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Opinion Monday, May 31, 2004
When a president’s gotta do what he’s gotta do

Gary Krist, a novelist who lives in Maryland, is the author of "Extravagance" and "Chaos Theory." Sheryl McCarthy is off.

May 31, 2004

What follows are excerpts from the diary of a certain distinguished

ex-statesman under tremendous pressure to complete a much-anticipated memoir.

May 13, 2004: Sonny called from Knopf. He wants some last-minute revisions. "Nothing major," he assures me. "Just a little tightening." He also says the fact-checker has noted a couple of minor factual discrepancies.

"You're having my book fact-checked?" I ask.

"Don't worry, it's absolutely routine," Sonny says. "Ten years ago we had the pope's book fact-checked, too. And he's infallible."

Tonight at dinner I ask H. if her book had been fact-checked.

"No," she answers crisply, looking over some joint resolution or other for work. "I guess Simon and Schuster had no reason to believe that I'd ever lie about anything."

Then she gives it to me - The Look.

"Right," I say, and quickly change the subject.

May 17, 2004: Another call from Sonny today. The copy editor, he says, is quibbling with my use of the word "is" in Chapter 18; would I care to rework that chapter?

"Heck, no," I answer. Chapter 18 is my favorite part of the whole book. In fact, when I read excerpts of it to Vernon over the phone last month, he'd called it "vintage Clinton." I'm pretty sure that was a compliment.

Sonny relents. "Fine, fine," he says. "We'll leave it as it is." Then he asks me how the revisions are going.

"I'm not sure about revisions," I tell him honestly. "The book seems pretty perfect to me as it is."

Sonny doesn't answer. He's getting a little nervous, I think. He keeps muttering something about "ten million dollars" and "the current book-buying climate." Whenever I ask about advance orders, all he says is: "Gotta go. I'm already late for a meeting."

Sonny, like H., seems to have an awful lot of meetings...

May 24, 2004: This time it's Bob Gottlieb on the phone. "The publicity people want blurbs for the back cover," he says. "Anybody we can tap?" I'm thinking: Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, even the Dalai Lama, but he's thinking Oprah and what's-his-name, the guy who wrote "Tuesdays with Morrie."

"Hey, publishing's a commercial business these days," he explains. "You don't want to seem too highbrow."

Tonight I ask H., "Um, did they ask you to get blurbs for your book?"

She looks up from the e-mail she's writing to Joe Lieberman. "No," she says. "They told me that certain books don't need endorsements to have credibility."

"Right," I say, and quickly change the subject.

May 26, 2004: Kerry called today. Once again, he pleaded with me to put off my pub date until late November. "It's when all the Big Guns publish," he tells me. "Right before the holiday gift-giving season, too."

"Look, John," I say. "If you're so worried about being overshadowed, why don't you just write your own book?"

"I did!" he says indignantly. "Didn't you read it?"

How embarrassing. After I hang up, I check it out on Amazon. Sure enough, it's right there: "A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America" by John F. Kerry. Sales rank: 17,045.

Poor John. It's going to be a long four months...

May 28, 2004: Another call today: Now it's my title they're not happy with! "'My Life' - it's too generic," Sonny says. "The sales people don't like it."

"It's simple," I argue. "Elegant and to the point."

This time, though, he doesn't give in. "Just think about some alternatives, OK? Call me back tomorrow and we'll talk."

At lunch, I ask H. what she thinks of my title. "It's fine, Bill," she says, distracted. She's waiting for a call from the producer of "Meet the Press."

"They didn't have a problem with your title," I say, not even sure she's listening. "Maybe I should use the title Ulysses S. Grant used: 'Personal Memoirs.' That book's still in print after 119 years!"

H. looks up. "If you're thinking of stealing somebody else's title," she says, "why don't you use the one St. Augustine used: 'The Confessions.' That ought to sell some books. Or how about Lynda Obst's title 'Hello, He Lied'? Or why not a song title - say, 'Devil With a Blue Dress On'? How about that title, Bill?"

There it is again - The Look, with double intensity this time.

Think fast, I tell myself. Then it comes to me: "Gotta go," I say. "I'm already late for a meeting."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc. |  Article licensing and reprint options


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