Pipedreams: Time and the Insubordinate Writer

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


Melissa Falcon, 1996, in The Graduate

Navigating our way through the student center, past the radio station to the English Department, my Dad and I found Bill Roorbach’s office at the University of Maine at Farmington, freshman orientation, 1993.  I was 17.  With my enormous spiral perm and acid-washed jeans, also a lethal dose of neon blue eye pencil, and Summers with Juliet clenched under my arm, I peered through the narrow window, noted a few smooth river stones, a blonde ponytail and a tanned arm resting on a two-bit desk.  Dad, wearing his University of Connecticut sweatshirt (where he’d hoped I would go so he might watch basketball games and slug back beers in the student section), impatiently rapped at the door, calling out in his gruff, pot-bellied bartender sort of fashion, “Hey man, you the writer?”

Melissa and her Dad

Bill stood slowly, preoccupied with something, pulled the door open, unsurprised. “That’s me.”

Dad gestured with his chin to the book I held out. “You’ve got to talk my daughter out of this Creative Writing thing. It’s a pipedream.”

Bill glanced at me, my face flushed. He said to my Dad, “Come sit a minute.”  And sent me back out in the hall.

Whatever was said exactly between those men, I’ll never know, but after ten or so minutes, Dad nearly cartwheeled from Bill’s office door, exclaiming, “Melissa, hurry over to the registrar and enroll before those sections fill!”

And, I guess you could say it was that moment, twenty years ago, in which Bill Roorbach became one of my champions and dearest literary friend.

Now, at thirty-eight, my age something close to what Bill’s was when we first met, I finally have my first novel, LESSONS IN FIRE, under representation with the Zachary Shuster and Harmsworth Literary Agency in New York.

Is this any way to treat a mentor?

And what I have learned over these past twenty years is that to maintain any pulse on a writing life, to keep constant at the work in those scraped-together shreds of time between moves and marriages and babies and day jobs, to continue to thrive through all the rejection and disappointment, to keep on slugging away, writers need other writers to give honest, sometimes disappointing feedback delivered in the most loving and encouraging way, so that you NEVER listen to your dad (he’s still got the sweatshirt) and go back to speech pathology school, giving up on the whole dream altogether.

And maybe, just next to literary friendships, insubordination is an aspiring writer’s other best companion, pipedream and all.





Melissa now, with her boy Noah



  1. Wally seavey writes:

    I just turned 65 and just finished my first novel. So, congrats to you. Wish I had been able to do it a long time ago. Been reading Roorbach’s Big Bend stories. Starting a second novel soon.

  2. Ladygoogoogaga writes:

    Congratulations Melissa!

  3. Vasilios writes:

    Professor, from my young perspective, I think your take on what writers (or any artists) need is right on the money. It’s ironic that you sometimes get the absolutely wrong advice from people close to you specifically because they want what’s best for you. And I think in terms of perspective, the warm support tempered with a healthy helping of realism is exactly what artists get here at this website. I’ll be sure to pick up your book. Thanks for this.

  4. Kristen writes:

    I love the way you capture your dad here–and I, too, totally want to know what Bill said to him in that little conference. Congrats on the novel. And thanks for the advice–keeping the finger on one’s writing pulse–needed that 🙂

  5. Debora writes:

    A novel! Great job, Melissa. Can’t wait to read it! Love Noah’s shoes!

  6. Tommy writes:

    Bill Roorbach: Good with Dads and Grads.

    Great piece, Melissa – I love stories with happy endings! Thanks for sharing! Congrats on your book!