When I began researching my father’s life and disappearance in earnest, my first interviews were with folks who had worked for Newsweek during the same period, the mid-to-late 1960s. Many of the people I contacted were very helpful and referred me to others whom they thought might also have valuable insights. I quickly filled a few legal pads with notes and, spurred by the frequent question, “So are you going to write about this?” I decided that I would.
Although I have written professionally in the past, I was surprised to find the research much easier than the actual writing. I was driven to find people and facts and enjoyed the task, no longer feeling that it was overwhelming. But the writing was tough. Over a few months I managed a couple hundred pages, mostly biographical, as well as a publishing proposal and narrative synopsis, which described the arc of the story and was used to find a literary agent.
A reporter from The Daily News referred me to a New York agent who, to my delight, agreed to represent me. It seemed too easy, but I was learning that most people found the story of my dad -- and my quest to learn about him -- very compelling.
Unfortunately, after rejections from five publishers, the agent decided not to press further and let me go. I was disappointed, because the feedback from the publishers was positive regarding my writing and the subject material, but cited either market concerns or the fact that my father’s disappearance remained unsolved.
“ It would be nice if this story were resolved,” one wrote.
Well, yeah. But as I’ve learned since, resolution is in the eye of the beholder.
I consulted with three professional writers who reviewed my manuscript. Their feedback was that I needed to focus more on the disappearance and less on the early days of my father’s life. And I needed to include observations about my journey as John Lake’s son. I needed to do a major rewrite.
But I also needed to make some money again, so I went back to work after a year of immersion in the project. In retrospect, I also needed a break from the emotional weight of the task. In the years since, I’ve made intermittent progress, such as getting a column in the New York Times written by Dan Barry, having my father’s case assigned an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) number and submitting a DNA sample to be included in the FBI’s database, CODIS, and more recently, embarking on the needed rewrite. With the support of some influential friends and help with both reshaping and remarketing the story, I’m confident I’ll have some exciting news in the coming months. Stay tuned.
I appreciate your interest in John Lake’s story, which for me has become a deeply personal project.