JEFF PEARLMAN

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

What it feels like

I’ve been working on the same book for nearly 2 1/2 years. For me, that’s an insane amount of time to devote to one project. I remember when I first signed the deal, I said to the wife, “I really wanna make this thing great.” To which she replied, “That’s wonderful—but can we afford it?” To which I replied, “Uh … look over there! That bird is purple!” Then I ran out the door.

Two and a half years. I’m numb. Battered. Overwhelmed. Nearly 700 interviews completed. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of clips; loooooong nights at a corner table in, quite frankly, the grossest diner known to man (but one that stays open 24 hours); numerous trips to Mississippi and Illinois and Boston. When you write a book, and you fully devote yourself to it, it’s not merely a job. It’s an obsession. Beyond an obsession. You talk about it all the time—to everyone. To anyone. You don’t understand why your wife or dad or kids don’t share your excitement for the slightest little details; random nothings that, to you, mean everything.

You dream about the subject; you blather incessantly about it. As Leigh Montville, the king of kings, once told me, “You live in a cave.” He’s right. Not literally—I retained my house and my little basement office with a fridge and a TV. But mentally, you’re isolated and alone in the dark. Just today someone said to me, “I actually work,” which pissed me off. I’m not saying writing books is brain surgery, but’s it’s exhausting and demanding and painful and … yeah. Just … yeah.

Tonight is my last time where I can make any changes. When I go to bed, my fate—the book’s fate—is sealed. It is what it is—a frightening thought. I’ve now read this thing, all 480-something pages—about 50 times. I almost know it by heart. I’ve combed through it, seeking out overused words and phrases that repeat themselves. I’ve limited my Hences and Thoughs; I cut 99 percent of the wise-ass comments that, to be honest, I regret having used in The Bad Guys Won! The goal is to write a beautiful book; a seamless book; a perfect book …

And yet, there’s no such thing. None. Inevitably, there will be mistakes. A quote mark turned the wrong way. A name accidentally left out of the Acknowledgments. I actually learned this harsh lesson early on in my book career: the cover of The Bad Guys Won! is a mock newspaper from the day after the Mets beat Boston in Game 7 of the ’86 World Series. Well, the designer got the date of the paper wrong. I never noticed—but readers sure did. What sort of authoritative writer does that? Etc … etc.

Inevitable.

Anyhow, I need a long nap. No, a loooooooooooooong nap.

Zzzz.

PS: I’ve get asked sorta often about book writing from first-time aspiring authors. What’s the key? What should I know? to me, the key is simple: Intensity. Talk to everyone. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. Like, absolutely everyone. Make the phone call. Then the next phone call. And the next …