By Shayna Freisleben
Elisa Albert â96 spoke of her adolescent years at Harvard-Westlake and the travails of a fiction writer last Friday while addressing the Chronicle staff. Albert, a former features editor of the Chronicle staff who joked about her column entitled âPhat Albert,â recently published her first novel âThe Book of Dahlia.â She published a book of short stories in 2006 calledÂ âHow This Night is Different.â
âI was definitely an underachiever at Harvard-Westlake and things still worked out,â Albert said.
She attended Brandeis, where she âlucked upon a great writing program.â
After college, Albert moved to New York to work at a literary agency as a gofer and witnessed the inner workings and business aspects of the literary world. She subsequently earned a masterâs degree in writing at Columbia and began the search for an agent who represented like-minded writers.
âGetting an M.F.A. helps you gain credibility in the literary world, and youâre able to immerse yourself in a community of writers,â Albert said.
Albert received a book deal at the completion of graduate school. As she proceeded to work on her novel, she found the process daunting yet enjoyable.
She joined a writersâ co-op in Brooklyn as a way to maintain schedule and âto feel as if youâre going to work everyday.â Nonetheless, âthe idea for the book took a while to marinate,â she said.
She drew from inspiration by authors such as Lorrie Moore and Philip Roth and sought to develop her tone as a writer.
âThe prospect of being an author seemed outlandish at times, but I always loved books and loved reading,â Albert said.
âAnd with fiction, youâre allowed to let the story take you somewhere, youâre writing to find out what you know.â
With âThe Book of Dahlia,â Albert used topics she was familiar with in a fiction novel. The novel is about a privileged 29-year-old Jewish girl living in Los Angeles who is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. The bookâs heroine, Dahlia, attends the fictional Westwood School for Girls.
âThe high pressure in the book was definitely inspired by Harvard-Westlake,â Albert said.
âThe book is not autobiographical,â she continued, âbut itâs drawn from things that I know about.â
Albertâs older brother died of a brain tumor when she was 20 years old. She learned how to balance autobiographical information while maintaining her privacy.
Albert remained tight-lipped about ideas for future novels, but made it evident that ideas were indeed brewing.
âThe daily work is what itâs all about,â she said. âIf youâre not invested in the work, you lose what itâs about as a writer.â