Friday, February 3, 2012

Back to Work After Wriggling Out of Work

After reading Monday Mornings, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's first novel (Very good, and I hope TNT picks up the David E. Kelley pilot titled "Chelsea General," which is based on Monday Mornings, as long as Kelley keeps to what makes the novel satisfying in Gupta's clear-eyed descriptions of his characters, which show off how CNN might have influenced him, since those descriptions could very well have been written by a talented reporter), which capped off a slew of non-work-related reading, I finally got back to doing research for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies.

What took me so long to return to the work? I did eight hours of research at the Margaret Herrick Library on January 10, transcribed my notes almost a week later on the 16th, and then nothing. No continuing City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures by Bernard F. Dick, no searching for, and contacting, actors and production crew involved with all four movies (Or at least the families of those, in the case of Airport, some of Airport 1975, and less and less with the last two), no thinking of more questions to ask them if they agree to an interview. I have to contact the Gage Group again to let them know to let Stephanie Zimbalist know that she can contact me whenever she's able, so that I can interview her father, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who played Captain Stacy in Airport 1975, who was blinded by the mid-air collision.

It's not that I don't want to write this book. I want to be the one to write it, what with how obsessed I was with all four movies when I was in my teen. I have months more research to do before I even write a paragraph. I've written what sounds like the first sentence for my first chapter, but that's all I can do right now. I need to see what information I can get and form my chapters around that, the stories I unearth as I go along. I want them all to be as interesting as learning from George Kennedy's memoir Trust Me that he got to taxi the Concorde that Universal rented for $40,000 an hour for Airport '79. That's the exact story that made me want to write this book.

I shouldn't be screwing around with time like this for two reasons: Once March 21 hits, my deadline of being published again by the time I'm 30 begins. I'll be 28 and have two years left. The second reason is that I have at least seven more nonfiction books I want to write after this, and one novel. This is the only life I have as a writer and I don't want to waste it.

I don't think I really squandered January, though. Ok, in the sense of getting more work done on my book, I did, save for that research visit to the Margaret Herrick Library. But writers and all other artists need inspiration from elsewhere. I've been reading other books, I've been blogging, I came up with ideas for that Walt Disney World-related book and a novel that I think will work out better than the first idea I had for a novel (At least right now, since I have to read the source material that the first idea would be based on), so it hasn't been all in vain. Oh, and there were those two days in Henderson, which were necessary to get to know my new home and get used to continually being happy where I live, so those two days were good training in order to refamiliarize myself with that feeling.

I have to return to self-discipline, though. I finished reading City of Dreams: The Making of and Remaking of Universal Pictures yesterday, I transcribed the notes two hours ago, and I have a yen to read Burt Lancaster: An American Life by Kate Buford not only for the tidbits it has about Airport, but for all of his career, since I read a good deal of it back when there was the possibility of a book of essays from members of the Online Film Critics Society, and I wrote an essay about The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster, which made necessary not only reading Buford's book, but also watching a great many of Lancaster's movies. When I did the research for my essay in 2006, I over-researched. I didn't need to watch all his movies; I only needed to know what his career was like in the decades previous to The Swimmer. I did too much for what eventually became 1,477 words. Also, I didn't just read John Cheever's short story on which the movie was based. I tried to read everything he ever wrote, as if something would be revealed that would make it all so easy to see. I was so obviously a neophyte.

When Phil Hall offered me a co-author credit for What If They Lived? and I accepted, I had to throw myself into research right away because at the time, I had a little less than a year to pull everything together and write the essays. The quiet stress of that was horrible, like being back at The Signal as the interim editor of the weekend Escape section. I liked the experience because I could put whatever I wanted in that section, but I couldn't stand that time crunch. It's why I won't go back to journalism, also because I'd be poorer in pocket than I am now. Because of that, I vowed that for my next book, if there was a next book (I didn't have any ideas after I was done with What If They Lived?), I wouldn't let myself be pulled and crushed and tangled up like that. I would work steadily through the research, write the book, and that would be it.

Well, here I am. Second book. Where's the steady workload? I don't see it yet beyond those solid eight hours at the Herrick Library, but I know I should go easier on myself. I had a few necessary and good distractions in January and it's because of this book and the books I want to write in the future that I get out of bed every morning, read, and blog. I want to keep myself limber and enjoy what I'm doing and I'm meeting my personal requirements for both. So I missed a couple weeks last month. The puzzle pieces are still spread out, and just like with my essays on Brad Renfro, Aaliyah, and Heath Ledger for What If They Lived?, I've got to put the puzzle together, which is also what made me want to write this book because I loved having to put the puzzle together for those three essays. I loved gathering information from various sources, and that there wasn't any one solid source from which to draw the information, as there was mostly for my essays on James Dean, Judy Garland, and Marilyn Monroe. I get the chance again to do all that for this book, and, looking at my future book list, for my next seven books.

This is why I'm here. This is what I do. So it's time to continue doing it. An occasional break is fine, but much shorter than what I gave myself in January. That won't happen again. After all, it takes time to put together puzzles like these, and that time is best spent finding the pieces.