Tom Wolfe On His New Book and His Decision to Leave FSG

As reported earlier, Tom Wolfe is working on a new novel set in Miami called Back to Blood, which will be published in 2009 by Little, Brown.

According to a press release, the book would deal with “class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption, and ambition.” The overriding theme, though, based on an interview with Mr. Wolfe, will be Miami’s immigrant population, which he said includes Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Russians.

“My original subject was just immigration, not from any policy point of view, but just curiosity about what the life of recent immigrants is like, and how they feel when they come up against American culture or Americans in general,” Mr. Wolfe said. “As far as I can tell there is no other city in the world [besides Miami] where more than half the population are people who arrived here within the last 50 years.”

Mr. Wolfe said he’d made several trips to Miami already in preparation for the book, and that he intends to make several more.

“I’ll do a little more, until I feel I have enough material,” he said. “I’m so journalistic about this stuff that I can’t stand winging it. I don’t think anybody’s imagination is even in the same league with what happens in places like that.”

He went on: “When I first told people I had this idea, it was two years ago, and the response at that time was, ‘that’s very interesting.’ But there was never a second question — obviously it bored them to death.”

Asked to comment on his decision to publish Back to Blood with Little, Brown instead of his longtime publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux–where he had been since 1965–Mr. Wolfe said he did not realize it would be seen as a big deal.

“It didn’t dawn on me until this all came up that I have been with Farrar Straus for 42 years,” he said. “I was talking to somebody, a friend in publishing, the other day, who without knowing about any of this said, ‘how long have you been at Farrar Straus? I’d never thought of it in terms of a number. He said, ‘Well, you’ve broken Steinbeck’s record–he said Steinbeck was with Viking for 39.”

Mr. Wolfe said he felt like Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s record for continuous games played in 1995.

“It’s kind of like a passage in Ecclesiastes where he says ‘for every time there is a season,’ or something like that,” he said. “I had a wonderful time at Farrar Straus, no question about it … Roger Straus published my first book when absolutely nobody else was interested. An unknown newspaper reporter wants to publish a collection of magazine pieces, and he took a chance.”

Mr. Wolfe said there were no hard feelings over his decision to switch houses, though he would not elaborate on the motivating factors.

“If they were dismayed, I think they successfully contained their dismay,” he said. “It was all very friendly.”

Earlier today, FSG editor-in-chief Jonathan Galassi told Media Mob that Mr. Wolfe’s decision to move to Little, Brown was made because FSG would not offer him a big enough advance on the book. “We just couldn’t agree on the price for the project,” he said. “That was the only thing… It’s sad, but there are certain things that are just determining.”

Tom Wolfe On His New Book and His Decision to Leave FSG