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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

How to be a Thoroughly Classy Bestselling Novelist

It was the look of a person realizing you were not who they thought you were—or more specifically, not who they needed you to be. It seemed to me I had a lifetime of those looks ahead; the world felt that full of endless opportunities to let people down, to break their hearts in little ways, in big ways too, each and every day.

(from Help for the Haunted)



I’ve been meaning to write about John Searles’s Help for the Haunted book launch for the past month and a half! I know John from Yaddo, and he features in many of my fondest memories there. At dinner every night he would (jokingly) ask me how many words I’d written that day, and at the Petty Magic launch another joke of his sparked the best moment of the party.

John began Help for the Haunted in earnest during that Yaddo residency. Now that it was his turn again, naturally I had to hop on a bus down to New York to celebrate!


launch at cherry lane

Nick, Cheryl, Sari, John, Rachel, and me at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo by Mike. 


After a reading from the book and a hilarious intro on becoming a writer, John sat down with another bestselling author, Wally Lamb, to talk about how the book came into being. (I can think of one night at Yaddo in particular that may have inspired him—when an antique record player, which we’d tried to use numerous times to no avail, switched on all by itself!)




Listening to these two tremendously accomplished writers in conversation, I was really impressed by how humble and down-to-earth they both are. It’s the egomaniacal novelists who seem to get most of the press—probably because of the human weakness for gossip—but I’m taking this opportunity to celebrate writers like John Searles and Wally Lamb, who spoke with refreshing candor about the challenges they’ve faced. Notice I said John began the novel in earnest at Yaddo—as in, there were several attempts before that (though all equally earnest no doubt). Help for the Haunted was nine years in the writing, which feels like an excruciatingly long time when your previous novels have been so successful. “Other people can write a book every ten seconds,” John said. “I felt like a loser.”

Self deprecation is a slippery slope, of course, but John always kept a healthy balance. He’s a great role model for aspiring writers: he believed in himself even when people told him they didn’t think he had enough talent (don’t we all have at least one story like this?), and though he’s long since proved it, he continually reminds himself of where he came from. I’m so glad I got to attend the sold-out launch and celebrate his richly deserved success.




Can you think of other successful writers you love even more for their modesty? (Cheryl Strayed is the first name that comes to mind, but I can come up with more!)


5 Comments to How to be a Thoroughly Classy Bestselling Novelist

  1. November 5, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Now that’s a great honor you have given to John Searles and Wally Lamb. I am inspired by how so many can overcome those niggling doubts. As you know I have many, but I keep coming back. Hopefully, this will be my story too.

  2. November 5, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Wally Lamb has long been a favorite author of mine. I’m in awe that you got to meet him and hear him speak. I don’t research many authors’ personal lives, but in general I do appreciate modesty in most people. There’s something very human about that quality that helps connect people together.

  3. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    November 5, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that book looks really good (based on its cover)!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.