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Writing Biography

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With Bob Andelman, Author of Will Eisner: A Spirited Life

 

 

From Will Eisner: A Spirited Life:

Sam Eisner was impressed the first time he saw his sixteen-year-old son Billy’s byline–”by William Eisner”–on an original comic strip in his DeWitt Clinton High School newspaper, The Clintonian, in 1933.

“It looks like you really want to do this,” he said.

Billy smiled and nodded.

Inspired, Sam told Billy about a cousin of his who ran a large boxing gym in New York City, Stillman’s. It was the “in” place where well-known boxers trained. Sam called Lou Stillman and told him about his eldest son’s desire to be a professional cartoonist and asked if he knew any other cartoonists.

Stillman said, “I know one; he hangs around the gym a lot. He does a comic strip about a boxer. Let me get you an appointment, maybe Billy can get a job with him.”

The cartoonist was Ham Fisher, creator of Joe Palooka.

DOWNLOAD AND LISTEN TO BOB ANDELMAN MP3 HERE

READ A TRANSCRIPT OF BOB’S INTERVIEW HERE

What makes a biography special? Is it enough that the subject has lived an interesting or famous life? This week we visit with Bob Andelman, author of Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, who tackles these questions and more. It’s a long interview, but Bob was so fascinating that I insisted he keep talking. I would have kept him longer, but I started to feel guilty. Please join us and see why I couldn’t stop.

Bob Andelman is the author or co-author of several best-selling biographical, business, management and sports books, including, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, The Profit Zone, Built From Scratch, Mean Business, and five others. He has also written hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories for a vast array of publications ranging from Redbook and the St. Petersburg Times to Gallery.

Andelman, whose hometown is North Brunswick, NJ, has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 1982. He has a bachelor’s degree in film studies (with a minor in American literature) from the University of Florida. He and his wife, Mimi (a news features editor at the St. Petersburg Times for almost 30 years), have been married since 1988, have a daughter, Rachel, and two dogs, Scout and Chase.

Join us for this riveting interview in which Bob discusses:

  • How he came to write the book
  • How he went about interviewing Will Eisner and the people who knew him
  • How he organized his research
  • How he dealt with difficult interviewees
  • How he decided what to put in the book and what to leave out
  • Whether he worried about being sued
  • What makes a great biography
  • What you should never, ever do when writing a biography
  • How he feels about including his own opinion
  • How he’s marketing the book
  • What it was like to work with the great Will Eisner.

Interviewee: Bob Andelman
Host: Paula B
Date: August 14, 2006
Running time: 01:33:39
File size: 68 megabytes
Rating: G
Bob Andelman’s Web site: www.andelman.com

Purchase Bob’s book from Amazon.com:

 

DOWNLOAD AND LISTEN TO BOB ANDELMAN MP3 HERE

7 Responses to “Podcast: Writing Biography”

  1. Administrator Says:

    Keikomushi left the following comment, which I accidentally deleted. Sorry, Keiko. You can thank the spammers for my having to moderate comments. Anyway, here is her great comment.

    Paula B.

    This is a great podcast, Paula. As always you have brought in a guest whose experience is quite relevant to the business of writing. Biographies have made news in the australian media in recent months so it does touch upon a number of important issues facing the writing world today. To be more specific, there was one based upon the life of a cricket player (Australian Spinbowler - Shane Warne) and one on a radio personality ( 3AW - Alan Jones).

    The interview reminded me of a book that I read some time ago on the life of Carl Gustav Jung, with a wonderful introduction by the gentlemen that interviewed the psychologist during the late sixties and early seventies. ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ is listed as an autobiography, but it does show how unusual an experience that a person can have.

  2. Administrator Says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Keiko. What issues have these biographies raised?

    Can you elaborate on your comment about the Jung biography? Are you referring to the author or the biographee when you say “an experience that a person can have?”

    Paula B.

