Two weeks ago I went to see Michael Chabon with some colleagues. I’ve only read one of his novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Our Writer in Residence, Dan Schifrin, suggested our department go. I thought it a lovely idea and immediately agreed.
Michael Chabon was at Herbst Theatre through City Arts and Lectures. Chabon is a writer’s writer—highly aware of his colleagues’ processes. He mentioned how John Irving will not start writing until he knows the ending (I proudly already knew that as I had seen Irving speak earlier this year). He spoke about his writing process and said that he doesn’t know the ending before he begins. He will sketch something out in his mind and discuss it with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, a fellow writer. Chabon sometimes will transform two characters into one or just delete one altogether. He also discussed the editorial process, one that I haven’t heard most speakers discuss. He said he doesn’t know if he’s finished a book until his editor tells him he has. So he’ll turn in what he considers a finished novel, and his editor will say, no, needs more work. (As in, add more here, take this out, explain more…) Interesting. I’ve only heard writers discuss their translators who don’t understand a colloquialism or past editors who rejected their work.
Michael Chabon’s new book, Telegraph Avenue takes place in a record store in Berkeley. That’s all I can tell you as I haven’t read it yet. But I heard him speak about it and it sounds great and a bit of a love letter to Berkeley and its residents.
Dan and I were the only ones of our group to purchase Telegraph Avenue. After Chabon finished speaking, the others left while Dan and I waited in line to have our books signed. As we were waiting, Michael Chabon’s wife walked by. She stopped and spoke with Dan for a few minutes. The line was long and more people walked by. Dan introduced me to two women, Holly Mulder-Wollan (production manager) and Kate Goldstein-Breyer (assistant producer), for City Arts & Lectures. I couldn’t believe I was meeting them. They won’t remember me, I’m just the quiet girl wearing glasses next to Dan, writer and interviewer, extraordinaire, but I was excited none-the-less. I saw a small glimpse of The Important people. They asked Dan to do another interview soon. (Dan interviewed Jonah Lehrer before Lehrer’s fall from grace.)
We finally made it to the front of the line and Michael and Ayelet joked with Dan about Berkeley, kids, etc. They all knew each other and Dan introduced me to Michael. He was extremely kind and signed my book. The night was splendid: I watched a great interview, spent some quality time with colleagues, and was introduced to some of the literary elite of the Bay Area.