Michael Chabon Prepares Swashbuckler for NYT

By Neal Comment

chabonpix.gifThe New York Times has lined up a new writer for its Sunday magazine fiction, as Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon (left) becomes the fifth author—after Elmore Leonard, Patricia Cornwell, Scott Turow, and Michael Connelly—to create serialized stories for the “Funny Pages” section. His story, Gentlemen of the Road, is an adventure yarn set in the tenth-century kingdom of Arran, which the Times press release helpfully notes was “in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian seas.” Or, roughly, modern Azerbaijan. And Chabon will definitely have action on tap, because during the mid-tenth century the region was repeatedly invaded by Rus marauders from the north…

I shot off an email to Chabon asking about some of his inspirations for the story. “Well, the novel carries a dedication to Michael Moorcock; his stories of Elric and other ironic sword-wielding heroes, along with the sublime Fritz Leiber with his Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, Errol Flynn movies (Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk) and the great Rafael Sabatini novels that inspired them; this truly wonderful, forgotten, out-of-print novel from Sweden called The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson with which my late aunt once returned home from a sojourn in Scandinavia.”* Having always wanted to try his hand at the genre, Chabon came up with the basic idea for the novel a few years back, took extensive notes which he set aside… “And then I completely forgot about it until the Times sent along a query, asking if I’d be interested in doing a serial.”

“It was hugely fun to write,” Chabon admits. “I kind of dreamed my way through the whole thing. I hope it’s fun to read, too, and that my heroes have a tenth of the crackling anti-hero verve of Sabatini’s, or Leiber’s, or Moorcock’s.” I know I can’t wait to find out—and just as that story ends, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union will finally be coming out, after a scheduled one-year delay to allow more time to prepare a full marketing campaign.

*”The only other person I’ve ever met who has read it is Jonathan Franzen,” Chabon adds. “When he won the [National Book Award] I sent him a congratulatory bottle of mead.” Apparently, there is a UK edition kicking around in Amazon.com’s warehouses, though, and now I really want to track it down…