Suppose you sat down, say fifteen years ago, to write a letter and you didn’t mail it because stuff kept happening that you wanted to tell your friend about. Suppose the letter got so big that you decided only half of it would fit in an envelope. So you sent that half but you kept getting the second half to the point where you could finally say, “Well, that’s enough for now” and you finally stuffed it into an envelope and dripped it in a street-side box late at night so it wouldn’t stick around and invite you to write more.
Except you will write some more because you know you left out some stuff that you want to put in and eventually you’ll mail the new version of the second half of this long letter.
A friend told me many years ago, “The trouble with historians is they never want to write. They just want to research.” He had it right. But sooner or later historians have to put all of that research into some kind of narrative so it is meaningful to others. A historian who doesn’t share his story is not a storian. He or she is just a hiss.
Last Thursday night I emailed 703 pages of mostly accurate typing to the University of Missouri Press. It’s called (for now) Statehouse; the Biography of Missouri’s Capitol. It will be a while before anybody but the editors and I see it. It won’t be filled with a lot of color photographs as the Capitol Art book is. Some, but compared to the Capitol Art book, not many. Lots of black and white archival stuff, though.
One of the problems of writing history is that the story changes as you go along. This book was supposed to be done well before now. But this summer I got to digging around and came up with about three bunches of stuff that completely changed the orientation of the first 175-or so pages.
Remember groaning in high school when we learned that our themes were increased from 100 words to 250? The new stuff added about fifty pages to the manuscript. And it changed the beginning of the story from starting with the Capitol fire in 1911 to starting with the story of an Illiterate Frenchman living in Spanish southeast Missouri who got a land grant in 1802.
We won’t tell you more. Just start saving your money to buy the story of the capital and the capitol in a couple of years.
Is it a relief to finally send off a manuscript? No. It’s kind of like letting your kid cross the street for the first time. You’ve told the child to look both ways but you know as you watch your loin-fruit step off the curb that there are other things you want to say.
Well, isn’t it exciting when you have the final product in your hands? Yeah, kinda. But gestation periods are also likely to produce feelings of relief as much as anything.
So the offspring has left the nest. But not forever. For a while. And this loft/office won’t become an empty nest when the book is in the stores. There are a couple of other eggs already incubating.