ESPN's 'Greeny' channels sadness into novel

| Sunday, March 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The emotions Mike Greenberg felt at the funeral service were mixed. There was sadness, of course, but also another sentiment that was stronger.

“I remember thinking this is the most unjust thing of my entire life,” says Greenberg of the death of Heidi Armitage, a close friend of his and his wife, Stacy, due to breast cancer in 2009.

Greenberg took that sense of injustice and channeled it into his first novel, “All You Could Ask For” (William Morrow, $25.99, 272 pages). He will appear at 7 p.m. April 5 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, South Hills Village.

Half of the popular “Mike & Mike in the Morning” program on ESPN Radio (heard in Pittsburgh on 970 AM), Greenberg has long wanted to publish a novel. When Armitage passed away four years ago, he attacked fiction again with renewed vigor and purpose.

“The book is a book, and I hope people will read it and enjoy it,” he says. “Art is in the eye of the beholder, or the reader in this case, and I hope everyone will take something different from it. But from the very beginning, this has been about trying to do something to justify my sense, my own feeling, that what happened was so unfair, and something good has to come of it. That has been my goal from the very beginning.”

The subject matter of “All You Could Ask For” isn't what diehard fans of “Mike & Mike” might expect. Greenberg follows a course that's more Sophie Kinsella (the author of the chick lit Shopaholic novels) than W. P. Kinsella (author of “Shoeless Joe,” the inspiration for the film “Field of Dreams”).

The plot concerns three women — Brooke, Katherine and Samantha — who fight breast cancer in different ways, with only a few references to sports.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first recounting the women's lives, and the second part detailing their ordeals once they are diagnosed with breast cancer. Greenberg demarcates this dichotomy with a challenge, writing “If you're still reading, you're braver than I am.”

Greenberg admits writing about breast cancer went against his literary tastes.

“I don't generally like to read books about heavy topics,” he says. “I read contemporary fiction, but I read a lot of lighter stuff.”

Some aspects of Greenberg's radio persona do make it into “All You Could Ask For.” Longtime listeners of the program will recognize the references to waxing, the Wiggles and “Seinfeld” that “Greeny” and co-host Mike Golic have talked about on air.

But much of the novel is new territory for Greenberg, who relied on advice from his yoga instructor, Sarah McGrath; Elaine de Spoelberch, his agent's wife; and his wife to make sure the three women were realistic.

Of course, there is a “Greeny” element to the story, however unintentional. The character he identifies with, Brooke, is the one his wife dislikes the most.

“I don't know how to justify those two things,” Greenberg says, laughing. “But the character Brooke is very much like me. She just wants everything to be OK. She's got things in a very good place, and she's not going to let cancer mess with it. If she's reading a book and all of a sudden it takes a turn for the worst and becomes dark and gloomy, she's like ‘I'm out.' ... I'm sort of that way, too. I'm banking on the fact not all people are like that, and they're willing to invest themselves in something and see it through.”

While he takes some measure of satisfaction in the book's publication, he insists writing and publishing the book was not therapeutic or personally fulfilling. Greenberg's share of the proceeds from “All You Could Ask For” are being donated to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, and that's the book's ultimate purpose.

“What I hope happens when I go out on tour is people start buying the book and a lot of money starts coming in,” Greenberg says. “That's the part I hope will be really fulfilling.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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