True Stories of History and Biography


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Scope is very important: you may know what this is in advance, or you may find it out as you work through the material you uncover. You should probably not reach the half way point without having made a decision on both scope and level, as anything outside of this will be wasted effort. This brings to the next point, and a thought experiment. Not only that, but they intimate some kind of threat, perhaps they have spoken to someone else about it and want to hear your side. Feeling uncomfortable? Now imagine yourself as someone asking what you thought was a perfectly reasonable set of questions and wondering why you are getting short shrift.

And remember that thing about obsession and therefore forgetting that you are potentially rubbing salt into wounds, however well-meaning you might be.

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Alongside sensitivity and empathy, remember that other thing, about risk. At the end of the day, whatever your motivations, your job is to capture a bunch of information from a pool of people wide or narrow and arrange it in a coherent manner. You can do yourself a lot of favours by not being that chap, by preparing for meetings, informing people in advance, putting them at their ease, looking smart and giving them confidence, and so on.

In the case of Rush, I unthinkingly spoke to a friend of the band about writing a book, mentioning that I had written the authorised book on Marillion. It was enough to bring the shutters down on the whole project. Lesson learned, but the hard way. This also brings to the importance of fact-checking.

Another salutary tale was a single, missing word in the original Marillion biography: when Fish left the band in , much of the anguish was caused about how revenues were split between band members. In that single word from my perspective, were no end of arguments, cold silences, meetings, astonishing legal fees and other life-changing moments for the band members. At the same time, your job is not only to capture a part of history but also to inspire and enthral, to have a reader turning pages wanting to know what happens next. Not only are these inevitably superficial does anyone actually think that musicians go into cold-store outside of these cycles?

I still have his copy of Long time Gone; Scar Tissue is another example of a great autobiography. This same principle applies to business books, to any subject area for that matter… why do you think Malcolm Gladwell is so popular? Facts are interesting and important, but they should be subordinate to narrative. You can, if you wish, adopt a novel-type structure, with all of its twists and turns. Of course, if this starts to distort reality, that is not a good thing.

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However, if the historical tale actually does snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or otherwise reflect a handy plot device, all the better for bringing that out. This is ultimately what sets apart a great biography from a mere retelling of the facts; it also creates the perfect foil against the press and Amazon reviewers who will, inevitably, know more about the subject than the author. Within the process, your job is to collect as much information as you need about the subject according to the scope and level you have set, but its output should be a joy to read.

I hope this has helped anyone thinking of writing a biography, and I welcome any feedback. The following, then, are lessons learned specifically from, and about biography.

Rule One. Rule Two. Rule Four: It is about real people stupid This brings to the next point, and a thought experiment. In This Section. My Writing Income. Though Finkel writes at the outset that he feels the need to emphasize the truthfulness of what he reports, truth can of course be a slippery concept. Better to stick with the facts. Though he had moved into a coveted writing position with the New York Times Magazine by his early 30s, the journalist got himself in a fix with a story about child laborers in Mali.

Investigating reports of slavery on cocoa plantations in the West African nation, Finkel found the reality to be far more complex. The story was published, inconsistencies were spotted, and Finkel was exposed, publicly excoriated, and fired. A door closes, and a window opens. Licking his wounds at his Montana home in early , Finkel got a phone call from another journalist asking about a case thus far unfamiliar to him. Just before Christmas , the bodies of two children had been discovered in a coastal Oregon pond; their ankles had been tethered to pillowcases weighted with rocks.

Several days later, his wife MaryJane Longo and two-year-old daughter Madison were found in the nearby bay. Each had been strangled, packed in a suitcase, and thrown in the water. Finkel was intrigued enough to contact the now-incarcerated man. Photo: Mary Cybulski. He agreed against the advice of his lawyers to allow Finkel to interview him, and the two men began a communication that encompassed weekly phone calls, voluminous letter writing, and a few prison meetings. They were each at a personal low point, although obviously Finkel hadn't killed anyone.

True Stories of History and Biography by Nathaniel Hawthorne

But he does admit in True Story that "I'd lied many times: to bolster my credentials, to elicit sympathy, to make myself appear less ordinary. After working various sales jobs, he started a Michigan business cleaning up new construction sites, but had trouble collecting on invoices.

He was arrested, lost his company and his house, and was "disfellowshipped" by his church. He took his family on a probation-violating cross-country trek that ended in Oregon, and finally, it seemed, he killed them. Longo didn't confess, and didn't even initially plead not guilty — he stood "mute" to the indictment. And though he was telling his life story in great detail to Finkel, he did not account for his actions surrounding the murders.

Then he pled guilty to the murders of his wife and youngest child, and not guilty in the deaths of the two other children. On the stand during his trial, he contended that MaryJane, after discovering the extent of her husband's lies and criminality, had killed Zachery and Sadie, disposed of their bodies, and had also attempted to kill Madison. The jury wasn't buying: it found Longo guilty, and sentenced him to death. The story didn't end there, of course.

True Stories of History and Biography True Stories of History and Biography
True Stories of History and Biography True Stories of History and Biography
True Stories of History and Biography True Stories of History and Biography
True Stories of History and Biography True Stories of History and Biography
True Stories of History and Biography True Stories of History and Biography

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