On the face of it, there may not seem to be any connection at all between Hillary Clinton and Lee Marvin, but for me there certainly is. Although the seemingly endless wait to get a publisher interested in Lee Marvin Point Blank had me close to abandoning it several times, the ultimate timing of it could not have been better. Why is that? Because in the interim, I vastly improved my writing skills via the the occasional young adult biography I wrote for a company called Lucent Books. Without the constant flexing of those writing muscles, and the valuable lessons learned in the process, I would never have been up to the heavy lifting that got Lee Marvin Point Blank to see the light of day.
I came in contact with Lucent initially via a friend who wrote for them. Several series appealed to me but the one that caught my eye the most was People in the News. At the time, I was offered several possible titles and the first one I took was Adam Sandler. Why Sandler? Because the other choices was George W. Bush or Eminem. I was extremely reticent at first as other than SNL, there was nothing about Sandler I cared to write about. Luckily, I watched Punch Drunk Love and my admiration for that film and his performance got me through the project. It also taught me how to find an angle on a subject I may not entirely enthusiastic about.
Other titles followed in quick succession that I found much more palatable: Will Ferrell, Hilary Swank, Denzel Washington, Lawmen of the West for the History Makers series (Hey, I was branching out!) and also the first and second installments on Hillary Clinton. It was these two titles that drove the lessons home and ultimately made Lee Marvin Point Blank a better book. How, you may ask? Well, to start with, the publisher’s requirements for all the titles included a specific theme for each chapter in the subject’s life.
Some were easier to discover than others, although an additional title on first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, proved especially daunting in trying to break down the complex rules and inner workings of Congress. That aside, the private life and public career of Hillary Clinton was equally daunting, yet, also useful to Lee Marvin….
Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank might notice the use of both familiar quotes as well as timely phrases in the chapter titles. Not that I didn’t already know how to do that but my ability for searching out and finding the RIGHT phrase had certainly improved. Then there was the introduction. By the time I got to Hillary, I discovered that instead of writing the intro first, and then having to go back and constantly redraft it based on the book’s content, I made the rule to myself to ALWAYS write the intro last.
It may also be obvious that in writing about a subject’s early life, the influence of one’s parents is almost impossible to overemphasize. However, keeping in mind the reader’s interest level should never be lost or wander to far afield from the subject itself, creating a tapestry that interweaves both the parents legacy and the subject’s thoughts and lessons from the parents, was something I found works best…..
By the way, I had no control over the pictures that were used but for the most part, I was very pleased with what was utilized. Oh, and another requirement was to include 2 sidebars for each chapter. Often it was simply a glossary of terms used in the text but for Hillary, I was able to branch and include specific anecdotes that didn’t fit the text but were too good not to include….
I should also note that in researching the life of Hillary Clinton, there was an awful lot of useless and baseless rumors passed off as fact that got to be very frustrating. The advent of social media has made it worse but when I was writing the book, I had to constantly come up against obvious conjecture passed on as fact. I drew the line when I read one author’s bio of Hillary who claimed you could see the devil himself when you look into Hillary’s eyes (!). Yet another permanent lesson was used in conjunction with Lee Marvin. Never even mention a rumor, even if it’s an attempt to debunk it. Gives it unnecessary creedence. Anybody read About Captain Kangaroo in my book? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, I must have done something right because two years after the first bio came out, Lucent asked me to revise it with two new chapters and the chance to add to the original text of the first. Who could say no to that? The first addition was the presidential race of 2008…
Because Hillary Clinton was in the beginning of her tenure as Secretary of State at the time the book came out, it became the concluding chapter of the book. Luckily, I did not have to deal with Benghazi, private e-mail servers, Wikileaks, and an entire host of other frustrating subjects…..
That’s not to infer that unpleasant subjects were not dealt with. There was still the financial records of the Rose Law Firm, the Whitewater scandal, Vince Foster’s suicide, Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton’s impeachment, you name it! and I dealt with it. It’s just that what took place since the book came out was far too ridiculous, in my opinion, to have to contemplate.
If you’ve gotten the impression that researching Hillary Clinton has made me a fan, you would be right. For me, I personally have to make some sort of connection with who I’m writing about, even if aspects of the subject is unpleasant. I did with Hillary and came out the other end of that project a better writer and renewed respect for the subject. Sadly, things like Brietbart, the Drudge Report and other ultra-right wing websites and/or blogs have blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Luckily for me, another requirement of the publisher’s was to only use existing information that could be noted extensively in the book’s several bibliographies. No interviews were allowed. It ultimately allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and make for a stronger story all the way around.
The end result was that by the time my agent, the late, great Mike Hamilburg had interested publisher Tim Schaffner in my Lee Marvin bio, I was able to provide the goods he asked for with renewed confidence. Not only did I have almost 20 years of exclusive research and interviews under my belt, when he asked me if I was familiar with the requirements and skill to write a biography, I was able to provide evidence of my work in the field. Granted, it was in the genre of young adult, but when he read the samples I submitted, he sent me a contract to sign.
Basic research, theme development, enlightening anecdotes, and more, all in the service of two Hillary Clinton biographies helped Lee Marvin Point Blank to see the light of day….. and make the NY Times Best Seller list! Best of all worlds? With a little luck, she’ll be the next President of the United States and some folks might rediscover Lee Marvin ALL over again.