Monday, April 28, 2008

Fourteen years and a book

David Haward Bain, writing in The Old Iron Road about his previous book, Empire Express, a history of the Transcontinental Railroad. He labored on the project for fourteen years.

'...During that time I went around the country for research, depended on the kindness of many strangers, wore out the interlibrary loan staff at the Middlebury College library, filled up a four-drawer filing cabinet with photocopied handwritten documents and official reports and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with books, and wrote a 1,100 page manuscript...A publisher's advance in 1985 stretched out pretty thin over thirteen years, on top of which was my wife's small salary and mine as a part-time writing instructor. There were no grants, and as part-time faculty I was not eligible for paid leaves. What sustained us through most of these hard times was the warm, bright light our children brought into our lives, and also the fact that pursuing such a project as Empire Express was the greatest gift I could could be given as a writer and a historian . . . It may have been a challenge for our family to get to the end of each succeeding month over fourteen years, but I seldom sat down at my desk in the morning without a rising sense of excitement and curiosity about the people and their stories, and how they all fit together, and how the narrative was going to be built."

Bain then got the news that powerhouse Stephen Ambrose was planning to write a book on the same topic. He got his publisher to buy out his teaching contract and spent the next year writing seven days a week. Bain's book got to market ten months before Ambrose's.