1. Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
No. I was thirty-six years old before I started writing. I always thought that in order to be a writer, you had to be English and dead. On top of that, I’m an immigrant and my parents encouraged me to go into practical careers. (“Be a dentist. Everyone has a mouth.”) I only started writing in order to share my stories with my children. I never thought anyone outside my family and writers’ group would read them.
2. Is it possible to make a living as a writer?
I have a few friends who have sold millions of books and who are able to support themselves solely through writing. I am so envious! Most of us have other jobs that pay the bills. I, for example, give speeches.
If you are going into writing to make money, don’t bother. You will be far better off becoming a dentist. Remember that everyone has a mouth.
3. Can you review something I have written?
Most writers, myself included, do not have the time to read someone’s else’s work and critique it. This is not a small favor. Also, most writers will not do this for legal reasons. No one wants to be accused of stealing someone else’s material. There are editors who will do this for a fee. (I’m not even sure how good they are. Be wary of people trying to make money out of aspiring writers.) I suggest joining a writers’ group and having other members comment on your work.
4. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Every writer I know is an avid reader. Also, write, write, write, then rewrite. Join a writers’ group and get feedback from people who are not in your family. (Do not ask family members for feedback. That never ends well.) Remind yourself that some of the best writers in the world were not published until they were much older. Writing, unlike being a supermodel or a professional ice-skater, is one of the few professions where age is actually an advantage. Do not think that your goal is to be published. Your goal should be to produce something that you think is wonderful. That might take you a very long time, and that’s okay.
5. How did you get published?
When I was thirty-six years old, I joined a writers group. I wrote and rewrote my stories, then looked for an agent. After almost one year of rejections, I found an agent who was the friend of a cousin of a mom at my kids’ school. My agent secured me a publishing contract. Then the real work began, the marketing. I spoke at senior homes, Rotary Clubs, schools, libraries, even at an assessors meeting. I gave so many speeches about my Iranian childhood that I thought I should invent a Swedish childhood, just for variety’s sake. I still give speeches but I am now part of a lecture agency, so I get paid for my work. But it wasn’t always so. I had to pay my dues. There are no short cuts. If there were, I would have taken them. All I can say is work hard and keep trying, leverage small connections, and put yourself out there. Every artist has his own path and part of being an artist is finding your unique path.