  3. keikomushi Says:

    I am referring to the biographee. In Jung’s case, he viewed life in a way that was very surreal, seeing symbols everywhere. He understood much even at a young age, with the way that he played alone in his backyard. His isolation forced him to be independent, and meant that he could look at any clues that he was given, and look at them with an independence that was required for making unbiased judgements.
    He was always analysing the signs that he’d seen in the world around him, and was an outcast amongst outcasts. His interest in metaphysics set his up as a crackpot in his college. When Frued cut him off for Carl’s comments regarding the Oedipus theory, Jung was suddenly thrown in the deep end, without a mentor and with a thirst to know more about what makes a person tick.
    Jung travelled for the large part of middle age, doing major research projects in places such as Rhodesia and in India. He was constantly looking for answers in the world around him and finding that human experience was all about perception. Nobody saw experiences in the same way, and yet dreams carried with them those same symbols. It crossed the global divide, and showed that there was less of a difference between what was considered civilized man, and that of the “primitive”.
    I think that it would have taken a lot of guts to be Jung. He had to find that way of gaining acceptance for his own ideas, whilst dealing with his own isolation. I don’t know if I would have liked him, but I certainly respect him, based on what I’ve read. His was a surreal life, filled with images of chalices and patterns, the Ego and the Id. Viewing the world with a focus upon these elements would have made his interactions with others difficult.

  4. Administrator Says:

    I see. Yes. Jung’s story would have to be fascinating regardless of the biographer. He’s also a case in which the story involves not only the person, but also major changes in his field and in the world at large.

    This is something I didn’t ask Bob about. You can write a biography of a famous person who changed the world, a famous person who was just famous, or a person who wasn’t famous who may or may not have changed the world. Contrast, for example, Janis Joplin and someone like Lenin. Or the story of that guy Tucker (I think was his name) who invented a new kind of automobile that didn’t make it (there was a movie about him starring Jeff Bridges). All different, but all biographies.

  5. Administrator Says:

    Whoops. I did it again. Forgot to sign that last post.

    Paula B.

  6. keikomushi Says:

    When I was in school (i.e. fifth grade) I had to do a short bio on King Leopold of Belgium. Just imagine my surprise when I realised that there weren’t one, but several. I had to be sure that every single piece of information that I was looking up, was actually referring to the one that the research regarded. At least in Jung and Eisner’s case there was no other people with that exact same name.
    You actually spurred a memory, Paula. I saw the movie about Preston Tucker ‘Tucker’five years back and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hadn’t heard of the guy before I saw that film. And yet, there his story was. His ideas regarding car safety were well before their time and it would take the other car manufacturers decades before they started to implement revolutionary ideas such as seat belts, concepts that his design used.
    What sort of things did the likes of Albert Einstein and Richard Nixon regret doing during their lifetime? Were they just two-dimensional figures with a single-minded goal or ambition? I wonder how much of what the average person learns about these figures in history books and the media is even close. The phrase, “it’s the winner writes the history books,” comes to mind.

  7. Administrator Says:

    Re King Leopold: Now you’re getting into librarian territory. When I went to library school, that’s when I learned all about distinguishing one person (or place, or other thing) from another by using birth and death dates, place of birth, relatives, etc. That’s why when you publish your book, Keiko, they will include your birth date in the cataloging.

    I hadn’t heard of Tucker either. I’m glad they made that film so that people now know who he was. When I used to do research for screenwriters, I would go looking for topics for them, including the stories of people no one had heard of. Can’t take credit for unearthing Tucker, though.

    No one is a two-dimensional figure. That’s the illusion, of course. Everyone struggles, no matter how successful they are or how perfect they seem to others. And that’s why their stories are so interesting to us.

    Here’s an aside that has to do with the illusion of fame and perfection. When I was a kid, I used to watch TV and see the credits go by. I had no idea that those people got up every day and went to work at a studio, and that they got those jobs through their training and networking. I thought it was magic, and I wondered if my name would ever be up there too.

    Paula