About the Author: Michael Rubin '72
Michael H. Rubin
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Place of Birth:
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LSU Law School (J.D.) ‘75
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
As someone who was born and raised in the South, I wanted to experience a different part of the country and meet people from a variety of states and countries. When I first saw the Amherst campus on a college tour, I felt that Amherst was going to be the perfect fit for me. And it was.
Most memorable or most influential classes/professor at Amherst:
Benjamin DeMott’s class in Shakespeare was interesting in a number of ways, not the least of which was his teaching style requiring us to think about the plays not merely from the standpoint of the writer and reader, but also from the standpoint of the performers. The most influential class I had, however, was author Tillie Olsen’s seminar on creative writing. She was a visiting professor while I was there, and it was inspiring to have first-hand contact with someone who thought so deeply about the writing process and was able to communicate it to students so effectively.
One of my favorite writers is Ray Bradbury, who was the master of many genres. His effortless prose has inspired me, and my copies of his books are dog-eared from years of being read and re-read. My wife and I were lucky enough to spend an entire afternoon with Bradbury at his home in California a year or so before he died. During that memorable time, he not only talked about the technical aspects of constructing a novel, but he also regaled us with many stories about how he came to write “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” and the screen play for the movie “Moby Dick,” which was directed by John Huston and starred Gregory Peck. It was an afternoon neither my wife nor I will ever forget.
Tips for aspiring writers:
The best advice I’ve ever received is the one all fledging novelists get but find hard to put into practice – show, don’t tell. A novel isn’t a textbook. A novel isn’t a history lesson. A novel isn’t a rushed outline. A novel shouldn’t be dry and pedantic. A novel should be so compelling that readers feel as if they are completely “in” the story, not outside of it.
As you might imagine from this, the harshest criticism I received when I was starting out, was that I was telling, not showing. It took many, many rewrites to learn how to show and not tell.
In addition to the great advice I received about showing and not telling, the other invaluable advice was “don’t give up.” Almost no one writes a classic on the first draft. Few do so in their second draft. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” asserts that mastering any skill requires 10,000 hours, whether it is playing an instrument or learning to write fiction. My wife is my best friend, my best editor, and my best critic. With a red pen, she cut out excess verbiage, stilted language, and boring paragraphs, encouraging me to revise my manuscript again and again, improving it each time. Every author needs frank comments and constructive criticism coupled with a sincere reminder that you should rewrite, and that you shouldn’t give up because what you have to say is worthwhile.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
Writing has always been a major interest of mine, although up until “The Cottoncrest Curse,” I concentrated on books and articles for lawyers, judges, and law students. Having written or contributed to over a dozen books, and having written more than thirty articles for law reviews and periodicals that have been quoted as authoritative by state and federal courts and used in law school classrooms around the country, I wanted to try my hand at a different kind of writing, one that would appeal to a broad audience.
My wife, Ayan Liss Rubin (Smith ’72) and I walk early every morning, and on these long strolls we have discussed many topics. One topic that we kept coming back to was the idea of a multi-generational novel in the form of a thriller that would explore three universal questions. Can we ever really know everything about our family’s history? If we did learn everything, would it change our own sense of identity and how we perceive others? And, do we have an obligation to tell the complete truth if doing so would greatly help some but deeply hurt others?
During the course of these discussions we came up with the characters and plot of “The Cottoncrest Curse.” We were very pleased when the award-winning LSU Press, the publisher of “A Confederacy of Dunces” and the annotated version of “Twelve Years a Slave” (on which the movie was based) was enthusiastic about publishing “The Cottoncrest Curse.”