Grown Locally: Scottville native publishes first book. 

December 17, 2021

George Wilson

Grown Locally: Scottville native publishes first book. 

Grown Locally is presented by House of Flavors Restaurant of Ludington and features locally owned businesses and locally produced products.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Scottville native George C. Wilson recently published his first novel, Owen 9, a story about a small town high school football team that facing an inevitable winless season. The book is not so much about football, however, as it is about high schoolers navigating love and loss, coaches and families. 

“The inspiration for Owen 9 was decades in the making,” Wilson said. “I sat through many bull sessions with a wide variety of coaches in seven different school districts over the course of my coaching career.  The one constant was humor. Sometimes it was the gallows humor that comes with losing.  Sometimes it was the lighthearted humor of educators/teachers/coaches dumbfounded by the wackiness you inherently come across when working with teens.  I worked with several coaches who would start out with ‘here’s one for the books…’  and they would relate a totally hilarious story involving a student athlete.”
Wilson grew up in Scottville, the son of “Big George” and Mary Wilson and graduated from Mason County Central High School in 1979. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in library science from Wayne State University. He is a media specialist (librarian) at Rockford High School and owns a seasonal home in Ludington. 

Parts of the story have a connection to his hometown. 

“If you came of age in Scottville in the 1970s, for the most part, you didn’t see a lot of success on Friday nights in the fall on McPhail Field.  I think my senior class, 1979, was the first Spartan football squad in over a decade to win the homecoming game.  I didn’t play high school football but I was a wrestler and in the 1970s the Spartans were better on the mat than most teams on the west side of the state for many seasons.  That dynamic is in play in Owen 9.  Fictional town Bear River, Mich. is a wrestling powerhouse for a small school.  But they have a long history of being also rans in football.  The Bear River Bears are not the Spartans but the setting of the story will seem familiar to any reader with a geographic knowledge of mid-Michigan. Although all the communities featured in the book in that region are not actually school districts, mostly just little crossroads that dot the rural landscape there. A writer’s conceit to play games with the settings.  And there are events and episodes in the novel that take place on the Lake Michigan shore. An early chapter is partially set on the beaches in Ludington and at a cottage on Hamlin lake.  And a mid-book chapter has events set in Saugatuck.  Scottville is only mentioned by name once – briefly.”

Owen 9 has been in the making for over a decade. 

“I started sketching stories to include in a book more than a dozen years ago,” Wilson said. “The events in Owen 9 are purely fictional. Some peripheral plot lines aside.  I had the chapter involving the calamitous homecoming weekend largely written before the novel was started. It set the tone of the book. The outline of the book comes from a profanity laced indictment of the comic and occasional tragic failures and misdemeanors of the football team given by a character in the last chapter.  I worked out from that monologue to fill in the stories in each chapter.  The characters are fictitious.  Many are archetypes of athletes I have coached and fellow education professionals I have worked with in the last three decades.  I have a connection to the coaches in Owen 9 in that they have idealized characteristics of the coaches I worked with and wanted to emulate or in a couple of cases did not want to be like at all.”

Wilson said the book has a mix of emotions.  

“There are many episodes in the book that made me laugh to myself as I wrote them,” he said. “It is a darkly comic novel at times. Losing begets desperation.  And the Bear River Bears are a losing team.  So, there is plenty of raw desperation.  But there are also elements of light hearted or even silly humor. We are talking about teen athletes after all.  They can bring the goofy into any situation in my experience.  Additionally, as a long-time teacher, I couldn’t get through a story like this without including some heartfelt coming of age character driven moments that I hope ring true to life. Finally, there are a couple of monologues delivered by the coaches at various junctures that in some form or another I have delivered myself.  That is probably the most self-aggrandizing element I slipped into the story.   A writer’s ego and story teller’s drive to get to a satisfying payoff is hard to avoid.”

Wilson’s inspiration to write came from living near and working in libraries. 

“I am a lifelong reader.  I grew up two blocks from the library in Scottville.  I worked for the Ludington Public Library for a while over 30 years ago.  I’ve been a school librarian for 28 years.  Books are a huge part of my life.  

“Not every avid reader confesses to wanting to be a writer.  I can only say I didn’t set out to be a writer.  I set out to be a teacher and a coach. What I really wanted when I chose my career was to have a job I wouldn’t hate going to in the morning.  I’ve had that. 

“The writing truly grew out of something parallel to being a lifelong reader.  I grew up listening to great story tellers. My father for one.  I have honed that skill in myself over the years.  I have stories to tell. But writing is another matter.  You have to have an ego to fancy yourself a writer.  I’ve got that.  You need to be dogged and a little bloody minded to tackle the task of filling blank pages with cogent prose.  That is something I also have been accused of – being bloody minded. 

“Then you need the time.  That can be the highest hurdle to master.  Writing takes time.  If it’s not your career finding the time to write can be difficult. I wrote this book over the course of three summer breaks starting in 2012. Summer breaks when I could devote 10-hour time blocks to it.  Summer breaks where I wasn’t tied down to coaching football – I retired from that sport in 2006 when my son was born. I revised Owen 9 a few times in subsequent years. Once after my wife, Ellen Bristol, read and edited it.  Then I hired author and editor, Scottville’s own Sarah Jensen, to edit it yet again.  The pandemic gave me the time to tune up the novel after Sarah’s work on it.  Then I sought out a publisher.  I don’t have dreams of an easy retirement off of the profits of my writing.  But it has been an immensely rewarding endeavor in other ways and very much worth it even if it doesn’t turn out to be very profitable. 

He said he is working on some future projects. 

“I have a comic apocalyptic political novel outlined and the character sketches completed.  But my wife will not let me write it.  Too incendiary.  Given this day and age she is completely right as even its working title will likely generate outrage. So much so I don’t think a publisher would let me name a book that.  I have another sports novel outlined that is set in a suburban Michigan community torn asunder by a fight over school issues.  Not really a comedic work but one that again is likely to be decidedly polarizing. So maybe that one can wait.  The one that I like to think I will actually take a shot at completing and publishing is a fictionalized account of my father’s teenage years as a 14 – 18-year-old boy emancipated from a highly dysfunctional family and being raised by a community of interesting characters.  It is set in the 1940s in Detroit and in a small west Michigan farming town.  Names changed to protect the guilty and somewhat innocent.  I have the first chapter started and the remainder of the book outlined.  Maybe when I retire from teaching I’ll knuckle down and complete that novel.  We will see.  

The book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google books and at the publisher’s website. 

Grown Locally is presented by House of Flavors Restaurant, 402 W. Ludington Ave., owned locally by the Neal family for over 70 years; 231.845.5785; Facebook. Now offering free dine-in ice cream with any meal after 11 a.m. through April 30, 2022. 

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