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Author Michael Chabon says discipline is key

American author Michael Chabon has won a Pulitzer Prize, but he's not taking it for granted, saying discipline and hard work are the only ways to succeed as a novelist.
/ Source: Reuters

American author Michael Chabon has won a Pulitzer Prize, but he’s not taking it for granted, saying discipline and hard work are the only ways to succeed as a novelist.

Chabon’s third novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 while his most recent work, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” which is just being released in paperback, won a Nebula Award.

Chabon, 44, spoke to Reuters about writing and families:

Q: Did you always want to write?

A: “When I was still pretty young, 11 or 12, I started writing primarily for school and I took to it. I found it to be pleasurable and writing fiction, writing stories like the kind I liked to read, made me feel connected to the work and the authors and, although I did not know it at the time, to the whole tradition that I was to become a part of.”

Q: Is it still pleasurable?

A: “Yes, particularly when it is going well. It comes more easily than other things. I have bad days of course.”

Q: Your second novel, “Fountain City,” you dropped and never published. Did you learn anything from that experience?

A: “I tried to draw lessons from that experience. I saw it as my duty as an American to learn from my mistake and see the bright side. I tried dutifully to draw something of moral instruction from that experience of failure! But I’m not sure what went wrong there. I just set off on the wrong foot and could not get it right although I tried for five years.”

Q: Is it hard to keep living up to your success so far?

A: “I don’t take success for granted. Like being awarded the Pulitzer prize for “Kavalier & Clay” — a book I had qualms about as I was writing it — that really reflected my own fears. To have it come out well and get the Pulitzer, it made me feel that it was good that I took a chance on an unlikely story and an unlikely idea and stuck with it. “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” felt very unlikely but when it was not going well I would tell myself that I had felt the same way about “Kavalier & Clay.””

Q: You wrote the original script for the movie “Spider-Man 2.” Is screenplay writing something you enjoy?

A: “I’ve done a lot of screen writing over the years. It’s a way to supplement the money from writing, and belonging to the Writers Guild of America means we get our health insurance. There are practical reasons. I enjoy the first draft before I have to turn it over to other people and allow them to collaborate. You don’t go into the business of being a writer or a poet because you want to collaborate.”

Q: Several of your books are on and heading to the big screen. Do you stay involved or leave them alone once in film?

A: “I stayed involved with “Kavalier & Clay” as I was hired to write screenplay. Every time one of my books has been optioned by producers I have been asked if I would be interested in adapting it myself but mostly I have said no. I said yes to “Kavalier & Clay” as I needed the health insurance. When I say no I just take the money and I am done. It is not hard. No one is forcing me to sell the movie rights to a book.”

Q: You’ve been asked to be one of People magazine’s “50 most beautiful people” list and last year made a list of the most influential Jews. Does this attention distract you from writing?

A: “I don’t think that poses too much of a problem. I have four children, all of them under the age of 14, and between that and my work I have so much to worry about that there is no time or point worrying about other things.”

Q: Are you disciplined in your approach to work?

A: “I try to be. I don’t know many writers who aren’t fairly disciplined and try to keep a regular schedule. Novels have a lot of words and the only way you build that is working every day.”

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

A: “It would depend on how old they were. If you are in your late teens and early 20s don’t worry yet and keep having fun and travel and adventures and read, read, read. Others further along in their lives who had their adventures or stayed in one place for a long time and know everything about it, my advice would be get serious and keep a regular schedule and try to work every day at the same time and for the same period of time.”

Q: What are you reading?

A: “I am on a bit of an Abraham Lincoln bender. I won’t know how or why yet. I picked up a book of Lincoln’s writing and that led me to a biography and now I am reading “Patriotic Gore” by Edmund Wilson on literature in the American Civil War.”