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To Walk the Night book pitch

Sunday 8/8/21

Letter from yesterday morning.


Quick thought...

I would also like to do a short book on William Sloane's 1937 novel, To Walk the Night, which I read twice a year. It's the best novel I know. Have you read it? You have the best taste of pretty much anyone I know, so if you've not checked it out, let me earnestly suggest that you do so.

The book is not classifiable. It's part horror, sci-fi, family drama, buddy saga, mystery, police procedural, locked room mystery, sports novel. It represents everything that great fiction can be, which the current publishing system works to stamp out. So a 25, to 30,000 word book on the book also allows for one to argue for why this is great, why it's needed, why just about no one writes like this now, why the MFA system discourages such writing, which is helping to kill off reading. Because this is a masterwork. It's high art, it's high entertainment, and I have learned so much from it.

Sloane was perhaps an unlikely author. He wrote all of two books. His second novel, The Edge of Running Water--of which I'm a proud owner of a first edition--came out in 1939. He was a Princeton professor (and, if I dare say, rather looked like one), but a rebel, espousing as he did the glories of sci-fi, when it was considered this grubby cousin of literature, a guilty pleasure/indulgence. I don't know--the Pornhub of its times.

He wrote one short story, called "Let Nothing You Dismay," for a 1954 sci-fi anthology he assembled, called Stories for Tomorrow. It took me a long time to track down that volume. Alas, the Sloane story isn't particularly good. What is good is his intro for the collection, which starts off as this apologia for sci-fi, but grows into this testimonial for what makes fiction work best. The spirit that animates all great fiction, no matter how different it is from work to work.

I have to finish Franklin, I mentioned the jazz idea, and I'm working on Franklin presently, and I see a finish line, but for what it is worth, I do this kind of short arts-related book quickly. My Sam Cooke 33 1/3 book comes out in about a month from Bloomsbury, and I wrote that bad boy in exactly fifteen days. The film book on 1951's Scrooge coming at the end of this year, I wrote in thirteen days.

But we could really say something, with this book as a jumping off point, about how writing works, from someone with the balls to say it, and get into what publishing seeks to keep out, from someone with a matchless publishing track record, who has dealt with everyone and whose work has been everywhere. Obviously the press celebrates bold, fresh writing, but that's the exception, to understate matters, and what makes it so different and necessary.

But do read this book. There's an NYRB edition that combines the two novels, with this largely terrible wishy-washy intro from Stephen King, which is pretty gutless, where he talks about Sloane not being a creator of great literature (he has no real reason, it's more like, "well, this is the official history, so it must be true"), unlike Steinbeck, who was mostly a hack. It's just King playing it safe, tonguing the taint of the canon, to mix metaphors. You can get a lifetime's worth of invaluable writing lessons from To Walk the Night. It's also a lesson in the spirit of compelling writing, the energy of compelling writing, the courage of compelling writing. And his prose--it's at the level of a prime F. Scott Fitzgerald. I mean "Winter Dreams" era Fitzgerald. I actually wrote about the novel once for The Daily Beast. This could be an inspiring, smart, polemic, that doesn't so much as buttonhole people and rant and rave, as it does shake up their minds. It'd be a book about this book, that goes beyond this book.

This will sound funny/quaint, but it is one of my life's ambitions to write this book. It's on my "works to create before you croak" list with a gold star. It would be a hybrid work, and one need not even read To Walk the Night to dig the book "about" it. It's the same thing I do with my jazz work--the art about art, which is about more than the art. So that no reader gets left behind.

Anyway. Just another thought. I will run stairs now and then get back to work. Hope you've been well, man.


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