Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Of book releases and the photographs and still frames in my mind

Will Fighting Words reach Cliff Poncier-like heights in Belgium? Photo from this site.

Pardon this entirely self-absorbed post, but it’s not every day a book you worked on for five years lands in your hands. Fighting Words arrived at the Beach residence at 6:42 p.m. last night, and I’m told it should be in bookstores virtual and brick and mortar alike within the next 10 days or so, so please keep an eye out for it and buy a copy for yourself, as well as one copy each for 149 of your closest friends!

Before I wrote my first book, I figured the first time the author got to see the final product was when it was delivered to his doorstep. That was particularly untrue in the case of Fighting Words, as I was very fortunate to be involved in every phase of the editing process with Bill Nowlin and the rest of the great staff at Rounder Books. I’d read every word dozens of times and knew the layout of the book better than I know how to get around my neighborhood.

So as excited as I was to open the books, as elevated as my heartbeat was and as determined as I was for my wife to capture the moment on film, I can’t say I reacted like Vincent Vega and the hoodlum Ringo did to the opening of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. That said, if Joe Stranger had walked into our apartment and tried to take a copy, I would have channeled Jules Winnfield: “I went through too much (TV edit) the last five years on account of this book to just hand it over to your ass.”

The great thing about wanting to write a book is how perfect the idea feels and sounds in your head, and sometimes even in proposal form on the computer screen. Every word will flow easily, every source will speak willingly and expansively, The New York Times will gush about it, it’ll head to the top of the best-seller lists, Oprah will beg me to appear on her show, I’ll replace the toilet paper in my house with $100 dollar bills and Stephen King will wish he was me.

The scary thing about actually writing a book, other than how 99.9999999999999 percent of us neither get rich nor famous off of it, is the permanence of it all. Blogging, and even writing for websites—and, way back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth that everyone thought was flat, newspapers—is quite fulfilling and hopefully generates some interest among the readership.

But today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s bird cage liner and today’s blog post is one of hundreds out there about the Red Sox. Unless you write something really good (or, gulp, really bad), the shelf life is incredibly brief. And that’s fine. We know that going in.

But a book is there forever, warts and all. It might be ironic, albeit in the Alanis Morrissette way, that writing a book involves multiple drafts and edits, yet once it’s out, there’s no second take. If it sucks, it sucks. A movie can be saved by the director’s cut DVD. Not a book.

I know how easy it is to be in a bookstore, pick up something and put it back, never to think of it again. I know how easy it is to scan a book and find misspellings or incorrect facts or other flaws with it—to say this was a good idea, but the author could have done a better job. What if that’s me?

Actually, there’s no what if about it. It will be me. No book is perfect and no book will satisfy everyone, particularly its author. Even typing this, I can think of things I wish I’d done differently.

I’m reminded of what Rob Bradford said during an interview last June about how writing a book—particularly in Boston—subjects an author to some of the same second-guessing and instant criticism that so many of us partake in on a daily basis. “I remember when I did that first book [Chasing Steinbrenner] and the criticism started coming on message boards,” Bradford said. “That hit hard. Then you realize this is what the players get all the time.

“That’s one thing you have to be ready for and a lot of guys aren’t. A lot of guys are very thin-skinned.”

Rob makes a great point, and I’m determined not to be one of those guys. And if it gets really bad, well, I’ll just channel Matt Dillon as Cliff Poncier in Singles and ask my wife to only read me the positive parts of reviews. At the very least, I’m hoping I’ll be huge in Belgium, or at least in Brookline.


While the box of books didn’t emanate a golden glow as I opened it, I did feel that that opening it and flipping through the pages for the first time should have been accompanied by a clips montage set to the tune of Green Day’s “The Time Of Your Life.” Five years is a long time to work on a book—Bill to himself: “You ain’t kidding”—and a lot of things have happened, good and bad, in the process.

I think of how I began the project as an unemployed freelance writer living on Long Island, and how I ended it as an unemployed freelance writer living on Long Island. I think of Yankee Stadium, which was The House That Ruth Built in October 2003 when the idea for this book came to me while I was covering the ALCS, and how it’s now The House That Greed Built.

I think of October 2003, when I covered one of the middle games of the ALCS at Fenway, and how I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I stayed in Quincy, for crying out loud. Do you know how much it costs to take a taxi from Quincy to Fenway? A lot.

I think of April 2004, when Fenway and everything about it still intimidated the hell out of me the first time I was there to cover the Sox. I think of how easily I became acquainted with the nooks and crannies of Fenway as well as Boston, how a guy born in Connecticut and living on Long Island somehow figured out a bunch of back roads in the Back Bay and prided himself on beating The System when it came to parking near the Park.

I think of the Days Hotel on Soldiers Field Road, what a great deal it was and how it provided a pretty good approximation of home. I think of walking to the Brooks that is now a Rite-Aid to buy water and newspapers before a game. I think of the time I was running late for an interview with Josh Beckett—who only talked the day after he pitched—and as a result parked my car at the McDonald’s across the street from Brooks, and how the car was still there an hour later. Beat The System again.

I think of all the press box meals I consumed and all the weight I gained at Fenway Park, all the laughs I enjoyed in the park, all the times I looked around the greatest sporting venue in America and could not believe a guy like me was covering the Red Sox on a daily basis. I think of how if it was up to me, I’d never have left my job.

I think of the peaks and valleys that come with writing a book—of the original idea and how it was so different from the final product as well of the nights I was convinced I was never going to finish it and the nights that I never wanted to stop writing because I finally had some momentum. I think of all the hours in the Boston Public Library and the stacks of books next to my chair. I think of all the interviews I had high hopes for that didn’t really pan out (and, in a couple cases, never occurred), but more of the interviews I had high hopes for that did pan out.

Most of all, I think of my Mom, and how she was healthy in October 2003 and how she was healthy when I sent the final draft to Bill in July 2008 and how my knowledge of Boston’s back roads and parking meters and good hotel deals came in so unfortunately handy in January 2009, when we took her to Dana-Farber in a last-ditch attempt to control the cancer ravaging her body.

I think of that terrible week, how we stayed at the Days Hotel and how often I drove by Fenway Park and the Rite-Aid that used to be a Brooks and the McDonald’s, and how I’d mention my memories of those places to my Dad and my sister, not because I thought they’d be interested but because it was a few seconds in which we didn’t have to talk about the unthinkable.

I think of how much I wish it could be 2004 or 2005 or 2006 again, or even 2007, when I sensed my job slipping away and was convinced it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I think of how much I want to get back to Boston and the good memories I have, even if they’ll always be tinged with sadness because I can’t share them or this book with Mom.

I think of how five years is a long time to work on a book, and how, this morning in particular, I wish it’d only been four years.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

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