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Chabon Gets Rewrites

At the Wall Street Journal, Michael Chabon goes into extensive detail about the long gestation time of THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION – and how the book, originally slated for publication in 2006, had to be rewritten pretty much from the ground up in about eight months. “I shudder now when I think that I would have published the old draft,” Chabon told the WSJ’s Sam Schechner. Instead, he got back to work on what became a hybrid alternate history/crime novel, 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,” Chabon said.

The article reveals just how high the stakes are: HarperCollins won the book in an auction 5 years ago based off a 1 and a half page proposal (when it was still called HOTZEPLOTZ) and to get the book to where it is now, Chabon’s editor, Courtney Hodell (now at FSG) would mail extensive manuscript notes and go through it line by line on trips to his Berkeley home. And while Chabon said he sometimes had a “defensive reaction” to edits, he is thankful in retrospect that Hodell challenged him throughout the process, calling her the “redeemer of this novel” in his acknowledgments. “I do overwrite,” he says. “And this book needed a lot of chopping.”

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