Every season I invite two guest authors to visit the Unlocking Your Story workshops. We dialogue about the creative process behind the writing of their books, and glean valuable insights that help illuminate our unique paths as storytellers. Guest author visits are also an opportunity for workshop alums to re-join the mix. These reunions create a real feeling of community and are by far some of my favorite events of the year.
This fall is the first time that BOTH guest authors are former members of the Unlocking Your Story workshop, and we now celebrate the release of their books! It is truly soul satisfying.
Wendy Adamson's debut memoir MOTHER LOAD, which dropped this past May, follows a little-league PTA mom down the rabbit hole of addiction and through her journey of recovery and triumph. Molly Jordan co-authored her husband Hawk Koch's memoir, MAGIC TIME, which captures his extraordinary career in the movie business. I recently had a chance to interview Molly and Hawk together, and have included our conversation below. You can also read my conversation with Wendy from April here.
Starting as a production assistant in 1965 and working his way all the way to the top, Hawk Koch has been intimately involved with the making of over 60 major motion pictures, among them such classics as “Marathon Man,” “Chinatown” “Wayne's World,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Way We Were” and “Rosemary's Baby.” He is also the former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Hawk’s memoir Magic Time: My Life in Hollywood, co-authored by his wife Molly Jordan, recounts his amazing journey in show business.
KARIN GUTMAN: Do you remember how we first met?
MOLLY JORDAN: So, I picked up a flyer, because I was in another writer's group when Hawk and I lived in Topanga. I'm just going to get real down with what happened.
KARIN: Yes, please…
MOLLY: I loved this writer's group I was in, until I heard a comment after one of the pieces that I read, which was like a little bee that went directly into my ear. I know I wasn't supposed to hear it, but the guy said, “Can we get past the depressing mother stuff?” And I thought, “I am in the wrong group here.”
I found your flyer and called. And thank God I did. Thank God I found my way to you because I felt totally safe to say anything, to be held in a way that everyone in the group would hold together. And I can't thank you enough for that.
KARIN: I remember our conversation clearly. I remember you had been shut down for a while.
MOLLY: It shut me down for a long time. Because you know, you write vulnerable stuff and when someone says that, you're going to slam the door for a while. I did anyway. And I really tiptoed… I either tiptoed or stormed into your thing, saying, “I dare you to make me feel comfortable here.” But you did.
KARIN: I’m so glad you took the leap!
Tell me, how did the collaboration between you and Hawk come to be?
HAWK KOCH: Well, for years, I've been making films and was always telling stories about stuff that happened. Everybody would say to me, “Would you please write these down? We can't lose these great stories.” And so, I tried a couple of times and it never went anywhere.
KARIN: What did ‘trying’ look like for you?
HAWK: There was a guy whom I worked with for a little bit and it faded. And then I spoke at a couple of places and people were really inspired. I gave the commencement address at Chapman University, the Dodge School of Film, about six years ago. So I went and met with an agent and said, “Hey, can I get any jobs as a speaker?” And they said, “Well, have you got a book?” And I said, “Well, no.” He said, “If you've got a book, maybe you have chance.”
So, I asked the best writer I knew if she'd work with me. We were going to take a trip up to Oregon, and it was a 10 hour drive up the 5 freeway. I had written down every movie that I had worked on starting in 1965. As we drove, Molly had a tape recorder and she'd say, “All right, so this movie,” and I'd talk about that movie, stories that happened on that movie and what was happening in my personal life at the time. And then Molly came home and transcribed it and worked on it.
Being the certified Jungian analyst that she is, she really understood me. I tell everybody who is a producer, find yourself a certified Jungian analyst to get married to. Maybe you'll have a chance.
And then we got serious about two years ago and said, “Alright, we're going to finish this.” She'd write and then I’d revise or talk to her, and then she'd write. She's the only person I know who can ask the most delicate personal questions and people just answer. It's unbelievable. She would ask me, “How do you feel about this and that?” It was like I was in session with her.
