Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Perfect Pitch

Chad Harbach is lucky. His writing obsession paid off. Big. And he's still young. Here's to hoping he can do it again. And I truly hope his baseball book is as good as the editors believe it to be. This country loves to read about baseball when it's done right. The memory of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the romance of the Durham Bulls. The Natural, The Boys of Summer and The Summer Game. Should be room for one more.

Unemployed Harvard Man Auctions Baseball Novel for $650,000

March 31 (Bloomberg) -- Five months ago, Chad Harbach was an out-of-work copy editor with an unpaid position at a literary journal and an unpublished novel: 475 pages centering on a baseball team at a fictional Wisconsin college.

A few weeks ago, Hachette Book Group’s Little, Brown agreed to pay about $650,000 for it, according to two people briefed on the sale. It was one of the highest prices for a man’s first novel on a topic appealing to a male audience, said Jon Baker, a book scout who advises non-U.S. publishers.

Nine years in the writing, Harbach’s novel, tentatively titled “The Art of Fielding,” sold after a two-day telephone auction of eight publishers.

“If you don’t have a vampire, you don’t expect that kind of money,” Baker said, referring in part to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Those books were the basis of two feature films and sold more than 50 million copies in the past two years, according to Publishers Weekly.

Baker called Harbach a “fantastic writer,” based on the manuscript. “He certainly took his time and made it perfect,” Baker said. “And I hate baseball.”

A soft-spoken 34-year-old, Harbach met a reporter at the one-room 500-square-foot Brooklyn office of n+1, a nonprofit literary magazine he helped start in 2004. He isn’t paid as executive editor.

Brooklyn Share

In October, he lost his part-time copy-editing gig with the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., he said. He scraped together rent for the Brooklyn apartment he shares with two roommates from short-term copy editing and money borrowed from a friend.

“I wasn’t excited about finding a new job,” he said, wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and Puma sneakers.

He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. His father is an accountant, his mother ran the Small World Montessori School, for children 6 and under. He read prodigiously as a child, starting with Roald Dahl. In high school, sports -- basketball, golf and baseball -- temporarily trumped reading and writing as priorities.

“What fascinates me about baseball is that although it’s a team game, and a team becomes a kind of family, the players on the field are each very much alone,” he said. “Your teammates depend on you and support you, but at the moments that count they can’t bail you out.”

David Foster Wallace’s sprawling 1,088-page novel “Infinite Jest,” published in 1996, made a strong impression. He read it the week he graduated from Harvard, where he majored in English. What he called the “central American novel of the past 30 years” taught him that “you could write a beautiful and important novel, now.”

Odd Jobs

After college, he lived around the country doing odd jobs. He began his novel in the winter of 2000, and used early drafts of two chapters to apply to graduate-school writing programs. He was widely rejected, and accepted by the University of Virginia, where he earned a master of fine arts.

“I didn’t think it would take nine years,” he said of the novel. “There’s a fair amount of anxiety to devoting so much time when you don’t know how it will turn out.”

He avoided full-time work so he could write. He composed in spiral notebooks, usually taking months off when he was putting out n+1, a thoughtful twice-a-year journal.

It has a print run of about 8,000 an issue. Among its readers is Chris Parris-Lamb, a 28-year-old literary agent who now represents Harbach. Parris-Lamb pitched the manuscript to publishers before e-mailing copies.

‘Emotional Experience’

“The enthusiasm in my voice is reflected in how quickly people read it,” Parris-Lamb said from his office on East 57th Street. “These are busy people. I want them to drop what they’re doing.”

Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, called reading “The Art of Fielding” a “deeply emotional experience.”

“The writing seems effortless but makes you care desperately about its characters,” he said, adding that it appealed to women in his office as well as men.

Little, Brown didn’t have the high bid, Parris-Lamb said. Harbach wanted to work with Pietsch, the editor of “Infinite Jest.”

Of the five n+1 founders, Harbach is the third to publish a novel. Benjamin Kunkel’s “Indecision,” sold 48,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers about 75 percent of U.S. retail sales. “All the Sad Young Literary Men,” by Keith Gessen, sold 7,000 copies.

Rights for “The Art of Fielding” have recently sold in Japan and throughout Europe. It’s expected to be out in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2011. Accustomed to living on the cheap, Harbach said he’s in no rush to move into his own place. But another copy-editing job isn’t in the offing.

“I haven’t thought about what I’ll do next,” he said.

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Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

Sir no_slappz - As an 18 yr old trooper in WWII, we had two guys from Brooklyn, in "C" Battery constantly talking about baseball, and those lovable BUMS!

We kidded them every day. They always said, "Aw youz guys are just jealous, cuz we got the Dodgers!
Shortly after the War, Walter O'Malley sold the Dodgers to Los Angeles when L.A. promised to build
a new Stadium in Chavez Ravine, Downtown on intersecting hwy 10.
I often vizualize those two guys jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge!


1:17 AM  
Blogger no_slappz said...


The day the Dodgers announced their departure from Brooklyn the borough went into a state of mourning that lasted at least a decade.

The actual announcement came in 1957, I think. And O'Malley got the blame.

But he was not the bad guy. It was someone else. The real villain: Robert Moses.

Moses ran the NY City agency that had the power to allocate the land O'Malley wanted for a new Dodger Stadium.

When O'Malley came to Moses seeking to put his new Dodger stadium on land at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Moses said No, there were better uses for that prime piece of real estate than a barely used baseball stadium. In those days, the season was 154 games. Seventy-seven home games.

O'Malley had big plans. Futuristic ideas for baseball. He wanted to try artificial turf, and he wanted to put a roof over the stadium to end the possibility of rain-outs.

Moses said No, and O'Malley made a deal in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers became one of the most successful teams in baseball history.

It coulda been Brooklyn.

What happened on that plot of land that Moses said was so valuable? For FIFTY years: Nothing. Zero. It sat there, mostly vacant.

But a couple of years ago Bruce Ratner, a major real estate developer got control of it and has recently broken ground on a huge project of housing, retail, office space and a new stadium for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Soon to become the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe.

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