David L. Ulin in The Paris Review:
I wrote my first first book over the course of three months, from July 23 to October 23, 1979. Four weeks in, I turned eighteen. This was a novel, and not the first I’d attempted; in fifth grade, I had written forty pages of a saga called Gangwar in Chicago, inspired by The Godfather and taking place in a city where I’d never been. Setting the story in Chicago meant scouring the map in World Book for locations: Canal Street, I recall, was one. I chose it because I knew Canal Street in New York, and it seemed the sort of landscape in which a gang war could take place. To this day, I have never seen Chicago’s Canal Street, despite the twenty years I spent visiting my wife’s family in a suburb on the North Shore.
The other novel, the one I finished, was motivated almost entirely by a specific case of envy—of my friend Fred, who had spent the same summer working on a novel of his own. Fred and I were high school writing buddies, confiding to each other, as we wandered the grounds of our New England boarding school, that we both wanted to win the Nobel Prize. Now, he’d written a campus novel, tracing his difficulties as a one-year senior, parsing the school’s social hierarchy in a way that seemed enlightening and true. Fred was more serious, more focused; he not only knew what symbolism was but also how to use it. It made sense that he would write a novel, and that it would be good. A year later, he would write another one, and then we lost track of each other, until six or seven years later, when his short stories started to appear in magazines.