It’s been a while. My new book has been my main focus for many months now, and without any doubt this blog would not have survived without truly expert help from my friend Elon Werner, who stepped up, grabbed a bat, and pinch hit for me for quite a while.
I didn’t really have much choice. “How Far?” (my new book) had to take precedence and it basically consumed me. I’m proud of it, and proud of how I managed to finish it, but more about that later in this comeback blog.
First, I want to write about Matt Mauser. The name may not be familiar to you. His name, his personality, his stage presence, and his overwhelming talent have been familiar to me for many years. I want to share him and his story with everyone.
For many of the CSK years, with Worsham Racing, we celebrated the end of every NHRA season with a rousing pit party after the season finale in Pomona, populated by friends, fellow racers, and families. At many of those parties, we were lucky enough to be joined by The Tijuana Dogs, a phenomenal band from Southern California. They rocked, and made those parties legendary. Matt Mauser was their leader, and lead singer. He was nothing short of magnetic when he performed. For the most part, I’d stand in our hospitality area, just a few feet from him, and wonder “How in the hell is this guy not a star?”
I moved on, we all moved on, but I never forgot Matt and the band. Those were incredible nights, and our Nitro-powered MegaRita machine was the co-star at many of those Pomona soirees.
On January 26, 2020, not long before Covid would change all our lives, I heard about the breaking news of Kobe Bryant’s death aboard a chartered helicopter. It was stunning and horrible to digest.
What was more stunning was the word I got from Del Worsham, informing me that Matt Mauser’s wife Christina, a highly respected teacher and girls basketball coach who was also on the helicopter, passed away as well. Matt and Christina had three children.
I was flattened. I couldn’t fathom it. I couldn’t even think of it. My brain would simply not process it.
Time has passed. Matt and his kids are still living with it and dealing with it every single day. And now, he’s about to be that star I always assumed he would be. He’s auditioning on TV for a spot on “America’s Got Talent.”
He blew the judges and the audience away with his first song.
You must watch this. It will blow you away as well.
My heart goes out to you Matt, and to your remarkable kids. Much love to you my “Pit Party Brother.”
And now, on to words about my new book. I finished principal writing less than a week ago.
Yes, the deadline for submitting it to the publisher was a fluid target. No, I didn’t write it as fast as I could. Yes, I did write it as well as I could.
When we got to the middle of June, my publisher Ryan said “If you can get this to me by July 6, I think we’re all good to go on our original timeline.”
I replied, “I won’t get it to you on the 6th. I will get it to you before then. July 4 at the latest. No matter what.”
About 10 days before my self-imposed July 4 deadline, I was counting the days and estimating the chapters left to write, and it looked daunting. Throughout the process, until then, I’d been averaging a chapter a week. Two chapters a week seemed like the limit. I was still looking for that groove that would get me to the finish line with style and flow.
So I went with a technique that had failed me throughout the process. I scribbled out another outline just to see where I really was.
Why had outlines failed me before? Because the book was organic. It had its own flow. The goalposts were always moving, and new angles and stories were always presenting themselves. It was out of my control. I was just typing.
Every time I’d done any sort of outline before, it would be obsolete and useless within days. Why? Because my two characters, Brooks and Eric, had taken over. They were writing the book. They were in control. I was just along for the ride and doing the typing. I’m not kidding. That’s how it was.
I’d think I was starting a chapter with a clear vision of where it was going, but before I knew it one of the two fictional guys would throw a complete new angle at me. From out of nowhere, I’d be writing about new drama, new people, and new developments. It had a life of its own. I really had no idea when it would end.
But, faced with the pressure to get it done by July 4, I found the focus and found the path to the finish line.
For one thing, I made the commitment to actually do it and not fold under the pressure of “I’m not done yet, I have to keep going.” I mapped out the days for the last week or so, and realized I’d have to take it to a completely new level. Whereas I’d been writing one or two chapters a week for well more than a year, I had to dial it up.
I laid out the schedule. Having an outline about the content didn’t matter. Whatever the content was going to be was irrelevant. I just needed to get it done and do it right. And to do that, the scribbled outline informed me I needed to start writing two chapters a day. That’s not the whole process, of course. I’d also have research to do, in order to make sure the “historical” side to this “historical fiction” book was accurate. It was going to be a “strap in and hold on” effort.
