Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Can Just Ask!

Today’s post will be short and sweet, partly because I’m juggling a handful of projects (a process that deserves a whole post in its own right) and partly because I’m a little hyped:

For the first time in my nearly 20 years of working on biographies, I am working on a project about a live person.

Waterhouse Hawkins, Walt Whitman, Alice Roosevelt, Mark Twain and Susy Clemens, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were all lively, and I tried to bring them to life on the page, but technically, they are no longer with us.

For the first time, I am working on a book about someone, happily, who is—who very much is.

Writing about someone long gone has its advantages. You can utilize the scholarship of others to help inform your understanding of primary sources. And it’s way easier to determine the lasting significance of someone’s accomplishments when you can see if it actually lasted.

But there is something amazing about thinking, “I wonder how she felt about x?” and then realizing, “Oh! I can just ask!”

I’m feeling a little giddy, like a kid in a pastry shop filling the box with more and more treats. Every day I seem to be emailing a dozen or so questions (though I was kind enough to give her the whole weekend off—both days) and then, in a little bit, getting answers.

Will everything make it into the book? Probably not. But the box is brimming over with treats, and I get to choose the ones I like best.

And then, even better, to ask for more. 


Susan Kuklin said...

Welcome to my little corner of nonfiction. In my view it's an extraordinary experience to convert-to-page the live voice of another human being. This kind of collaboration can be easy, hard, powerful, humbling, and scary - all in the same sentence. Can't wait to learn who this special person is. Congratulations.

Deborah Heiligman said...

At this moment, lacking a time-travel machine, I'm jealous of both of you. But since I happen to adore both of you and your work, I'm thrilled to watch your projects unfold!
Now if someone out there could just give me access to a time machine so I can JUST ASK? Thanks.

Barbara Kerley said...

Thanks, Susan -- it's all very new for me. But it helps that the person I'm interviewing is just as excited about the book as I am. And that she has energy to spare :)

Deb, click your heels together three times and... oh wait, that only works if you want to go home.

Steve Sheinkin said...

I have a related, but somewhat different challenge with a book I'm just starting. The main character is still around, but very wary of talking to writers, having been badly burned by a biographer years ago. Still unclear if he'll talk to me...

Barbara Kerley said...

Steve -- That sounds tricky. Good luck!

Paul-ny said...

Google News today said that scientists in Iran claim to have developed a time machine. Just thought you'd like to know.

Deborah Heiligman said...

I'm off to Iran, Paul. Steve--my husband had that issue once, but it finally worked out. It was NERVE-WRACKING!