I think there is only one book to a man. It is true that a man may change or be so warped that he becomes another man and has another book but I do not think that it is so with me.
— John Steinbeck, Journals of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
East of Eden was the first book that I read by Steinbeck. It was moving and well written and rich with characters. Then I discovered Journals of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters and suddenly I felt I had been given a back stage pass to the mind of a writer.
Steinbeck had already written Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939) when he set out to write East of Eden (1951). In the intervening years he lived through two divorces and served as a war correspondent. Despite the critical success of his earlier works, his standing as a major novelist had faded. As today’s quote reveals, Steinbeck also felt that he had not yet told the one story that was within him. His editor, Pascal Covici, did all that he could to encourage Steinbeck. Covici sent Steinbeck a number of notebooks and instructed Steinbeck to use them to write.
C. Ebeling describes it well in his (or her) review on Amazon: “Steinbeck wrote the lengthy EAST OF EDEN saga straight through, from January to the first of November, in 1951. Every weekday, he sharpened his beloved pencils, sat down and warmed up, writing in the form of a letter to his friend and publisher, Pascal Covici. The letters he entered on the left side of the manuscript book Covici hand given him; on the right side, after clearing his mind and setting out the days’ goals, he’d write his story, averaging about 1,500 words a day. JOURNAL OF A NOVEL collects those daily addresses to Covici, to whom EAST OF EDEN is dedicated.”
Journals of a Novel is a fascinating insight into the mental struggles and machinations of creative writing. You feel like a voyeur as you watch Steinbeck wrestle with character development, plot lines, and the trials of writing. A must read for any aspiring writer.