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Friday, April 27, 2007

Michael Chabon's Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Michael Chabon is widely considered one of the best fiction writers in America today. And one of the things I appreciate about him is his honestly about how difficult it is to write.

His books may have won Pulitzer Prizes and been made into movies, but all that fame and glory doesn’t make it any easier to turn out a good novel. Chabon’s newest book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, will come out next week. It’s more than a year later than originally expected – because Chabon did a whole rewrite.

Chabon had turned his book into his publisher, HarperCollins. Blurbs on the book led the publisher’s catalogue. But then Chabon’s editor yelled “Stop!” The book wasn’t ready. Chabon went back to work.

"I shudder now when I think that I would have published the old draft," said Chabon in a Wall Street Journal article.

"Over the following drafts, Mr. Chabon's editor, Courtney Hodell, would mail manuscripts overnight from New York to Mr. Chabon's Berkeley, Calif., office with detailed notes penciled in the margins. (Mr. Chabon describes them half-jokingly as "vandalized.") After HarperCollins's 2005 decision to delay publication, Ms. Hodell flew to Berkeley and spent the day with Mr. Chabon. They ordered sandwiches and went through the manuscript page by page. "He's a writer of terrific extravagance in the language but great subtlety on the emotional side," says Ms. Hodell. "A lot of what I was doing was coaxing him to come a little closer to the reader."

In the publishing world, it is rare to get this much attention. Many writers barely get edited by their publishers. But HarperCollins paid at least a million dollars for this book, so they put in the effort to make sure it was good.

Despite the back story, Chabon’s efforts should encourage all writers, experienced or aspiring. The essence of good writing is rewriting. Period. Even when you have already won a Pulitzer.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Great post. That's my book for the July 4th holiday. Got to see him a month or so ago at B&N; what a thrill.