Ultimately, it didn’t really matter. Before I even finished my book, his estate – who I always hoped, and still do hope, would support the book – came out publicly against me.
Now, it’s not uncommon for famous people and their relatives to object when someone writes about them. Perhaps most notoriously, in the 1980s, when writer Kitty Kelley was working on her Frank Sinatra biography His Way, Ol’ Blue Eyes not only threatened her with a $2 million lawsuit, he also considered having her “whacked”.
Generally, though, writing is less of a contact sport, and an author approaches their book with best intentions. Writing is a painstaking process, a challenge of both will and endurance. So, the goal is to create something that readers will ultimately like, something that lasts. Nobody writes a book to be hated.
Would people hate my book? Before it came out, it was difficult to tell. I worked on it for three years. I spent countless hours interviewing some of Mac’s closest friends; in moments of self-doubt, it was them who pushed me to continue, telling me that a writer capturing his life in full was something he would have wanted. In turn, I burned the candle at both ends, taking precious time away from my wife and newborn daughter to do the best job I could. I didn’t want to mess it up.
But that was behind the scenes. After the estate spoke out against it, alleging Mac and I didn’t have a personal relationship, that I hadn’t interviewed anyone close to him, and that my book was doing a “disservice to Malcolm’s legacy,” all that mattered was that they disapproved.
As a result, almost immediately, fans went into overdrive. They had no clue who I was or what I was about. But they sent me death threats, called me names, and accused me of all sorts of things (for a while, outside my New Jersey home, police stood guard, on watch for deranged fans looking to silence me). Trolls bombarded sites like Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and Google Books, leaving one star reviews and comments disparaging me and my book – despite having never read a single word of it.
I was even threatened by fellow journalists, because… honestly, I have no idea. In nearly 20 years of professional writing, I had treated everyone I’d ever written about, whether famous (like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent) or homeless (like many of the panhandlers on the streets of New York), with total respect. People trusted me with their stories. How did writing a simple biography turn into something so toxic? The whole situation drove me into a crushing depression.