How Does a Writer Write?

Novelist and Teacher Daniel Torday explains how it is done

By Ana Azevedo

It is said that those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. But what about the lucky few who get to do both?

Daniel Torday is a professor and the director of creative writing at Bryn Mawr college. He is also an author. More specifically, he is a novelist and short story writer.

His students at Bryn Mawr know him as their quirky, funny professor. A man who is always around to listen and give advice, whether it be about their writing or just life in general. He is someone who is kind, but also direct. Understanding, but firm. He is relatable, and outspoken about his views.

Daniel Torday

For example, all his students know how he feels about our current president. Hint; he is not a fan. He is the type of professor who would bring donuts on the last day of classes, but not without bringing along a substitute for any students with dietary restrictions. It’s obvious to whoever knows him personally that he cares about his students and their personal journeys as writers, very much. That is the man who his students and colleagues know.

But to the literary world, he isn’t just a quirky professor, he is a star.  He has written and published three books, “The Last Flight of Poxl West”, “The Sensualist”, and “Boomer1”. His 2012 novella, “The Sensualist”, won the National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction.

In 2015, his novel, “The Last Fight of Poxl West”, was published and received a glowing review from The New York Times. It was even featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Along with winning several other prizes, the novel was also long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award, one of literature’s most esteemed prizes.

His most recent work, Boomer1, has seen it’s own share of literary acclaim. His short stories have been featured in the New York Times, and in the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series.

To the world, he is a well respected author, but if you asked him what his definition of literary success looks like he would smile and say, “My dear friend the YA [young adult] novelist John Green once said, you know, the success is good, but it’s about touching one reader, somewhere, who really just gets it and loves it. So that.”

Torday does what he does because he loves it, plain and simple. This is clear from the way his eyes light up when you reach out to him to discuss writing and literature, from the way he gestures dramatically when the subject of his favorite novel comes up, and from his dedication to showing his students what works and what doesn’t in the world of writing. Continue reading

The Making of ‘The Sensualist’

It took 10 years and 230 drafts for Dan Torday to create his novella.

By Yara Jishi                                                                                                             

The novella The Sensualist is set in Pikesville, a Baltimore suburb where writer Daniel Torday spent his high school years. Set in the 1990’s, the novella takes readers into the realm of fiction that tackles late adolescence through the character of Samuel Gerson.

The 175-page novella is the first for Torday, who is director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College in suburban Philadelphia.

The Sensualisttells the story of Gerson’s breaking out of the small tight-knit Jewish community where he spent his whole

Dan Torday

life. Ready to quit the baseball team and recently befriending Dmitri Abravomich Zilber, a Russian, Jewish immigrant who is infatuated with the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Samuel’s world begins to change.

 When his grandfather commits suicide, Gerson begins to spend more time with Dmitri and his sister Yelizaveta, fueling a series of violent and disturbing events. This evocative coming-of-age story reminds readers of the struggles of late adolescence and the evolving nature of friendship.

Behind the glossy, light-blue finished copies of The Sensualist are 10 years of writing, drafting, researching, and editing. It took Torday 230 drafts before he felt that it was finished to his satisfaction.

The tale of  Torday and his process behind writing The Sensualist offer not only a close look at what it takes to get published, but also insights into the creative process and the steps it takes to make a mark on the literary world.

 In its raw and truthful take on adolescence, The Sensualist showcases the intertwining of fiction and non-fiction, and the struggles and triumphs that occur in attempt to say something lasting and real about human relationships.


Getting the Idea

Readers often wonder how much of the writer is present in what they write.

Do the main characters speak closely to the writer, or not at all? Do writers attempt to disconnect themselves from the world of fiction they create, or place themselves in it?

 For Torday, it’s a bit of both. Coming up with the idea for The Sensualist was a combination of his upbringing, heritage and literary interest.

Torday’s upbringing was a different from Samuel Gerson’s. Torday spent most of his younger years in Boston, where his mother is from. After living in the suburbs of Boston for several years, Torday and his family moved to Baltimore, where he spent his high school years.

“I felt like an outsider there,” Torday said, “it was a tight-knit, but closed community in a lot of ways.”

Torday constructed Gerson’s character to be an outsider, to be a character who didn’t know where he fit amongst friends and the tight-knit community he was born into. Gerson, literally meaning alien or outsider in Hebrew, grapples with his identity and sense of belonging throughout the novella.

 “There were periods where I had to think of him like me, and periods where I had to think of him differently,” Torday said, speaking to the versatility in constructing characters, and the ways they end up being a compilation of the writer and his experience and of other people he has met. Continue reading