Author Spotlight
Blake Sebring

Five Keys to Writing a Celebrity’s Biography

An iconic torch flame will ignite London’s cauldron later this month, marking the official opening of the Olympic Games. Fittingly July’s AuthorHouse featured author is a lifelong sports fan, ice hockey commentator, and multi-published author who writes for the pure joy of it.

Blake Sebring has covered the Fort Wayne Komets for twenty-two seasons and more than a thousand hockey games. He has also co-written two biographies. The first, Live From Radio Rinkside: The Bob Chase Story, charts the life and career of the 60-season commentating legend, and the second, The Biggest Mistake I Never Made, is about Lloy Ball, who won a 2008 Olympic Games gold medal with the US men’s volleyball team.

The First Key

“The key to co-writing a biography with a celebrity is easy: Find someone who likes to talk a lot. In some ways, that’s even more important than finding someone who has a lot to say because if you have a great subject who doesn’t like to talk, you’re sunk. I was lucky my two subjects liked to communicate and had something to say.”

This is certainly true of the charismatic Lloy Ball, who in 2008 became the first man to represent the US at four Olympic Games in any major team sport. He was known as the “bad boy of indoor volleyball” and labelled an “in-your-face, tattooed Generation X-er” early in his career.

The old aggressiveness and posturing had softened as Ball entered his final Olympic Games, sixteen years after his debut. A more mature athlete, he helped steer the gold medal performance that inspired the mayor of Fort Wayne to declare August 28, 2008, as Lloy Ball Day and award him the seal to the city. His response to receiving the award was classic Lloy, “I’m gonna’ accept this from the Mayor, but only on one condition. (Indicating the gold medal around his neck) That he doesn’t think we’re, like, changing or anything.”

The Second Key

His personality made Ball the perfect subject for Sebring to collaborate with.

“I was also lucky that both men, Lloy in particular, love to share their opinions, which is becoming increasingly rare among people in athletics.”

This really caught Sebring’s attention. In a time when sports characters and personalities are becoming a rare commodity, when homogenized athletes seem to be produced on a factory conveyor belt, terrified of saying the wrong thing for fear of being lambasted by the press, Ball’s off-court directness resonates as loudly as his victorious “Boo-yah!” screams on it.

Sebring points to the press. “I’ve always thought it was hypocritical for sportswriters to criticize and castigate Tony Stewart after he says something the slightest bit controversial. Of all people, shouldn’t journalists cherish athletes who actually have an opinion on something and are willing to share it? Do we want boring, monotone players who only tell us what they think we want to hear? It certainly would make for boring, monotone stories that no one wants to read.”

The Third Key

Sebring identifies scheduling as the third key to writing a successful biography, especially when working with a celebrity or someone who travels as much as Ball did for his profession.

“The hardest part was organizing the time to actually sit down with them and conduct the interviews for the books. That meant I needed to be hyper-organized and have lists of questions made up ahead of time that I could give them so they could get their thoughts organized for the next session.”

The Fourth Key

Familiarity with your subject is a huge advantage. A major reason Sebring chose Lloy Ball and Bob Chase is that he is fortunate to know them personally. In Chase’s case, there is also a professional relationship.

“Over the 20 years I have covered [Ball’s] achievements, I’ve never had an interview with him where I had to pull quotes out of him whether it was in person, on the phone or by e-mail half a world away. Lloy has never been shy about telling what he’s thinking, and maybe more importantly for my work, what he is feeling after exhilarating wins and crushing losses. As a sportswriter who loves to write the conflict, passion, and emotion of the people playing the games, he’s a rare athlete to work with.”

The Fifth Key

Sebring was inspired to approach Ball because, despite his achievements and status around the world, “none of that has changed who he is.” Ball is still the same guy Sebring met two decades earlier.

“In an era when most athletes would not express an opinion of the greater world around them under threat of torture, Lloy Ball is refreshing . . . If you ask, you’re going to get a heartfelt answer so you better be prepared to hear it.”

Sebring is convinced sportsmen such as Lloy Ball make this world a more colourful, entertaining place.

“We need more athletes like Charles Barkley, Tony Stewart, and Lloy Ball. At least when they speak, you know they believe what they are saying and no one else told them to say it. I fear they are becoming a dying breed.”

Unlocking the Celebrity Biography Conundrum

So here are the five elements that should be hanging from your keychain to unlock the doors to writing the biography of a celebrity:

  1. Your subject should like talking.
  2. They should have an engaging personality.
  3. You will need to be determined in your scheduling and note-taking.
  4. Familiarity is a massive bonus, whether it be background knowledge, personal friendship, or a professional relationship.
  5. The X-factor. That one thing that gives you the utmost respect for your subject.

    You can read Blake Sebring’s full article about working with Lloy Ball and Bob Chase on their biographies in his AuthorHouse Author’s Digest guest blog.