Wolfe worked for years as a journalist and wrote technically well, but with no individual voice. Then newspapers went on strike. Wolfe considers going on the dole. Instead, he freelances for a magazine and writes an article about custom-made cars
"To his parents he has no trouble describing what he has seen. Putting the words onto paper for Esquire proves more problematic. He’s written hundreds of thousands of words in newspapers. He has a subject that interests him intensely—it’s not just about cars, it’s about the sincere soul of American life. He sits down to write and … he can’t do it....On astronauts and the genesis of The Right Stuff:
In the morning, he walked his letter over to Esquire. “It was like he discovered it in the middle of the night,” Dobell now recalls. “Wherever it came from, it seemed to me to tap a strain of pure American humor that wasn’t being tapped. He didn’t sound like Truman Capote or Lillian Ross … or anyone else.”
...Eighteen months! That’s what it took for Wolfe, once he’d found his voice, to go from worrying about whether or not to go on the dole to a cult figure. By early 1965, literary agents are writing him, begging to let them sell a book; publishers are writing to him, begging him to write one. Hollywood people are writing to ask if they might turn his magazine pieces into movies"
"The archives here tell the story of a writer working his ass off. Never mind what percentage of genius is talent; this feels like all perspiration. There’s no main character. There are the seven astronauts scattered across the country, plus a lot of other people to track down. The reporting alone takes him seven years. His original idea of the story, he decides, is wrong."