‘Soap’ Book Countdown: 4

Didn’t get too much work done on the book yesterday, but that’s OK – Thursday is going to be the all-day session to catch up on anything that couldn’t be done earlier in the week.

I did begin reading through the entire book, though, making little tweaks in the writing here and there; left off on page 29. What amazes me is how much has ended up on the “cutting room floor” – all to the book’s betterment, I think. To understand why so much was cut, you have to know something about the theme of the book, something I don’t think I’ve ever really shared here before. Basically it is this:

While pressure groups on left and right were agitating so vehemently against the broadcast of Soap, truly horrible things were going on throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world: mass suicides, murders, political assassinations, and lingering resentments over the Vietnam war and Watergate.

The cutting of pages was a gradual thing as I tried to find the right amount of recent history to include in the book without boring readers who simply wanted to get to the Soap info. If memory serves, I began with the whole first chapter bringing people up to date on the relevant history. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find yesterday that I’ve brought it down to 2 or 3 pages over time. You’re welcome πŸ˜‰

Incidentally, the final page count is 454 pages!

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Southern Baptist Convention Docs

Now that I have that bear of a chapter about the controversy that dogged Soap‘s September 1977 debut completed, I wanted to make available two key documents that are referred to in that pivotal chapter.

One of the organizations that was at the forefront of the Soap protests was the Southern Baptist Convention. My hat’s off to their archivists who have made these two documents available online.

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Be sure to check out the blog to follow the progress of Soap: The Inside Story of the Sitcom that Broke all the Rules.

‘Soap’ Book Status Update

Normally I try to keep Soap-book related posts off The Soap Archive site, but I suppose in some ways this book is related to the show’s history, too.

Just a note to let you know where we are in the process of this four-year stroll down memory lane — which has become something of a mad dash these last few months.

Rewriting Key Chapter

Of all the pages in this book, the one chapter that’s proved the most problematic to nail down just right is the one about all the controversy and resulting protests that greeted Soap three months before its debut. Those events were the culmination of many in the nation’s history — the rise of pressure groups and the Moral Majority, networks testing the waters after a disastrous period of self-censorship, etc. The hard part has been working out the timeline of what exactly happened when, and how one event affected the next. I’m happy to say that I’ll be finishing up the rewriting of that chapter today, and that will end the writing of this book. Huzzah!

Review Process

To ensure as fair and accurate an account as possible, I’ve begun to send large chunks of the book to the people I’ve interviewed. The first one went out June 16 to creator/writer/producer Susan Harris. Yesterday morning, to director JD Lobue. These “chunks” are made of up of any parts of the book in which the interviewee is either discussed or quoted. To give you some idea of the size of these files, Susan Harris’ comes to more 13,000 words alone! (Yes, this is going to be a pretty hefty volume.)

Though this step surely contravenes the old rules of journalism — on a news story, for example, it’s anathema to let a source read the finished article before publication — I long ago made the decision that this is the way to go for books of this nature.

As a practical matter, when writing about events of more than 30 years ago, it helps to bring up any contradictions in people’s memories this way. If somebody remembered Harris tearing up the script for episode 2.17 because it just wasn’t working, for example, this gives her the opportunity to say “No, that was the script for 2.12, and I tore it up because we lost two of the actors that were meant to be in that episode.” In other words, this process helps me to better triangulate where the truth lies concerning events so far in the past.

But frankly the main reason I do things this way is because so many people have given so freely of their time for this project, it seems only good manners to let them see what their parts of the book are going to look like before it goes to press. My industry has gained a pretty bad reputation over the years for misquoting people or getting key facts wrong. Anybody who’s spent any time writing for a newspaper or magazine understands that a certain amount of that comes from sources trying to backpedal after they get into trouble for something they said, but a lot of those misquotes come down to errors made by reporters trying to meet increasingly tighter deadlines. If this were a book about a news event, political or corporate misdeeds, or anything of that nature, my approach would be grossly inappropriate. (Imagine how far Woodward and Bernstein would’ve gotten breaking the Watergate scandal doing things this way.) But at the end of the day, for me this is simply one project among many — I have immersed myself in the world of Soap for four years and will then move on to something else. For the people interviewed, this book is (an admittedly small) part of their cultural legacy.

That said, I will share with you a key paragraph from the cover letter I send out with these “review copies”:

If something in these pages seems either factually incorrect or there’s just something in there that will keep you up at night, please tell me what it is via email at your earliest convenience. My hope is that together we can find the right wording that both stays true to the events and preserves your peace of mind. At the end of the day, this is about your legacy, not my ego.

Now What?

Next, Pamela will be laying out the text as a proper book, continuing to design its look, and placing photos over the next few weeks. I will go through and edit the text, hopefully making it sound less like it was written by wild-eyed fellow trying to make good on a four-year-old promise.

That’s about it. As always, thank you for hanging in there and seeing this quest through to this stage.

-Aaron