The Book That Wasn’t a Book

In 2000, while working for the Chautauquan Daily as a summer music reporter, I met the bandleader of Independence Jazz Reunion. He hired me to write a biography about the band’s colorful 50-year history. I traveled to Maine and New York to interview “the guys,” and put together a full-length manuscript, which I sent to all of them for editing. The book was about the band itself as well as each member’s life over the years.

These are some of the early drafts of my jazz band book that I recycled. I did, however, keep the folder.

I had written a book before–a novel I started after college–but I never quite got around to the ending. Or the revising. The Independence Jazz Reunion project taught me how to do longer interviews, how to incorporate feedback from multiple people, how to work as a writer-for-hire and how to arrange a lot of material into a cohesive format.

Best of all, it gave me confidence. I wrote a book! And I finished it! That success led to me focusing on finishing my next novel, which earned me an agent, but that’s another story.

The bandleader planned to self-publish the biography I wrote, but then 9/11 happened, and the project slipped away. A year passed, then two, and now it has been twelve years since I first met the guys, each of whom inspired me in their own unique way.

There’s no book–at least not out in the world. But I hope the manuscript was a gift to the musicians and their families, even if it never did get sold at concerts. And I’m still very thankful for the opportunity to interview those amazing musicians and to learn from their life choices.

I recently spent two weeks at my parents’ house on the East Coast going through old boxes, notebooks and files. I found a whole Rubbermaid tub full of drafts of the Independence Jazz Reunion biography. That’s a lot of drafts and research material! Most of it I recycled–with a heavy heart, certainly, but I couldn’t keep all of it.

Do you have a long-ago writing project that taught you something important? If so, please share!


About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Journalism, Research, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Book That Wasn’t a Book

  1. No, no writing projects in my past, but I hope to feel my future with writing! Great accomplishment finishing a book! Good for you!

  2. susielindau says:

    It is all new to me and I and hoping to get mine out there soon! ….rewriting, but enjoying the process…
    Are you in Boulder?

    • Rewriting is a blast! It took me a while to appreciate it, but it’s my favorite part these days. I’m on my second draft of my WIP and enjoying figuring out what to do with the disparate pieces that were strewn around in draft number one.

      Oh, and I almost forgot to address the Chautauqua thing. I’m in Portland, Oregon. The Boulder program is modeled after the one in western New York. It spawned a number of Chautauqua movements around the country, including way out here in Oregon. I used to go to the New York one when I was a kid, and that’s where I was when I met “the guys.”

      • susielindau says:

        That is so cool, but a bummer that you aren’t here. I did not know the history. 🙂 Well if you are ever in the area let me know!

        I am learning to appreciate the rewriting process. I think the second go through will be a lot easier!

  3. Laura, that was a wonderful way to learn your craft. I do suspect that a writer lurked inside of you long before that first project, but it became the catalyst for what you do now.

    Me? I guess I was mainly a verbal story teller most of my life. I drove my family crazy, amused friends and finally began to put paper to an old Remington manual and started my journals. From those came some very prosaic poetry, some badly written short stories and one very long play inspired by a weird group of women I met one summer when my kids were babies. I shelved it all, hid them in boxes, burried them in storage and after the kids, grandkids and retirement, decided to unleash the Cracken. The first book was more like a series of short stories. I doubt it will ever see the light of a publisher’s desk, but what it did was get me into the mode, prompted me to write another one. After one million words and countless drafts, I have this year decided to submit my stories. Who knows what will come of that ??? What I do know is that somewhere lurking in my brain, the seeds of my stories took root. We never know how and really don’t need to know 🙂

    • It’s great to hear about your early storytelling and written stories, Florence. What you said about your first book prompting you to write another one sounds very familiar! Of course I’m now on #3 since the jazz book, and each one has been invaluable for different reasons.

      I’m excited to hear you’re going to take the plunge and submit. It’s a fascinating process, and it is bogged down with all kinds of emotional energy, but the biggest thing is to believe in your work and if someone says no, then he/she wouldn’t have been able to do as good a job in getting it into readers’ hands as you deserve. Good luck and enjoy the ride!

  4. Emma says:

    That biography sounds amazing. I wrote my first YA novel almost ten years ago. It’s been edited, pulled apart and edited again… I would like to get it out into the world in the next year.

  5. I got a grant to research, write, and record the stories of Wa State centenarians for the 100th birthday of Washing State in 1989. I interviewed quite a few of them, now all long gone, but chose instead to focus on one woman. The other interviews were great practice, and I have them on tape and many of them are transcribed, but I have never used them. The recording I did produce is called Windows in Time, and focuses on one woman, Beth Jacobsen, and her experience as a little girl growing up in Seattle at the turn of the century. She was a natural storyteller, and the stories that came from that connection are so much better than anything I could have put together from my other subjects. It was a great lesson on flexibility and going with the flow.

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