Today is the official release date of Totally Killer, my first novel.

That’s what my oh-so-brief bio leads you to believe, anyway. “This is his first novel,” it says, as if I’d suddenly decided, after floundering about for the first thirty-five years of my life, to bang out a book, and a few months later, voilà.

As Hemingway concluded in his first novel, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The truth is, Totally Killer is my fifth novel, which is actually a soup-to-nuts re-write of my third novel. My third novel, in turn, was an adaptation of a screenplay I tossed off in college, circa 1993. (My screenwriter phase, which followed my poetry phase and my rock star phase, lasted about as long as the average Peter Jackson movie, or until I realized that a writer has as much control over an optioned screenplay as an astronomer does a lunar eclipse). My first published novel? Sure—but hardly the first one I completed.

That would be My Brain is Full, two-hundred-twenty-two pages of pretentious drivel concerning a college student’s creative frustration. A twenty-one-year-old creatively frustrated college student wrote a novel about a twenty-one-year-old creatively frustrated college student—imagine that! Somehow, would-be publishers couldn’t locate the needle of originality in the haystack of been-there-done-that.

Next came Babylon is Fallen, a lamentable hundred-thousand-word gothic opus involving the dawn of the End of Days at a small liberal arts college. Then the first incarnation of Totally Killer, under the original title, Quid Pro Quo. Then the first two halves of two unfinished novels. Then another complete (albeit flawed) novel, which won me an agent but not a publisher.

Only after all of that did I crank out Totally Killer. If you’re counting at home, that’s four full novels plus two half-novels—over two thousand pages of fiction—before my presumed debut hit the press.

I suppose it’s more romantic to suggest that Totally Killer is, in addition to being my first published novel, also my first attempt at writing one. Makes it sound like I’m a natural, a gifted literary genius who is now batting a thousand, when in fact I’ve been toiling in the minors for a looooong time. I’m more of a utility infielder than a Derek Jeter. And utility infielders, as everyone knows, don’t sell books.

(Sidenote: In French, jeter is a verb meaning to throw. A name for a pitcher, not a shortstop).

Not that all novelists bloom as late as I did. It stands to reason that the Ian McEwans and Claire Messuds and Zadie Smiths of the world—you know, the supremely gifted talents; the ones we all hate—weren’t fibbing when they said, “Such-and-such is my first novel.” Like, I’m sure John Updike didn’t have a file cabinet full of rejected manuscripts when his literary ship came in. And V. was almost certainly Thomas Pynchon’s first attempt at the novel, although he’d published some short stories first.

(Sidenote: Pynchon is married to his agent. How does that work? Do they have separate bank accounts? When they go to dinner, does he pay the check while she leaves a 15% tip? Tom—please give us the skinny).

A quick poll of TNB contributors shows that I’m not the only one with a bulging file cabinet:

  • Richard Cox wrote one complete novel and large chunks of two others before teleporting to success with Rift—and that first novel, he reports, underwent ten major rewrites. Ten!
  • As the stones of old churches are used to build grander cathedrals, so two previous novels were “pillaged” (her word) to make The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, Jessica Anya Blau’s debut.
  • Gina Frangello burned through three novels and two literary agents (!) before placing My Sister’s Continent herself.
  • Jonathan Evison supposedly has a drawerful of unpublished novels older than All About Lulu, including one, legend has it, buried in a hole in the ground somewhere west of here. (Dig it!)
  • Before Banned for Life, D.R. Haney had one finished novel and the beginnings of another under his (studded leather) belt.
  • Even Our Fearless Leader, Brad Listi, estimates his pre-Attention. Deficit. Disorder. novel output at four.

More tellingly, not a single person I asked hit the jackpot on the first try. A small sample size, sure, but big enough for our purposes—this isn’t one of my wife’s Research Methods papers, after all, or some lost Malcolm Gladwell manuscript.

Nor did everyone explicitly state that their maiden voyage into print was also their maiden voyage into novelhood. Duke, in the Banned For Life bio, admits that this “is his first published novel” (italics mine).

That said, there appears to be a tacit attempt to create the illusion that a literary debut is a virgin foray, when it is usually the first honorable consummation after many drunken one-night stands in the graffiti-plastered and vomit-strewn bathrooms of dive bars in sketchy neighborhoods frequented by leather-clad, mustachioed men who ride Harleys. Or something like that.

