The Birth of a Novel, and a Novelist, Part 1
Today is the official release day for my new novel, PANORAMA, published by Little, Brown & Co. This is a dream I’ve had ever since high school, and today is truly one of those second beginnings. And I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping that this book will be seen, and read, and thought about; that’s what all writers dream of.
The Wayback Machine, Wayback to the Nineties
I had this other life in politics before I turned to writing full-time. In the fall of 1995, I’d just gotten a huge promotion, bought a house, and was busy doing all of the things that the young DC professional would do. And then I went into a bookstore one afternoon, and thumbed through the racks looking for something to kill a rainy fall afternoon.
Somehow I landed on a new hardcover story collection, The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven
, by Rick Moody. From the first story, “The Preliminary Notes,” about a guy who spies on his soon-to-be ex-wife by recording her phone calls, I was hooked. It had pathos and humor and warmth and a sense of being very much of the moment. There was the disaffected college student in “The Apocalypse Commentary of Bob Paisner,” looking for basic human connection. There’s a scene in that story where the title character asks a female acquaintance for a hug in the laundry room; few things I’ve ever read are as lovely and awkward and painful and true as that moment. There were the failed plans and contingencies of the title novella. These were my people.
The Habit of a Mildly Effective Person
One of the habits that the type A side of me took from politics was to make a list of dreams, which by extension turns them into achievable goals. That year, I wrote my first ever list of things that I wanted to accomplish if I turned to writing; some were simple, like to appear in a decent literary magazine. Others were harder to achieve. I knew nothing about the writing world then, except that the Iowa Writer’s Workshop was the best graduate program. So I applied, and was rejected without comment. It took me 7 years to find the courage to try again. In the meantime, I made lists.
I made lists, a handful of them, personal and professional. Each one had ten goals. One of those lists was exclusively about writing. The number one goal: to publish a novel with the publisher of that wild, uneven, inviting book of stories by Mr. Moody.
Learning to Swim
Today, I get to cross that one off the list. That’s truly an amazing feeling, and I hope it will be the first of a life- and career-long partnership. But for me, the journey has been the real adventure. Almost 15 years ago this week, I left politics for good, and stepped into the unknown. And if making those kinds of huge leaps seem scary, well, they are supposed to. That’s why you need encouragement, and support from those who have done it before. So if you’re thinking about a life change, a career change, a job change, or any other kind of major shift for positive reasons, here’s what I want to tell you: come on in, the water’s fine. You already know how to swim.