By Mark Alpert
Here’s the ironic thing: We write books to communicate with others, to share our stories, dreams, jokes, and philosophies, but in order to write those books we have to spend most of our time alone.
I spent twenty years writing novels in my spare time, while I worked as a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and television shows, and then as an editor at Scientific American. And then in 2008 I finally sold my first novel and made enough money that I was able to quit my day job. Which is every fiction writer’s dream, right? So I’m not complaining.
Well, maybe I am, just a little.
It wasn’t long before I started to miss my friends at Sci Am. When I worked there, I never spent more than a couple of hours at a time in my office. Even when I was on deadline, I’d step away from my desk several times over the course of an afternoon, often to chat with my fellow editors, sometimes to go to the break room and see if anyone had left a plate of cookies there (yes, it happened sometimes), and occasionally to take the elevator downstairs and just walk around the block. There were editorial meetings too, where we decided which articles were going to run in the magazine, and although the meetings always ran way too long, there were usually a few good jokes that unexpectedly popped out of the proceedings.
But writing novels full-time is a lonelier business. I arrange lunches with friends, mostly other freelancers who work in their Manhattan apartments. I attend get-togethers of journalists, sometimes at bars, sometimes at public lectures. And I’m in a writing group that meets once a month. Nevertheless, I’ve become something of a hermit. It’s usually a great relief when my wife gets home from work. And now that our kids have gone off to college, I can’t even pester them anymore.
So that’s why I look forward to book parties. I went to a great party in Soho earlier this month to see Paul Davies, a scientist I’ve known for many years, and to get a copy of his new nonfiction book, THE DEMON IN THE MACHINE. In January I went to a party in Astoria where my good friend Nancy Bilyeau read from DREAMLAND, her new novel. And just last week I threw a party to celebrate the publication of my latest thriller, SAINT JOAN OF NEW YORK. We packed into Books of Wonder, a remarkable bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and shared some beer and wine and fruit-and-cheese platters (a time-honored totem of the New York literary scene). After a while the partygoers sat down in folding chairs, and my wife introduced me to the crowd. (That’s my favorite part, because she always says so many nice things about me.) Then I read my novel’s first chapter and answered lots of good questions.
Since then I’ve gone back to work, writing another novel, spending hours bent over my laptop, alone. But at least I have a few photographs from the party (see above and below).