regarding the book on Facebook in mid-September and sent the book off to the printer Oct. 1, 2014. The Kindle version was available in a few days, and the finished print version arrived in early November. Karen joined me as we handed out the first ones at the New Martinsville library.
I didn’t have any idea what to really expect, but I’ve been thrilled with the response. It required three things to see it through — time, talent, and interest. Some writers may have been more talented but didn’t have the time or the interest. Others may have wanted to write a book on Coach Stewart but perhaps didn’t know how to go about it. I had the interest; I had developed enough talent to see it through, and I was fortunate enough to have 8-10 weeks off in the summer when I could focus on my writing. I’ve come to believe it was just mine to do.
You can purchase a copy of the book, “Bill Stewart: In His Own Words,” online at susanjonesonline.com or from various stores (listed on the website) around the Valley. Susan Jones and Karen Stewart will be at the Moundsville Library November 30 from 5:00-6:30 for a “book talk” and signing, and Susan will also be at Moundsville Pharmacy on Saturday, Dec. 12, from 10-11:30 a.m. for a book signing.