Wherefore the Clintonian prevarication? Perhaps there is an element of shame involved. Perhaps, like my immigrant Neapolitan cousins who accepted, upon arrival, my American-born grandfather’s generous benefaction, only to turn an eternal cold shoulder to him once they were soundly on their New World feet, debut novelists, after popping their publishing cherries, disavow their unpublished juvenilia, casting those early manuscripts into the proverbial fire. Presto—first-time novelist! Easy enough to accomplish, if a search for your name on Amazon.com comes up empty. Good luck proving Totally Killer isn’t my first true novel, if you’re not my wife or the English professor who let me turn in My Brain is Full in lieu of a final for my Milton class (thanks, Dr. Shulman).

Or it might be that we were taught that unpublished novels plumb don’t count. In my case, this was drilled into my head years ago by a helpful literary agent—perhaps the same charmer for whom Liz Collins toiled—who, when presented with my “literary résumé” of projects that were shall-we-say not available in bookstores, and which I had mentioned only to demonstrate my commitment to the craft—noted in the margins of my rejection letter, “Only cite published work.”


Most readers won’t care that Totally Killer is really my fifth novel, not my first. I realize that. (Hey, if you get right down to it, most readers won’t care about Totally Killer, period. Although I hope a few of them do, because I owe money all over town). Unless you’re an aspiring novelist seeking solace (take note, Jedi!), does it matter that Bret Easton Ellis wrote two novels before Less Than Zero, or that Salman Rushdie wrote seven novels—one two three four five six seven, ye gods!—before crossing the River Jordan into the literary Promised Land?

But why skirt the truth? Why not come clean about all the work that goes in to getting published? Is it not a badge of honor to have done the time, waded through piles of rejection letters knee-deep, motivated by nothing but a vague and increasingly moribund faith in one’s writing talents? Yes, it says here.

Not that I’m an expert or anything. After all, this is my first novel.

76 Original Comments:

2009-09-29 02:39:39

Isn’t there some Elmore Leonard quote or another about the necessity of a writer having to serve an apprenticeship that’s measured in the number of words written, rather than the usual rate of time spent?

Anxiously awaiting Totally Killer, Greg. In fact, as I look down from writing this, I realise that I actually am sitting on the edge of my seat.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-09-29 03:37:44

First off, congrats, Greg.

My first finished novel was lost when the computer on which it was stored died. Yes, I’d failed to make a backup copy, and a friend was supposed to help me retrieve the information on the dead computer at no cost, but you get what you pay for, or, more to the point, what you don’t.

I’d abandoned the book by then anyway. That was one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through: the realization that I’d written something that didn’t work, and being clueless as to how to make it right. Not that I didn’t try. But there was a fatal flaw at the heart of the book, which I finally had to admit or suffer fruitlessly still more at the keyboard.

Still, some good came of it. The book was told from three points of view, only one of which felt truly “authentic,” and that voice greatly informed the voice that narrates Banned.

I think people have a desire to believe that things come easily. It’s like the old myth of Lana Turner being discovered while sitting at the counter of Schwab’s Drugstore: pure happenstance; no hard work. But writing is the hardest work I know — so hard that when people tell me they envy me for having written a novel, that writing is their “dream job,” I wonder why. I suppose, in some cases, they’re remembering having confessed their innermost thoughts to journals and the relief it brought. There’s no such relief in writing a novel — or none that I’ve experienced.

Oh, and Simon, I’d hoped to set you up with a copy of Totally Killer while you were in Cali, but, as you may or may not remember, circumstances interfered.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 03:51:03

Thanks, Duke.

I almost lost that 100,000 word second novel. My friend had it on his computer, or it would be gone forever. But it’s a piece of crap…so many flaws! But we need to have those.

And Simon, man, I tried to get you that copy. Mercury retrograde and all. Ugh…

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2009-09-29 04:00:57

Heh. The Universe had your back on that one, guys… my copy’s been on pre-order for a while now. Well before I headed to LA.

2009-09-29 03:02:02

Congratulations, man. I look forward to reading your book. I’m taking a trip to Seoul in a couple of weeks and there’s one (that’s right, one in the whole fucking shitty country) bookstore that will order English language books. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I’m on my fifth book and still waiting for the one that people want to publish, read or whatever. Anyway, I’m still young. There’s plenty of time.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 03:51:29

The fifth time’s a charm!

Thanks, man, and good luck.

