My life is crazy right now. Crazy in a good way. The Tiger Woods biography comes out next week, and today New York Times book critic Dwight Garner compared it to a Christopher Nolan movie, calling the book “a big American story that rolls across barbered lawns and then leaves you stranded in some all-night Sam’s Club of the soul.” Wow! Wish I could write like that.
At the same time, “Little Pink House” is coming to theaters in a few weeks. Actress Catherine Keener (“Get Out”) delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Susette Kelo, and David Crosby’s chilling theme song evokes tears that freeze before they reach your chin.
The best part of all of this is being in love with someone who has been willing to take risks with me for thirty years. Last week I turned 52 and we put off celebrating because there simply wasn’t time. But when I went to bed shortly after midnight, I found a birthday card on my nightstand. It depicted a man and a woman under an umbrella, presumably kissing as rain drops poured down around them.
Inside were these handwritten words: “I want to say how thankful I am to have you as my best friend, and soul-mate. (not easy dodging those raindrops)”
She makes me feel like I can dodge anything.
My collaborator on the Tiger book is Armen Keteyian. I know he feels the same way about his wife, Dede. Writing can be intense. To get through it, you need a lover and a friend.
On the same night that my wife left me that card, I welcomed eight of my students to town from Southern Virginia University. They were shuttled north on the heels of a nor’easter by Hugh Bouchelle, a daring military vet who now teaches digital media and has become my trusted partner at the Institute for Writing and Mass Media. The next morning, we got up at 5 a.m. and went to New York City to meet with some of the talented people who help bring my stories to life.
One thing I want my students to know is that my stories wouldn’t be published or turned into movies or television shows without the collective talent and effort of so many others.
First we met with Gretchen Crary, a former 60 Minutes producer who started her own company and now provides authors and filmmakers with customized marketing and publicity. We worked together on Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E.Coli Outbreak That Changed the way Americans Eat. In a conference room at my literary agent’s office, Gretchen inspired my students with insider accounts of “learning by doing.”
At Lionsgate we met with Scott Huff, a producer who is behind the new Harry Potter musical that’s hitting Broadway next month. Scott also produces some great programming on television, and he is currently developing my book The System into a TV drama. He taught my students the importance of leaving cocoons and living amongst the people. Get to know them. Only then can you really understand and write about real life.
From there we went across town to the United Talented Agency to meet with Nick Shumaker and Geoff Morley. They are my agents for film and television, and they most recently had a hand in “The Shape of Water,” “Call Me by Your Name,” and “I, Tonya.” But their honesty about bringing their work home, and endlessly reading and reading and reading stuck with my students. “We don’t work nine to five,” Morley said. “We work.” Another great lesson for a student.
At Simon & Schuster, we sat in the board room and the students listened to my editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler. He and I replayed the writing and editing process for the Tiger Woods biography. It was an opportunity for me to thank him for helping me push beyond my limits and figure out newer and better ways to tell a story. It was also a chance for my students to see that their teacher is still learning and trying to improve.
At night we went to see the Broadway musical “Beautiful,” the inspiring life story of singer-songwriter Carole King. The only thing I really wanted for my birthday was to take my daughters – fifteen and twelve – to see this show. For years I've been tucking them in at night by listening to “Tapestry.” They know all the words. So after a busy day in the city, for two hours I sat between them in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and disappeared into bliss. When Carole King finally confronted her cheating husband and told him she deserved better, the audience broke into cheers. I simply put my hands on my daughters’ knees, squeezed tightly, and nodded at them. The message was clear – never let a boy mistreat you.
All in all, it was a 20-hour day that ended after midnight.
The next morning, we were back up early and off to Hartford to meet with Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist Matthew Kauffman. Matt’s not only a sleuth reporter, he’s hilarious. “The only thing being nominated for a Pulitzer means is that I lost,” he told my students.
Seriously, his discussion about fake news inspired my students to think analytically and read critically. When reading easily disprovable claims that friends and family share on Facebook, he advised: “Push back.” Then he reminded us that the kind of stuff that currently surfaces on social media used to only be found in the grocery store check-out line.
Journalist Alaine Griffin talked about the difficulties of writing about the Sandy Hook school massacre and a nationally infamous home invasion in Connecticut that resulted in the sexual assault and murder of two young sisters and their mother. You could have heard a pin drop during her session.
At the Fox affiliate in Hartford, television news anchor Keith McGilvery delivered a great take on writing under pressure, and talked about how he gets up at 2 a.m. each day to prepare for work.
In New London we toured the neighborhood that got taken by eminent domain in Little Pink House. Today, those city blocks are a vacant 90-acre wasteland of weeds. My students were speechless when they saw where all the homes used to be. “Where did everyone go?” one of them asked. “Away from here,” I said.
We finished the day at the Garde Arts Center, which will host the premiere of the movie on April 15th. My students sat in on a conference call between the theater operators and the Los Angeles-based filmmakers Courtney and Ted Balaker.
After saying farewell to my students, I returned home and found a delivery from UPS – five larges boxes, each one affixed with this sticker.