Writing professor publishes debut novel

Katherine Arnold

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On July 30th, Professor Caitlin Horrocks published her first novel, The Vexations. The book has received amazing reviews, and has even appeared on Oprah’s official July reading list

Her newly published work began in the summer of 2010 as a short story containing an idea for a much longer piece. What began as a biography about the eccentric avant-garde composer Erik Satie gradually grew into a piece about the struggles of family, art, and fame.  

Horrocks describes writing as more than a plot line and a planned message. “When I write I try to create compelling characters, and follow them on a journey, more than I’m trying to say anything in particular. I hope the fictional world and the people in it feel vivid and true in their own way.” 

Being able to publish your own work is quite the experience, and brings with it a mixture of worry and elation. Horrocks describes it as “exciting! Also scary, because the book is out in the world now, where it belongs to readers, not all of whom are going to love it, or even like it. You can’t please every reader, but certainly I’m hoping to please lots of them, and that people enjoy the book.”  

As a published author and professor, her writing and teaching come together to create an environment where Horrocks’ can use her professional experience and her passion for writing to help students just as much as they have the potential to help her. 

“In terms of ways that teaching informs my writing, I especially love teaching books and stories I find interesting and challenging, and having class discussion open up the text for me in additional ways, some of which I might bring back to my own work.” 

Horrocks has taught a wide variety of classes, from intermediate fiction to editing and publishing. With each class, she strives to show her students not only how to write, but that the experience of writing is worthwhile. There are many good writing habits to have, but two important ones are to read as widely as you can and to write a lot. 

“Learning to read not just as a fan or student, but as a fellow writer, will teach you a lot. Also assume that you’re going to need to log some serious butt-in-chair time to write something you feel good about.” 

Finding time to write between work, family, and other responsibilities is also an important part of what it means to be a writer, and especially a published one. 

It’s hard, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers,” she said. “There will always be something else demanding your time, or some obligation that feels more pressing than writing.” 

Horrocks suggests reaching out to people who can help you be accountable for your writing schedule, and to keep a schedule that works for both your writing and also the other important aspects of your life. While it is important to learn and understand how to find time to write, you have to recognize when you’re busy with other things too.