The Farrar, Straus and Giroux newsletter just published a short essay of mine about writing my latest book, THE LAST BOHEMIA: Scenes from the life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
For me, the two books I’ve done with FSG, ten years apart, mark the transformation of publishing between centuries twenty and twenty-one. For the first book, the official line was, ‘Take all the time you need. All we care about is that it’s good.’ For the second it was, ‘if you can’t do it in nine months, forget about it.’ In the time I wrote this book, my beloved editor left the business. His replacement told me that he was excited about the book and would call me in a week: sixteen months later, I’m still waiting for that call.
The world changes and we adapt, or find another line of work. The sentences of The Last Bohemia didn’t quite end up where I wanted them – there’s a final coat of varnish missing. But having to churn out the manuscript in nine months showed me that I could, and there’s a cohesion to work written in a single push.
Most people start writing because they love books. They want to add their voices to a conversation that’s been going on since the gods played a dirty trick on Gilgamesh. It’s nice to get paid to do what you love though, and for the second half of the Twentieth Century, there were a lot of opportunities to make a living with the pen. That changed more quickly and drastically than anyone imagined. Here’s the first paragraph of the piece, also produced on a tight deadline.
At the exact hour on February 12, 2012 that I was supposed to be ferrying the manuscript for The Last Bohemia to the FSG offices, I was puking into the toilet of my Greenpoint sublet. Dubious Chinese and sleep deprivation were to blame. After peeling my hands off the tile, I scrubbed my teeth, got dressed, and made my way to the subway. I felt like a human bruise.