I Never Wanted to Be a Writer by Juliette Fay
From earliest memory, I’ve made up elaborate stories in my head, but as a young person it didn’t occur to me to turn this into a career. I didn’t know any writers. And when I read books, which I did hungrily and unceasingly, I never really thought about who was plugging away to produce them.
Fast forward through a career in human services, marriage, children … and through fifteen years of my husband, who knew my deep love for words and storytelling, badgering me to write a book. I used to say, “Honey, we’ve got a bunch of little maniacs running around here. You write a book.”
By 40, I was home full time with four young kids. I felt physically exhausted and mentally flaccid. Was it mid-life crisis time? Oh, yes. Yes, it was.
I was desperate for something that was mine, that would jumpstart my battery-low synapses, and didn’t involve wiping anything (spills, noses, bottoms). Secretly I wanted to try writing a novel, but I couldn’t imagine even starting until the kids were older.
Weirdly enough, my writing career was launched by a neighbor’s book swap. I teased her that it was really a book dump, because people left far more books than they took away. Desperate to get rid of them, she said, “Here, take this one. You’re going on vacation. It’s a beach read.”
It was the worst book I’ve ever read. The plot was ridiculous, the dialogue was absurd, and the characters were caricatures. Fascinated by its badness, I couldn’t put it down.
It had an interesting premise, though, and my brain, as it often does, began to churn on how I would use it. Characters, conversations and an entirely different story arc began to bloom in my mind. The difference this time, however, was my desperation to find something that was mine alone, the relaxed pace of a family beach vacation, and the provocation of a squandered premise. It was the perfect storm I needed.
And so, instead of just thinking my stories as I had done all my life, I began to write this one down. And I fell in love—with my characters and their problems, but also with words that I could go back to and rearrange, expand or delete altogether if I felt like it. I was in love with the process.
I was very secretive about it. I didn’t want anyone to think that I thought I was smart enough to write a novel. But by the time I finished, I had shown it to three friends, one a writer and two avid readers, and they encouraged me to try and get it published.
Many rejections later, I did get an agent, but the novel never sold. I’m happy about that now because in retrospect it was a practice novel, and I certainly needed the practice. This didn’t deter me from continuing to write; after all, the original goal hadn’t been publication. I just loved doing it.
People often ask the name of the bad book that started it all. I keep the secret out of respect for the author, who put time and effort into producing it. I have a bad book of my own now, and I have no less love for it than I do for any of my other more successful novels.
Who knows, maybe if it had ended up on a bookstore shelf, someone would have read it and said, “Wow, this stinks. Even I can do better than that.” And another writer would have been born.
Juliette Fay’s first novel, Shelter Me, was a 2009 Massachusetts Book Award “Book of the Year.” Her second novel, Deep Down True, was short-listed for the Women’s Fiction award by the American Library Association. Her third, The Shortest Way Home, is due out October 30. Juliette received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s degree from Harvard University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children.
Visit her at http://juliettefay.com/
-Library Journal, Starred Review