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How I Got the Idea for The Lede and Why It Took so Long to Write

Updated: Jan 16

The process took decades really. In a sense I began conceiving the story in the early 1990s. In the '80s I'd studied creative writing in college and had a desire to go back to it. I met a poet named Lynn McGee who became my writing partner for a time. Each week we traded our work and critiqued it. At one point I sent her a short story about a person who was speaking from the grave––I came up with the idea after helping a friend bury her cat in the middle a traffic circle near a park in Brooklyn. When we were finished I couldn't help thinking the cat had landed in the opposite of a peaceful resting place, given all the cars whipping mad-dash around the circle. I wondered what the cat would say if she were able to speak. When I gave the story to Lynn she remarked that the voice in that story was unique, and new for me. It became a seed in the back of my mind over the next decade and a half, during which time the narrator morphed from a human to an animal. Clearly a slow germination!

As to why it took so long, anyone who has ever taught college English, especially at a public university but anywhere really, knows that it's difficult to find time for your own writing, and that's the case whether you are an adjunct or full-time professor. If the latter, as in my case, there are the demands of going up for tenure for one, the strictures of publish-or-perish. Unless you've been hired as a creative writing instructor you are expected to turn out works of literary criticism, either in the form of a series of articles or a book, all juried and all published by academic presses. That takes a great deal of time and energy, but there are the demands of teaching itself as well. I usually had anywhere from eighty to one hundred students per semester, many of them immigrants or graduates from the New York City Public Schools. Having come from a working-class background myself I related to them, to their academic struggles, and I wanted the best for them. For that reason I went out of my way to be as available as possible. Moreover, there are other commitments of the job, including committee work at the department, school, and college levels. The benefit of teaching college English, for me at least, aside from the opportunity to meet so many interesting people from so many places, from all over the world, was that it served as a schooling in creative writing, an adjunct to the courses I'd taken in college and the writing partnering I'd participated in over the years. In a sense I was taught by writers from Homer to Toni Morrison, with many dozens in between. In the middle of a flurry of professional activity I managed to jot down notes when ideas came to me, slowly shifting the original focus of my story from a human to an animal narrator––that is, Molly. It wasn't until 2007 that I began writing the novel in the form in which it exists today, and it wasn't until the Covid lockdown that I finally found the time to finish it.

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