20 December 2013

How Adelle Waldman Became A Novelist

One of the truest, winciest books I read this year about being a young person in New York was the debut novel THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. It had been a while since I read a book that wasn't merely emotionally true or factually true, but which had practically taken place in front of me, and I give Adelle Waldman all credit for that. 

How did Waldman spy on all my friends' dinners and parties all those years, and then get it all on paper? Was she, like the titular character of her novel, an overnight success after years of scraping by? As Waldman recently revealed in a Buzzfeed round-up of author advice, she left the city and moved back in with her parents, documenting the decision in a regular Wall Street Journal column she wrote at the time called Act One: 
"[W]riting a column about twentysomething issues... made it hard for me to ignore the impending 3-0: After all, what happens to a twentysomething columnist when she turns 30? It seems the standard retirement age of 65 wouldn't apply."With that birthday in mind, in the last year I've thought about what my long-term goals are and what kinds of risks I'm willing to take -- the kinds of issues I've written about in this column. Eventually I made a difficult and scary decision: to take time off from journalism to work on writing fiction."That's right. Instead of getting older and becoming more sensible as we often imagine we are supposed to, it appears I'm becoming less pragmatic, if also more anxiety-ridden.... Six months from now, I hope either to have finished the novel or gotten the dream out of my system. Then, I'll be willing to give a regular full-time job the focus of my attention."
Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal found another columnist for what we would now call millennials' issues, and Waldman wrote her first book while subletting her apartment and living with her parents in Baltimore (also Nathaniel P's home city, if I recall correctly). Looking through her old columns (alas, all behind the paywall), it's clear that Waldman was listening and paying attention all the time to the way her subjects talked among each other -- insight she was able to use in her first book. (That wasn't NATHANIEL P, by the way -- but I'm sure some publishers would like to know if they can publish it anyway!)

Clearly also the separation from the city helped Waldman, even if her move back wasn't completely smooth. "I thought that book would sell right away and everything would be great and I’d never need to have a regular job again. Then that novel didn’t get published and I wound up tutoring for six years," she told Buzzfeed. Still, she says that finished project gave her the confidence to eventually write and publish NATHANIEL P. As Ernest Hemingway wrote in A MOVEABLE FEAST, "Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough."

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