My novel and my teacher. I wondered what he'd think.


It's scary enough sending a novel out to publications for review, telling the world about it on social media and knowing that readers are posting their own reviews on amazon.com. But sending a novel to a former writing teacher, now that’s scary.

Or at least it was until I got a long e-mail back with a reference right near the top to “your wonderful novel.” And as quickly as that, the scary leap turned worthwhile.

It has been quite a few years—and quite a few thousand writing experiences in journalism and advertising—since I took that writing class. But when a mutual friend read and liked One Red Thread and then suggested I send a copy to my former professor (now retired) at Hamilton College, I took the bait.

The class was what today would be called a “workshop”—a dozen students breaking into four sections of three to read and critique (sometimes in excruciating detail) one another’s work. The process sounds nerve-wracking, but once each session got underway, it was never as bad as we feared. In fact, it was the best class I ever took. And so it was with my novel.

My teacher recalled his emotional reaction:

The work has taken me back into my own life story, all the way back to a photo of my sixth year birthday party that shows some faces without names that I almost remember as well as my deceased younger sister, and my inseparable best, best, best friend King,

His personal memories:

The wedge of tomato that Walter Lee gives to Eddie summoned up a succulent peach I bit into over forty years ago in Provence.

A few academic references:

Did you know that when Thomas Hardy was 16 he witnessed a hanging that left him deeply ashamed for life for having witnessed such an atrocity?

And as teachers tend to do, examples from the book to examine:

I enjoyed what I might call the grace notes you offer so generously: The nurse who departs Hugh's death-bed hospital room casting "a resentful glance at the covered body," for example, and on the same page, the doctor who jerks the bed sheet over Hugh's corpse with such violence that it comes free all the way up his knees.

Oh, yes, I like Ike! The cat is a major character and ingenious unifying element. We never get inside his head, of course, but we can never know what cats are thinking.

No, we don’t quite know Ike (perhaps my favorite character as well), but it’s wonderful to hear what my former teacher was thinking.

…you have my thanks for a gift that has given great pleasure.

So there you have it: A satisfied reader who came away from One Red Thread with something to think about. Now that’s as high a grade as I could want.


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