Rosecrans Baldwin ’99 on becoming a novelist

RosecransBaldwinAuthor Rosecrans Baldwin ’99 is no stranger to putting himself in new situations. His 2012 book Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down chronicled his and his wife’s decision to move to Paris, and the 18 months they spent working and learning the not-so-romantic realities of living in one of the most fetishized tourist destinations in the world.

Prior to writing books and contributing to NPR and the New York Times, Baldwin was, as he described, a “prototypical white boy from New England who liked to be in the woods.” Baldwin shared with the Echo how his undergraduate experience fostered his interested in writing, and taught him to value of being outside one’s comfort zone.

At Colby, Baldwin majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. He focused exclusively on poetry, becoming a Senior Poetry Scholar during his final year. A self confessed “film nerd”, Baldwin held a part-time at Railroad Square and wrote film reviews for the Echo. He was a member of Colby Improv and the Mountaineering Club, and frequently visited the  climbing wall, which was constructed while he was a student. Baldwin saw the College as a place that encouraged him to explore his different interests.“I think what Colby certainly provided was the space to start figuring out who I am, it had the environment that allowed me to sort of experiment for a little and let me figure myself out.”

During his junior year, Baldwin spent a semester in Cape Town, South Africa. While he loved Colby, his time spent abroad lead him to realize his desire to move beyond the wooded confines of New England. “I was a big sort of outdoorsy dude for a while and then went and studied abroad in Cape Town and suddenly I came back and was like, fuck Maine, I want to be a fashion designer in New York and I want to move to London and I never want to see Waterville again.” Yet despite this newfound wanderlust, Baldwin said he “had a great senior year.” Baldwin encourages any student who is able to study abroad to do so, and sees spending time in another country to be both a memorable and maturing experience. “[Studying abroad] is frequently uncomfortable and I think learning to be uncomfortable and learning to be open when you don’t want to be to be open is an awesome life lesson to have.” 

Baldwin also gives credit to the College for encouraging him to pursue writing seriously. “As someone who was discovering that he felt seriously about writing… there were great people at Colby, people like Ira Sadoff, Cedric Bryant, Peter Harris, Laurie Osborne, Elizabeth Sagaser…who honored that seriousness, and encouraged you to try and be a little more dedicated, try thinking about writing as a craft, try applying your energy and not being bullshit about it and   to hold yourself to higher expectations. That was something I certainly learned from Colby,” he said.

The path to becoming a novelist wasn’t immediate. After graduation, Baldwin moved to New York City and originally planned on writing poetry. “I had this idea that I would find some shitty job and write poetry in the mornings and get published someday, so I got a job copy editing for a design agency. But I just suddenly realized one day that I hated it, and that I didn’t really want to write poetry.” The transition to writing fiction happened rather spontaneously. “I had these big legal pads and I just started writing novels.”

However, Baldwin’s leap from legal pads to fully published work took ample time and practice. He wrote two unsuccessful novels before his third titled, You Lost Me There was published in 2010. The first two were, in his worlds, “horrible”, but not without purpose, as writing them “was basically me teaching myself how to write fiction, because I never took any fiction classes,” he said.

Currently, Baldwin is finishing up his third book, titled The Last Kid Left. The story is inspired by a true crime that took place in England in the 1930s, but is reframed for 2016. It is set to be published next year.

Baldwin encourages students who are interested in writing and other creative fields who are maybe apprehensive or nervous to go for it, as long as they realize it won’t be easy. “I would say is that [students] are absolutely right to be timid, the troubling part is that they are not yet scared enough. There is so much to come of negativity, fear and credit card debt and people saying no to you nine times out of ten. Your skin could not be thick enough. But at the same time, I would never discourage anyone.” He continues, “It’s scary as fuck, but what do you expect? If it weren’t, everyone would do it.”

If this is the path you expect to take, Baldwin offers this advice: “Have a back-up job. Just make sure you can do something else, because everyone can find two hours in a day to write something…Just make sure you can pay your bills too.”

Baldwin now lives in Los Angeles, and is pursuing screenwriting with his wife.

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