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Farrar, Straus and Giroux's Work in Progress

Jeffreyeugenides_2003

Farrar, Straus and Giroux has decided to let readers peek behind the scenes at one of the most delicate parts of the publishing business: the writing of books, as they happen. Talk to any writer after a book has been published and she'll be able to detail every wrong turn, every failed plot attempt, every character that had to be killed off, all the pages that were written and ultimately discarded. All those false starts have a shape -- stubby, unfruitful branches hacked off a healthy tree -- once the book is finished. But while it's a work in progress? Well, then they're growing and budding and also dying. Sometimes painfully, one word at a time.

Yet Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of FSG, is pulling back the covers on his authors who are in that very work-in-progress state. A new website (and also monthly newsletter) is called, with editorial exactitude, FSG Work in Progress.

In the first installment, Galassi talks to Jeffrey Eugenides, author of the novels "The Virgin Suicides" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Middlesex." "Middlesex" was published in 2002, so fans have been waiting since then for his next book. It's not ready yet, but it is a work in progress. Or works. Eugenides says:

Awhile ago, I was writing a book about a family throwing a debutante party. As I followed one of the characters, her story began to swell until I finally realized that I had two different books on my hands. I then had to surgically separate the two books, like conjoined twins, hoping that each retained sufficient major organs to survive. I’ve put the first book in a drawer for the time being, working on the second. I don’t quite know how to describe it. A college love story? Maybe. It begins on graduation day, in 1982, and involves three main characters. The sweep of the action takes place over the next year or so, as the characters begin their lives outside the university gates. The book deals, among other things, with religion, depression, the Victorian novel, and Roland Barthes.

The website includes other parts of the publishing process -- in this debut effort, a conversation with book designers and a video of author David Means reading one of his short stories.

But it's Eugenides who may have hit upon the thing that will appear most on the FSG Work in Progress site: "I really don't like to talk about it."

-- Carolyn Kellogg
twitter.com/paperhaus

Photo: Jeffrey Eugenides in Los Angeles in 2003. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times


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