How David Bell Became a Writer

October 2, 2011 — 1 Comment

I didn’t even try to get a “real” job. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted to go to graduate school for writing someday. So I didn’t try to do anything else. I worked, of course, because I needed money. But I chose jobs–bartender, bookstore clerk, telemarketer–that weren’t really taking me anywhere. I could work them for the amount of time I needed to, and then I could write.

David Bell is the author of three novels including the recently released CEMETERY GIRL from Nal/Penguin. His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals including Cemetery Dance, Western Humanities Review and Backwards City Review. In preparation for his life as a writer, he worked as a delivery driver, film projectionist, telemarketer, and bookstore clerk before attending graduate school at Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. He currently teaches English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY.

Visit his web page:

Read more by and about David:

Novel: Cemetery Girl
Video: Bell discusses novel
Article about filming the trailer

[Cemetery Girl will be released this week on Oct. 4. Check out David’s author tour, and if you’re in the South Bend area, please attend his reading at IU South Bend on Oct. 13!]

How David Bell Became a Writer

This is the latest installment in the new How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to David for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

It started with reading, of course. When I was a kid I lived in a house full of books and newspapers and magazines. My parents read all the time. If you were to ask me to picture my dad right now, I would picture him in our living room on Ferncroft Drive in Cincinnati reading a paperback book with a cigar in his mouth. We went to the library and bookstores on a regular basis. If I went to the drugstore or grocery store with my dad, he stopped to browse the paperbacks. It was inevitable that I would love reading and books, and I think from there it was a natural progression to say that I would like to tell my own stories someday.

While I always had some deep desire to write, I didn’t do a lot of it when I was young. I took a creative writing class in high school and one more in college, but that was pretty much it. I hear a lot of writers who say they started writing as soon as they came out of the womb, but I wasn’t like that. I took writing seriously after college when I tried to write every day and made my first attempts at a novel. I really became serious in my mid to late twenties when I actually finished the draft of an unpublished novel.

View the creepy, awesome trailer and just try not to order the book immediately! -phd

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

I chose not to have a career. This sounds funny, but I really did think about that. Part of it was circumstantial: I majored in English and minored in History, so there weren’t a lot of jobs for me coming out of college. But I didn’t even try to get a “real” job. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted to go to graduate school for writing someday. So I didn’t try to do anything else. I worked, of course, because I needed money. But I chose jobs–bartender, bookstore clerk, telemarketer–that weren’t really taking me anywhere. I could work them for the amount of time I needed to, and then I could write. When I felt I was ready, I went back to school to get my Master’s degree in creative writing.

For writers just starting out, I think every step is a turning point. It’s exciting to send stories out for the first time. It’s exciting to get rejection letters for the first time because it means someone read the story. (We hope.) Obviously, it was a big deal to begin publishing stories, even if the magazines were small and they paid in copies. The biggest turning point was publishing my first novel, THE CONDEMNED. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I walked around thinking to myself, “Well, at least you won’t die without publishing a book.” In general, writing success has made me a better driver. The day after my agent called with my latest book deal, I had to go on a road trip. I remember obeying the speed limit and traffic laws to the letter. I couldn’t die without telling someone the news.

3. Who helped you along the way, and how? 

A lot of people, of course, starting with my parents and their love of reading. I had a teacher in high school, Mr. Hendrick, who really cared about his students. He once wrote on one of my papers, “Maybe you’d like to be a writer one day.” I’d been thinking it, but here was an adult who said it to me. I figured it must be okay to want to do that if an adult–a smart adult–thinks it’s okay.

I had a lot of great teachers who encouraged me. In my Master’s program Constance Pierce, Jim Reiss and Eric Goodman provided a great deal of encouragement and support. My dissertation director at the University of Cincinnati, Brock Clarke, gave me a great blurb for the novel and took the time to discuss agents and editors and the business side of things with me on more than one occasion. By and large, most writers, even really successful ones, are willing to help those coming along behind them. I’ve been able to get blurbs from writers I really respect and admire. Three writers in particular have really gone to the mat for me over the last few years: Ed Gorman, Greg Gifune, and Tom Monteleone. They’ve all gone way above and beyond the call of duty on my behalf, and it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

There are so many different qualities I admire in different writers that I feel I could find some piece of inspiration in any writer’s life. But I do find myself admiring writers who persevere, endure, and write prolifically. Ed Gorman, who I mentioned above, is one of those writers. He’s written in a lot of genres, and while he’s not exactly a household name, he should be. It doesn’t matter what he writes–mystery, western, coming-of-age–his stories will grab you and break your heart.

I’ll mention another writer who I only heard of in the last year–Rosemary Sutcliff. She died in 1992, and she came to my attention because Hollywood made a movie from one of her books. The movie was called THE EAGLE and it starred Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum, but the book, which was published in 1954, is called THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH. I read that book over spring break last year, and it’s been a long time since I was so taken by a story. It’s a simple story set in Roman Britain of a young man trying to find out what happened to his father beyond Hadrian’s Wall, but it’s beautifully written and powerful, with adventure and romance to spare. I want to read everything else she’s written.

Rosemary Sutcliffe

Rosemary Sutcliff was confined to a wheelchair for most of her life as the result of a rare disease, but it didn’t stop her imagination or her writing. And to think of a book lasting so long and finding a new life as this book did–all writers dream of that. We hope we can reach readers far away and across time and achieve just a little touch of immortality through our words. I like the idea of someone finding one of my books at a yard sale or in a thrift store and making a connection to it.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

My advice for aspiring writers would be simple: Don’t give up. I really don’t believe in talent. I don’t think it exists and, if it does, I don’t think it does anyone a damn bit of good. I think most people who achieve anything as writers, people who sustain careers over any length of time, do it because they never gave up or gave in. Let’s face it–the world really doesn’t care if you write or not. They just plain don’t. It’s possible your own family doesn’t care whether you write or not. If you have the guts and determination to persist in the face of all of that and the long odds that face all writers, then you’ll probably get somewhere. It helps to be stubborn. It helps to be a little naive and think the odds don’t apply to you.

And maybe that’s what I wish I knew then that I know now. I wish I understood when I was twenty-two what a worthwhile asset my iron-willed stubbornness really is. If I knew I had years worth of determination in me I would have worried less. But, then again, maybe the worry kept me going. I used to think I wasn’t good at anything because I never stuck with anything. I quit jobs, hobbies, friendships, towns etc. But I had my thinking backward–I didn’t leave those things because I wasn’t good at them. I left them because I wasn’t interested in them. And the thing I was most interested in ended up being the thing I was good at. Coincidence? I don’t think so.


One response to How David Bell Became a Writer


    I liked what you had to say in your letter to an inspiring writer like myself. Thank you.
    One just needs to believe in oneself.

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