Read more of this interview.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, it was a two-page mystery written in pencil on white-lined composition paper in 3rd Grade and featured a small hidden treasure and clues (also hidden and requiring discovery) helpfully provided by anonymous notes, which I remember reproducing on the page as rectangles with careful printing inside. It wasn't much of a story -- I recall there being just one character -- a kid like me, sort of blank in terms of personality -- and no conflict at all. Just this lonely kid's search for a treasure that did not belong to him and which he had neither claim on nor right to. I do not recall the title or what sort of treasure was involved -- probably something like rare baseball cards. And the funny thing is, I don't recall if the kid ever found the treasure or if all he turned up at the end was a final note proclaiming, "Ha-ha! You lose!"
For someone who later felt he had to write fiction, this first effort was not promising. A sober appraisal would have advised the pint-sized scribe to forget the whole thing and study finance, which he would have done no better.
So I guess being a precocious talent is not absolutely necessary for a novelist, as long as one is willing to keep working at it for years and years, and learning how to tell interesting stories engagingly and well. The delayed gratification is pretty grim, however, especially as it's level odds it never comes. And let's not even mention the silent dismay of family members and gratuitous derision of inconsequential onlookers who take comfort in thinking that a person who isn't great at something is incompetent at everything.
The moral of this shaggy-dog story seems to be that lo these many years later I remain that little boy in search of a forgotten treasure that might or might not one day be his.