New Yorker writer Susan Orlean (author ofThe Orchid Thief and The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup) has focused her journalistic talents on the overlooked story of Hollywood's first four-legged star. In Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend, Susan shows how a puppy rescued from a World War I battlefield became a hero of the big screen and a symbol of the bond between humans and dogs. She agreed to answer a few questions about the process of writing Rin Tin Tin.
Amazon: Was there a scene or passage that was particularly memorable or emotional or difficult to write?
Susan: Writing the lead was incredibly difficult"“-much more difficult than any lead I've ever written. I wanted somehow to convey in those first few sentences the scope of the book and the sweep of history that would follow, but still give life to the characters. I rewrote the lead repeatedly, and thought I'd gotten it right "“ and then rewrote it again with an entirely different structure.
Amazon: Describe how you wrote that passage--where you were, what else was happening around you--and describe how it felt to complete it?
Susan: I had written my false starts just at the beginning of my writing process, when I was living in Boston, working at home in my loft downtown. I would write, then read aloud, then would delete it because I knew it wasn't right. I finally put it aside and decided I would come back to it when I had a fresher approach. A year later, I was working in my writing studio in the Hudson Valley of New York, surrounded by fields and woods, and one day it simply dawned on me that I had to begin with the idea of what endures. I was so excited that I wrote the first two sentences, turned off my computer, and ran up to the house to announce to my family that I had finally gotten the lead right. I took the rest of the day off to celebrate.
Amazon: When and where do you write? Do you eat, drink, or listen to anything in particular while writing? Any routines or rituals?
Susan: For the last five years I've been writing in a small studio a few hundred feet from my house, which is the countryside north of New York City. I've just moved to Los Angeles and am in the process of building a writing space in my house here. I am an avid drinker of Diet Coke while I write, for better or worse. I used to listen to the radio while working but found it too distracting, so now I just listen to my fingers clicking on the keyboard.
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