Comment by Elizabeth Collins |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:02:04

So true, Greg–we’ve all been there (at least I hope we have, because I really kind of hate those people who just get lucky immediately).

My Macbook just died and I thought I lost my two unpublished novels…and even though I have them on a flash drive, it’s not the same (as I am sure there are plenty of changes I neglected to back up), and I was feeling pretty despondent last week…

Anyway, my two have each been through several rewrites and the first novel probably requires still more.

I was just at a post-reunion party and people are asking me about my novels. It’s really hard to explain how long the process takes (and the fact that even after you write it and rewrite it, and find an agent and go through all that HELL, you still might not sell it, and even if you do sell it, it might not really net you all that much money and people might not really buy it, either).

People have Dan Brown or Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult blindness–as if the world of a writer is all just like that.

Good luck with Totally Killer. I am enjoying it right now, and I especially love the top-notch vocabulary you employ (with stunning regularity). No, seriously. I could see TK being taught in high school or college because of the vocab. I haven’t gotten to the dirty parts yet.

Comment by Don Mitchell |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:14:15

Elizabeth: Time Machine is your friend (assuming you’re on Leopard or Snow Leopard). All you need is an external drive, and they are inexpensive. I’ve assembled several that don’t even have to be plugged into the wall — all USB/Firewire powered. It’s an easy backup solution.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:33:27

Liz – Thanks.

It’s true. Even if one has a huge payday with a book — a six-figure type deal — when you factor in the number of hours spent working on the thing, thinking of them in billable hours as lawyers do, one probably could make more money over the long haul as a Starbucks barista. That’s just the way it is. It’s amazing how long it all takes.

And thanks for the kudos on the vocab. I worked at Kaplan for more than a year and spend my time there memorizing big words — hence my penchant for dropping the random French phrase into the narrative (nostalgie de la boue being my favorite).


Comment by Don Mitchell |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:08:18

I add my congratulations. My copy arrives tomorrow, courtesy Amazon.com.

Will I finish it before evening? Depends on when the UPS guy shows.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:35:04

Thanks, Don.

As the novelist Jonathan Selwood said of his own book, TK is the sort of novel you can begin reading at JFK and finish up just as the plane hits LAX. Hope you like.


2009-09-29 04:48:43

It’s no secret that I have read TOTALLY KILLER already, and loved it immediately and I applaud all the work that went into getting published.

It’s the same for filmmakers: you can make all the shorts you want and scoop up hundreds of awards, but until you make your first feature, in the industry’s eyes, you’re a first-time filmmaker.

It’s kind of nice to think we can still be virgins at this “tender” age, isn’t it?


Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:56:48

Thanks, K-Dub.

At the risk of being self-promotional, here’s the link to the book trailer you did for TK, which is so un-first-time-filmmaker it hurts. Or, rather, kills…


2009-09-29 04:50:32

I really hate the Catch 22 of having to have published work to get published. Hello?! Does anybody not see how that doesn’t work for newbies? But people are breaking through all over the place I guess, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly. Anyway, I’m so excited that the book is finally released! It was definitely a good read. Took me back to my younger years for sure :-)

P.S. I thought Jonathan Evison buried all of his unplublished novels. There are some worms in his backyard that are VERY happy.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:54:02

Not worms; bookworms.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 04:57:55

Thanks, Becca.

It’s a hell of a catch, that Catch 22.

Here’s the link to The Inside Cover review, folks:


Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-09-29 05:53:07

i don’t know… you do need a good arm for shortstop. it’s not like he’s playing second base.

congrats on the novel, whether it’s your first or your twentieth. it’s a lot of work to do sitting alone in your room. i’m glad it’s finally paying off.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:09:25

Thanks, Ben.

The Jeter thing has always made me chuckle. It’s taken, what, 15 years to finally get a joke out of it.

Oh — saw a possum on the side of the road this morning. Thought of you.


Comment by James D. Irwin |Edit This
2009-09-29 05:54:24

I’m going to try and order a copy of TK as soon as I can— even if it must be ordered from overseas!

You’ve told me some of this stuff before and it’s good for aspiring writers to know. Personally I’m not bothered if my first novel ever gets published, I just want it to be read by a couple of people.

And the thing is it’s so useful in so many ways. First of all it’s a home for some characters in previous short stories and abandoned novels who were too good not to include. Secondly it marks the first time I’ve ever managed to come up with, and develop an idea into a working plot. Thirdly, it has shown what I prefer writing in terms of fiction and what I am better at— it’s a damn site better than attempts at ’serious’ fiction.

