By Sunday night at 7 p.m., the Davison MPR was looking extra cozy for CommuniTea. Organizers arranged the sofas and chairs in a circle. Sitting atop a table by the side was a spread of cheese and crackers and a chocolate fondue. All of this was for an invited speaker: the writer Daphne Uviller.
Author of two mystery novels, Uviller moved to the local area from Manhattan five-and-a-half years ago. She is also a close friend with Davison House Fellow and Assistant Professor of Psychology Allan Clifton and his family.
Davison House Fellow Intern Arden Shwayder ’16 explained that she and the other organizers were keen to invite an artist and have her speak firsthand about her craft.
“We were like, well, we’ve had a lot of creative people in the house,” Shwayder said, “so let’s have an author come in and talk about what it’s like to be an author who actually gets published.”
Uviller has enjoyed writing since she was a girl. “I want to tell you my path,” she began her presentation, “which makes it sound intentional, which, let me tell you, it is not intentional. You’ll see. You’ll just follow your interest and it takes you places you never imagined. At least in my case.”
Uviller asked how people in the room were at the very least considering going into the arts after college. Of about 15 people in the room, most were already working on writing pieces of their own, whether in the form of sketch comedy or their own screenplays.
Uviller took a winding path to becoming a writer. She began working on screenplays, but also took a turn with working as an editor for Time Out New York magazine, being the super of her apartment building, as well as working for a law-enforcement agency.
Her first book was an anthology of 21 essays called, “Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo,” which she coedited with Deborah Siegel.
Taking into account her own hectic life, Uviller knew she wanted her next book to be something in which her readers and herself could find solace.
Uviller said, “I want to write something that I want to read while I’m relaxing.”
With the help of her agent, she sold her debut novel, “Super in the City,” to Random House in a two-book deal. Her second novel, “Hotel NoTell,” was released Spring 2011.
Uviller shared how she was recently in Hollywood trying to sell her screenplays while she continues to work on her third novel, which she said is about three weeks away from being ready to send to her publisher.
She explained how what she writes are sometimes based on her own experiences.
“I am not somebody who likes to do research,” she said. “I am too lazy, and too many times when I was trying to write journalism articles—because I did some soft journalism—it was hard for me because I would want to make it more interesting than it actually was, but editors frowned upon that.” Fiction writing offered Uviller the creative latitude not available with journalism.
Despite this early success as a novelist, Uviller was still unable to make a living for herself by writing alone.
“I’m always very honest and I always want to take questions about money because I never want to mislead people,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to make a living writing—in certain capacities. Certainly if you’re going to hole up and write the Great American Novel, you better have a trust fund or something.”
In the end, however, she maintained that it wasn’t the money that kept her invested in writing.
“I love writing so much that it doesn’t matter if it’s some stupid thing or if it makes a lot of money. If you can make it all come out in the wash, it’s a really nice life.” She added, “And then having a spouse who has the health insurance is very useful.”
According to Davison House Fellow Intern Sophie Hessekiel ‘16, the organizers also wanted to provide an event specifically for aspiring writers or artists.
“I think that there’s not a lot of opportunities to get advice about how to have a creative career,” said Hessekiel. “Like, all the info sessions are about how to be a doctor or finance or media relations, which is all wonderful and super helpful, but it’s nice to have someone say it’s okay to try to be a writer.”
Hannah Harp ’16 is a student fellow in Davison. The talk, Harp shared, broke the glamorous image associated with writers.
“I always thought writing was a little romantic. Sitting around, drinking coffee, being creative, and not caring about the world around you,” said Harp.
However, Uviller took pains to tell students the truth that most writers struggle with paying bills and earning enough cash solely off their writing.
“Daphne situated her experience in real life and explained that sometimes, you have to write to make money and work on projects for yourself on the side,” said Harp.
She went on to say, “The projects you care the most about might not make money and the projects you hate might pay well and that’s how it has to be for a little while until you can find a groove that works for you.”
Uviller mainly wanted to hear questions from her audience. She answered anything from her trying experience as a writer to her favorite TV shows to offering personal writing advice.
“It is a very long, slow, sometimes exciting, very frustrating process,” she said. “The bottom line is that you have to like being alone in front of a computer and making up stories and putting one word in front of another.”