My husband, David, is a fan of author interviews on C-Span and I often like to take a peek as well. Just recently, I had the pleasure of hearing a wonderful historian, Gordon Wood, author of The Creation of the American Republic and many other books about the founding of America talk about his work. When the interviewer asked him how a writer comes up with a fresh angle on such well-plowed historical turf, Wood quickly answered that there’s always more to learn. The key to coming up with an innovative way to illuminate a subject is to “ask new questions,” he observed.
This insightful comment sprang to mind when I read a story about Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow’s massive new book, which weighs in at close to 900 pages!
Since 1990, some 20 biographies of George Washington have been released, yet somehow, Chernow managed to make a case to his publisher that he had something different, enlightening, and enticing to add to the mix.
Sounds like Chernow delivers on this promise. He offers new insights into Washington’s conflicted attitudes towards slavery, talks about his love of theatre and how he saw politics as a stage, explores George’s complex family relationships, and offers a fresh interpretation of his military prowess.
“Ask new questions” — wonderful advice for us as writers, isn’t it? I have a project that’s been languishing for quite a while. It’s a historical biography that I’d love to write –it’s in the proposal stage. I’m going to pull my proposal out and see if I can pump some fresh life into it. I know there’s a lot to say that hasn’t been said — I just need to be more inventive. How about you — would coming up with new questions about a project you’re working on give it a boost?
Well, if Ron can do it, why not you, why not me? Let’s go for it!