When you choose a career, it’s not always a straight line.
In my case, I started out at age 7 wanting to be an astronaut or a baseball player.
My father had always wanted something else for me.
“Be a dentist,” he said. “You get as much money as a doctor, but no one wakes you up at night and says you have to come into the hospital to fix a toothache.”
But by senior year in college, I was on a straight line: I wanted to become a novelist. I pretty quickly published my first short story, in an august journal called North American Review, which Hemingway and Twain had also published in.
“I pay for four years of tuition at UCLA,” my father complained to my mother, “and he wants to become a novelist?!”
He never told me about his complaint, though. He was too decent to say it out loud to me. I learned about it only years later from my mother.
After graduation, I didn’t find any companies who wanted to hire someone as a full-time novelist, so I started doing journalism, small-time at first, but within six years, was publishing in Mademoiselle, McCall’s, Harper’s Bazaar, and a host of other glamorous and glitzy publications. I was flying in to New York twice a year to meet with editors. I had bylines galore.
But I wasn’t glitzy by nature. I still wanted to be a novelist and I had no time for it. When Joe Weider offered me a full-time editor’s job in his fitness empire, I answered, “Oh no, I’m sorry, I’m working on a novel.” I was still under the delusion that freelance writing might allow me some free time to work on fiction. It didn’t.
When I finally realized that freelancing had failed me, I jumped ship and became a full-time magician. I had heard that cruise-ship magicians worked only two hours a week, got paid a couple thousand a week, and had lots of free time. That was the job for me. I would travel the world and write my novels for 38 hours a week. But in the meantime, I had to become a master salesman, selling my show to cold-call customers, which once again took all my time.
The only thing that gave me enough time to write my novel, finally, was poverty. Just giving it all up and writing. Not worrying about jobs, not worrying about getting new things, not worrying about going without health insurance, not worrying about what people think, and they think some pretty bad things, believe me.
Not worrying: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
I started writing the novel six years ago, after thinking about it for 24. I wrote much of it at night, when I had insomnia. It would calm me to write on it, chip away at it. There are so many different parts of a novel that it’s like a whole country, and you work to create that geography, climate, and culture. It was compulsive. It was the one thing I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to be happy, exactly, or worldly successful, but I did know how to write. You scribble a first draft, go away from it for a few days, thinking about it, and then ideas come to you in the shower, on the bikepath, before going to sleep. If you’re smart, you write down those ideas when they come to you.
But at the end of that path, which is a long one, I can assure you, winding and endless, you have something solid and real that you’ve been hoping for all your life. You sit in front of the computer and smile. You read the last couple chapters to your girlfriend and she cries. Sometimes, you even choke up reading it. You give it to your girlfriend to read aloud because you know you can’t do it yourself. There are gorgeous sentences that sparkle as if they were pure sunlight. There are characters who have lived in your heart for years. There are turns of phrase that only appear after the 80th draft. There’s a plot that fits together like a Mitrokhin puzzle. And there’s a dream that you’ve finally fulfilled, rather than letting it die.
And that’s why you should buy my novel, if only to support someone who’s had a dream.