He’s ESPN’s “Macho Sports Guy,” half of the popular “Mike & Mike” sports show team, the one who has lost an inordinate number of NCAA “Sheet of Integrity” wagers that he makes each year with on-air partner Mike Golic. Mike Greenberg is the married father of two with two best-selling books under his belt, each relating to sports. But recently “Greeny” has written a third, his first novel and one that addresses the very feminine and very poignant subject of breast cancer. With two major events benefiting organizations working toward a cure, the 10th annual “Race in the Park” at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain scheduled May 12, and the 20th annual Susan. B. Komen Race For the Cure in Hartford on June 1, it seemed the perfect time for Greenberg to Spill the Beans with Java on his a “chick book, “ “all you could ask for” about friendship, love, heartbreak and renewal.
Q: How did you get the idea of the book, three strangers brought together by illness?
A: The idea for the book came from my wife’s friend, Heidi Armitage, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and died. When Heidi learned she was sick, I watched my wife and other friends rally around her and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. Heidi never went to doctor’s appointments or chemo at Sloane Kettering without one or more of these friends. It was just amazing. I don’t know if it was so much being surprised or being impressed. I guess I was a little bit surprised. I just thought that these women’s capacity for taking care of each other was overwhelming.
Q: Why so surprising?
A: I think sometimes men see women as being characters in “Mean Girls.” But after watching my wife, and Heidi and their friends, all I can say is that when the chips are down, I don’t think I have anyone in my life like they were for her.
Q: So where does the book fit in?
A: My first thought after Heidi died was to run a marathon to raise money in her honor. Heidi left behind two young children and a husband. It was just devastating and I felt like I had to do something. But at her funeral, they were reading these amazing letters, incredible emotional letters about Heidi as a woman and I had not even heard of these people before. And they wrote about her like she was their sister. My wife told me they were from friends Heidi had made on an online breast cancer support site but that she had never met any of them. So then I got the idea of writing a book about three women who meet on one of these sites.
Q: You are considered a “macho sports guy” but there are nuances in the book that are so girly, you had to have had a woman on board to understand the connection between girlfriends. How did you find your female side?
A: When I decided to write a novel about three women, I broke out in a cold sweat. I figured I was going to make the biggest fool of myself and it was going to be impossible for me to pull this off. But I sent the first several chapters to my literary agent and said ‘tell when to stop writing this.’ And he called me and to my surprise said ‘this is good, keep going.’ I wrote about half and then enlisted a three-woman focus group — my wife, my agent’s wife and my yoga instructor, and they would read chapters and then send me notes on what was good and what was not. I have one here and I was advised regarding something I had written that ‘no 28-year-old woman would ever use the word blouse’ so I took it out. There were lots of those kinds of notes. I got a lot of it right because they kept helping me.
Q: So where is ‘Greeny’ in this book?
A: All over it. Every novelist’s first novel supposedly is partially autobiographical. There are parts of me in it. One of the characters in the book, Brooke, is probably most like me. The irony is my wife hates her because she makes a decision at the end of the book that my wife disagrees with. Brooke wants life to be perfect and when adversity comes into her life she does everything she can to make believe it isn’t there. That’s a little bit like me. I do think in a macro look at men and women, things aren’t as different as we think they are. Mortality, friendship, there is no difference. They are not gender specific.
Q: Any concerns that this “ladies novel” could compromise your reputation as a macho sports guy?
A: If I had a reputation as a mucho sports guy maybe it would. I am sure a lot of people thought ‘what is he doing,’ or ‘you wrote what?’ If you had told me five years ago this was going to be my first novel I would have said no but sometimes, as Golic’s wife says, you don’t find the story, it finds you. I am seeing a different crowd at the book signings and it’s wonderful. I know it is not a book for all my fans but that’s Ok.
Q: Your plans for the proceeds from the book?
A: I am donating 100 percent of everything to The V Foundation for Cancer Research in Heidi’s name. My sense of justice was violated by Heidi’s death and I feel like I wrote the book to try to get justice back. I wrote it to do something nice, to get some good from what was a terrible situation. It has so affected me, going out and meeting these people who have survived cancer. It has affected me profoundly.
Q: And your next novel?
A: I am about two-thirds done and it is done with a first person narrator. It’s about a guy who is very close to me and lives like I do. He thinks he has a perfect life and then an event takes place and he goes out on a quest to find what life really is.
Q: If your current book were made into a movie, how would you cast the lead roles?
A: Samantha: Olivia Wilde, Katherine: Jennifer Aniston, Brooke: Leslie Mann and Pamela: Susan Sarandon.