It’s overly glib and probably kind of insulting, for which I am sorry, but I’ve often likened book-writing to child-bearing. Regarding both, there seems to be a part of your brain that fools you into not remembering just how freakin’ difficult it is until it’s too late. And then there you are, back in the middle of it once again and thinking, Oh yeah — DAMN but this is HARD!
So I signed the contract with University of North Carolina Press to write what became “Step It Up and Go” a little more than three-and-a-half years ago. Groundhog Day 2017, which seemed fitting. That was the culmination of a several-year proposal process that had been pretty involved, mapping out how it would go — from Charlie Poole to “American Idol.”
I felt pretty good about things because it seemed fairly straightforward. Most of the book’s primary subjects, I had covered before for the News & Observer, some at great length. So I had a roadmap of past stories and reporting to rely on. Factoring in the time for supplemental new interviews and research, it seemed plausible that I’d be able to blow through about one chapter per month. On that timeline, I should have been finished by the fall of 2018 with the book coming out sometime during 2019.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Inevitably, life did not exactly cooperate, starting with my job at the N&O, which went through some radical changes with a “digital-first reinvention.” Various other traumas large and small cropped up as 2017 ended, and 2018 came and went with no end in sight. Probably the only reason I got to the end of it in 2019 was that I left the paper that year, which was a wrenching but necessary change.
It was well into 2020 before the whole thing was done and dusted, with pictures and cutlines and permissions and rewrites and copy-edits and all the rest. The pandemic slowed things down further, of course, but we finally put a period on it this past summer. And here, finally, is closure a month before the “official” publication date.
Today, I drove over to Chapel Hill to pick up a few copies from UNC Press. My editor Mark Simpson-Vos and I couldn’t hug it out, but we did the best we could in this pandemic age. To actually get to hold this book in my hand after all this time, to finally see it as A Thing That Exists after being just this mirage-like abstraction for so long, is kind of unbelievable.