Bloomers At Large / Features

Bloomers At Large: How One Becomes a Writer

by Vicraj Gill

First, huge congratulations to our sister site The Millions for making the top spot on Flavorwire’s list of “The 25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers”! First launched in 2003, The Millions has been producing coverage of literature, culture, and the arts for ten years. It’s also where Bloom’s original incarnation, the ongoing Post-40 Bloomers series, launched.

Of course, the other sites on Flavorwire’s list are also well worth checking out; as are the folks on this list—“Famous Late Bloomers in Life,” brought to you by Refinery29.  Gabriel Bell notes that the list was inspired by Malcolm Gladwell, who in a 2008 New Yorker piece asked, “Why do we equate genius with precocity?” This month found Gladwell exploring a related matter in an article called, “Complexity, and the Ten-Thousand Hour Rule.” This rule, Gladwell explains, states that most people engaging in “cognitively complex activities” like composing music—or writing—don’t succeed by talent alone; they need a lot of time, too.

Sergio de la Pava, author of the 2012 novel A Naked Singularity, was recently awarded a $25,000 PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize. De la Pava, a public defender, originally self-published the novel in 2009. His wife Suzanna then embarked on a dedicated campaign to promote the book—as Garth Risk Hallberg’s 2012 profile of the author at The Millions memorably recounts—that eventually brought it to the attention of the University of Chicago Press, who then reissued it in 2012. De la Pava’s second novel, the also-self-published Personae, comes out this October.

Hungarian author Imre Kertész—who was named in Juhi Karan’s July feature on Bloomers who write in languages other than English—was interviewed this month in The Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” series. Interviewer Luisa Zielinski notes that, despite Kertész’s profound suffering from Parkinson’s disease the last few years, Kertész remained a slyly humorous and intensely thoughtful subject. Asked about his introduction to literature, he talked about a journal that he received as a holiday gift when he was a boy:

It was a beautiful journal—so beautiful that I didn’t want to sully it. As time went by, I tried to write and ended up resenting everything I put on paper. And so I tried to improve what was already there. I think a man turns into a writer by editing his own texts. Then all of a sudden I realized that I had, in fact, become a writer.

If Kertész’s answer to the question of how one becomes a writer is by editing, another comes from William Giraldi’s fascinating, polarizing essay “The Writer as Reader: Melville and His Marginalia.” Giraldi’s judgments are harsh—“swarms of the uninitiated,” he fumes, “are taking stabs at their own books because each Sunday afternoon they curl up with lobotomized bestsellers that make writing a book seem as effortless as linking paperclips.” His ultimate point is a compelling one to consider. “[Y]ou have quite the mountain path to hike,” he writes, “before your own words are ready for the world.”

One writer who has taken Giraldi’s advice is Kiese Laymon, who debuted this year with the novel Long Division and an essay collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. As he tells NPR, though he disagreed with his mother’s belief that, being black, he “was born on parole,” from which only academic and behavioral excellence could release him, he did take her advice to read all of the usual classics—books like A Tale of Two Cities and Silas Marner—as well as volumes from the canon of black literature, like Richard Wright’s Native Son. Laymon also describes fighting for years with editors who asked him to reduce the focus on race in his work, before ultimately selling his debut to Agate, a small press.

Another storied debut from a Bloomer, and another tale of becoming a fiction writer: literary critic Caleb Crain, whose first novel Necessary Errors came out earlier this month. Check out some great takes on the book and Crain himself from The Daily Beast, The Paris Review, and Slate, whose Jane Hu called the novel “a new model for contemporary fiction.”

At The Rumpus, Julie Marie Wade interviews John Dufresne, who published his first novel, Louisiana Power and Light (1994), at 46. DuFresne talks about the ten years he took between finishing his undergraduate education at Worcester State College and completing an MFA at the University of Arkansas, and the ten more years between the MFA and the publication of his first novel. And, at the LA Review of Books, William Boyle writes about Bloomer Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho, which Melody Nixon wrote about here in May, and Vestal himself discussed in an audio interview with our own Sonya Chung.

Finally, if you’ve been here before, you probably know the kinds of novels that Bloomers Ben Fountain and André Aciman are famous for. But what if Ben Fountain was really B.E. Fountainhead, author of Looking Good and Feeling Fine: The Banking Industry Since 2009? Or if André Aciman was actually Valerie Scott Smythe, writer of romance novels like Lucy Goes Lunar or Stella Goes Stellar? At the New York Times’s “Opinionator” blog, “A Writer by Any Other Name,” in which Fountain, Aciman, and others share hypothetical pseudonyms they’d take on and the works they’d write under those names.

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Homepage photo credit: cinderellasg via photopin cc

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