After a career spent writing nonfiction about topics such as the Vietnam War and agent orange, Fred Wilcox, associate professor of writing at Ithaca College, has achieved a career goal: having a novel published.
About 25 students, faculty and Ithaca residents gathered at 5 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo Street Books in DeWitt Mall to hear Wilcox give a public reading of his debut novel, “Secrets.”
The novel, published by Ithaca’s Split Oak Press, chronicles the relationship between Richard Grady, a grieving widower who talks to his dog, and Maggie Mallon, an aspiring writer who shrouds her secretive past with fanciful stories.
“I’m interested, and always have been, in stories and how we live out our stories,” Wilcox said. “We tell stories to ourselves and other people. But [what interests me is] not whether they’re real or not, but how do they determine who we are, how we live, how we interact with people.”
Wilcox is known best for his politically charged nonfiction works, including last year’s “Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam,” but he said he has written many poems and short stories throughout his career.
“I’ve always retreated into fiction and always hoped that one day I might get some of my fiction published,” Wilcox said. “It’s been kind of a long-term dream.”
That dream was realized with the help of Jim Stafford, assistant professor of writing and editor and publisher of Split Oak Press, and seven student interns, who helped in all areas of the publishing process, from layout to editing manuscripts.
“We get a lot of book submissions, and the thing about Fred’s [book] is people didn’t just like it, they really loved it,” Stafford said.
Those who attended the reading had an overall positive reaction toward the novel. A lively question-and-answer session followed the reading, and many attendees stayed to buy a hot-off-the-press copy of “Secrets.” Many also stayed to have Wilcox sign their new book.
Sophomore Jennifer Pike, who is in Wilcox’s “Fiction Writing I: Short Story” class, said she was impressed by her professor’s success.
“You always know your professors write things, and they do work in the real world, but to find out that it’s something you’d probably pick up without even knowing it could be him,” Pike said. “I’d probably read that even if he wasn’t my professor.”
Copies of Wilcox’s book are available at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, N.Y.