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Burroughing Down

Best-Selling author Bryan Burrough put down roots in Maplewood
by Irene Tierston


BRYAN BURROUGH, author of DRAGONFLY. NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir, the recently published book about the Mir space mission, spoke rapidly and with enthusiasm about writing. “1 like a tight story,” he said. “a good narrative with conflict and access to the characters so 1 can interview them.”

For DRAGONFLY, Bryan spent two weeks every other month in Moscow interviewing cosmonauts and a corresponding amount of time in Houston with astronauts. He discovered that the Russian spacemen were more easygoing than their American counterparts. In both countries, he conducted his interviews in restaurants, conference rooms, and in the homes of the space explorers. He was also able to spend some time on a mock-up of MIR, to see and touch the equipment. Beside using a researcher for six months of the year it took to write the book described by The New Yorker as a “silky read,” Brian gathered background facts and information from every possible database, in print, and from the Internet. DRAGONFLY, published by HarperCollins, was the first work for which he didn’t do all the researching himself. As for his previous books, Bryan’s main source of information came from documents his subjects gave him and his interviewing. “Be a pest,” he said, explaining the best way to get what he needs to know, “keep asking.”

One means to obtain information in Russia is via bribes. “Not too many people talk for free over there,” Brian reported. “But the talkers were very businesslike,” he went on. “They gave me receipts for what they called ‘fees’.”

In addition to the ‘fees’, the costs of traveling included fees for translators, drivers, and, of course, air fare and hotels.

Although the travelling to Russia and Texas was necessary and exciting, Bryan admitted it was too much time away from his wife, Maria, who hails from Chicago, and sons, Dane (age four) and Griffin (age two). At home in Maplewood, he wrote the book in the office he designed from what had been a bedroom over the garage. He works on his writing from nine a.m. until six p.m., periodically refreshing himself by looking out the windows. He enjoys looking at the trees in all seasons. In winter, beyond the bare limbs, he can see the New York skyline from midtown down to Staten Island, including the Statue of Liberty. From various parts of the house and grounds, the views differ, but he loves them all. The house was on the Rotary House Tour this past autumn.

Maplewood has been home to the Burroughs since 1989 when they moved here from Brooklyn. “The first thing I liked about Maplewood was the trees,” Bryan said. He observed that many people ~vho want to move out of NY are attracted to Montclair which is a small city and to Maplewood which is a village. At the holiday tree lighting, surrounded by neighbors, Bryan, who grew up in Temple, Texas, felt, “This is why people live in Maplewood.” The Burrough family uses all the food and service shops in town. They and their kids patronize all three pizzerias. “They’re all different.”

A book person, Bryan appreciates the Maplewood Library, as does Maria Burrough, who worked there for a while as a volunteer. Head librarian Roland Bennett became a family friend and joined in the publication party for DRAGONFLY held at Elaine’s, the literati watering hole hangout in Manhattan.

The party at Elaine’s was only one of the events which heralded DRAGONFLY. To promote readership, Bryan spoke at a brunch at the Maplewood Library, the only prepublication appearance his publisher allowed him to make that wasn’t scheduled by them. After the formal publication date, Bryan appeared on “Good Morning America” and the “Tom Snyder” shows. NPR taped a long interview which was aired in two fifteen- minute segments. Also, he appeared live on “CNN Sunday Morning.” A two-hour radio show called “About Books” was taped for WGN. It was filmed by C-Span and shown three times. After all that exposure, DRAGONFLY shot up on Amazon.com’s Hot 100 list. “I was right up there with Stephen King,” Bryan grinned. By the end of November, the movie rights to DRAGONFLY were bought by Will Smith in partnership with Universal. DRAGONFLY will be Smith’s first production.

As exciting as is the buzz over DRAGONFLY, Bryan’s previous book, BARBARIANS AT THE GATE, The Fail of R.J.R NABISCO, which he co-authored, wasn’t too shabby either. BARBARIANS rose to be number one on the New York Times’ best seller list. Also published by HarperCollins, it is a story of corporate intrigue and subsequently was made into a television movie featuring James Garner. Bryan didn’t write the script but worked as a consultant to its screenwriter Larry Gelbart.

His book, VENDETTA American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safta, was published in 1993, when Bryan was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Bryan is currently working on a long article for Vanity Fair about a medical clinic where people who should not be dying are dying. Also he’s thinking about his next book but isn’t talking about it yet. However, it was clear that the subject intrigues and excites him.

Many people, he said, ask him why he doesn’t write fiction. His answer: “I don’t know how to make things up.” Whereas writers of fiction talk about their work as their ‘house Bryan says he has to “go out into the forest, cut down all the trees, cut them into lumber, drag the lumber into the clearing and build his non-fiction house.” Quite a task, but he admits that he has a talent that makes it easier “If I have a gift,” he says, “it’s the ability to see a book. I see the structure and the contents. I know what will work as a book.” Jhana Bach, reviewer for Amazon.com, the Internet bookstore, enthusiastically agrees. She said in her praise of DRAGONFLY that Bryan “has a talent for reworking factual accounts so they read like first rate thrillers.”

For what better gift could a writer ask?

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