There is an exhilarating if fairly embarrassing moment in the life of virtually every first-time published author. It’s something we certainly don’t want to be observed doing, at least not by anyone who might know us. It’s something we do anonymously. It’s a kind of secret vice. And it isn’t, to be entirely truthful, only first-time authors who do it. In fact, humiliating as this is to own up to, I personally did it last week upon the publication of my fourth novel, The Woman in Black.
But this anecdote isn’t about me, it’s about my great old friend Zachary Leader, who frequently tells it on himself. And the truth is, as I’ve indicated, it could have happened to virtually any published writer.
It occurred back in the summer of 1990. Zach was visiting his mother in L.A. — the city in which he’d been born and where he’d spent the first 15 years of his life — from London, where he currently lives. His first book had just been published, a probing, scholarly study of writers who suddenly find themselves unable to write, and of the variety of theories historically proposed to explain their mysterious creative impotence.
Excited by the appearance of his first major publication, on his second day in L.A. he made his way to Book Soup in West Hollywood, the great bookstore conveniently near his mother’s house, and did a version of what I’ve alluded to, something as I say we writers feel compelled to do anonymously both because it feels so tacky and because doing so adds to the thrill. He approached the front desk and asked, “Do you happen to have Writers’ Block by Zachary Leader in stock?” And the woman at the front desk looked at him for a moment and said, “Well, we did have a copy…but your mom was in here yesterday and she bought it.”