First time novelist to read at Prairie Lights


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David Wroblewski does not like writing short stories.

The fiction craftsman spent well over a decade creating his first novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, after discovering he could not limit his writing to the confines of a few pages.

The result? A national bestseller within its first week on the shelves and Oprah’s stamp of approval.
Wroblewski will read from his novel at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. Friday. The coming-of-age story follows young Edgar Sawtelle, born mute and speaking only in sign language and the turmoils he faces from family tragedy.

Wroblewski’s childhood on a farm outside of Milwaukee, where his mother raised dogs, inspired the setting for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The family members converted their barn to a kennel for a few years before stopping because they couldn’t support themselves.

“This is a story of dogs at their best and people at their best and worst,” said Prairie Lights founder and former owner Jim Harris. “Edgar is an old-fashioned novel with its sense of beauty and clarity.”

The large amount of time that Wroblewski spent on the novel caused him to be suspicious about the concept of inspiration and to deal with the frustrations of extensive writing.

“I’m not sure I believe in inspiration, to be perfectly honest,” Wroblewski said.

The author graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in computer science. Ten years after graduating, he started writing, dabbling in short stories before realizing that they all begged to become full-fledged novels.

His curiosities led him to the Warren Wilson M.F.A. program for writers in Asheville, N.C. He also studied with Robert McBrearty, a short-story writer and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate living near Boulder, Colo., and he has taken various workshops with other writing teachers.

“This larger issue of how to cope with the design and construction of something as big as a novel, that was what I really needed to learn,” Wroblewski said.

After sending The Story of Edgar Sawtelle to the publishers, an inability to let go haunted Wroblewski. He wanted to change things, so he reorganized his office to get away from it.

“I think all work is frustrating if you’re trying to do something substantial,” he said. “If your work is always easy, then you’re probably setting the bar too low … it’s part of any work done that has some substance to it.”

Hearing authors read aloud from their work is important for understanding the source of that work, Harris added.

“To hear David read his own work is to live on the farm.”

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