The story of Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding, is one of those publishing fairy tales – it took him ten years to write and when he was finally ready to show it, the book was rejected by all except one agent. According to Harbach, it seemed that the themes of the book, baseball and homosexuality, “…kind of cancelled each other out in terms of ‘audience appeal'”. Fortunately, publishers saw The Art of Fielding differently and the book was the centre of a fierce bidding war – it sold for $665,000 in what Vanity Fair called ‘the biggest fiction auction in recent memory’.
Have you read The Art of Fielding? My review is nearly ready – all I need to say at this stage is READ THIS BOOK.
Harbach was extremely thoughtful and gave wonderfully considered answers to the questions he was asked. He read an excerpt from the book and delivered it in exactly the dry and slightly bewildered tone that the characters demand.
There was a great deal of discussion around the fact that the novel took Harbach ten years to write. He said that the main idea for the book (a baseball player who gets the ‘yips‘) occurred to him when he saw a baseball player fall apart during a game – the crowd sat helpless and silent while the player basically had a breakdown on the pitch. The extrcutiating and very public pain of that moment stayed with him.
I think what I enjoyed most was the fact that Harbach came across as both in awe of his own success and extremely humble.
In contrast, Jeanette Winterson, who is an old-hand at the publicity tour, is a polished, charismatic performer. And I say performer because she is – she had the audience from the moment she spoke. Unlike Harbach whose section of the evening was conducted in an interview style, Winterson stood alone on stage (or rather paced the whole stage) and read two chapters from her most recent release, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?. Interestingly, she dismissed the idea that the book was a memoir or an autobiography and instead called it “an experiment with experience”.
Winterson’s delivery is so smooth that sometimes it was difficult to tell when she was reading and when she was simply talking – either way, she was entertaining. That said, I didn’t feel privvy to any ‘inside information’ about her writing, her ‘characters’ or her inspiration. One of the reasons I like hearing authors speak, whether it’s about their latest book or about their writing process, is those glimpses into the creative process that it affords you – always fascinating.