Nothing like hanging out with some of the most successful authors in the country to change your perspective on what it takes to be great.
Maybe you’re like I was, assuming there are the haves and the have-nots.
The haves would be those super-successful people, in this case, authors, who simply have a supreme talent. The rest of us have not been blessed with such a gift, which would make us, of course, the have-nots.
The folks at the cable channel RLTV came to me a few months ago and offered, “How about hosting a TV show all about books?”
“How simple and how retro?” I thought. Despite all of our electronic whiz-bang toys, people are still nutso for books. I know I am.
That’s how I found myself in New York City last month doing in depth interviews with people like Mary Higgins Clark, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Erica Jong and biographers such as Jon Meacham and David Nasaw.
Clearly, these are people who have to have some affinity for words; I figured that out as I read all these books. Shortcuts just don’t work for me. Twenty-four author interviews meant reading 24 books. It was like being in college again, as every day more books and mandatory reading arrived at my house.
The biggest thing I took away from time spent talking to these great authors is they are great writers, well, because they write.
I really cherished my time with Mary Higgins Clark, who has seen each of her 42 suspense thrillers become best-sellers. She’s 83 years old now and walks with a cane, but, boy, is she sharp as a tack, still churning out at least one new book a year. Seems she knows how to pop out best-sellers like Mrs. Fields pops out chocolate chip cookies.
Turns out, it’s not so easy for the grande dame of suspense thrillers. Her latest book, “The Lost Years,” was a particular struggle.
It started with her editor, Michael Korda, taking her to lunch one day and pitching a wild idea for a suspense thriller. “How about a story with a biblical background centered on a letter believed to have been written by Jesus Christ?”
Talk about something you don’t see on bookshelves every day.
“I worked on it for four months,” Ms. Clark told me. “Only to realize it was awful. I mean really awful.”
Is it terrible to say that I found myself liking this superstar more, not for her success, but because it came with difficulty?
“So what did you do?” I asked.
She looked back at me with her piercing, determined blue eyes. “Well, I threw it out and started all over again. What choice did I have? Writers write.”
Here’s a woman who certainly knows what it is to start all over again. In 1964, she found herself a young widow with five children to support. There’s not a lot of time for worrying about something not working out. You need to get yourself up and go.
That was my reminder about greatness, whether it means doing what you have to do to raise your kids or writing international best-sellers.
Like the old Nike commercial says, “Just do it.”
And it’s not like getting over this one obstacle means you’re home free from other challenges. Ms. Clark’s amazing life is testament to that. On her calendar was lunch with that same editor.
“I can only imagine what he’ll toss out there this time,” she shared with a smile and a wink. There was no fear of another challenge. She’ll simply do what needs to be done, even if it means throwing out four months of work and starting all over again.