All throughout my adult life, I’ve sought out people who can teach me something new about writing. I’ve taken classes and read writing books. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of interviews with fiction writers. However, my most influential experience came out of an Irish pub. A friend had told me about a Writers’ Roundup event at The Old Irish Court in Downtown Lowell. I wasn’t sure what a roundup even meant but I went anyway.
This event was held in the middle of the day in the middle of February. A Writers’ Roundup turned out to be a sales floor. It was writers selling books to other writers, except there wasn’t much selling going on. A few people disinterestedly buzzed about a dimly lit room lined with folding tables and leather-topped stools. Other people formed clicks in the middle of the floor, chatting merrily with dark pints in their hands.
I didn’t know anyone there, so I thought I’d walk around once and then, go home. That didn’t happen. Instead, one of the people in the click broke free. A lean, gray-haired man walked up to me with his hand extended. He gave his name: Dave Daniels, a mystery writer who spoke with local book clubs. I thought he ran the event. No. He was just there, like me.
“Is anything going to happen?” I asked. “Like what?” He asked back and I wasn’t sure. We went silent for a long second and then, I said, “I heard about this from my writing group.” Dave’s face lit up. He asked me what I wrote and his face didn’t dim as I struggled to describe my two unpublished novels. Dave introduced me around and I felt like a writer. I got to shake hands with people who professionally made the things that I wanted to make. I asked other people about their work because it was easier than stammering on about my books.
Dave introduced me to a man who ran a small press out of New Hampshire. There, I gave my first and only on-the-spot novel pitch. Nothing came of it but I was doing the thing that writers did. It felt good and more importantly, it felt real. Before this point, there was a massive gulf between real writers and what I did. Intellectually, I knew that Stephen King and J.K. Rowling weren’t always successful authors but on another level, I thought they were on a different track than me. Dave Daniels was just a guy and his writer friends were just people. This was a powerful notion, even if it was simple.
Before I left the Roundup, Dave encouraged me to seek out his Popular Fiction class. He said he was teaching at UMass. At the time, I was a 24-year-old college dropout without any plans for the future. I would’ve stayed that way if it wasn’t for that day above a bar. I wanted to take that class and I wanted to be near people who did what I wanted to do, who wrote fiction, poetry, screenplays or even dirty jokes on a bathroom wall. On that day, I knew I wanted to have it all the time.