So last year I wrote a novel about my worst fear: the death of
bookstores. The story came to me in a flash, in response to something
that was happening around me at that very moment, but for a few months
I fought against the idea of writing it. I'm a nonfiction writer, with
four books on the shelf and fifth one in the works. Surely jumping into
fiction would be a risky career move at this point.
But the fact is that when I'm not doing research for one of my own
books, I read nothing but novels. I was that kid who always wanted to
be a writer when she grew up, and it was not nonfiction that inspired
me. It was fiction. So eventually I decided to quit fighting the
impulse. I cleared my schedule and gave myself a little time to write a
novel. I didn’t tell anyone—not my agent, not my editor. I didn’t write
a book proposal or seek out a book contract. I didn’t worry about the
marketing plan. I just wrote.
And it was glorious. Delicious and delirious and intoxicating.
Here’s what I loved about it: when you write fiction, you get to make
stuff up. For me, as a nonfiction writer wedded to facts and research,
that felt risky and transgressive. I wrote for several hours every day,
thinking all the while, "Can I really do this?" If I got bored with a
character, I could drive him off a cliff. If I hated the house I'd
constructed for one of my characters to live in, I could burn it down.
Being a character in a novel-in-progress, I realized, is dangerous
business: mine were subjected to sex changes, disastrous love affairs,
and run-ins with the law, all because I wanted to test the limits of my
Really, it was amazing. There was no fact-checking, no deadline, and
no contract to fulfill. Just the sheer joy of telling a story that
delighted the hell out of me. And because I was working in complete
obscurity, I didn’t even worry about whether it was any good. I just
But now what? Well, I've decided to undertake a little experiment. I'm releasing it in digital form as a kind of beta test, a way to get feedback from readers. You can read all about it here. And if you own a Kindle or an iPhone, you can download a copy. If you own a Sony Reader or if you want to read it on your computer, you can do that, too.
What about a print version, you ask? That may be coming soon. Stay tuned.
Here, by the way, is a preview, courtesy of Scribd, the document-sharing site that is fast becoming the YouTube of text.