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June 21, 2007 » 9:17 am

Chabon on Pigeonholing and Discipline

http://www.michaelchabon.com/ wrote a wonderful homage to Arthur Conan Doyle a few years ago called, The Final Solution. It’s a Sherlock Holmes mystery set in 1944, and Holmes is an 89-year old beekeeper, long retired from detection work. The book never mentions Holmes by name, but it’s clear from the start who the “old man” is. The plot is middling compared to Doyle’s body of work, but the prose is far superior. It feels like a really well written, authentic Holmes mystery.    (MCV)

In the paperback edition, there’s some supplementary material at the end, including a transcribed 2004 NPR interview with Steve Inskeep. Inskeep asks Chabon about a “serious literary writer” writing a mystery. Chabon responds:    (MCW)

I’m really annoyed by pigeonholes and categories and labels. I view them as iniquitous to the spirit of play and of experimentation and of storytelling. The fact at a bookstore, the fiction is divided into fiction and mystery and science fiction, I don’t understand why it has to be that way. To me it’s all fiction, and I think the best science fiction, the best mystery fiction, the best horror fiction ought to be put on a par with the best quote-unquote “literary fiction.” You know, there’s this famous thing, Sturgeon’s Law, named after the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who said that 90 percent of everything is crap. Maybe he said crud, actually. I think that’s true, and it’s just as true of the so-called literary fiction as it is of the science fiction and mysteries. So, you know, if I owned my own bookstore, I would just have the best 10 percent of everything and I would stick it all together in one section and call it fiction and have done with it.    (MCX)

Chabon is also quoted in his bio on his views of success, which he says requires three things: talent, luck, and discipline:    (MCY)

Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two.    (MCZ)

Baseball coaches and pitchers talk all the time about pitchers “trusting their stuff.” They’re describing what happens when pitchers reach the big leagues and start spending all their time trying to paint corners and make the perfect pitch, rather than rearing back and trusting their talent. Yes, you want to try and hit the outside corner, but in the end, you have to remember that your fastball goes 95 miles per hour and dances like a monkey.    (MD0)

I go through this same anxiety all the time when I write and when I speak. It’s easy to get caught up with writing the perfect essay or giving the perfect talk, but in the end, you can’t control whether or not you can write like Chabon or tell stories like Garrison Keillor. All you can do is work hard at your craft, trust whatever talent you have, and hope for the best.    (MD1)

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