COURTESY OF BEOWULF SHEEHAN dilemma ” ripe for a novel , Dark says . “ It ’ s also a fantasy for me . I would ’ ve loved to have had that kind of security and old family land ,” she says . “ Since I ’ ll never get to do it in real life , Iget to do it by writing ,” she says with a laugh .
The novel is set in Philadelphia , where Dark was born and raised , and Maine , where she attended summer camp as a girl . “ I always write about places Ilove ,” she says . “ It ’ s part of the escape . It ’ s fun to think of your characters in places that you love .”
Though the exact Maine location is fictional , Dark says people who read Fellowship Point say it makes them want to go there .“ It feels very Maine-y to them ,” she says .
Raising her son Asher with her husband Larry , a vice president at the financial firm Morningstar and director of The Story Prize , awarded annually to authors of short story collections , also partially accounts for her publishing hiatus . “ Taking care of my son was aserious role for me ,” she says . “ I didn ’ t want to give him short shrift .”
Asher , a 2010 graduate of Montclair High School , completed the MFA program at the University of Michigan last year and is now a writer in Philadelphia .
His birth in 1991 ushered in a remarkably productive period for his mother . The publication date of Naked to the Waist was the very day he was born . Somehow , during this “ crazy ” post-partum period , despite being “ wacked ” by hormones and having difficulty focusing , Dark wrote In the Gloaming and sent it ,
“ I WRITE EVERY DAY . I DON ’ T KNOW WHAT I ’ M DOING A LOT OF THE TIME , BUT I ’ M ALWAYS HAPPY TO BE IN ASTORY AND PLAYING AROUND INSIDE OF IT .”
— ALICE ELLIOTT DARK
unsolicited , to The New Yorker .
“ It was a fluke ,” she says . “ There ’ s so much luck involved in anything with the arts . So many things don ’ t work out , and you have to learn to manage . Idid have acouple of lucky things happen to me , and that was one .”
Christina Baker Kline , a bestselling author and close friend for 25 years , met with Dark and two other Montclair novelists , Benilde Little ( Good Hair ) and Pamela Redmond ( Younger ) every Friday for more than a decade to support one another and each other ’ s writing . “ Besides being undeniably brilliant , Alice has a generous spirit ,” says Kline . “ I ’ ve been lucky over the years to benefit from her wisdom , editing skills , and kindness — three traits that are surprisingly rare in combination .”
Like parenting , teaching has presented challenges to Dark ’ s writing life while also enhancing it . “ I ’ ve learned so much about writing from editing mystudents ’ stories ,” she says . Then , she says , she had to learn to turn the critical process off when she wanted to be inventive . “ I would be criticizing myself too soon , and it interfered with feeling creative ,” she says . “ It took awhile to get good at separating those two brain tracks .”
Belinda Edmondson , the chair of the English department at Rutgers University in Newark , calls Dark “ one of our most beloved faculty members . Alice has an understated manner , but don ’ t let that fool you ,” she says . “ She is a commanding intellect , a beautiful writer and excellent teacher and mentor .”
8TIPS FROM ALICE ELLIOTT DARK THAT HELP TAKE THE MYSTERY OUT OF WRITING
1 . Write in the genre that excites you . If you keep sketching battlefield scenes , don ’ t feel you have to writea romance . Follow your imagination .
2 . Take aday to figure out your natural writing rhythm . Do you start off strong , go fallow after 40 minutes , then pick back up two hours later ? Match your writing time to your energy flow .
3 . Keep a writer ’ s notebook , including craft techniques you might use , ideas and good lines , a writing log to track what you accomplish , descriptions of the sky in all seasons . Write a line about the weather every day .
4 . Know what draft you are on . Don ’ t judge afirst draft as if it ’ safinal draft , and don ’ t rush to claim a piece is finished .
5 . Make aplan for your writing before every session . What are you going to do today ? Make a note afterward of how it went .
6 . Interact with what you read . Write about why you like a sentence or aparagraph or apage or an effect . How does it work ? Try it yourself .
7 . Practice plotting stories . Practice point of view . Practice describing places objectively and then subjectively .
8 . Don ’ t compare yourself to other writers . No one can write what you canwrite . Enjoy it !
Dark says she has learned not to “ step ” on her students ’ writing . “ You have to understand where people are and move them forward just an inch ,” she says . “ Writers have to figure out writing by themselves . The teacher is just there to keep you doing it .” ■
@ montclairmagazine MONTCLAIR MAGAZINE MAY 2022