Anyone who writes a book while leading Arcadia’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program can hardly be labeled a slacker, so it doesn’t seem as if Joshua Isard modeled the protagonist in his debut novel after himself.
Conquistador of the Useless, released earlier this month, is the fruit of more than three years of labor by Isard, a visiting professor of English. It tells the story of “successful slacker” Nathan Wavelsky, his wife Lisa and their two cats, who flee the city for the peace of the suburbs and get more than they expected. Even though the couple is self-sufficient and in their early 30s, Nathan is opposed to progressing as an adult.
“There’s a lot of change, and he really just wants to be left alone,” said Isard. “He wants to read, he wants to listen to his music, but pretty much his world conspires against him and forces him to grow up—a little bit belatedly maybe—but I feel like that’s something common in my generation.”
The novel evolved from short stories about the Wavelskys. Once Isard completed the first draft of the book, it took nine months of revisions and one additional year until a publisher accepted the manuscript. That publisher turned out to be Cinco Puntos Press, owned by alumna Lee Merrill Byrd ’67 and her husband, Bobby. Isard met Lee when she came to campus for an event celebrating a book Cinco Puntos recently had published.
“I thought that I would have to go through an agent to get a publisher like that,” Isard said. “I fortunately skipped the middle man. We edited together, and I am thrilled at the way it came out.”
At Arcadia, Isard shares such experiences and his writing process with students.
“I like to tell students that for me, from the day I graduated from my master’s program to the day my book came out, it is almost exactly 10 years,” said Isard. “That’s a lot of practice. And I never stopped writing. I went through lulls, but I never stopped writing. I certainly never stopped reading. It takes that long to get good at something.”
Each student in the MFA in Creative Writing program submits a book-length manuscript prior to graduation and must develop a plan for publication. Isard works individually to help students meet their academic and professional goals. As a published author he represents what they can achieve after they complete their degrees, but Arcadia’s MFA in Creative Writing also prepares students for other career paths.
“There are so many tangible skills,” Isard said. “So many MFA grads go on to write for social media. It’s just this huge new industry. Also, marketing, promotional, medical and business writing and all the traditional industries are still there.”