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Far From Flatbush

In Silence and Secrecy

My actual room is a little more cluttered, and I use a slightly more advanced writing machine.
This weekend, as I've been doing most weekends lately, I'm going to concentrate on fine-tuning Bobby in Naziland, the novel I began writing five years ago, and had not shown to anybody until last week. As I explained in an earlier post, I plan to read the opening pages at Bloomsday on Beaver Street next month, so it was time to show at least those pages to my editor (who happens to be my wife).

I suppose most writers (as well as most readers) find it peculiar that a writer would work in total silence and secrecy for five years, especially these days, when it's become increasingly common for writers to share works-in-progress online with readers who provide instant feedback.

This is the height of literary absurdity and the best of all possible ways for a writer to achieve a state of confusion. Book writing should be a solitary activity that takes place in a room of one’s own with a lock on the door (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). And I’ve been doing this long enough that I trust my own editorial judgment.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be working with an editor at an actual book publishing company who’s given me an advance so substantial, I could concentrate, to the exclusion of all else, on finishing Bobby in Naziland. But I’m not the kind of writer who gets advances, substantial or otherwise, on unfinished books. On the contrary, when I finish the book and begin submitting it, I think publishers will tell me, “Great read, but there’s not enough interest in Jews, goyim, Nazis, the Holocaust, UFOs, the Rosenbergs, or Brooklyn to justify publishing this.”

This is the kind of thing that publishers say reflexively to most writers about most books. It can’t be taken seriously. When I was struggling to publish Nowhere Man—a book that would be translated into a half-dozen languages and become a bestseller in five countries—I was told time and again, for 18 years, “There’s not enough interest in John Lennon.”

Which is one reason I waited five years before showing Bobby in Naziland to anybody, especially publishers. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a writer than to hear from a so-called voice of authority that your work-in-progress is unpublishable.

I also trust the judgment of my editor, and when she reads Bobby in Naziland in its entirety, I want her to read it with a fresh eye. So, I will continue to work in secrecy and silence.
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