Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Grateful Author Story #5: 4.0 GPA

Therese Fowler, whose debut, SOUVENIR, will be published by Ballantine, confesses, "I don’t yet have tales (good or awful) from my 'career,' per se." But she has a lovely story of how she became a novelist:

I was 33 years old and in my final undergraduate semester at NC State University. My favorite class that semester was science fiction author and critic John Kessel’s course on—what else?— Science Fiction. I’d chosen the class as the lesser of evils, filling a requirement for an integrated science-and-humanities class. Though not a reader of SF, I was convinced that ANY class where I got to read fiction was better than the alternatives. Mostly I was desperate to finish my degree and move on to “real life” and a career in the field of my major, Sociology.

Kessel’s course turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. Not only did I learn how smart and relevant good SF is, I learned that good writing and intellectual inquiry resulted in terrific stories. The course also turned out to be life-altering.

In reading really good fiction, my own latent desire to write was provoked. When Kessel gave the class the option to write a short story in lieu of a research paper at the end of term, I jumped at the chance—in part (I’ll be honest) because it seemed easier than the research paper, and I was trying very hard to finish my degree with a 4.0 grade-point average.

However, I’d never before written a complete story. I had notebooks filled with ideas and character sketches and story openings, but hadn’t looked at or added to them in many years. So I was anxious, but also determined to do well. I decided to get started on the story early so that Kessel could review it and make suggestions for revision before the due date.

When I had a draft ready for him to read, I turned it in and set up a meeting for a few days later. That day came and I arrived at his office with sweaty palms. Suppose he thought the story was awful? Suppose I had to scrap it and do the research paper after all? Suppose I got a lousy grade and blew my chance for a 4.0? Worst of all, suppose I had no writing talent whatsoever?

I sat down in the chair next to Kessel’s desk and waited while he found the draft and reviewed the comments he’d written out. And then he said the words that, in essence, gave me permission to try to become a novelist:

“Have you written fiction before?”

I told him about my notebooks. “This,” I said, “is my first actual story.”

“You’re sure.”

I was sure.

He said, “I think you have real promise as a writer of fiction.”

If not for John Kessel’s kind and encouraging words, I might not have ever taken my writing desires seriously. But because a professional, well-respected author told me I had promise, I believed I could take a chance. And now, six years later, I have a novel under contract with Random House/Ballantine and seven foreign publishers.

One moment of kindness and encouragement can go a long, long way.

1 comment:

Carleen Brice said...

And yet another one of my "Ballantine buddies" for whom I'm grateful! :) Thanks for sharing!