Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Renee Rosen, author of "Every Crooked Pot"

One of the first questions I'm asked when people find out I've published a novel is, "How long did it take you to write it?" When I tell them it took about 17 years, I watch their jaws drop and after the look of shock dissipates, I know they're expecting me to have produced a masterpiece along the lines of War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past. They can't imagine how it could have taken me all those years to write a semi-autobiographical, coming of age story. How could that be? Well...

After nearly a decade of ill-fated attempts and four or five unpublishable manuscripts, I was accepted into a weeklong writing workshop in Santa Monica with the future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Michael Cunningham. It was a week that would change me as a writer and set me on a path I never intended to travel.

We were given an exercise about childhood memories and after years of searching outside myself for 'the big story,' I finally looked inside my life and plucked something from my personal archives to write about. Never, in nearly 12 years of writing, did it ever occur to me to write about what it was like growing up with a birthmark over my eye. I never saw the story tucked inside my childhood peppered with teasing classmates, staring strangers, doctor visits and experimental medical treatments. But after that workshop, I realized that the story I should be telling was the one already inside of me.

It should have been a straight shot, right? Hardly. I wrote in fits and starts and several times I nearly abandoned the project for good. I didn't want to write a memoir and fortunately my condition was never as severe as my narrator's, but still, I had to learn how to draw on my personal experiences and write a novel. That meant I had to find a way to make my characters compelling, my narrative cohesive and most importantly, I had to find Nina's voice. After about five years, I thought I was there but when I was rejected by more agents than I care to remember, frustration kicked in and I put the novel aside. Several years passed and in that time, I cranked out two or three other novels that in retrospect, I'm grateful never went anywhere.

Then the bottom of my world fell out when my father passed away after a brief illness. Because Artie Goldman, the father in Every Crooked Pot, was inspired by my own father, I pulled the novel from the drawer and gave it another read. It certainly wasn't publishable, but I did feel there was something worthwhile on those pages and in a way, I saw it -- even in its crude form -- as a chance to pay tribute to my father. So, I went to work on it again.

After many rounds of rewrites, I was finally able to get the novel where it needed to be-it was not a memoir, but a work of fiction that stemmed from my own experiences, but was still very separate from me, my family and my friends. And yet it still managed to pay homage to my father.

So, after 17 years, while I may not have produced the next tome like Tolstoy or Proust, I did finally learn how to tell the story closest to my heart. And I'm a different writer today for having done that.

To learn more about this author's work, please visit Renee Rosen's website.


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Comments from our users:

Saturday August 4th 2007, 10:17 AM
Comment by: Virginia L.
As a fiction writer, I relate to her story. It stirred my own juices.
Saturday August 4th 2007, 4:42 PM
Comment by: Kathleen C.
Reassuring, that's for sure!

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