Professor awarded grant to write novel

A Seton Hall professor is writing a novel titled, “The Free Country.”

Nathan Oates, assistant professor of English, said the novel is set in a Central American country and focuses on an American aid worker who moves to a remote mountain village to establish a women’s center.

According to Oates, he was inspired to write the novel because he has been interested in Central America, because his father’s job needed him to travel there often.

“He was the director of a scholarship program for Central American students and I got to know many of these students well,” Oates said. “They became family friends and I was always interested in the countries they’d come from, many of which, at the time, were in the midst of decades long civil wars.”

Oates added that he has published numerous short stories set in Central America, including “The Empty House,” which was reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2008, and a more recent story, “Looking for Service,” which is forthcoming in Best American Mystery Stories 2012. Oates said that he works on his novel wherever possible, and most of the first draft of “The Free Country” was revised on New Jersey Transit during his commute.

“Essentially I write whenever I can – when my children are napping, after they go to sleep, before they wake up – and wherever I can – in my living room, in a coffee shop in Brooklyn or in NYU’s Bobst Library, where I wrote much of the book last spring,” Oates said.

According to Oates while in the midst of writing the novel, there have been some difficult yet fun aspects.

“The hardest thing about writing the book is facing those days when the well of inspiration dries up—you sit down to write and nothing comes,” Oates said. “Interestingly, pushing through the difficulty is what leads to the greatest fun in writing, those moments when something rises up in your unconscious, almost without your noticing or realizing it, and suddenly the narrative is alive, seems to take on a life of its own.”

Oates added that colleagues and students have provided him with support and inspiration when writing.

“Often new ideas, sentences or even whole stories come out of discussions I’ve with students,” Oates said. In terms of writing rituals that Oates uses, he said he picked up a habit in graduate school of waking up, drinking a cup of coffee and going straight to his desk to write.

“I’ve always tried to get started before my waking mind had completely separated itself from the unconscious world of dreams,” Oates said. “By doing this again and again I internalized the habit of working diligently, and of accessing the unconscious, which I believe is a vital, if somewhat mystical sounding, part of the writing process.”

Kimberly Bolognini can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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