Writing as an Act of Love
I didn’t write a book to make a point. Or to teach you a lesson.
I wrote it because I heard a story one day six years ago and thought, 'No way! That happened?’
And it kept getting better the more I learned. Jimmy Carter didn’t have running water until he was 12 years old? Hunter Thompson thought Carter was one of the three meanest people he’d ever met? Ted Kennedy went to a boarding school where his classmates tormented him and a faculty member sexually abused students?
I didn't write CAMELOT’S END to beat you over the head with some takeaway about modern politics.
I wrote it out of love. I love a great story, I love discovery. I loved the process: the research, the interviews, the writing, the thinking, and the creating.
Some people are geniuses and really should write books with a brilliant new insight. That’s not me.
Also, I’ve never been passionate about lessons. I feel the same way about lessons that Allen Iverson did about practice. Just imagine him talking about practice and that’s how I feel when I get the sense that someone wants to teach me a lesson.
It’s always been narrative, for me, that got me going. What is the story here? Where is the conflict? How does it get resolved? What is really going on here under the masks people wear? What are the things we can’t see that are really driving people to act the way they do?
One of the things I most enjoyed about writing CAMELOT’S END was discovering how Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy came from worlds that were so completely alien from one another — which deeply shaped their views of one another — and then how their lives kind of circled one another in these incredibly odd parallel tracks. They were like these atoms rotating around one another, getting closer and closer, and then finally colliding in a violent confrontation.
The book is about that collision, but it takes you through what led up to that clash. This might be my favorite part of the book, honestly. And the aftermath of this explosive battle also fascinated me. What happened to each man? Did they emerge from the wreckage in any way better for the experience?
It also helped that this is a story that some have tried to brush aside, or paper over. If I instinctively resisted attempts to indoctrinate me from a young age, I was conversely drawn to any sign that people were trying to suppress or minimize something real (I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian culture, so there was plenty of both these things).
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, devoted to Teddy’s life and career? There was no mention of the fact that Teddy ever ran for president when I attended the opening of the institute in 2015. They had decided they didn’t want to even acknowledge this part of his history, despite the fact that understanding this story is vital to understanding how Ted Kennedy overcame his past to end his life known as a great lawmaker, the Lion of the Senate.
Here’s the deepest human reason I wrote the book. Sometimes, when I listen to a transcendent piece of music, or read a moving piece of fiction, or take in a painting that moves me deeply, I am envious. It’s my yearning to create something, to give the world something that transports people, that lifts them out of their daily lives, that is a pleasure to read.
And also, as Jeff Tweedy said so well, “Creating creates creators.”
Tweedy, the frontman for Wilco, wrote in his new book that he gets inspiration to write songs by listening to music “until I feel like I can’t take it anymore, I have to make something or I’ll lose my mind … Even when I believe I’ll never be able to make something even remotely as perfect or beautiful as what I’m hearing, I can’t just sit there and let that challenge go unanswered.”
And so, yes, there are political lessons in this book. I think the study of history makes us fundamentally wiser. But at a deeper motivational level, I wrote my book as an answer to all the art — music, books, poetry, film, painting, and other — that has ever inspired me. I wanted to contribute to that conversation between creators, those who make things not just to inform but to inspire.
And I hope this book will be that kind of gift to those who read it. I got a note from a fellow writer today which told me I may be on the right track. "Jon I am reading your book, halfway through,” she wrote, "and it has become my candy at night, the thing you look forward to.”
If this is true for any substantial number of people who read CAMELOT’S END, I will have succeeded.
You can order CAMELOT’S END here.