Then somebody told us, “You've got to have an editor.” So, we went out and called a couple of people. We found an editor who wasn't very good, who gave us like five notes. It was ridiculous. Then I suggested a literary agent at CAA who was the first woman to be an agent at Creative Artists in the 1970s.
KARIN: Who was that?
HAWK: Her name was Amy Grossman, now Amy Bookman. She’d known me since 1982 or something. And she's tough. She's from Brooklyn and she's a tough New Yorker. She and Molly kind of ganged up on me.
KARIN: In what way?
HAWK: Two against one. “You can't tell that,” or “You'd have to tell that story.” “Wait a minute, Hawk, I know you and you did this or you did that.” They kind of called me on my shit.
KARIN: What does that mean?
HAWK: I've been married many times and there were certain moments that were so hurtful and painful to me, but they said, “Wait a minute, think about her and what was she going through at that moment.” We had to look at both sides of something like that.
MOLLY: And imagine it as though she were reading the book.
HAWK: So, Amy really did a lot of work, and then we gave it to my three children. I didn't want to publish something that they would feel uncomfortable about. We got different reactions from each one of them.
KARIN: Did they have amendments?
HAWK: Very minor.
MOLLY: We wanted them to feel comfortable. So, we did everything they said, which wasn't much because we had really tried to do that anyway.
HAWK: Then since I'm represented by an agency here in town, I asked, “Do you have a book agent?” I sent it to the book agent and he called me back like a week later and said, “Wow, it's really good.” And I thought, “Oh great, thank you.” He said, “But you know, movie books about the movie business, it's really hard to get a publisher. I'll send it out to three or four publishers and we'll see what we get back.”
And I said, “But it's not just a book about movies. It's a book about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons.” A week later he called back and said, “Hey, I think we've got one.” We had a publisher, Post Hill Press. They're distributed by Simon & Schuster.
KARIN: That’s amazing, how easily and quickly you landed a publisher.
Can you share more details about how you worked together? Writing is hard work, not to mention that you’re married.
HAWK: She learned a lot.
MOLLY: It was a big undertaking and honestly, I didn't know if I could do it. I've never written a book before. I've been in your writing group, which by the way, Karin, gave me the confidence to think, “Okay, I could take this on.”
Hawk is so wired in the world. He's never asked me for anything. He doesn't need much from me at all. So, when he asked me to do it, I thought, I want to do it if I can. And so, I took it really seriously and I knew that it was going to be challenging sometimes and that yeah, that it would challenge my ego. But if I stayed true to what is in the best interest of this book, kind of like he does on a movie, then I could do it.
I would write all day sometimes and then give him pages. He was also really good about saying, “Have you got…?” you know, “Hand it over.” We had conversations we've never had before, and I asked him questions I would never have thought to ask him otherwise. I think we got much closer through it.
KARIN: How did you find the structure for it?
MOLLY: That's a really good question, because we did work with some other people initially who had techniques for that. I soon found for me that they didn't work. For example, one thing I tried was the Hero's Journey. That just didn't work. So there was really no solid structure until it just became obvious. Hawk started by putting a chronology together of all the movies and then plugging in where his personal life was at that time. So, it became more of an autobiography.
KARIN: Were you following any kind of emotional journey or arc?
MOLLY: What I had in my mind was, can he evolve from a character who doesn't know who he is, to someone who discovers who he is?
HAWK: I had to start at the beginning.
KARIN: What was your writing and editing process like?
MOLLY: I've never written a book, but I have written things. My process is really to go over it—over and over and over—I think because I'm an analyst. There's this image in alchemical texts where you take a piece of clothing and you rinse it and you rinse it and you rinse it and you rinse it and you rinse it… until it's clean. And I did that over and over and over again. I wish I had done it more to tell you the truth. I wish I'd had more time to do it.
KARIN: How do you know when you're done rinsing?
