NANCY PELOSI: ONCE & FUTURE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE

Nancy Pelosi made history when she was sworn-in as the first female Speaker of the House back in 2007. Because the Democrats regained the House after the recent mid-term election, Pelosi is now poised to become the next Speaker when she’s sworn-in in January.
What does that have to do with this blog, you might ask? Well, while I was still struggling to find a publisher for Lee Marvin Point Blank, I lucked into a freelance position at Lucent Books, writing young adult biographies for their People in The News Series. Several were on assignment and several were pitched by yours truly. Nancy Pelosi was a successful pitch.

The cover of my bio for Lucent’s People in The News series on Nancy Pelosi.

She has of course been demonized by the Republican Party almost as much as Hillary Clinton but the reason I was able to successfully pitch her as a bio subject was not just because of her historical status, but her amazing life as well. She is the daughter of a career-long politician (Mayor Tommy D’Alesandro) out of Baltimore; she entered the political arena because of a deathbed promise to a friend; she kept the GOP from dismantling both Social Security and Medicare….Fascinating stuff!
It also taught me a great deal more about biographical writing that help immeasurably with my research and writing of Lee Marvin Point Blank. How? Each chapter in the People in the News Series requires a theme that readers can recognize and possibly expand upon on their own. It’s a guideline that kept me in good stead for Marvin but deceptively hard for a young adult audience when writing about the complexities of Congress. I had also learned to write the introduction last as you never know how the book will turn out until it’s done. So, with that in mind, below is the table of contents and intro to my 2009 young adult biography on Nancy Pelosi.
Oh, and Donald Trump & the Republicans? If you still think women are not tough enough for the job of public office, with more than 100 women now elected to congress, remember the words of Nancy Pelosi herself when she stated that women were actually tougher than men: “Think of a lioness. You come anywhere near our cubs, you’re dead.”

Table of Contents to NANCY PELOSI.

Page 1 of the introduction.

Conclusion of NANCY PELOSI introduction.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: HISTORY MAKERS

History Makers
My lengthy and ongoing research into Lee Marvin Point Blank yielded some unexpected benefits, for example authoring several Young Adult titles for Lucent Books, such as Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.
How it came about, was more serendipity than Kismet. In need of a job after being laid-off from the small publishing company I worked for, the wife of one of the brothers in The Bastard Sons of Lee (BSOL) informed me of the writing she was doing for Lucent. She then put me in contact with an acquisition editor there and we discussed possible titles in their various series. Lo and behold, I discovered they had several young adult biographical series that needed authors so I jumped at the chance to do Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.

The cover for my young adult multi-biography LAWMEN OF THE WEST, part of Lucent Books’ History Makers series, published in 2005.

It might seem an odd choice for this Brooklyn boy, I grant you, but I figured being a a movie fan might help me enjoy exploring the lives of some of the individuals often depicted on screen. What the series required seemed daunting at first but then again, what new project isn’t? The form of a multi-biographical series actually dates back to Plutarch in the 1st Century, who wrote volumes within the theme of comparing leading Romans to ancient Greeks. Not too daunting a challenge, right? Each chapter needed to have not only a worthy individual who’s life is briefly explored, but most importantly, a specific theme within that life that has to be emphasized throughout the span of that lifetime. Such a requriement not only gave me pause, it nearly had me giving up!

Copyright and Table of Contents for LAWMEN OF THE WEST.

Luckily, once I began exploring the possible inclusions, the theme actually seeped into the work itself. As noted in the table of contents seen above, the subtitles told the tale of the themes within. I chose the subjects, did the research, wrote ’em up and then created introduction(s) and bibliographies. The only one I had to drop (due to length), was Alan Pinkerton, the Scottish immigrant who helped create the Secret Service following Lincoln’s assassination and the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, the one with the big eye on their business cards.

The section on the last years of Wyatt Earp that is not nearly as talked about as the O.K. Corral.

There was some necessary obvious choices, such as the likes of Wyatt Earp, first and foremost. In researching his legacy I not only discovered how reluctantly he became a lawman (the perfect theme) but also how vindictiveness made him more like Michael Corleone than Matt Dillon. His later years were also just as intriguing but less written about, as well.
Along the way, I developed personal favorites. Topping the list for me was Bat Masterson.

The opening section on the chapter on Bat Masterson, who was a personal favorite of the author.

Not only a legendary lawman but a spinner tales in which he probably never did really kill anybody but created a reputation that entered a room long before he did. His final days as a NY sports writer was yet another fascinating twist. Bitter at the end of his life, the day he died he was found slumped over his typewriter with what could have been his epitaph freshly typed onto the page: “There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose the ginks who argue that way hold that, because the rich man gets icier the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
The creation of these researched biographical sketches taught me much about what life writing is all about. The themes fleshed out and executed within, kept me in good stead in researching and writing about Lee Marvin and other figures since. It also proved that biographies had changed MUCH since I was a kid. For example……

A staple of young adult bios (if they can be done) is the dead body of an individual, always a crowd pleaser.

  • Dwayne Epstein
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HILLARY CLINTON GOT LEE MARVIN TO SEE THE LIGHT…OF DAY

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.

The covers of my Hillary Clinton young adult biographies, the 1st in 2008 (left) and the revised version in 2010.

The covers of my Hillary Clinton young adult biographies, the 1st in 2008 (left) and the revised version in 2010.

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….

The table of contents for the original and later revised version of Hillary Clinton.

The table of contents for the original and later revised version of Hillary Clinton.

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.

Introduction to People in the News: Hillary Clinton.

Introduction to People in the News: Hillary Clinton.

End of intro and first page of first chapter.

End of intro and first page of first chapter.

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…..

Text and photos illustrating the impact Hillary Clinton's parents had on their daughter's life.

Text and photos illustrating the impact Hillary Clinton’s parents had on their daughter’s life.

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….

Two sidebars were required for each chapter and above is one of my personal favorites.

Two sidebars were required for each chapter and above is one of my personal favorites.

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…

Covering the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries in the revised Hillary biography.

Covering the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries in the revised Hillary biography.

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…..

Covering the period of Hillary Clinton's life at the time of the book's release.

Covering the period of Hillary Clinton’s life at the time of the book’s release.

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.

 

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