Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Happened When I Tried to Write a Book as Fast as Melville Wrote WHITE-JACKET

On a train out of Strasbourg for Luxembourg I plotted on a manilla envelope what I would do when I got home to Wilmington, DE. I had promised to write a book on BILLY BUDD by September and had worked on the Northwestern-Newberry MOBY-DICK instead. I knew Melville had written WHITE-JACKET in 2 months, maximum, and wondered if later on he remembered much about it. I decided I as an experiment I would write the BB book in what time I had in July and all of August. But I had to go to New Orleans first, and there I found a great cache of letters from Oakey Hall, in one of which he casually announced that Melville had written WHITE-JACKET in a score of sittings. I took that to mean that Melville worked for 20 days out of the 2 months--read sources and planned for a day or two and wrote like hell the third day. Well, the weather did not cooperate. It got hot and we had no air conditioning. For 19 days in a row [I am pretty sure it was 19] it was in the mid 90s. People all over the East died. My computer got gummy.
I finished early and sent it off and the publisher refused it because it was too long. Northwestern took it as it was. A lot of people liked it. Paul Seydor quotes it in his new book on PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.

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