I could be writing Stella Adler’s biography for the rest of my life. Just this week a journalist contacted me to “pick my brain” on Stella for a feature he’s doing in GQ Magazine on James Coburn who was a student of Stella’s. The journalist had a meeting with a woman who audio taped Coburn the last couple of years of his life. Turns out, Coburn talked a lot about Stella. The journalist sent me an MP3 of the Stella-related stuff. You’d think I’d listen to it right away. Who knows what anecdotes he related or insight he may have had that would build upon themes I’ve written about in the biography.
And yet, I haven’t had one hot second to listen to it. It sits unopened in my inbox with the other flagged emails. This happens all the time. This has been happening for the last 10 years.
Three years ago I decided I had to stop the research and finish writing the book. So, it’s done. I guess. I’d love to listen to Coburn; I’d love to go back to the University of Texas and listen to and watch the 1,017 audio and visual recordings of Stella’s classes from 1958 to 1992 because when I was there for 9 days I only had enough time to watch a couple dozen what with going through all her papers; and I’d love to track down some more people I never had the chance to interview.
But I can’t. I have signed on with a publisher. I’m due to deliver the manuscript by October 1st. Am I complaining? It sounds as if I’m complaining. Let’s back up. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment. Well, not this exact one in which I’m blogging to complain that I have a book contract. I’ve always known I would write books. So, here I am and I feel like I’m going into labor. Seriously, I have all the doubts and insecurities I felt just before my son was born.
Okay I’m breathing. I still have three months, which would be equivalent to the third trimester. During this time, I wanted to polish my manuscript: smooth out language, passive voice, repetition, consistency of style, pacing. Baby proof, paint the nursery, take breast-feeding classes.
But there’s more to preparing the manuscript than meets the eye. All last week I had to dedicate to writing a 200 word summary of the book (impossible!) for the publisher’s Spring/Summer catalog, find images for the cover, find out who owned copyright to those images, and then the whopper: read a 59 page Author’s Guide featuring a “How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Submission” manifesto. I didn’t realize I’d have to be learning things I apparently should already know such as type coding and page breaks – the equivalent to diapering and swaddling. You mean I should know how to swaddle my baby?!
I’m a Luddite. I don’t want to research how to do page breaks. Besides I Googled it a few months back and never understood it.
So now I’m “preparing” my manuscript, not polishing my book. I have to take this in stride, I know. It’s just been such a journey with Stella and I feel a huge responsibility to tell her story with as much charisma, truth, drama and keen observation as she had in class. The foundation is all there. I just need time to dress it up. And I don’t feel I have it.
Before the book contract, I complained, “I just need to publish this book so I can move on.” I felt the way I felt towards the end of my pregnancy: Get it out. Now! I hadn’t been able to devote myself to other projects such as writing that play that’s been percolating for years, or the screenplay I started last year, or organizing my poetry into a proper collection.
But the days before my son was due, I panicked. Kind of like right now. I’m not ready! I need an infant CPR refresher. I haven’t read up on how to raise boys. (How sexist is that?) But he was ready. I guess Stella’s biography is ready. It’s all going to work out, right?
To Be Continued . . .