Oh, and when it’s done I’ll have finally seen a project through to the end.

Whether it gets published or not I’m very proud of what I’ve done with CCB. Or at least what I’m doing and going to do.

Oh— and of course… congratulations on your ‘first’ novel.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:10:30

You’re way ahead of the curve, Jedi. Well-positioned for when things start falling into place. Send it here when it’s done.

And thanks.


Comment by James D. Irwin |Edit This
2009-09-29 14:30:09

I just ordered a copy of Totally Killer. In 4-5 working days it shall arrive. Right in the midst if a shelf load of required reading…

CCB is all mapped out I just haven’t gotten around to writing it in a while… it’s near 1st draft completion. I really can’t wait for you guys to see it.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:15:53

We’re all looking forward to it. Cactus City un-Blues, when you’re done.

Comment by James D. Irwin |Edit This
2009-09-30 14:43:50

I need to get organized so I can finish it. I mean four or five decent days solid writing and draft one would be done. It’s just finding those days…

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-10-01 14:02:59

Story of my life…

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-09-29 06:00:41

A heartfelt congratulations to you, sir! WOOHOO!

Yep – you’re speaking to my soul with this one (currently working on unpublished novel #8). I will carry the “Clintonian prevarication” line with me. Nice post.

I linked you to Face Stories today:


Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:11:33

Eight? Ye gods. Bless your heart. But keep going. Do. Not. Stop.

Thanks for the link. Yay, Face Stories!


Comment by Mary |Edit This
2009-09-29 06:03:04

Oh, Greg, I so greatly appreciate your honesty. I do sincerely resent people who discuss their accomplishments as though they were simply always geniuses. They reinforce my tendency to never start anything I’m not 100% sure I will be fabulous at, failing before I can even begin, etc. They always strike me as pretentious. Their books gain all kinds of critical acclaim, and I can’t read them because I can’t stop picturing some smarmy little prep school kid whose parents enrolled him in a “gifted” program from the age of 2, deciding rather than discovering that their child was exceptional in every way. Of course, the gifted program is more for the edification of the parent than the educational opportunities of the child because I do believe such programs produce emotionally crippled adults who spend the rest of their lives craving approval and acknowledgment of their intellectual prowess. Nonetheless, such children grow up to produce novels on their first try and get a great deal of attention for them, even though they are generally not that good.

… or maybe that’s just jealousy speaking.

Congratulations on your book. Seriously. :)

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:30:24

Thanks, Mary.

I totally identify with everything you just said.

A friend of mine in high school had a (good) poem published in some lit journal. I asked him how he had managed to write something so good. He said, “Before you write a good poem, you have to write a bad poem.” That applies to everything in the arts. It is both the curse and the reward.


Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-09-29 06:19:29

Yeppers–it’s hard to write a novel. I wrote a really bad science fiction trilogy, and co-wrote a full length unofficial prequel to Spaceballs, and the novel I have coming out next year is actually another novel completely re-worked to the point of being an entirely different book.

Congratulations on Totally Killer! I’ve been harrassing Seattle Public Library to order it, but they haven’t yet, so I will definitely order it myself–soon!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:31:55

Thanks, Aaron.

I’m a mog. Half man, half dog. I’m my own best friend…

Looking forward to your new novel.


Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-09-29 20:06:06

Mogs rule!

Just bought your book. Come on, shipping!

All right. Awesome.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:16:17

Thanks, man.

“Spaceballs” is underrated.

2009-09-29 06:33:09

First: CONGRATULATIONS. Totally awesome. I’m going to a Nick Hornby reading tonight and planning to pick up your book then. That’d be totally rad.

Don’t they say the average is that just about every novel published is the fourth by the writer? Obvious exceptions like Nick McDonnell, I suppose, but I’m fairly sure Carrie was Stephen King’s fourth. I can’t wait to find out what Jo Rowling has hidden somewhere.

To corroborate Simon up above, it really is like an apprenticeship. Ray Bradbury agreed with his note that writers have to write a million words before any are any good.

I think my favorite, though, was that Hemingway once said something along the lines of: “Fuck ‘em. Let ‘em think you were born knowing how to write.”

Which only propagates the myth that anyone can do it. I’m half-convinced the reason unpublished novels don’t “count” is stuff like NaNoWriMo and the fact that most people so firmly believe they can write a book. I’m not saying they can’t, mind. Just not a good one. Not without that practice. I don’t really think there’s such a thing as the “literary genius” you mentioned, but then again, I’m not a fan of any of the writers (Smith, McEwan, etc.) you speculate as such.

