JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Book writing babble

Photo on 2009-12-09 at 01.08 #2

So it’s 12:52 am, and I’m once again sitting in the Mirage Diner. My next book is due in exactly one year. This sounds like a long time. At least I think it does, since people always say to me, “Oh, you have a long time.” But the other book writers I’m friendly with—the Howard Bryants and Jonathan Eigs and Leigh Montvilles and Mark Kriegels—know from experience how this stuff works. In the world of biography, I’d argue that time is rarely a friend; that months soar by and you never, ever, ever think you’ve done enough.

As I write this, I’m digging through a chronological account of the 1977 NFL season. It’s tedious, and maybe I should hire a researcher to help. But I hate using other people—one, because it’s an extra expense; two, because, once I start writing, I want to have as much instant recall as humanly possible; I want to remember the details of that Chiefs-Packers game. If someone else researches it, I have no knowledge base.

Truth is, as much as I complain, I love this stuff. As a young punk back at the start of my career, I thought it was all about the writing. I knew nothing of reporting and researching. Absolutely nothing. So when I didn’t have the right information, I’d try and write around it. Maybe I could fool an editor or two, but the product sucked. Now, I’m all about the digging and chronicling. I always say to my wife, “What’s it all about?” and she instantly replies, “The nuggets.” And that’s true. My philosophy during the reporting process is to read every article that ever existed on the subject; interview every living teammate—whether that means a 10-year compadre or a guy who spent six days in training camp. I know I’m doing right when I start dreaming about the subject. I had some crazy nightmares about Barry Bonds during the Love Me, Hate Me reporting. Crazy, crazy s***.

I’ve been criticized in the past on sportsjournalists.com for always highlighting how many interviews I conducted in the course of writing a book. But, hell, I consider it a badge of honor. I really do. When I read the promotional material for a book and it says, “So-and-so Author interviewed more than 50 former teammates …” I almost immediately discount the effort (unless it’s a player who played so long ago that most contemporaries are dead). Here’s my philosophy on writing about stars: Lawrence Taylor might not remember playing with Eric Dorsey or Rob Carpenter. But Eric Dorsey and Rob Carpenter certainly remember L.T. That’s why you make the extra calls—for that one golden story; for that incredible single bite that jumps off the page. While researching on Bonds, I called Jay Canizaro, a scrub second baseman who had a cup of coffee with the Giants, was known to be soft-spoken and aloof … and told me all about Greg Anderson’s steroid methodology.

One more thing: The debate I’m having with this book is whether to report it all, then take six months and write, or to do both simultaneously. I’ve always reported, then wrote, but this book is gonna be my longest, my most heavily reported, my most detailed. I’m a tad concern about having to go back to the beginning and drawing a blank.

Oy. Just babbling. Probably interests nobody but, uh, me.