April 21, 2013

Succeeding as a novelist – in a big way

After working as a musician and a college professor, Bill Roorbach's current career 'really takes off,' thanks to 'Life Among Giants.'

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON - Bill Roorbach calls his novel "Life Among Giants" his Big Book.

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Bill Roorbach, who has lived in Farmington full time since 2001, gave up his college teaching career in 2009 to concentrate on writing. That work paid off with the novel "Life Among Giants," which has earned acclaim since its release in November.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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That's capital B, capital B, the one that moves his career from successful writer to superstar.

Imagining the Wikipedia entry for the book, he says with a laugh, "It will say, 'At this point, Roorbach's career really took off.' "

On the cusp of 60 and with a half-dozen books and prestigious awards and fellowships to his name, Roorbach thinks he's finally found his artistic stride after decades of trying to balance writing and teaching.

Fully retired from academics, he's ready to become the writer he's always known he could be, full of confidence and ambition.

"I loved teaching, but I really needed to move past it and become the writer I'm going to be," he said, sitting on the porch of his Farmington farmhouse. "I'm a good writer, and I'm going to get better. All the other books were training for this one."

Released in November by Algonquin, "Life Among Giants" has earned rave reviews. The New York Times called it "a dizzy romp. There's murder and intrigue and sex and terror, and Roorbach is generous with it all."

Gatsbian in its scope, "Life Among Giants" stars "Lizard" Hochmeyer as a young football stud from Fairfield County, Connecticut, who excels at Princeton and goes on to minor fame with the Miami Dolphins as Bob Griese's back-up.

There's also a mysterious ballerina and her rock-star husband, who live a row-boat ride across the pond from the 6-foot-8 and very buff Lizard. There are a mad older sister, gay chefs and shady businessmen.

Grand characters all, tangled and bound in all manner of misdeeds and mythical scenes and affairs.

The book represents a lifetime of imaginations for Roorbach, and includes many biographical nods: His life growing up in New Canaan, Conn.; an older-brother star athlete; the years he made his living playing keyboard and singing in a rock band in New York; and a broken heart, delivered by a beguiling ballerina during those New York days.

But most of all, it satisfies the author's near-lifelong fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway, the narrator of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Roorbach has always wanted to write a book with a Carraway-inspired figure in the lead. Lizard is the perfect modern Carraway.

"Life Among Giants" has kept Roorbach busy. It was an Amazon Pick of the Month in November, and the author has traveled coast to coast since then, pausing only for the holidays.

The publication date for the paperback has been moved up to summer, said his editor at Algonquin, Kathy Poires.

"The response has been really, really strong. I can't think of a negative review," she said. "We're moving the paperback publication to summer because we believe he can reach an even broader audience."

Additionally, a premier cable channel has expressed interest in turning the characters from "Life Among Giants" into a series, but further details were unavailable at press time.

As the title suggests, Roorbach made his characters big when he made them, and did his research by reading "a ton of dance histories" and rock biographies of Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart.

He modeled his rock star after Mick Jagger.

The football star-turned-restaurateur could be any millionaire athlete of today. And Sylphide, the sweet ballerina with a cute foreign accent and perfect figure, is so real you'll Google her.

It took Roorbach four years to write the book, spending long hours in a former sugaring house that he converted into a writing studio when his daughter, now 12 and also a dancer, was born.

(Continued on page 2)

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