Comment by Mary |Edit This
2009-09-29 06:51:24

oh for the record, nanowrimo is infuriating…

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:36:17

Thanks, Will.

Tolstoy has a quote along those lines. Something about how if someone were to say, I’m going to be a professional violinist…all I have to do is buy an instrument, people would think he was off his rocker, but when people say, I’m going to be a novelist; I just have to sit down and type it all out, they somehow don’t, because there’s no instrument involved. (He phrased it better).

I love Hemingway.

Have you read any McEwan? Atonement and Saturday are both amazing. He’s so above and beyond what mortals can do. He’s like Sylar from “Heroes.”

Enjoy the reading. Tell Nick hello.


See you in December.

Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-09-29 06:40:22

According to Amazon, my copy is supposed to show today or tomorrow. Can’t wait to see it, even though I’m totally engrossed in Banned For Life right now and probably won’t get to TK until about the weekend.

Huge, huge congratulations, Greg.

I’ve written about two-thirds of one novel and am in the babysteps portion of a second, in addition to the various short stories and scripts I’ve done over the years. I started writing that first novel with the implicit understanding that it would by and large never see the light of day, that it was an exercise for me to get better acquainted with the mechanics of a long-form narrative and was that first “bad” novel they say you need to get out of your system before you write a good one. But damned if there isn’t some writing in there that I’m hugely proud of. One day I’ll have to finish the fucking thing, just to see what the rest of it looks like.

Here’s hoping that Amazon box is on the front stoop when I get home today…

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:38:12

Fuck, I have to follow BFL? Shit. Read something crappy after Duke’s book. Read The Lost Symbol or something, then proceed to TK. (Although there are similar NYC references in TK and BFL).

Finish the thing. Do it.

Thanks, man.


Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:43:22

How about I just watch some shitty Dane Cook movie between the two? The tend to run about 80 minutes or so, and assuming I’m not driven to commit seppuku by the 45-minute mark, I should be nice and decompressed from BFL before heading into TK!

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Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-09-30 06:05:08

Pshaw, as Irene might say (though I’m probably misspelling it), to Greg’s flattery of BFL. Drop BFL as you wish, Matt, and proceed with TK. I only wish I still had a copy of it — a situation I mean to shortly rectify.

Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-09-30 07:50:00

If nothing else, my seven years of higher education taught me how to read several books simultaeously and keep them all straight in my head, so I could read them both in tandem. Somehow, though, I suspect BFL and TK each deserve my full attention, and will read them both sequentially.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:17:41

Matt — Yes, Dane Cook will do the trick. Smart thinking.

Duke — en route shortly

2009-09-29 06:57:11

Thanks for this, Greg. I’m currently working on my third book, with nothing published yet. I’ve burned through two literary agents and written several book proposals. It’s a tough industry!

Congratulations on your hard work and success!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 07:40:07

Thanks, Claire.

I see good things for Book #3. You have a baby now. Babies are good luck.


Are there any pics from the Chicago event that I somehow missed?

Comment by Brin Friesen |Edit This
2009-09-29 08:17:55

A cool million words on my end before a book published too.

Congrats, Greg. I’m thrilled you’ve taken off with this one.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:09:13

Ah, if words were dollars…

Thanks, Brin.

2009-09-29 08:18:01

Congrats, man! Looking forward to checking it out. Also burned through 2 agents and numerous publishing houses before placing BAROLO, my food memoir, with the University of Nebraska Press. Thanks for the poll, and the communion!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:10:04

Thanks, man.

One of these weeks I’ll post a piece about agents…and I’m lucky to have a really really good one.


Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-09-29 08:25:40

The last line was perfect. And now I’m off to buy my copy of “Totally Killer.”

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:11:54

Thanks, Marni.

Do you have one in a box somewhere? Because if anyone could crank one out and get published on the first try, it’d be you.


Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-09-29 08:37:15

I can now stop looking for your book on my shelves. I thought I bought it and lost it. Now I’ll just look in the mail.
(Could you please call me sometime so I can hear your really scary voice that Simon Smithson told everyone about?)

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:12:54

Yes, check the mail. Today, tomorrow.

