Episode 8: The After Show, Staring Through the Fear
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Paul Kix: Hello, and welcome to the after show for Now That's a Great Story. Today we're going to talk about believing in yourself. It's something that Taffy and I spend a great deal talking about and I want to share with you the scariest, most stressful period of my own career and the moment where my belief in myself was most tested. It actually immediately followed one of the greatest moments of my professional career. So the greatest part was I had a chance to write this proposal for my book “The Saboteur,” and it went before a lot of different publishers. I think my agent and I went between went between like five and six. We have five or six different meetings. Everybody seemed enthused. Harpercollins ended up purchasing it. It was just an absolute great day. I felt even better probably about three or four weeks later.
I got a call from my agent and he said that basically they're having a bidding war for the movie rights. Now this was still before I had written anything. In fact, I had barely even begun to report anything about the book. The only thing that Studios like DreamWorks and Fox and The Weinstein Company this is of course all pre Weinstein being shown to be the monster that he is. But these companies had read my proposal and just based on that proposal had thought to make a movie out of it. And I remember sitting down at my desk and just being like wow and just being in a in a day's the rest of the day. I was trying to actually trying to do something about... I work ESPN so trying to do something about this story we’re working on it on a guy who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates and this researcher came over to talk with me about a couple of changes we needed to make to the story. And I just remember not even really being able to hear him at all.
Ultimately DreamWorks optioned the movie and then as they optioned it, Cary Fukunaga said that he would come on to direct the movie. Now Fukunaga for those who aren’t aware, he did the first season of True Detective on HBO with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelsonm he did a movie called Beasts of No Nation, a movie that I just absolutely love. And I was a huge fan of Fukunaga, and I couldn't believe you know my good fortune so a couple days later the news hits the press in Hollywood. It goes in Deadline Hollywood we're not too long item appeared just mapping out, you know, what happened and how Fukunaga was sent to direct it. And I began to get all of these Facebook messages emails people just me to people just being very kind and saying wow this is amazing. And for whatever reason the way that my brain processed that was oh shit. I now have to deliver on all of this. For some reason that story in Deadline made everything real and when everything became real everything got really scary because this was the studio that Steven Spielberg had built. This was my first book. One of my favorite directors was looking to to make the eventual movie. One of, you know, the biggest publishers in the world was going to be publishing my book. And I of course I'm very grateful for all of that but that's not necessarily what was happening in that moment.
In that moment I was terrified that I was going to screw it up. In that moment I felt like such an imposter. My fear was sort of too full first off I wasn't sure that I would just logistically be able to do this. My wife and I had three kids under the age of three. I just started a new job at ESPN and now I was going to be doing this book that was looking like it was going to be made into a movie and I just didn't know how I was going to find the time to research it. And meanwhile Carry is winning all of these awards at the Emmys for what are you doing with True Detective and the people of DreamWorks are, like, how soon can we see this and I'm like I just begun the research and the research was daunting. That was the other thing. I mean aside from this idea that where am I going to find a time to do it when I did sneak in a few hours here and there in my schedule I was just overwhelmed. I mean to try to find somebody who had been a secret agent without any sort of... he didn't have you didn't keep any papers during the war. He wrote memoirs after the fact that during the war there was so little to rely on. And what I did find was of course in a language that at the time I didn't speak he was French. I was American and so very quickly I went from worrying about it to losing sleep because I was worried about it to losing sleep because of the fact that I wasn't sleeping well and worried about how that would affect my ability to do any of this research or do my job well, my day job. and I got to the point really quickly where I was an absolute insomniac. I just couldn't... I remember entire weeks where I may be got between five to seven hours of sleep across the entire week. I would wake up like every 30 minutes if I had been able to sort of doze off, it just startled with fear and panic that I was going to screw something up. and it stayed that way for a long time. And it stayed that way even as I day in and day out put in the work. I began to find a schedule that would work for me and I would get up early in the morning regardless of how much sleep I had the night before somewhere between 4 and 5 in the morning and work until about 8 or 8:30 in the morning until it was time for me to help get my kids ready for school. And then I would quickly take them off to school or get them to daycare or just help get them settled in whatever way that I could so that my wife could take over so that I could then go to ESPN so that I couldn't do my job at work so that I could then come home. And if I had the time maybe spend an hour or two after the kids had gone to bed researching something else before I could do it again and meanwhile I'm not sleeping because all I can think about is I'm I'm losing ground.
I'm not doing well. Nothing is going as I wanted to. And then I found something else out which is the deeper I got into this initial research the more I found scholars, in particular those in England, some of them amateur but some of them are scholars of World War II, who did not believe Robert’s story; did not believe their story of my protagonist; thought that in some measure it some way he was making this up. So my level of anxiety just increased mean I was red alert so that didn't help me sleep well either.
Ultimately a couple of things happened. One of them was I found a therapist, and the therapist was able to tell me after enduring many sessions, but in particular I remember one where I was just bemoning this fact that I just felt inadequate and unable to actually pull this off. And I was losing sleep and how could I ever sleep well again? How could I ever actually do this. And he just stared at me. and he said, of course you can do this. And I'm just, like, how do you know I can? And he said, because you're in control here; in control of the situation. No one else is doing this but you. You have put yourself in this much anxiety and you can get yourself out of it. You are in control and just the way he stared at me and this sort of forceful way that he told me about this helped me realize that I could get past this.
Something else happened too. I realized it the ambition and curiosity that it led me to this story then it led me to spend months putting his proposal together in a language I did speak, working with translators to help me get it right. That same ambition in that same curiosity could could get me out of it. It could lead me to a solution. It could lead me to something where I felt calmer going about my day.
You know I've come to appreciate with time a lot of things a lot of people have told me in one is this old stoic expression that says you are in control of your thoughts and your actions and that is all you can control. and knowing that helped me tremendously. gradually with time -- first off I start sleeping a little bit better during the course tonight I start getting something close to the sort of you know the hours I got before it even if it meant I was getting up at 4 or 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I would try to go to bed early so that I could get up early to my work spend time getting the kids ready, go to work, come home, spend time with the family and then sort of decompress so I can get an early night of sleeping, go to bed and so I could do it again the next day. That helped. and the thing that that that dogged me was this fear that Robert was a fraud but as the months and then more than a year research passed and I began to dig through more and more archives and not only locations throughout France, multiple locations throughout France, but in Spain in London. Even in the United States, in Germany as I began to dig through all of that I realized that the scholars were wrong and I was right because I was able to independently verify every major episode of Robert’s war. This sort of certainty that they had had when they told me that I was wrong and he was a fraud, now I had the certainty because I was the expert. I was a global expert nobody knew more than me about this guy and I felt so confident in that the research that I ended up putting in the book that that my notes ended up spanning 70 pages at the end of the book. And I could have gone on even longer but I wanted the reader to know how much I had put into this and also to know that this story may be phenomenal and it may read like fiction, but I can back up every single fact that I have in this book and here are 70 pages worth of notes to prove it.
After the book was published, it was very well received it was a number one bestseller on Amazon. The New York Times ultimately put one of the top scholars of the resistance and of the occupation to review the book and he also only said about it was the book was chilling and powerful and it made for all night reading. That's the sort of indication that Taffy was talking about in Monday's episode. That's what I felt and the reason it ended up happening was because I believed in myself. I believed that I could see it through and I just want you to think the same thing. I'll be back Monday with another episode. Best wishes to you.