I read my first novel when I was fourteen, The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins. Swept away by the sheer adventure of it, I began reading two or three novels a week, most of them purchased off the rotating rack at the corner candy store. I read whatever looked interesting, including things like Johnny Got His Gun, Catch 22, Exodus, Alas Babylon, On The Beach, Hawaii, and much more, both good and bad, sublime and ridiculous.
In 1982 my father died after a twelve-month struggle with lung cancer. I was practicing law then, but still reading novels at pretty much the same rate, although by then I had discovered stores where only books were sold. My response to my father’s sickness and death was to write a novel, which I titled That Archangels May Come In. The experience was cathartic of course, but the interesting thing to me, looking back, was that I chose to tell a long story (about a fictional young lawyer losing his father to lung cancer) as the means of that catharsis. Why write a novel? Because, I realized, novels had become as much a part of me as my skeletal system, they were the bones of my intellectual and imaginative life.
Archangels was badly written. One professional reviewer said that it was predictable and clichéd, and he was being kind. But it was a start. It got me thinking. I wanted to write a good novel, I wanted what was in my bones to appear on the printed page, the published printed page. But how to do this while at the same time fighting to make a living in the real world, the world where first novels are million-to-one shots and where kids have to eat every day and mortgages have to be paid every month? The answer: wait, plan, do your job, pay your bills, and when the time comes, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger, to let your angels go so that archangels may come in.
Growth comes in shocks, as Emerson puts it, bursts that seem sudden but that if we examine them we see have really been building for years. Think of divorce, a radical change that obviously doesn’t happen overnight. Radical change, I believe, will happen. Why not get ahead of it? Why not shape it rather than letting it shape you? What is it your heart has been telling you it wants you to do? Answer that question and then make a plan, and then execute that plan. You’ll be surprised at the good things that happen, at the angels who come along to catch you, when you leap into the unknown.
James LePore is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on his work. You can read more about the program here.