This story is mine, but it was not my idea to
write it. Like many first novels, I suspect, it
occasionally bubbled into my consciousness
the way the cool lake-bottom spring does to
But it went unwritten for decades because
the life experiences it drew from were mine.
That meant those experiences were so
mundane and ordinary that recounting
them would be like sharing another day at
the office with your spouse. But in 1996,
when I was a sportswriter covering the U.S.
Olympic Swimming Trials in Indianapolis, my
anecdotes didn't sound ordinary at all during
dinner with journalist friends from
newspapers around the country.
"You need to write a book," said Phil Hersh,
the Olympic writer at the Chicago Tribune.
This is almost certainly not the book he had The Silver Meteor stops in Hamlet in 1968. (Photo by Martin K. O'Toole)
in mind. Nor is it the one I contemplated.
We were journalists, and that book would be nonfiction. It would take a lot of time and money to research how the Civil Rights Era affected my hometown in North Carolina, and I had little of either.
But some years later — my journalism career past and my job with a fledgling women's
professional soccer league dying along with our attendance — it was time for some serious reflection on the next steps in my life and career. Returning to newspaperj journalism was tempting because it was familiar. But that seemed like a backward step. Besides, it would have been more tempting if the newspaper business hadn't gone into its downward spiral shortly after I left it. Answering the question of what I would do next seemed to demand a real understanding of whom I considered myself to be. The person I believe myself to be is a writer.
Eileen Lee, a psychologist who helped me work through the issues of what I would do The interior of the Silver Meteor's Sun Lounge car. when the Women's United Soccer Association folded — she's a writer herself and the first person to read a draft of what became this book — was invaluable in helping me move from journalist writer to fiction writer, to create characters' personalities, motivations and words rather than recount what I could learn about existing people and quote what they said. It helps to have been a journalist to understand how difficult that transition can be. For the longest time I couldn't really understand why my response of "it didn't happen that way" wasn't an appropriate response to her suggestions for story improvement. I was no longer confined by journalism's rules, and if I wanted to indulge and succeed in this new form of writing, I had to exercise and explore the freedom it afforded.
I also needed her help because the choice to write a novel seemed the easy shortcut to the book Phil originally suggested. I thought imagination was the only ingredient necessary for fiction and that it would be a quick, easy substitute for research. After all, I had lived the story myself.
Six years later, the result of this shortcut has been published.
The problem with my approach turned out to be that I hadn't really lived the story, just my part of it. As I got deeper into the writing, it became increasingly obvious that what I knew about the story was embarrassingly incomplete. I was writing about childbirth knowing nothing more about it than what the other guys in the waiting room said. The book changed significantly once I returned home to listen to people who lived their parts of story and discovered how our versions combined to create a fuller tale.
It is humbling to learn that your story is not the story, especially for an ex-journalist.
The people who helped me relearn that lesson were Sheila Blakely, Michael Howe, Stephanie Scarborough Ashworth, Cherry Kay Killian, John Adeimy, Dennis Quick, Leroy Quick, Billy Quick, Janet Petris, Betty Williamson, Eli Nilsen and Hanne Hovden. The time they shared with me made this a richer story, and I am thankful for their contributions as well as for relationships created and renewed. Publisher Rick Bacon kindly allowed me access to the files of the Richmond County (North Carolina) Daily Journal and the now-extinct Hamlet News-Messenger.
Sharon Davis, Beth Thompson and Nan Williamson provided love, wisdom and support in the times when a blank computer screen was the best I could turn out that day.
Skiing, hockey and railroad buddy Tom Mertens' help on the manuscript was invaluable as were our mountain hikes with tireless listener and wise counsel Chris Dier. Fellow choir members at the Stone Church of Willow Glen — Jerry Keifer, Lyn Johnson and Karen Scott — as well as Betty Moak, Allison Connors, Nancy Pollard and Elisa Koff-Ginsborg were thoughtful and thorough critics. The women at church who critiqued the sex scenes wish to remain anonymous, but they knew what they were talking about. Thanks to colleagues Louise Auerhahn, Brian Darrow, Janice Ferris and Sarah Muller who pitched in on the final copy-editing process.
I'm especially thankful for the review of the Equal Rights section of the History in the Novel page of this website by another colleague, Dr. Ben Field, who has taught courses in American history and the U.S. Constitution as an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at San Jose State University.
The Rev. Dr. Ken Henry listened to as much about the '60s, North Carolina, trains and high school football as any young pastor from Oregon should have to. We're still on speaking terms.
There are some kinds of support only family can provide. Mine was generous. Brother and sister, Lee and Julie, shared their memories, criticism and love. My son Gordon hilariously deflated tense times with his humor. And Emily waited four days for me to cross the country by train while I was in my roomette writing the first words of this story. Since then we have wrestled over every scene and semicolon. That's the way we collaborate.
I am grateful for these people being in my life and work. And I am thankful to the American taxpayers who subsidize business projects like this.
"A Catechism to Be Taught Orally To Those Who Cannot Read; Designed Especially for the Instruction of the Slaves," is quoted in this novel. It is part of Documenting the American South, a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. DocSouth is sponsored by the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be viewed online at http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/catechisms/menu.html. The original document is contained in its collections.