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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Weeds


One of my three current editorial projects is now complete and my collaborator sent me these beautiful flowers as a thank you. I'm happy she's happy! She is a rock star and I hope I get to work with her again sometime.

I'm back to the book now, the first half of which is due this month. I had a great interview with a person peripheral to the story this morning. It reminded me that I really do love reporting. I'm just so curious about how lives unfold. It has also just occurred to me that I'm going to have to do endnotes, there is so much history covered in the life span of the good doctor, the woman who is my extraordinary 97 year old subject. I've had to do tons of research as I go, to make sure I'm getting it right, and of course, I can't just dump secondary facts or quotes into the narrative without sourcing them. This is a rather belated realization. Fortunately I've been keeping track of my sources.

I have no idea how people wrote books containing actual historical detail before the internet. I imagine they just moved in to the library, and got very familiar with its card files. And took a lot longer to complete things no doubt. Capote, the biography of Truman Capote by Gerald Clarke, for example, took eight years to complete. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which won a Pulitzer, took 11 years to complete. I am trying to do my subject's life justice in just one year, yet these are the books I'm looking to as examples of what I strive for. Talk about aiming high.

From her writing retreat at Hedgebrook Elizabeth posted a Virginia Woolf quote the other day. For me, it was right on time, the perfect description of what it feels like to undertake something so ambitious as a book. I'm reposting it here, because it reminds me that I am not going it alone, and I am still on the path, even when it feels as if I have fallen into the weeds.

"Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world."

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography


14 comments:

  1. How does it work when you ghost write a book? Do you get any recognition? Does the author's name appear on the cover? How do you find someone to ghost write a book for you?

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    1. Birdie, you negotiate with the subject as to whether your name will appear with theirs on the book cover. When you see books that say they are "by" somebody "with" somebody, the "with" person is the ghostwriter. How to find a ghostwriter? Literary agents usually, but there are all sorts of ways. Word of mouth, publishing attorneys, googling ghostwriters, there is no one way.

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  2. Wow. so much percolating in this post!

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  3. I love reading your blog! I wish you the best on all your research to compete your book. The flowers are very pretty too, thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Drita, I need them!

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  4. Ack - I am too often too far from our blogs as both writer and reader. Still every time I swim back up against the tide in search of you I am rewarded richly. Thank you, thank you. xo
    Angie

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    1. Angela, so nice to see you. I'm glad you bucked the tide! I missed you!

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  5. I look forward to hearing more about the woman that you're writing about -- or for! Will you be able to reveal her to us when the book comes out? And I can't imagine how hard you are having to work and research for this -- and in only one year. How did we ever live without the internet -- and it's really only been less than twenty years that we've actively used it. Bizarre.

    I do love the Virginia Woolf quote, although it freaks me out that she actually felt so insecure about her work and writing.

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    1. Elizabeth, it is insane that VIRGINIA WOOLF felt this, but perhaps that's part of why she's so good. And I'll definitely tell you when the book comes out next year sometime. How widely I spread the news will depend on how I feel about the final products, although, of course, she deserves the widest exposure. I'm doing my best! I realized when I was away from her that I missed writing in her voice, and living within her sensibility.

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  6. I am really looking forward to reading your book! I loved "The Warmth of Other Suns," and I'm sure yours will be fabulous too -- nothing wrong with aiming high!

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    1. Steve, obviously it will not be The Warmth of Other Suns; I don't have Isabel Wilkerson's gifts, nor do I have 11 years to do the kind of painstaking research and thinking through that she did, not is the scope as grand! I'm trying to moderate your expectations here! But I do hope to do the good doctor justice; after 97 years of wanting to tell her story, she deserves my best effort. Pray it will be up to snuff. But thanks for the support!

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    2. I'm sure it will be terrific. I didn't meant to persist with an unreasonable comparison. You are a wonderful writer and editor and I know you'll do your subject justice. :)

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  7. Your job sounds marvellous.

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