Alumnus writes critically acclaimed debut novel

Allison Teixeira
August 03, 2011

In early 2009, Urban Waite, MFA ’07, was working at a Boston restaurant, fitting in time for writing short stories in the mornings before he had to be on the job.

Two and a half years later, at the age of 30, Waite is a published novelist and full-time writer whose critically acclaimed debut book, The Terror of Living, is available in nine languages and 10 countries.

“It’s all been a wonderful surprise, and I really didn’t see any of it coming,” Waite said.

Urban Waite

Urban Waite, MFA '07, released his debut novel The Terror of Living earlier this year. It has been a critical and commercial hit.

Released by Little, Brown & Company earlier this year, The Terror of Living is a suspense novel set in Washington State that tells the story of three men from various sides of the law who are involved with drug smuggling in the Pacific Northwest.

The novel has received accolades from numerous publications such as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly and from many renowned writers, including Stephen King, who wrote, “A hell of a good novel, relentlessly paced and beautifully narrated. There’s just no let-up. An auspicious debut.”

Waite wrote the initial draft of the book in just 30 days. After receiving a grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation and a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center around the same time, he felt he’d been given the opportunity he had been hoping for. He headed to bitter cold Johnson, Vermont, in January 2009 to write his book.

“It seemed a little ambitious at the time,” admitted Waite. “I had 30 days, so I said if I can write 10 pages a day for 30 days, then I’ll have a novel. I’m not saying it was any good at that point, but it was good for me to get the ideas onto paper and then fix things later.”

Months later, when he found out from his agent that the book was going to be published, he was shocked. “The role of a writer is always to doubt themselves, and I’m pretty good at that,” he said. “But that’s what keeps me revising and making my writing better.”

Waite said that his time at Emerson was instrumental to his success. Professors Pamela Painter and DeWitt Henry helped him both in and out of class. In fact, Henry helped him get the St. Botolph grant that he used to fund the writing of his novel.

Waite also pointed to the network of other writers he developed at Emerson as a key part of his education. “I think the important thing about coming to Emerson and doing an MFA was that I got that group of friends that I keep in touch with, that I talk to all the time, and can rely on,” he said. “We still run fiction by each other and even get together sometimes and do writing sessions together. I really found that community I was looking for.”

With his first novel behind him, Waite is now writing the second of his two-book deal, the story of a Mexican drug cartel’s move into a New Mexican town.

Waite said that all he really wants to do is to continue to make a living doing what he loves: writing.

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