Marti Leimbach
The Man from Saigon
Daniel Isn't Talking
Dying Young
Sun Dial Street
Love And Houses
Falling Backwards



I began writing because I could not imagine any other profession. My mother, a journalist, was forever at the typewriter or on the phone, and I thought in the natural progression of things I would do the same.

In fact, I had every intention of being a journalist, perhaps an investigative reporter like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who famously exposed the Watergate scandal of 1973, when I was ten years old. As a freshman in college I took seriously (and loved) the “expository writing” class that all freshman were required to take. I went on to an “advanced” expository writing class and thought seriously about joining one of the newspapers on campus, but was a bit afraid of being turned down, so I never joined (probably a good thing).

Over time, I found my essays digressing more and more into what could loosely be called fiction. It was suggested to me I try taking a fiction writing course, so I applied for one under the direction of Mary Robison, who turned out to be exactly the kind of encouraging, smart teacher I needed (and whose work I admire hugely).

Mary’s class was full of unbearably clever and talented people (I can remember, for example, that Conan O’Brien was among those in my first ever seminar). It was a great introduction to the world of fiction writing. You had to somehow survive among peers who were so dead smart, so well read, so tremendously confident (it seemed) in their own abilities as writers. You had to pick your way carefully through the array of different voices and opinions, not be crushed by criticism or overly flattered by generous comments. In short, you had to be your own person, your own writer, and do what you did best – if you could figure out what that was.

I have discovered since that these are exactly the survival skills you need a “professional” writer, by the way. Fiction writing is not for the faint-hearted. To survive for any period of time you have to be firm in your resolve to do the thing – that is, the work – and you have to roll with the punches, for there will be some.

Everything you do will be publicly criticised (favourably or unfavourably); some books get a lot of sales and some will not; editors will change frequently as they get new jobs, sometimes abandoning your book along the way. The more you understand the publishing process – from acquisition all the way through to the “selling in” of books into the retail stores – the better you will understand how your work might be positioned.

If you are one of those who does not worry about such things as “positioning”, in fact think that it is vulgar (or anti-art or too commercial or whatever) to consider, then you may do well anyway. It is very possible still to have an intuitive feel for what grabs a reader and to deliver such excellent prose that the world finds it irresistible. However, it can’t hurt to understand life from the bookseller’s (and publisher’s) point of view even if it doesn’t affect one comma of what you write.

However, nobody will help you understand the book business. It isn’t because they don’t care or don’t like you, only that they are incredibly busy. And so are you. You are trying to develop your talent and your career – the two being only tangentially linked – and you may also be teaching a writing course and trying to raise a family at the same time (like me). You have to be a certain type of person to survive very long doing this….

Continued in Part 2. The Art of (Surviving) the First Novel


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