In the Spotlight today, Anthony Carrozza, author of a nonfiction work about William D. Pawley, ambassador, adventurer, and air carrier entrepreneur. Tony has done extensive research both on this historically significant businessman and on other wealthy individuals. William D. Pawley: The Extraordinary Life of the Adventurer, Entrepreneur, and Diplomat Who Cofounded the Flying Tigers released in March of this year.
Q) Your novel, William D. Pawley: The Extraordinary Life of the Adventurer, Entrepreneur, and Diplomat Who Cofounded the Flying Tigers is a fascinating book, full of historical information plus sensitive security issues. Tell us how you discovered this controversial man, William D. Pawley, and why you wanted to tell his story.
A) My original concept was to write a book titled Suicide Millionaires. As the title suggests, the book would have biographies of wealthy persons who committed suicide. I began my research by going back twenty-five years (that was ten years ago) because I felt that anything written about the individuals would have already been published.
For the list, I checked the New York Times obituary section, knowing that if a death by suicide was listed it would have to be unusual (jumping from the George Washington Bridge) or someone prominent. I found five prospective candidates, but eliminated two because there was a lack of material on them. The final three were Eli Black, George Berham Parr, and William Douglas Pawley.
After doing extensive research I wrote the first manuscript draft. I was introduced through a friend to Joni Evans, who was at William Morris at the time. She loved the title, but felt there was nothing to connect the three except for the millionaire and suicide angle. She suggested I should write three separate biographies.
Because Pawley lived and worked most of his life in Miami, it was necessary to check the local newspapers for articles. Unfortunately, the two local papers had no index dating back to the Twenties, so I had to go through reel-after-reel of the two newspapers. Using the Interlibrary Loan System, I viewed every issue of the Miami Daily News from January 1930 to September 1978, and every issue of the Miami Herald from August 1925 to October 1977. Each reel contained issues of three or four days.
In addition, I used the Presidential archives at the Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford Libraries. The National Archives in College Park, Maryland, contained a multitude of documents on Pawley because he was listed in State Department, FBI, CIA, JFK Assassination, and Justice Department files.
The Morgenthau Diaries presented a particularly tedious chore because I had to view 113 microfilm reels. Each reel contained transcripts of every telephone conversation made by the Secretary of the Treasury, every letter he ever wrote and received, either verbatim transcripts or notes of every meeting he attended, and an assortment of reports and memorandums he included in his diary.
I was fortunate to have been able to interview three of the four Pawley children. Irene Pawley Baldwin was especially helpful in providing me with original correspondence between Pawley and his first wife. William Pawley, Jr. and Annie-Hahr McKay provided me with photographs for the book.
Q) Researching this book has been a tedious, meticulous process, but I hear your publishing process has been challenging, too. Would you share what that has been like? How did you begin your search and what advice would you offer other writers?
A) After writing six novels and submitting them to literary agents, each time being rejected by at least 120 agents, I turned to writing non-fiction. I should note that when I was going through the submission process very few agents would accept a query via E-Mail. Every query letter was printed out on very expensive linen stationery (trying to impress), and sent by snail mail, along with a SASE for reply.
I went through the same process with the three biographies I had written before giving up for approximately a year. It was during that time that I worked on yet another biography, The Man We’d All Like To Be, the life of Bob Neal, heir to the Maxwell House Coffee fortune and a lifelong playboy.
Bob was living at the time and we spent months doing telephone interviews until I felt I had enough material. I began fitting the pieces together in an outline and had written three chapters, all of which I had sent to Bob for review. Aside from a few minor suggestions, he loved what I had written. Unfortunately, he died before I began the fourth chapter.
The manuscript was completed four months later, but I spent another four months going through six revisions until I knew it was ready. Then I began the agent query process again, but this time I did it entirely through E-Mail, refusing to send anything via snail mail.
The response was astounding! I received replies of interest from well over thirty agents. After submitting a proposal (absolutely required for a non-fiction work), and three chapters to each agent (all via E-Mail with attachments), I narrowed the selection to five agents. One agent who had responded to my query wanted the three chapters sent snail mail because she was afraid of contracting a virus from an attachment. I would not comply with her request and dropped her from the list.
When I finally selected the agent I wanted, the contract was signed, and I thought the long quest was finally coming to an end. It didn’t quite work out that way. My agent couldn’t get a nibble from any publisher. I tried a few other agents, but most shied away when they heard that the manuscript had already been shopped around.
One agent heard that, but then she asked if I had anything else to offer – the only one to ask that question. I told her about the other three biographies and she asked me to send the proposal and a few chapters of the Pawley book. Within three months, I had a signed contract with Potomac Books.
Q) Whew, an exhausting, yet rewarding process. Tell us about your history, when did you first realize you were a writer, what writers have influenced your own writing, and what do you read now?
A) My realization that I was a writer took a long time. I was, and still am, an avid reader. Anyone who reads eventually decides that writing a novel can’t be all that difficult. Then they start writing. Being a persistent individual (or stubborn), I refused to give up. It became an obsession that lasted almost twenty years. But as to the question of when I first realized that I was a writer – It was when strangers (literary agents), not friends and relatives, told me that they liked my work. That’s when I knew that I was finally a writer.
As for writers who have influenced me, that’s difficult to say. There were so many, but five stand out from the rest, not only because of specific books, but their entire body of work. The five authors and the one book I feel is outstanding (not in any particular ranking) are:
David McCullough – The Johnstown Flood – an extraordinary first book that hinted of what was to come from one of our greatest social historians.
W. Somerset Maugham – The Razor’s Edge – A book I first read in high school and probably ten times since. Maugham was influenced by eastern culture. He even visited an Indian ashram in 1938 – a few years before the Beatles.
Mark Twain – Huckleberry Finn – I agree with Hemingway who felt that this was probably the greatest American novel ever written. There are very few books of Twain’s that I have not enjoyed.
James Hilton – Random Harvest – Yes, this is a sentimental book, but the constructive use of flashbacks is brilliant. Anyone wanting to use such a literary device should read this book. Two of Hilton’s other books (Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon) are also delightful.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby – With a word count of just over 50,000 words, it is perfection. Take a close look and you will feel that you are reading a book of poetry.
Thanks so much, Tony. Glad we could peek into your writing window! Good luck with the newly released “William D. Pawley: The Extraordinary Life of the Adventurer, Entrepreneur, and Diplomat Who Cofounded the Flying Tigers.” Grab a copy of Tony’s book and become a fan.