CHABON'S AMAZING REWRITE ADVENTURES
Crafting a Seven-Figure Novel;
(The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2007)
(Link to story on wsj.com)
Starting Over in Third Person
by SAM SCHECHNER
It was the end of 2005, and Michael Chabon was rushing to finish his latest novel. The blurb was in his publisher's sales catalog. The on-sale date was set. Then his editor slammed on the brakes.
"I shudder now when I think that I would have published the old draft," says Mr. Chabon, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." Instead, after consultations with his editor, he spent about eight months reworking the entire book -- a murder mystery set in a fictional Yiddish-speaking Jewish homeland in Alaska. He added a flashback structure and pared down the language into a hard-boiled, Yiddish-inflected patois. "I felt like I had to invent a whole new dialect of English to finish it," he says.
Next week, after five years, four drafts, two trips to Alaska and a title change, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," will arrive in stores. While long gestation periods and multiple drafts aren't unusual in the publishing industry, the time and effort expended on behalf of Mr. Chabon's vision are illustrations of the book's importance to HarperCollins, which won it in a four-way, seven-figure auction in 2002, when it was little more than a one-and-a-half-page proposal. Now the company has again bet big, printing 200,000 copies of the finished product, Mr. Chabon's first full-length adult novel since winning the Pulitzer in 2001.
"The stakes are high," says Jonathan Burnham, HarperCollins's publisher, "for Michael and all of us."...