Monday, November 7, 2011

Can I Write Books Like This Forever?

I couldn't be lazy when What If They Lived? was handed to me, when I was given a general deadline for when my half of the book had to be completed and sent to Phil by e-mail so he could put it in the manuscript. As soon as I agreed to it, the research began. Every single day was given over to getting as much information I could about the actors I was writing about, but expediting it so I could give equal close attention to the writing, which was most important with it being my first book.

Today, I began research for my second book, centered on aspects of 1930s Hollywood. It took me weeks to get to this point. Not for time spent figuring out what books to read for this, what other resources I need to be sure I have all the information I need, but for sheer laziness. I'd think about starting the research over one weekend, and that weekend would pass because there were other books I wanted to read more. It's not that I don't want to write this book; I really do because it fits right into all the time I spent as a teenager reading every movie book I could find, thick biographies about directors (Directors are my favorite Hollywood personalities to read about), tours through the histories of the various studios back in the 1930s, and the odd biography of an actor. I loved looking at behind-the-scenes photos in these books, and I was always staggered by the long shelves of movie books at the Main branch of the Broward County Library system in downtown Fort Lauderdale on those occasional visits. I wanted to either take all those books home, or live in that library for a few weeks to eat up everything in sight on those shelves.

Perhaps the laziness was well-deserved. After all, I had been at work on What If They Lived? up to about a month and a half before its publication date, checking the proofs, making sure that what had been blessedly rewritten by Phil (because I severely overwrote a few introductions out of sheer nervousness over this being my first book) hewed to how I wanted it to read, and making sure that all of it read well besides. What If They Lived? was released in March, and at the time I was thinking that maybe I should start researching for my second book, it was mid-to-late October, getting comfortably into late October. So nearly 7 months had elapsed in between.

But I also have a personal goal: I want to be published again by the time I turn 30. That means I have a cushion of a few months right now before my 28th birthday on March 21, and then two years left after that. No more time to waste.

I began with The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, which I remembered checking out once from the Valencia library, and I ordered it alongside other books that popped out at me, including one about the creation of Universal Pictures, another about all of the movie studios back in the 1930s, and a biography of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman. There are others besides these, but they'll remain others.

The Day of the Locust was useful for the atmosphere I'm seeking for my book, getting the feeling down pat of these studios hard at work with their various assembly lines, as movies were made back then. I got many paragraphs of that, as the main character, Tod, weaves through a few productions filming on the lot. It matches what I'm hoping I can do in my own work.

I finished that earlier this evening, and am now reading The Gross by Peter Bart, which would seem to be an unusual choice considering that I'm focusing on the 1930s, but it gives me a structure to study. The way Bart wrote this book, flitting about from movie to movie in each chapter, is possibly how I want to write mine. Also, I get solid background on the workings of the industry circa late 1997 to 1998, and can contrast that to the industry in the 1930s as I read those books. I know the basics, I know the styles of each studio back in the 1930s, but it gives me more to mull over as I figure out where I'm going with this book.

Most importantly, I feel comfortable with this. I did a lot of research for What If They Lived?, that deadline gradually getting closer, and I was snippy to my parents and sister at times, but without that experience, I wouldn't be here, having learned what research entails, how to go about it, what works for me as I work. I'm not as nervous now. What If They Lived? is out in the world, and all I can do for myself and hopefully for my future writing career is just to keep reading, and just keep writing and see what sticks, and most importantly, write what I'm passionate about, which is why I have four books in mind after I finish this one.

I don't have a publisher for this one, so that will be a challenge, but one I'm ready for because the challenge the first time was writing a book, especially writing 10 pages and more compared to the mere sometimes-1,500 words I wrote for each Film Threat review. Screen It helped a lot with that too, making me write more than I was accustomed to, and I appreciate that I was pushed like that. It had to happen some time.

And I love not having a deadline of sorts, at least not a publisher's deadline. Of course I say that because two years and a handful of months feels like a lot of time to me. There's still an immense amount of work to be done, though. I'm enjoying it, so that's a start, especially the opportunity to read these books, to not have to write one word until I'm certain that I have everything I need, every source, every record, every piece that will be fitted into this book. This will also be the first time I'll make an outline. I didn't have to for What If They Lived?, because I was told what each essay had to contain.

I hated outlines in school because it never felt like they led to anything useful. I didn't need them for study aids, because I could understand whatever historical period we were studying without "A" being this, and "A-1" talking about this, and "B" referencing this, and, ugh, it just felt like bureaucracy inside a classroom. This time, the outline will lead somewhere, to more of what I'm happiest doing in my life. Plus, I feel so relaxed, so excited to see what these books contain for me to use for my own (with proper credit in a bibliography, of course, and credit after quotes when necessary). All I need soon enough is a full-time job that lets me keep doing all this. If I can read and write steadily for the rest of my life, then I've lived my life well.