Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Michael Chabon

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I took a trip to Waco for a women's tea (will post pics and stories later), celebrated my birthday, and am deep into rewrites for my WIP. I'm rejuvenated by the process and the hours are much so that I've neglected the blogosphere.

This came in my inbox today, from The Writer's Almanac. I'm on a subscription where they send a poem and essays about famous authors, usually aligned with their birthdays. Today's the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Michael Chabon. This tells a bit about him, and the inspiration behind the novel Wonder Boys.


It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Chabon, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1963). He was just 23 when he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He turned it in as his master's thesis in a creative writing program. He turned it in on a Friday. On Monday he heard that his professor had sent it to an agent. The book was published the following year, in 1988. It was a big success. He was compared to Fitzgerald and John Cheever. He was asked to model clothing for The Gap. People magazine wanted to include him in its list of "50 Most Beautiful People." He turned down both offers.

He started working on his second novel. He had seen a picture of the original plans for the city of Washington, D.C., and he got an idea for a novel about an architect. Chabon later said, "It was a novel about utopian dreamers, ecological activists, an Israeli spy, a gargantuan Florida real estate deal, the education of an architect, the perfect baseball park, Paris, French cooking, and the crazy and ongoing dream of rebuilding the Great Temple in Jerusalem. It was about loss: lost paradises, lost cities, the loss of the Temple, the loss of a brother to AIDS, and the concomitant dream of Restoration or Rebuilding."

He called the novel Fountain City. He spent five years working on it and wrote 1,500 pages of manuscript. He felt he just couldn't put the pieces together and then one night got an idea for a whole different story and decided to follow it. He wrote 15 pages in four hours. He kept working on it in secret for the next few weeks. He didn't tell anybody. He said, "I didn't stop to think about what I was doing or what the critics would think of it and, sweetest of all, I didn't give a single thought to what I was trying to say. I just wrote."

He finished the book in seven months. The novel was Wonder Boys. It came out in 1995, about a creative writing professor named Grady Tripp who can't seem to finish his latest novel. It was made into a movie five years later.

After Wonder Boys, Chabon stumbled on a box of comic books he'd kept since childhood. He hadn't looked at them in 15 years. He said, "When I opened it up and that smell came pouring out, that old paper smell, I was struck by a rush of memories, a sense of my childhood self that seemed to be contained in there." It gave him the idea to write a novel about the golden days of the comic book trade called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It came out in 2000, and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was the story of a Jewish kid who flees the Nazis just before World War II — has to leave his family behind and come to America. Along with his cousin, he creates a comic book super hero called "The Escapist."

Michael Chabon said, "Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. If a writer doesn't give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves, if he doesn't court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family or party apparatchiks ... the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."

--Katrina Cicala


So happy birthday, Michael. May you continue give away secrets, court disapporval, and avoid inanimate earth.


Blogger Travis Erwin said...

And Happy belated Birthday to you as well.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

I just love high teas.

Ooooh, loved Wonder Boys, the movie. Interesting that Chabon turned down the modeling/beautiful people stuff.

I remember the scene where the MS goes flying out the car window - every writer's nightmare.

Of course in Misery where the MS is burned is worse.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Renae said...

Happy belated birthday, Britta! Hope it was a great one.


4:19 PM  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

A phenomenally successful career. Sounds like he got what he wanted for his birthday.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Mathilda said...

Someone famous once said...

"I heart Michael Chabon". ;)

6:30 PM  
Blogger Lana Gramlich said...

Happy belated birthday! :) *hug*

10:09 AM  
Blogger The Anti-Wife said...

Happy belated birthday! Hope you had a wonderful time.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Bookfraud said...

if anyone in the literary world deserver birthday greetings, it's mr. chabon. really, how many people could write a book like "kavalier and clay" or "the yiddish policeman's union"? could count them on one hand...

2:58 PM  
Blogger Middle Ditch said...

I will definitely try and find those novels. They sound intriguing.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Leigh Russell said...

How amazing to be 'discovered' like that. I recently met an author who started writing books as a teenager. Her father asked an aunt to type up a MS which he submitted. The first the 15 year old author knew of it was when she received an acceptance letter from a publisher.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Ryan Gibbs said...

Hey, Britta.

Yeah, Kavalier and Clay was great. Haven't read Wonder Boys yet, though it's been sitting on my shelf, beckoning to me for some time now. I'm in the middle of Underworld atm (DeLillo), which I'm just enjoying the heck out of. Maybe I'll hit WBs next.

When's your next book coming out? And when're you coming back to Amarillo so I can pick your brain/bug you some more?

All the best,

6:32 PM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Thanks, Travis, Renae, Lana and Anti-Wife on the birthday wishes. I had a great day, and, at a gorgeous patio restaurant in Dallas, a phenomenal creme brulee.

Josephine, that scene stands out to me too. Both the desperation of the loss and the odd sense of freedom from an unworkable project. After reading the Almanac post, it's interesting to see where Chabon found the inspiration.

Charles, I think you're right. Although, I wonder as writers if we're ever satisfied in the moment or are working toward the next story, and the next...

Mathilda, my cyberfriend who has met Chabon in person. No I am not jealous.

Bookfraud, I'd like a list of those you counted. Haven't read K&C, which I know is scandalous, but I heartily enjoyed the Yiddish Policemen.

MD, run don't walk (unless there's lots of traffic and/or you have a heart condition) and get Wonder Boys. You won't be disappointed.

Hi Ryan, welcome to the blog. Not sure about my next trip to the big A, but I'll be sure to let you know. The latest book is cooking on my laptop, and I'm almost through with this round of revisions, thanks to Jesus and lots of coffee. Feel free to bug and/or brain pick anytime. A disclaimer: the author makes no promises on the quality of the brain at the time of the pickage.

11:22 AM  

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