I’ll call you when I finish The Forgotten Man. ; )

Comment by A.F. Passafiume |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:36:57

Good luck! Can’t wait to read it.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 14:19:17


Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-09-29 09:40:28

Oh I’m so excited for you that TK is about to take off! I’m loving every word, Greg. As you know, Duke got me a copy before I left LA and I am just about through it. I’m taking my time, because I don’t want it to end so soon!
I have an unfinished book sitting in my computer hard drive and the hard copy in my drawer. Every time I walk past said drawer I think I hear it saying ‘finish me! finish me!’ I suppose I really should.
But a big congratulations on your ‘first’ novel (!) It really is killer and I hope it gets all the attention and praise it deserves… x

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 14:21:23

Thanks, Zara. So glad you like it, and that you got the copy.

Finish me! Yes. You could write a novel built around the two-part post you did awhile back, about the American would-be fiance. That was great stuff.

Now keep away from the tsunami, OK?


Comment by tip robin |Edit This
2009-09-29 10:47:12


Congrats on getting this far. From what I can discern from all the other published and unpublished writers on this site, it sounds like being a contemporary writer is a pure tribulation.

So to finally reach the point where your a novel published, especially after so many attempts at writing and re-writing the same and different ones, well, that deserves a slap on the back and toast in the air.

So, cheers.

I look forward to reading it.


Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 14:21:58

Thanks, Kip. I appreciate the kind words.


Comment by Tawni |Edit This
2009-09-29 11:44:08

I have a birthday coming up at the end of October and I know what I’m asking for this year… I can’t wait to read your book!

Congratulations upon congratulations on this huge accomplishment. I’m sure the long-time-coming factor you wrote about above just makes the victory that much more delicious, yeah?

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-29 14:23:21

An interesting question, actually. I think the long time has mellowed me out, managed my expectations, and generally made me a better writer. A book deal has a way of dispelling negative emotions right quick…

Thanks, Tawni.


Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-09-29 19:41:36

this made me so happy to read. i need reminders sometimes that it doesn’t happen the first time for everyone…i’ve written one and a half before the one i’m working on now. and who knows if the one i’m on now is going to go anywhere or do anything.

i wish i were a genius. or maybe i don’t. i’d probably be so bored.

i can’t wait for my copy to come to me. maybe it’s here already. maybe i should check my mail.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 00:34:35

Your geniusness is pretty obvious, at least to me. And you’re, like, what, ten years younger than me? It’s just a matter of time, Lenore.


Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-10-01 13:39:18

Lenore is five.
She promised.

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2009-09-30 05:33:31

You may be more popular than you think…I was at a meeting at Harper’s yesterday (the publishers of my soon to be published first novel which is actually my fifth novel if you count in dog/publishing years) when your name came up ( in a good way, I swear). Funny to log on and find your post….congratulations I can’t wait to read the book. And – a great post.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 06:23:15

I thought that my ears were buzzing yesterday…thanks for the insider info. Harpers has been awesome, truly. And congrats on your novel. What’s it called, or is that still not for public consumption?

2009-09-30 07:45:52

Good to know you’ve had a great experience with Harpers as well – I couldn’t be happier. The title of the book is called: The Summer We Fell Apart due to hit a bookshelf near you on January 5, 2010.
How does it feel having been an author to a book thats been out in the world for an entire day now? Hope everything is going great for you….Oh, and the fact that Jonathan Evison has commented here and on your book….how I loved Lulu!
Continued good fortune, Greg!

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:20:23

Thanks again, Robin. I got to actually go to the bookstore and see it there today, which was kind of cool. Here I am in the window, to paraphrase Nabokov, a thief between two Christs:


You know what I love most about Lulu? The last couple of lines. Still gives me chills.

Comment by jonathan evison |Edit This
2009-09-30 07:33:08

bravo, greg! . . . i must be a slow learner . . . an inventory of my pre-lulu futility looks like this:

a nameless story collection
a novel called “all wet”
a novel called “the song is you” (15 yrs prior to arthur phillips novel, for the record)
a memoir called “sketches of people i hardly remember; a history of the world as i found it”
a novel called “welcome avenue”
a novel called “point west”
a novel called “the ray of hope foundation”
a novella called “my good side”

. . . congrats and good luck with “totally killer”!!!!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:21:35

Thanks, man.

And oh, my.

But see? That’s why “Lulu” is so good. (Did you like how I worked the new title into the thing? Clever, eh?)

