Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fobbit update: "And here...we...go!"

The email arrived a week ago.  It was Peter, my editor at Grove/Atlantic, telling me he'd just finished working his way through Fobbit (my Iraq War novel) for the second time and now the palms of his hands were bloody with red editorial ink.

Okay, he didn't put it in those terms, exactly.  What he said was: "I've now read the book through a second time, and am more excited about it than ever.  I think you have a brilliant ear for tone--the book really rings true....and I am very impressed by the way you move between scenes that are brilliantly hilarious, and others that are poignant, powerful, and bleak."

You can see why I'm happy to have found a home at Grove/Atlantic.  Granted, we're still getting to know each other, but so far I've been enveloped by a spirit of encouragement and excitement about this work I've been composing since early 2005.

Peter goes on to say some work remains to be done (a point on which he and I agreed during our pre-sale phone call).  We need to bring it down to "a much more manageable length" and find "a stronger narrative arc," all of which "would make the book feel less episodic and clearer in structure."

In an earlier conversation, he said Fobbit in its current form is about the length of Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn.  I looked at that Vietnam War novel sitting on my desk like a pale-blue brick and thought, Wow.  That really puts it in perspective.  As unpublished writers, we tend to type and type and type, the sentences rolling across the screen, the word count swelling, and the pages accumulating with a whisper we can ignore--until it comes time for someone to print that manuscript.  I knew Fobbit was long (and long-winded) but I never thought it would be something you could use to prop up the dining room table with the broken leg.

Frankly, Peter's editorial notes (seven single-spaced pages of them) inspire me and give me a clear sense of direction.  If I'm honest with myself, for the past six years, I've been like a binge eater who can't stop stuffing food in his mouth--not because his belly is empty, but because it tastes so good.  Substitute "words" in place of "food" and "story" in place of "belly" and you have some idea of how good those sentences in Fobbit felt as they were pecked out beneath my fingers.  Now I have a coach--sort of like that wickedly-grinning guy on The Biggest Loser--who is there to show me where the weight needs to come off.  This is going to feel good when all is said and done.  If ever the quote from Emile Zola (which inspired the name of this blog) rang true, this is the moment.  "Happy delivery," indeed.

So now the real work of revision begins:  the digging-in, the scooping-out, the patting-smooth.  The killing of my darlings.  In fact, since the email arrived last week, I've already started on some of the excavation.  I have six months to get Fobbit back to the good folks at Grove/Atlantic in a draft we can mutually agree on.  I'm sure Peter and I will trade many more emails and have several phone chats before this whole thing is done.  No matter how it turns out, I think we all know the final Fobbit will be a better book than when I started out six years ago.

(To answer those who keep asking: as of today, there is no official publication date for Fobbit; but Vegas odds would put it sometime in early 2013.)

Despite the daunting mountain of work which looms before me, I'm excited to start on this stage of the book, eager to take a fresh, uncompromising look at the sentences, a re-vision of my work.  Sleeves are rolled, coffee is brewing, mind is cleared to a state of Zen-like focus.

So, as the late great Heath Ledger once said...


  1. I'm listening to Matterhorn. It's good but the actual plot is sparse. Then again, literary novels rarely have any at all. Identify with the main character and a reader will follow them anywhere. That's the trick. And stay in the same tense.

  2. . . . totally excited for you, DA! . . . see your way through these re-writes and make it sing, brother!