|Governor Deval Patrick plans to write on nights and weekends.|
Governor William F. Weld preferred to write on the weekends, holed up in New Hampshire or the Adirondack Mountains. Governor Mitt Romney, a businessman by nature, preferred typing away in mornings before work. Now comes the latest Beacon Hill politico-turned-scribe, sitting Governor Deval Patrick, who signed a $1.35 million book deal yesterday to write his life story.
Governor's book deal also carries political risk. B1.
That story - according to the publisher - will touch on such topics as "self-truth, grace, faith, courage, and compassion." And Weld, for one, believes the process will help Patrick. Thinking about where one has come from, and where one is going, can't be a bad thing for anyone, Weld said yesterday, especially a governor. And, anyway, who can argue with "self-truth" and "grace"?
But shelve for a moment romantic visions of Ernest Hemingway or Eugene O'Neill clattering away on keyboards deep into the dark night. The political memoir these days is as much a book as it is a prerequisite for running for higher office. See Obama, Barack; Clinton, Hillary Rodham; and McCain, John, just to name a few. And some wonder how the governor will have time to finish this book while leading a complex, sprawling state government with a proposed $28.2 billion-a-year budget.
"It's hard to believe that a person who's governor of a state - with all that implies - would have the time, focus, and energy - assuming he has the talent," said William Novak, a writer in Boston's western suburbs who has collaborated with Nancy Reagan, Lee Iacocca, Magic Johnson, Oliver North, and Tip O'Neill on their memoirs. "That's what my concern would be as a citizen."
"Nights and weekends," Patrick said, when asked at an event yesterday when he would find the time to write his book. He made his remarks after Broadway Books issued a statement announcing this "major work of nonfiction," and after Patrick's Boston-based literary agent, Todd Shuster, said the contract was worth $1.35 million - a stunning figure for a political memoir by a relative unknown, according to those in publishing circles.
Novak said that people are entitled to use their free time as they wish. The 2010 publication date should give Patrick plenty of time to finish the book, literary agents and authors said. Even Weld, a Republican, believes Patrick can write his memoir without interfering with state business.
"I've discovered recently that writing nonfiction is a lot less draining because you're writing stuff that you remember instead of stuff you're making up," said Weld, an author of three novels with political themes and Massachusetts roots who declined to say exactly what sort of nonfiction he's writing now.
Still, Patrick could be in for a long slog, particularly given his assertion that he will be writing his book without a ghostwriter or collaborator. Literary agents and authors believe he has a story to tell. Who can resist a tale of a poor boy raised on the South Side of Chicago going on to become the first black governor of Massachusetts? But telling that story, in a way that someone else might want to read it, is something else altogether, said Ipswich author William Patrick, who is of no relation to the governor.
"He can dictate," said Patrick, who collaborated with Sidney Poitier on his 2001 memoir, "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. "He can bang on his laptop while riding on a plane. So you can amass 100,000 words - not too hard. A thousand a day, easy. The trouble is, then what?"
The writing, as William Patrick sees it, is the easy part. What usually trips up the aspiring memoirist, he said, "is the rewriting, the honing. It's the architecture. It's knowing how to write a book."
Helen Rees, a Boston literary agent for almost three decades, said most politicians tabbed to spill their life stories typically don't have this skill. For this reason, she said, most of them have ghostwriters or collaborators who craft the narrative, build a story through interviews with the subject, and then let the subject review the work and make suggestions.
According to Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, Romney's nephew collaborated with the former governor on his 2004 book, "Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games," a 416-page account of Romney's work to salvage the scandal-plagued 2002 Olympics. Both the books that Rees did with Senator John F. Kerry included collaborators, she said. "And that was smart," Rees explained. "He's a full-time senator." A book, she pointed out, doesn't write itself. "It's intense," Rees said. "You're talking about one dimension. You're talking about someone's eyes looking at a page. And if those first five sentences don't grab you - if you're not hooked - you're in trouble."
The good news for Patrick is, the publisher was impressed with his writing. The governor said yesterday that he plans to write at night and on the weekends in the months ahead. A recent first-time author, Nick Trout, who shares the same publisher as Patrick, believes the governor can pull it off.
Trout, a veterinary surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Jamaica Plain, had a book published this month about his life amid animals. Called "Tell Me Where It Hurts," it took several months to write and edit, he said.
But he finished it, Trout said, and he expects Patrick can do the same - especially if he knows how to type.
"I'm a two-finger typer," Trout said, "and useless."
Keith O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.