Hey, wanna read something?
Anybody want to read a manuscript-in-progress? Wait! Wait! Don’t run away just yet!
A few years ago, I wrote a book about my great-grandfather, the Paris correspondent for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1918 to 1933, and manager of the “Paris Bureau” frequented by people like Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound and thousands of tourists and vagabonds from Brooklyn. He’s probably best remembered, if at all, for his friendship with Hemingway during the time when the writer was scribbling away at short stories and The Sun Also Rises. His newspaper articles are still available from the Brooklyn Public Library and I used those and his correspondence with Hemingway to write what I thought of as an entertaining popular history, or as I called it “the biography of a footnote.”
I then made what was, admittedly, a piss poor effort to “pitch” the book to literary agents. I think it was number ten who read it, said that it was an interesting story and I’m a good writer, but he wasn’t really connecting with it, so would have to pass. The truth was that I wasn’t connecting with it either and I couldn’t figure out why. Surely, it is an interesting story- the American journalists in Paris in the 20s were hard-drinking, adventurous, lively, somewhat cracked, pranksters. And they were there for everything important in the twentieth-century. But, still, something was missing.
So, I put it aside and rewrote my dissertation into a book of its own, entitled “Voyages of the Self: How the French Romantics Pioneered Modern Tourism and Identity”. That one reads much more like a story now. That one’s pretty much tight as a drum. In October, I came painfully close to selling that one to a highly esteemed academic publisher before it fell through. So close, in fact, that I’d rather not talk about it at the moment.
But, in the interim, I realized what was missing in the first book. I had been focusing on my great-grandfather and Hemingway because, really, how would it be for a working writer to have a good friend in the “writer’s colony” of Paris who he watched develop into the Hemingway of those first books? That seemed like the core of the story: two writer buddies writing. At least, it interested me!
I think if you asked my great-grandfather, however, he would have said the core of his life was the relationship with his wife, which survived the tumult of Jazz Age Paris, the Depression, poverty, plenty, and their own personality crises. Not to mention, she also wrote and managed the Paris Bureau alongside him! So, I dove into their letters to one another, which they passed on to their children, and found a pretty fascinating love story. And I started rewriting from there.
Now, I’m in the process of Draft Two- always a vastly-different beast from the first draft. It has a lot more of her in it, and more of me in it, and I think it’s popping now. I won’t claim it’s the great American biography, but it is popping. The chapters are shorter, a lot of the fat is gone, and I think it’s humming along this time.
So, now, what I’m really talking about is putting up the chapters one at a time on a “top secret” website and letting people read them and offer feedback as I go. I’m through about five chapters, but could post one a week.
If you’d be interested in reading along with it and offering mild feedback, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the password and link.