An Accidental Novelist

You could call me an accidental novelist. As a kid I spent my free time exploring the woods, not reading, before rushing off to college for a degree in chemical engineering. But two things occurred there that changed me. The first was towards the end of my junior year, on a field trip to a foul chemical plant, when it struck me that I couldn’t stomach being a chemist. The second was failing organic chemistry my senior year, which meant to graduate as a full time student I had to return and take three additional electives. Freed from my usual load of science and math, it was a revelation to read Kafka, Lawrence, and Nietzsche. Literature was like a seed germinating on a fallow field. When I headed to Boston after graduating I knew I wanted to write.

But wanting to write and writing well are separate issues. Originally I picked drama as my genre, which after a few years of pontificating I realized was better left to preachers and politicians. I went to Harvard at nights for a degree in English literature and although it helped me write a treatise it did little to foster my fiction. Short stories I could complete, but a novel had too many moving parts. I spent ten years on a novel I never finished. Years passed and two more stories were jettisoned. My writing seemed destined to follow the path of the mythical Sisyphus, who would push that rock up the hill each day only to see it roll back down. Yet, and this is important to all aspiring writers, I never lost my love of writing. There were issues, yes, but throughout my twenty years of purgatory, I rose each day alive with enthusiasm. 

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My epiphany came to me at a dinner party. I was pondering a novel loosely based on my father-in-law when a successful sculptress approached me. She told me, “The reason you can’t finish your novels is that you don’t need to,” my comfortable life had made me compliant. It sounded simple, but as I walked home I grumbled, “I’ll show her a thing or two about need.” A couple of years later I used that motivation to complete Drive, my first novel finished after thirty years of trying. 

Three years later I am releasing my second novel True East. More confident, it is a layered story, laced together with intrigue and plot. Could I have completed such a novel years ago? I doubt it. Writing, in my case, didn’t come easily. Had I remained a chemist my life probably would have been easier. But I wake each day with passion, eager to close a dangling participle, or explore an expanding universe teeming with wonder. True East distills science and fiction like the alchemists of old. It is a journey of discovery, evidence that gold can still be transmuted from lead, and that the voyage I embarked on so many years ago was the way.