MOLLY: It's a gut thing. I know it when I hear it. I am picky about every word and every sentence. So I get a flinch if something just doesn't seem to meet what I'm trying to say or the right word. I do know it when I’ve found it, but it takes a lot of rinsing.
KARIN: Do you take a break between those rinses?
MOLLY: Yes. That would make me crazy, if I didn't get away from it for a long time. Sometimes days or weeks.
I listened to this Krista Tippett interview with Mary Oliver, and Mary Oliver said this amazing thing, which was really helpful and continues to be helpful to me. She said that there is a poet in her. She said she goes to meet that poet every day and if that poet has something to say to her, she writes it down. She said there is no expectation because she may not speak to her, but she wants the poet to trust her enough to know that Mary is going to be there if this is a time when you have something to say. And so she showed up whether or not she got anything, but there wasn't a judgment about not getting anything.
So that really helped, understanding that some days you sit there and nothing comes or it sucks. Somehow that made all that okay. Because another time you go in to meet that writer, to let that writer know you're there, and she speaks differently. That was really helpful for me.
KARIN: What kind of notes did the publisher have?
HAWK: The book now is about 80,000 words, but we had about 110,000 words. When the managing editor of the publisher said, “You've got to get it down,” we thought, “Oh my God, how are we going to cut out 25,000 words?”
KARIN: Did they have recommendations for you?
MOLLY: They said, “You take a first pass.” So we did, and we managed to do it.
KARIN: What did you cut?
HAWK: Lots of stories that are in my briefcase right now.
KARIN: Stories that weren't necessary for moving the story forward?
MOLLY: That's right. That was the criteria.
HAWK: The reason I asked Molly to write it with me, was because I knew how great her writing was. I also had an ulterior motive, which Molly knows, which was, Molly had an unbelievable childhood, and I don't mean a happy one.
MOLLY: Can we please get past the depressing mother stuff?
HAWK: I really wanted Molly to write her story. So now, I'm happy to say because of the positive feedback that we've gotten, Molly is now writing her stuff.
KARIN: That’s very exciting. How do you feel about it?
MOLLY: I alternate between feeling, “Why am I doing this?” and “I'm so glad I'm doing this.” Some days I just think, “What is this? Where's this structure?” But I just keep showing up because I have learned from this process, and I'm getting more comfortable with saying, “I'm a writer.” The more that I can believe that, the more I'm okay whether something comes or doesn't, because that part won't change.
It's brand new for me to start writing. I took a big break after finishing Hawk’s book and then getting through what comes with publishing it. So I've only just started, probably in the last month or so. So it's just brand new puzzle pieces at this point, with no thread.
KARIN: Are you re-visiting your previous work, or are you exploring new territory in your writing?
MOLLY: Yes and yes. I am re-visiting some of those stories that I’d written. I'm looking at them with different eyes and changing them and keeping some of them. Also what is coming, are stories that come to mind. To be specific about the physicality of it, I started a notebook, which I didn't do with Hawk’s book. I have a section with the heading ‘story ideas’ or ‘stories to include’. Stuff I've already written, little notes, writing notes and things like that.
Someone recently said, “Don't commit to the project, commit to the writer.” That was very liberating because every time I get trapped with, “What is this going to turn out to be?” I just commit to the writer in that Mary Oliver kind of way. Just go in there and show up—and the rest… figure it out later or don't.
KARIN: Do you find it harder to write your own story versus someone else’s?
MOLLY: Much more. It was difficult because it's someone else's story, but my own value didn't really enter into it as it does now. I'm just back in that process for my own sake, and I am really in that struggle of trying to find the value in it. When I hear that come up, I remind myself, “Do it for the writer, not the project.” But it is a struggle.
HAWK: The words “show up”—I show up. I show up for family, I show up for my friends, I show up for the business. And so I would say, if you're writing, show up. Don't find an excuse if this is what you love to do.
Buy the book!
To learn more about Hawk Koch, visit his website.