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Careers

A Systems-Analyst-Turned-Writer’s Novel Idea Bears Fruit

Ali Hosseini of Hudson, Massachusetts, who came to the U.S. in 1975, quit his job four years ago to write a novel. Much belt-tightening later, The Lemon Grove is about to be published.

Did you always want to be a writer? I kept journals as early as college, but I became a computer systems analyst instead. It seemed like the safer career. I’d work in the office all day and write stories after work. Working part-time, I published a novel and two short-story collections in my native language in Iran.

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When did you decide to write full-time? It didn’t happen suddenly. I always had good jobs with good companies, but in the back of my mind I wondered if I could leave. When I published a few short stories in English, it seemed more possible. Also, I worked with New Directions, a company that helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses better and helped me gain confidence about a writing career.

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How did you prepare financially? I saved for retirement for a long time, contributing the maximum to my 401(k) and Roth IRA. I also had a few energy investments that did well. I sold them and used the proceeds to pay off my mortgage before I left my job at Fidelity Investments.

So you’re not a starving artist? Well, I have cut my expenses. I’m able to live on $20,000 to $25,000 a year—something I couldn’t imagine before. I travel less. I don’t send as much money to my family in Iran. Sometimes I want a new car, but I keep driving the one I have.

What was the hardest thing about the change? Adjusting to a new schedule was difficult. I spend a lot of time alone at home, reading and writing. But the real struggle was getting my work out—finding an agent and a publisher. There are definitely times when you get tired of rejections.

How did you convince yourself to keep going? I think it goes back to when I came to the U.S. at age 19. I came from a large, working-class Iranian family—they paid for my plane ticket over, but after that I supported myself. Whenever I worried I wouldn’t make it, I thought: “No one is going to help me but me.”

So if someone wants to take a leaf from your book, what would it be? Be persistent and plan. That’s all it is, really.