By David Heinzmann
Marcus' launch party for The Amateurs the other night was a great event, but the best part for me was the new sensation of walking in and immediately feeling at home.
Over the years, I've been pretty self-conscious about writing. Most of my colleagues at the Tribune--even good friends--had no idea I was writing fiction until I told them last summer that my novel was going to be published. It's just not something I advertised. I didn't belong to a writer's group and I didn't have many fiction-writing friends. I figured I'd come out of the closet when I had something real to show for it.
I know this is a deeply flawed approach. One of the ways you improve as a writer, moving toward having something to show for it, is to get out there and let people examine your work--talk about it, tear it to shreds, hear their suggestions, and generally commiserate about how nothing's ever going to come of it.
Why did I avoid all that? I have a handful of excuses, both painful and petty. I've mentioned before that I had an extraordinary writing teacher and mentor in college, A.E. Claeyssens. The summer after I graduated, just as I was setting out to take a year to finish a novel I'd started in his class, he became ill and died. He had been chronically ill for years with complications from liver failure. But he'd lived with so much adversity and pain, his students had come to feel he was industructible. I was devastated. I should have gone out and found some place to be heard, and read, and moved on. But I was crushed and instead retreated inward, feeling nobody would understand the book like he did. I wrote on, but in a funk. When I finished the rough draft I was exhausted and deluded myself into thinking I'd finished something. It withered and died.
When I moved to Chicago a few years later to take a newspaper job, I started writing again and joined a seminar, led by the editor of a literary journal. But it was a lousy experience. The other writers all had long relationships with the instructor, and it felt like they were all picking up a conversation that had merely paused at the end of the last seminar. I found the whole thing cliquish and off-putting. Oh, and they hated my stuff.
Eventually, the crime and corruption I was covering in my day job started to reverberate a little more forcefully in my mind and I began to write crime fiction. I found some safe harbors in which to open those early pages, including falling in love and marrying a woman who was an English major before she became a social worker. A couple of reporter buddies, and a lawyer friend I've known since high school were also supportive and constructive readers. They all helped me shape my voice and sharpen my stories.
I was thinking about all this the other night at Marcus' party. My wife and I walked in late because I'd been on deadline with a whopper of a story for the paper, and I was a little apprehensive that I wouldn't know anybody and we'd just stand in the corner sipping a beer, say hey to Marcus and then slink home. (With a freshly signed hardcover, of course.) But the first person I saw was a novelist I know, Bryan Gruley. The we spotted a reporter I know, who introduced us to the writer with whom he was hanging out. I felt like I belonged there. It was a lot of fun, and gratifying after years of more or less hiding the fact that I was writing fiction in my spare time.
So this is a little bit of the dysfunctional arc of my writing path. I'm interested in other folks' struggles along the way, especially those who are still working toward that first story that makes it over the wall and into a cover. Do you seek solace and support in groups, a few trusted people, or are you going it alone? What's set you back, and what are the moments that have kept you going?
And now back to the news. I mentioned I was on a big deadline last Thursday that made me late for the party. It was for this: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-olympics-real-estate-07-aug07,0,4603832.story?obref=obnetwork
Over the last six months I've branched out from crime reporting and I'm covering Chicago's bid to win the 2016 Olympics. It's starting to get interesting. Tempers are flaring. If you read through the link above, then watch this video to see what I mean about tempers: http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=6954328
And finally, read these, Kass on Daley's blowup: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-kass-09-aug09,0,2011958.column and my Sunday story on the fallout:http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-olympic-real-estate-09-aug09,0,6571115.story I know it's a lot but you're all excellent readers with curious minds.