Last year at this time, Mary Beth and I were still high off meeting our Kickstarter campaign goal with a few days to spare. This year, we are bleary-eyed balls of stress as we work towards producing the book and documentary. Two hundred and seventy backers put us on track to tell this story, and we are extremely grateful for the privilege to see that through. We wanted to give you a status update on the ground we’ve covered in the last year (so to speak—if you want our actual mileage from the run, please ask Raven).
On several occasions, Mary Beth has announced that she has finished collecting footage for the documentary. Then something like Mark Covert’s story crosses her path, and she breaks out the camera. Actually, she never puts it away. Her video editor, Wallace Cruz, is now working his magic with the raw footage and expects to have a cut of the feature-length documentary by November. From there, Mary Beth plans to show the film to a couple sets of distinguished eyes for feedback. Then, she and Wallace will tinker some more and start submitting the work to film festivals. She is thrilled with how the documentary is taking shape and can’t wait until it’s ready for y’all to watch.
On my end, I’m also excited to report progress. It’s not too much of a stretch to compare the process of writing a book to a Raven run—long, steady, slow, fun, and sometimes painful or potholed. (Raven might take issue with “sometimes.”)
In mid-March, I submitted a first draft of Raven’s biography to Kaitlyn Gentile, an old friend from a travel-writing course we took in New York. She writes beautifully and edits mercilessly. On March 22nd, with my hand shaking, I opened Kaitlyn’s email with her manuscript notes attached. “Let me say two things right off the bat,” she wrote. “I thoroughly enjoyed this, and while my suggestions are extensive, I think that you are presently sitting on something major.” That didn’t sound too bad, I thought. “My second suggestions is something that may lead to my demise,” she continued, “because when you realize how much work it’s going to be, you’re going to kill me.” Uh-oh. I braced myself.
“The stand-out, hands-down best sections of the manuscript were the ones that really examined Raven’s life through the history of Miami. It was fascinating to learn about the events that changed the flavor of the city so dramatically, and it’s amazing to see those changes through the eyes of Raven and his band of miscreants.” She said the more the reader learns about Miami, “the more we care about Miami, and that in turn makes us care more about Raven.”
She conceded that Miami already has a sexy reputation and national appeal. “People love the place, but aside from Elian Gonzalez, a Will Smith song, and one season of the Jersey Shore, most of us have no idea about the stuff the city has been through. You’ve got the opportunity to ground the story of a local hero in this incredibly rich and twisted and violent history, and I think you should grab that.”
Another Kaitlyn critique dealt with my setting. “You write about Miami as though it’s a place everybody knows,” she told me. The narrative needed more sensory details. By participating in the run and living here, I had taken my intimacy with the place and subject for granted. “What is the terrain he’s running over?” she asked. “What does the crew look like? What do they sound like? Most of your readers will not be familiar with South Beach.”
At the Bread Loaf Writing Conference two weeks ago, I was taking notes in a lecture by faculty member Alan Shapiro on “Mark Twain and the Creative Ambiguities of Expertise.” The lecture examined Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, a memoir published in 1883 about Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s real name) training to master the art of steamboat piloting on the Mississippi River. As he gains knowledge of navigating the river, he loses the ability to appreciate “all the grace, the beauty, the poetry” that came from the “majestic river.” He instead looked for danger or meaning in every sunset and floating log. “The romance and the beauty were all gone from the river,” wrote Twain. “All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.”
I can understand the challenge of conveying a scene that is routine to the storyteller. I can’t rely on readers to have run with the Raven or spent time in Miami. To create a rich sense of place, I have to recall the Beach’s nuances and how I first viewed the run.
ESPN, Runner’s World, and HBO have deemed the Raven’s story newsworthy on a national scale. The Brazilian newspaper, Globo, and the Sunday variety show, Fantastico, have proven that the story excites an international audience as well. Over seventy different nationalities have finished eight miles with Raven. He has kept track of them all.
Kaitlyn pushed me to make this a bigger story, and, after first hanging up on her, I have agreed to her terms. (For the record, Kaitlyn, we got disconnected.)
Since the first draft, I have conducted another round of intensive interviews with Raven. I have also memorized his phone number. I have thirty-something books checked out from the library, ranging from Miami Beach histories to autobiographies of Angelo Dundee and Johnny Cash to accounts of the 1972 Conventions by Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer. For inspiration, I own well-worn copies of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Last American Man.
I am hoping to complete a non-fiction book proposal soon, which would include the first half of the book, chapter summaries, a book synopsis, and a market analysis of comparable or competing works. After another round of feedback and revisions, I will submit the manuscript to a literary agent for representation in approaching editors at commercial presses. As Raven says, “The road is long.”
I’m going to be so happy when you can hold this work and tell me how I’ve done. In the meantime, Mary Beth and I send you warm thoughts and much gratitude for your continued support. We are working hard to make sure it pays off.
All my best,
Laura Lee Huttenbach (“White Lightning”)