Comment by Tony DuShane |Edit This
2009-09-30 07:49:16


and so true. i love how people think they have a novel in them because they have an idea for a story and they never get around to writing in general….the illusion that a writer picks up a pen and writes a novel and gets an agent.

oh, and i love your trailer.

Comment by Don Mitchell |Edit This
2009-09-30 09:41:22

Coming from an academic background I’ve seen the same illusion that you’ve seen, Tony, but a little differently. When some of my colleagues in the Anthropology Department learned I was writing fiction (and publishing it, too) two of them started talking about how, when they had time, they’d write that novel they’d been thinking about.

It seemed simple to them because, as academics, they had written and published articles, and actually both the guys had books in print. They didn’t see the difference — hey, I wrote a book, so that novel should be nothing much.

I was a good friend of one of them, and so I said, “Right. What would you say to a student who said, ‘I got an A in Anthro 1 . . . so I’ll start on my PhD dissertation now?’”

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:31:47



It would be nice to charge $95 for the book, and then make a bunch of kids buy it every semester. That’s a nice little business model…

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:25:27

Thanks, Tony.

I’m sure it does happen every once in a blue moon — Gladwell is bang-on with the 10,000 practice hours thing, but I still think there are the occasional Mozarts no matter what — but it’s like anything else. You don’t spend two hours at the driving range and then go beat Tiger Woods. Maybe you beat Phil Mickelson because he’s a choker, but not the Tiger.

I relay your kind words on the trailer to Kimberly M (”Don’t Call Me Kim”) Wetherell, that cinematic alchemist, who took a leaden script and turned it to gold.

Comment by Thomas Wood |Edit This
2009-09-30 09:55:44

It reminds me of this short story I wrote when I was twenty one, which I take out every eight months or so, dust off, write ten new pages for, cut twelve in editing, and promptly resave, never feeling it’s just, quite, right.

Really interesting piece. I’m eager for my fist attempt at rejection.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-09-30 12:27:09

And how old are you now? We need to know to see how long you’ve toiled.

One of the best parts of getting the book published is that it’s done. Over. Kaput. Never to be edited again. I read it now, there’s words I might change, but no going back. Turn the page. As Valmont said, it’s beyond my control.


Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-10-01 13:41:04

Damn, Valmont!

Comment by Jim Simpson |Edit This
2009-10-05 06:36:01

Late the the party as usual, but I thought I’d stop by and say thanks for posting this. So many people don’t realize the false starts, “shitty first drafts” and completed but flawed novels that go into a first novel. So, it’s a fine public service you’ve rendered here.

Thanks, too, for reminding all of us who don’t have a first published novel yet, that it can be done. Enjoy the ride!

(I’m on novel 3.625, by the way.)

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GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

4 responses to “This Is My First Novel”

  1. I realize I’m MONTHS late on reading this post, but the fall was freaky-busy for me and I didn’t read anything!
    But, now that I’ve read this I must say a few things:
    1. CONGRATULATIONS on your FABULOUS novel! Bravo! Hurrah!
    2. I think it’s really important for writers to know that NO ONE’s first novel is really their first novel. The illusion that a first novel is the first try creates this impossible task. Who could possibly write a “first” novel that was any good? You have to write the practice novels in order to figure out how to write a novel! I bet even Zadie Smith who published her first novel at, what? age 9? had written a real first novel at age 3, and then one at 7 or something like that. If everyone knew this, many writers whose real first novel didn’t sell would realize that it doesn’t matter. The point is to learn to write a novel. And sometimes it takes a few novels before you figure it out. I mean there’s no baseball player who pitches his FIRST GAME EVER and is a superstar, right? They pitch thousands of games before they go to the minor league, then thousands more to get to the major league, etc. Their first major league game isn’t the first time they’ve pitched.
    3. Was reading a NYTimes article about Cormac McCarthy selling his typewriter. The article mentioned that he had written ALL of his published novels on the typewriter and even two novels that were never published on it. So, there you go. EVERY great writer has unpublished novels!

  2. Finished Totally Killer earlier this week. Excellent work. If you’ve written four other novels before this, your “first” novel, somebody needs to place those bad boys in print. I absolutely loved this book.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, man. Really glad you liked it.

      As for the four predecessors, well, one of them was an early attempt at TK. The most recent one may get into print someday, after a rewrite. And the first two have a few ideas that aren’t that woeful, so we’ll see…

      Anyway, thanks again for your note. (And for the shout-out on your blog the other day).

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