I wonder what Harvard dropout Robert Frost thought about on those early winter, spring, summer, and fall mornings when he’d pass the “Mending Wall” on his New Hampshire farm. For almost a decade, he attempted to farm, but eventually reality set in like a New England winter, and he set out on the journey that would seal his fame as an American poet (although, ironically, his first book of poetry was published in England).
Writers take their own singular journeys and end up where they end up. Some become famous, most become famous in their own minds. Some careers take years to develop and emerge. Some take off like a comet. No one ever knows where the next lightning-in-a-bottle will emerge. Most of us probably experience the Frost of cold rejections; some, however, seem to emerge almost suddenly.
Such is the case – I think – of Joel Rosenberg, the New York-born author/speaker who entered the world the year Israel won the Six Day War. His Orthodox Jewish family took a sharp turn when his parents converted to Christianity; today, Rosenberg is one of the country’s most famous evangelicals (see my recent review of Rosenberg’s sensational new novel, “The Twelfth Imam”).
After graduating from Syracuse, Rosenberg drifted into political consulting, with Nathan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu among his clients.
By all accounts, Rosenberg is a nice guy, and when I visited with him recently, that came through clearly. In fact, joking about his consulting business (he closed up shop in 1999, when Prime Minister Netanyahu was defeated by Ehud Barak), he said, “Failure has a wonderful way of focusing one’s mind! I was a failed political consultant.”
It was at this point that Rosenberg focused, realizing the need both to earn a living, but also to wisely use the gifts he’d been given. Writing seemed a natural choice.
“Almost every job I had in politics involved writing speeches, editorials, magazine articles or what have you,” he said. “I did a lot of writing, including ghostwriting books for Steve Forbes and others.”
It was then Rosenberg made a fateful decision: “I had been ghostwriting for several people, but I didn’t know if that was sustainable for a long period of time. A few friends encouraged me: ‘You should really try your hand at writing under your own name.’ In terms of writing under my own name, in terms of writing fiction, that was a real pivot point.
“I felt I had two choices; the obvious first choice was to write conservative political analysis. However, I said, ‘Joel, you are no Ann Coulter!’” he confessed. “I realized I’d be competing with some of the people I had worked for, and I didn’t know if that was viable.”
The “failed” political consultant then trudged up to the attic of his mind.
“But from the time I was eight years old, I had been writing novels and screenplays. When I was thinking about what my writing career now could look like, I realized it was somewhat hard to find conservative evangelicals who were writing fiction to a general market.”
It seemed Rosenberg’s own religious background, political experience, and writing were coalescing into … a career change that could be quite interesting. The next step was to get feedback from professionals.
“My experience in finding an agent was in fact miraculous,” Rosenberg remembers. “I wrote three chapters of a novel and sent them to Peggy Noonan. She was the only friend I had who had written New York Times bestselling books. They weren’t fiction of course, but I wanted Peggy’s assessment of what I’d written.”
Noonan, with her own gift for soaring writing, recognized immediately the talent that Rosenberg brought to the table.
“She wrote back and said, ‘This is amazing.’” Noonan sent it to her agent (who had edited the Godfather series, and later run Random House).
The agent replied that it was definitely worthy of being published, but she didn’t represent the type of writing that Rosenberg was exploring.
“She told me that I needed Tom Clancy’s agent,” Rosenberg said.
That led to a meeting with Robert Gottlieb’s associate, Scott Miller.
Now, admittedly, Rosenberg initially had a leg up because of his association with Peggy Noonan. However, it is instructive for aspiring writers to note that a) it was hard work in his writing craft that got him past first base and b) the right mixture of a willingness to learn and confidence led to important meetings with the agents and editors who took his writing to the next level.
From the perspective of Joel Rosenberg’s writing career, it is the element of timing that is perhaps most fascinating. Truly, his meteoric rise as a New York Times bestselling author and mainstream commentator on issues normally reserved for the (can I say, marginalized?) conservative Christian community engrossed in Bible prophecy … is nothing short of amazing. Miraculous, as he would say.
Peggy Noonan and Scott Miller saw the obvious talent leap off the page; the next step would be to launch the first novel from Joel Rosenberg. Ironically, troubling developments a half-world away were hurtling America toward a new era; a new year, 2001, was dawning.
NEXT WEEK: More on the white-hot career of Joel Rosenberg.