It was very physical. Yeah, I just celebrated my 65th birthday in June, but this effort would exhaust just about anybody. Some days, there were 10 solid hours of nonstop writing. Most days, I’d hit a wall well short of my goal and allow myself to think, “That’s all I have, I can’t do anymore” but I’d take a break and get back at it. I ate dinner at my desk. I felt the compressed discs in my neck and lower back screaming at me. My hands hurt. My fingers were cramping up. I even ended up with a stomach issue for three days that might have been an ulcer. Barbara was afraid it was appendicitis. I was moaning and couldn’t eat. There were multiple days when I consumed nothing more than a few crackers or an apple.
As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote the book as a series of independent files on Google Docs. Each chapter was its own file. My paranoia about losing the the whole thing was the motivation for that. I also printed out each chapter after my esteemed editor Greg Halling got it back to me with his input and changes. That way, if I were to somehow lose a chapter to a glitch in the matrix, that would be all I’d lose. Not the whole thing. I’m a little old-school in that regard, but having backup was key to my stress levels. If I lost one chapter, I still had it in print. My two big binders filled up beyond capacity at that point.
When I started the binders, I bought a set of tabs numbered 1 through 50. I figured I’d never get to 50. Oh, but I did.
I ended up needing to finish off binder No. 2 using Post-It Notes once I got beyond 50.
And chapters were not the defining issue. I never really dwelled on how many chapters it would be. Some are fairly long, like 13 or 14 pages, and some are short and to the point, like 6 or 7 pages. And when I talk of pages, at this point, I’m talking about single-sided 8.5 x 10 inch sheets from my printer, so that still has to be adjusted to fit in a 6 x 9 two-sided book format.
Again, it was only about the story to me. That had to be right. If it was 40 chapters, that would be fine. If it was 57, so be it. The story dictated the chapter count.
The marathon to finish was a test of my will and my writing abilities. I was obsessed with it. I was not to be denied.
Around 3:00 in the afternoon, on July 4, I put a period on the end of a sentence and matter-of-factly said to myself, “OK, I think I’m done” as if I was done for that shift, or that day. It took me a while to realize I was done with the manuscript.
The celebration came that night, when we joined many of our great friends from the old neighborhood at the small park just around the corner from our former home. Woodbury puts on a fine fireworks show about a mile away, at the Bielenberg Sports Center, and if we set up our lawn chairs and open our coolers at the little park, we can see it all without dealing with the traffic and madness.
We popped open some Prosecco and shared a toast. Plastic cups don’t make the requisite “clink” sound but it’s the thought that counts. It meant the world to me.
A book written. Good friends. The 4th of July. A loving wife who cheered me on and stayed out of my way during that last stretch, giving me the room to gut my way through it, with my assistant Buster keeping a sharp eye on me throughout each long day.
And, within a few hours after I finished that last chapter, all of my maladies were gone. I felt absolutely normal. Stress can do a lot to your mind and your body. Relieving that stress, and defeating it, can cure a lot of bad things.
We’re a long way from done. It took me multiple days to format all 57 chapters, plus the dedication, foreward, and epilogue, into two giant files and share those with my publisher, and I’m still proofing and pruning right now, but we’re past the writing stage.
Do I know when it will be out? Not yet. I basically don’t know what it will look like, or any other details. My job, to this point, was to write it.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When I took on the challenge of creating this book, I thought I knew what I was biting off. It was WAY outside my comfort zone. It was amazingly complicated. It was just a concept in my head.
And as time went on, it became part of me. The two characters seem like real people. I actually miss hearing their voices tell me what to write, each day. And I miss hearing from my editor Greg. Every morning, throughout all that time, I’d get up and check my Google Docs page and my e-mail, just to see if he’d sent anything back to me or made any comments. Every one of those mornings felt like a little mini-Christmas, and when I was strapped in and pounding for those last 10 days, he upped his work as well. He stayed right with me.
Greg is a very busy man with a ton of responsibilities in the world of print journalism. And for those last 10 days or so, he found a way to stay with me, keep the pace, and help make it happen. I don’t know how I could have done it without him. As my mentor and editor, he knows my style better than anyone, and he rescued me from my own writing foibles and errors on a daily basis. Thanks, buddy!
Now, back to work.
And hey… If you just finished this exercise in getting back on the Blog Bike and riding it, please take the time to click on the “Like” button at the bottom. That’s a stress reliever if there ever was one.
See you next week!
Bob Wilber, at your service with another book on my resume’.