My status changed last week: I became a published novelist when my first novel, Adam Unrehearsed came out on Tuesday, from Wicked Son.
I read all the time – newspapers, magazines, columns, commentaries, articles, reviews. But when it comes to books, to my daily diet of words, to quote Saul Bellow, the main ingredients for me are novels.
I learn much out of what I know about the world, how things works, about cultures that are not my own or are exactly my own, about how people think and behave, people who are very much like me or not like me at all, and I learn so much of what I know about the appetites that drive men and women and the passions which drive them crazy – I learn all this from novels. Novels move me and entertain me. And I love novels because at the end of the day, just like at the beginning of the day, I really love a good story.
I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was in elementary school and wrote a murder mystery in which the butler did it. I thought I was being very clever by adhering to expectations rather than defying them and the fact that I’d never seen a butler other than Mr. French on Family Affair didn’t seem to matter. In high school I surreptitiously passed around stories in history class until my favorite teacher caught my friend Bernie reading under his desk, snatched my unfinished handwritten manuscript away from him, glanced at it, then started reading, laughed out loud, and still standing next to Bernie, read all the way to the end, while the class watched, myself included, a bit dumbfounded. My teacher, Mr. Elenko, hung my story on the bulletin board, told the class anyone could borrow it during our lunch break but to put it back afterwards, and told me to bring in the ending in as soon as possible since this was history class and we needed to know where things were going.
I barely survived college fiction writing workshops. Overly articulate showoffs, we took turns skewering each other’s private exposures now made public, forgetting somehow that we’d be on the hot seat next.
Later my friend Yossi Klein Halevi gave me Dorothea Grande’s book, Becoming a Writer. I diligently practiced the exercises and slowly developed the habit of writing I had failed to acquire at university. My first Apple Macintosh, which I bought in 1984, transformed my life. Rather than a maze of poorly typed strips of paper and paragraph fragments covered with cross-outs, scotch taped together and often misplaced, I could now turn false starts and sentence revisions into puzzle pieces to move around on screen.
Adam Unrehearsed is a coming-of-age comedy about a 12-year-old Jewish boy in New York in 1970 during the run-up to his bar mitzvah, coming to terms with gangs, anti-Semitism, death and ostracism while also falling in love with acting. Although this is my first novel, I have written for much of my adult life.
Writing for me is not about putting my thoughts down on paper, it’s a way of discovering what I think. It’s not only sharing my imagination with others, it’s following my imagination where it wanders, trailing characters and storylines to places I hadn’t expected to go, making connections unexpected only a moment before. It lets me imagine people I’ve invented or amalgamated from people I know, in situations I’ve invented, reconstructing my past in scenarios that never happened, all the while, learning to bend and reshape these elements to fit the needs of the plot. By telling my readers a story, I hope to take them away from their own lives and to remind them of their lives as well, and above all, to capture their attention by, so they will ask, “and then what? What happens next?“
Writing makes me more observant of myself and of other people, makes me notice details in the physical universe I would otherwise ignore, and most of all, it allows me to turn my innate and deep-seated tendency to live in my head into a strength rather than only a liability.
A friend of mine, a wonderful writer herself, said to me, you better like the novel you’re writing because you’re going to end up reading it about 75 times, which I thought was hyperbole but in the end was not an exaggeration. Writing a novel, and getting it published, is a marathon rather than a sprint so to know that I can complete a marathon after running many sprints in my life is pleasing.
We have postponed all book launch events because of the situation here in Israel, and our publication day celebration was very low key, with only my private cheering section, my wife and daughter, and my two sons calling in at the same time from different places in the world, as we devoured a Ben and Jerry’s and a brownie cake covered with a sugar sheet reproduction of the cover of Adam Unrehearsed.
Still, my friend Noah Efron passionately promoted the book on TLV1’s The Promised Podcast, and there are ingenious posts, reviews and interviews on sites curated by amazing booklovers who light up the internet, thanks to my publicist and marketer working away in New York, all of which helped Adam Unrehearsed make it on to an Amazon Bestseller list.
I can’t tell you what it all means to me yet, beyond a shift occurring deep inside. I can say that to finally place my own novel on the shelf between two favorites – James McBride’s The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store and Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers – is in a quiet but significant way, deeply gratifying.