Saturday, February 23, 2013

Why We Write

by Mark Alpert

One thing’s for sure: We don’t do it for the money. Yes, it’s possible to make a living from writing fiction, but on average it’s one of the least lucrative professions in the whole economy. And forget about fame or adulation from the masses. Have you seen the nasty book reviews posted on Amazon? It’s open season on novelists there. Even the best authors get trashed.

So why do we write? Because of the book parties, baby. There’s nothing like a good party.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting the book party for my new thriller Extinction. The venue was The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, one of my favorite stores in NYC. The shop’s owner is renowned author, editor and publisher Otto Penzler, founder of The Mysterious Press and co-author of the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. Best of all, he’s a Michigan grad. His store has wonderfully tall bookcases and movable ladders for reaching the top shelves, and none of the employees seemed to mind when my kids climbed the ladders and started doing midair acrobatics. Well, they probably did mind, but no one told the kids to cut it out.

I signed a ton of books. I love doing that. Who doesn’t want to be the center of attention every once in a while? My only regret was that the party was too short. Over the course of two hours I could manage to say only three or four sentences to each of the friends who came. These are people I’d love to spend more time with, friends from high school and college and my old jobs at Fortune and Scientific American. These are the parents I see at my son’s Little League tournaments and my daughter’s soccer games, folks who are amazed to see me wearing anything but jeans and T-shirts. (“Oh my God, you own a suit?”) If life were longer and easier, I’d see these people all the time. We’d have brunch, we’d go skiing, we’d get on a plane and fly to Barcelona for the weekend. But in the real world, time’s winged chariot is always hurrying near, and I’m way behind on my next novel. I wrote only 700 words yesterday, so I have to write 1,300 today.

The best part of the event, by far, was my wife’s speech. The spouses of writers have to absorb a lot of bitterness -- who else are you going to complain to when things go wrong? -- so it’s only fair to give them most of the credit when things go well. And she made an excellent point in her brief remarks: book parties are especially important for authors because writing is such a solitary activity. We have to spend so much time with our fictional characters, talking with them and moving them around like chess pieces and inventing quirks and flaws and back stories for them. And sometimes we even fall in love with them. But it’s also nice to hang out with real people for a change.


  1. Mark is too modest to point out that EXTINCTION, the book in whose honor all were gathered, is a great read. So I won't point it out, either.

  2. Well now I have a goal to shoot for! A really awesome party.

  3. Just throw the party & write the book about it. Cheers!

    Best wishes on your new endeavor, Mark. The Mysterious Bookshop is great.

  4. Way to go Mark! I do love seeing another science geek get his props. Can't wait to read Extinction.

  5. At a local book festival the poets were selling a t-shirt with the following written across the front:

    POETRY: I'm only in it for the money

    Re: Book Reviewers—Next time you’re cruising Costco or K-Mart, just look around. There they all are: Reviewers. Think about it. :)

  6. Hope you thoroughly enjoyed your party and best wishes with your new release :-)

  7. EXTINCTION is the best science thriller I've read in some time--and I read most of them. Any party you have with supportive fans is well-deserved!

  8. You look like a very happy man there Mark. I've never done a real book party like that but have spoken at a couple different events at the Alaska Writer's Guild and find the personal interaction with readers to be the custom hand made whipped cream and brandy sauce on the creative dish.

    One of these days I expect to do a book party like this, but in the mean time seeing the happy look on your face here gives me the feeling that you love what you do.

    I did have a book party once...a tea party...just me and my books...with a kid's tea set. Two things I learned: 1. books don't have thumbs and therefore cannot lift a teacup. 2. I don't look good in a princess tea-dress.

  9. Congratulations Mark! It's all about doing what you love... and if you can earn a living from it, even better. :-)