Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Here I Am, A Nearly-Published Author

It's been less than 12 hours since I finished adding more details to one of my sentences in my Paul Lynde essay. It's 1:10 a.m., and at 2:04 p.m. yesterday, that marked the completion of my share of my first book. I'm done. It's over. Well, all over but the possible editing. We'll see what my writing partner determines about my essays. My Judy Garland essay is 12 pages, and though he said some of it should be trimmed, I honestly can't see what to take out. It's not because of my writing that I say that, but because I've put in every possible thing important to learning about Judy Garland's life if a few of my readers haven't already. Do I take out the process of reaching the start of filming on The Wizard of Oz? Does the start of her career at MGM not matter? Of course it does. As I see it, all details in that essay matter.

But for now, before I begin that part of the process of this book, before thinking about what to write in my blurb (the one detailing the author's origins, living space location, and previous accomplishments, if any), and what photo I should use for my little square, or take a new one, I'm sitting here wondering how the hell I did all this. There were many times I wanted to quit writing this book, such as when I spent last July 4th evening sitting at the dining room table, reading Gerrold Frank's Judy Garland biography, watching the fireworks on CBS from there. I told my Mom many times that I didn't want to do this anymore, and she told me I needed to push ahead because this kind of opportunity, where I was simply made a co-author, with publication guaranteed, would probably not happen again. At 26 years old, this is my first book.

I also remember not long after I accepted Phil's offer to be co-author, being at the Ontario Mills Mall, sitting on a squarish metal bench at a Skechers store while Mom, Dad, and Meridith were looking around, silently freaking out over all there was to do for this book. All the books to check out of the library (I think 20-25 is the final count. I'll pinpoint it more accurately in a few days when I look over all my notes again to see), all the websites to visit, all the experts to find to have them speculate on what these actors might have done with their careers and their lives had they not died. I'd never done this before. I had only written, at most, 1,100 words in movie reviews. Screen It does take up a lot more words than that in every review, but that's online, and I was, and still am, comfortable enough with the format.

A review for Film Threat maybe reaches the top of page 2 in Word, and a few lines down. That's it. I knew, in my all-over worry, that each essay would have to be more pages than that.

I remember one night early in the project when I was reading a biography about the silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and I was so frustrated with having to read and take notes at the same time (I'm a speed reader. I've been reading since I was two years old), that I couldn't possibly continue without something to distract me and yet allow me to keep on working at it. From my local library, which was then Valencia, I had checked out The Prince of Tides on DVD. You already know which one got more attention. I never saw it, but had seen Yentl and The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbara Streisand's other directorial efforts. I couldn't work while I was watching it. All throughout the film, I was stunned by her artistic sensibilities. She's truly an artist behind the camera, in shepherding performances, deciding on cinematography, and picking out those locations which best embody the story. I wish she would direct more movies. Three are not enough.

I'm not sure what book I was reading and taking notes on (Maybe it was Mabel: Hollywood's First I-Don't-Care Girl by Betty Harper Fussell, about silent film comedienne Mabel Normand), but another time, boredom set in heavily again, and I rewatched, over and over, my favorite scenes in Angels in America, which I bought from Marshalls for $6. A treasured bargain, and I also picked up Truman for $3. I particularly like the scenes between Mary Louise-Parker and Justin Kirk in that Cocteauesque room with the red curtains.

I remember not doing anything for this project last December, nursing an addiction to Farmville and Cafe World on Facebook. I didn't play them all day, since there were books I wanted to read, and certainly not all night, because I had, and still have, the freelance writing newsletter to work on, but it took up a goodly amount of time. It was partly that I didn't feel like working on the book, but also because of a total lack of confidence. It was never, "Can I really do this?" It was always, "I don't think I can do this." There were many nights for months when I laid in bed, staring up at my ceiling fan, feeling that acute stress over all the essays I still had to write, the people I still had not interviewed, the facts that seemed hard to arrange into a readable order. In early February, I was thinking about how the hell I was supposed to read about '40s actress Carole Landis in preparation to write an essay about her, while overseeing these other 19 essays. The book I bought from Amazon, Carole Landis: A Tragic Life in Hollywood by E.J. Fleming, was $35.95, and it was so badly written, without any editing to guide it. Fleming made the same point three times in the same paragraph, and I didn't like having to slog through so many facts pressed together. There was no detailed context, no real description. Based on all the research the book contained, I saw Fleming's passion, but I couldn't see myself spending more time reading this book just to get plenty of notes to turn into an essay. By e-mail, Fleming was agreeable to speculation about what Landis might have done in her life, but I couldn't take it. Plus, at that point, the deadline for the book had been March 15 (Phil then moved it to April 1, and finally, April 15, tomorrow). I had written only six essays, with 13 more to go. I e-mailed Phil, told him about the book and that I couldn't do a proper job with this essay, and asked him to take it. For me, that meant 19 essays instead of 20, but 19 is better when you're interested in the many figures you're researching. And despite the price of the book, I pitched it into the recycling bin. Not that I have that kind of money regularly, and I know I could probably have given it to the Salvation Army store location near me, but I didn't want that book in my room anymore. But I did get to claim it on my taxes as an expense. At least I got something good for my trouble.

I know that year I spent on the book is gone. It's strange, though, that I can't feel now all the little things that bothered me during the research and the writing. Now it's like sitting serenely on a deep green hill, a slight, pleasant breeze around me, and the sun beginning to set. I didn't expect trumpets to blare when I finished writing my share of this book, or a ticker tape parade to happen. The world keeps moving. The traffic is still worse. Some of the prices at my local supermarkets are still too high. It's important to know that, because I can, and should, write anything I want. I'm already thinking about what I want to write next, and I think I have an idea for another book, but I'm not sure if there will be enough material to merit a book. I plan to do some research over the next two months to see if there is. And even though I won't have a publisher this easily again, I want to try it on my own. In January, I'll have one book to my name. That's a fine start.