I have a confession to make. I haven’t actually read Michael Chabon.
Once upon a time, a friend gave me a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I… always meant to read it. I mean, I was grateful, it looked cool and I flipped through it, but I was busy that year and somehow it has hung around on my bookshelves for mumblety years.
Chabon, 59, was raised primarily by a Jewish single mom after his parents’ divorce, and wrote his way through college and an MFA in the 1980s. His first novel was his MFA thesis project, and he went on to literary success with many awards, wide publication, and branching into genre fiction, comic books, screenwriting and more, sometimes using a shared universe.
I’ve always been aware of Chabon’s impressive body of work, effortlessly straddling SFFH popular fiction and the literary world, collecting awards as though they were shot glasses. Kavalier and Clay won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years before The Yiddish Policeman’s Union won the Hugo, Nebula and a dozen other awards. His latest award is the St. Louis Literary Award, as presented by St. Louis University, and as part of that honor he gave a seminar that I was privileged to attend.
He is definitely a “pantser,” which my autocorrect keeps trying to turn into “panther” and that may not be inaccurate either. Chabon says that if he knows where the plot is going, he immediately loses interest in writing it. Of course, now that he’s working in TV (currently on staff for Star Trek: Picard) that becomes a problem: Studios have an annoying habit of requiring outlines and summaries before they issue checks.
This definitely strikes home to me, because in my early days I never used to outline or plot my books. But publishers have the same annoying requests as studio executives: they want to know what the book is about before they will pay me. So I started doing outlines, and then I became dependent on them when writer’s block would strike. (Oh yeah, that’s what I’m doing next.)
But for Chabon, that ruins the fun, even though he ends up wandering all over the place in his stories until he figures out that he’s at a dead end and has to back up to fix the mess into which he’s written himself.
“It’s wasteful, but I have to have that sense of discovery on the page every day, or I feel like I’m just checking off boxes on a checklist,” he said.