Heinlein’s biographer is kind enough to drop by this web site, and offers some comments and corrections to my little late night post on the Heinlein conference. Although I’m embarrassed to have made mistakes in my post (since corrected by several people), I apparently did not make a mistake in posting quickly and as accurately as I could at the time–there’s not too much else out there on the Web reporting on the conferences. I’m honored to have the man drop by–he was a gracious and entertaining teacher in the panels I attended.
Mr. Patterson says, among other things:
The biography was actually finished more than a year ago, at 750,000 words, and I cut it to less than 400,000 words for submission. If the biography had any real â€œmodelâ€ it was probably McCulloughâ€™s biography of Truman.
I found that you can cut about 15% just by eliminating excess or repetitive stylistics and up to about 20% by rearranging text to condense it; but after about 20% you start cutting facts. This was cut nearly in half. One of the things I had done in the original draft was to let Heinlein tell his own story in his own words as much as possible, and that device had to be eliminated except where itâ€™s essential to get the point across, since narrative summary is a lot more condensed than the actual speech. Tor has picked it up and I suspect there will be some further cutting, as weâ€™ve just got into the editorial process. I donâ€™t think it could appear any time before Spring 2008 at the earliest.
Oh, and, yeah, the viewpoint in the biography rises out of the evidence, and my task was to present a picture of Heinlein as a person with the important factors that weighed into any given decision visible and present in the narrative â€” so only the evidence has any real chance of changing my opinion, and the best shot at changing an opinion is to show me that whatever interpretation I may have put forward in a panel or somesuch doesnâ€™t really encompass the relevant evidence. Obviously thatâ€™s not always possible in an event-setting, but the Journal is available for that kind of thing, and Iâ€™ve been running letter-series for discussions of disagreements and such. My online presence for the Journal isnâ€™t there â€” no time â€” but you can always e-mail me at email@example.com or write at The Heinlein Journal 2261 Market Street, No. 457, San Francisco CA 94114.
As a courtesy and because I had a scanner handy, here’s a scanned pdf of the subscription page from the Heinlein Journal brochure I got at the conference.
Reading about this work reminds me of what my friend Jerry once told me about how hard it was for Edmund Morris to write about Reagan. Morris, who has written wonderful biographies, got stymied in Reagan’s case because Morris found it too hard to get at the narrative arc of Reagan’s life (a difficult task indeed). I also note the few people presenting at the conference who clearly didn’t get where Heinlein was coming from in some aspects–or recognized ideological differences but minimized them to continue in another direction. It’s impossible to write in such a way that one cannot be misunderstood, I guess.
I’m not knowledgeable about Heinlein and his times. I do note that the community of amateur and expert historians working on Heinleiniana certainly knew what they knew to very small details, and knew pretty well what they didn’t know of his life (with my caveat that some folks really didn’t understand being a naval officer and how that colors one’s thinking). If Patterson really can get Heinlein’s self on paper, get Heinlein’s viewpoint rising from the evidence of a man who was equally at home in what might seem mutually contradictory environments of old school Academy officers and movie people and California oddballs and various political groups and enterpreneurs and innovating engineers, then Patterson’s managed quite an achievement. If Patterson can do it and tell the story well, he’s got a significant work. I can’t wait for his book to come out.
And I still owe Dr. Wysocki a few introductory emails to folks at the Naval Historical Center…