The Back Story


The question I get most often when people hear that I have a novel coming out is "What's it about?" The second most-asked question is "What made you write about that?" or "How did you come up with that story?" People are interested in back stories. So, here is the back story to All The Living And The Dead.

In short, the book was a long time in the making.

I conceived of the idea in 1989 when I was a young, adjunct professor at Butler County Community College. That was my first experience viewing students and faculty from “the other side of the desk.”

I was 26 years old, and I began to notice how the female students would shift into another gear when they were around older professors. I asked one of my colleagues about this, and he told me “There’s a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate, but it better be a strong, clear line.” As a teacher, I took that advice to heart. As a writer, I asked, “But what happens if the line isn’t strong or clear?”

I took a hiatus from teaching to work in journalism for a few years, but missing the classroom, I accepted a position at Cumberland County College in southern New Jersey. I observed the same phenomenon at that college. I watched how my mentors – the two Johns to whom the book is dedicated – handled their encounters.

There was something natural, powerful, and scary about watching young females explore and test their internal power as women. I was fascinated, and it was that fascination that revived the story in my head and was the impetus for the creation of Quinn Gravesend and Autumn Gilhain.

Fiction is about conflict, and the ultimate conflict is that old physics/philosophical musing about what would happen if the unstoppable force met the immovable object. I used that idea when fleshing out the personalities of Autumn and Gravesend: Autumn is the unstoppable force full of forwardness, brashness, spunk and energy. Gravesend is the immovable object: urbane, calm, charming and private to the point of reclusiveness.

But in every great conflict, someone has to blink. When I looked at the two ways the characters were developing, I knew it had to Gravesend. His emotional need was greater. So, slowly Autumn pushed her way over Gravesend’s line and into his life. And she brought Gaston, Chet, Lyle, and Patrick with her.

By 1998, I had completed a full draft of the novel, but I was chair of the department and deep into other life commitments, so I didn’t do anything with the book. After I left Cumberland to teach in Michigan, I moved on to other projects. I would occasionally putter with the draft, but I only made one serious change: to set the story in the year when the century turned. I tried out different titles, and none of them seemed to work, probably because since the book had been my only novel for so long, I just got used to calling it "The Novel."

But the story was missing something that I couldn’t identify, so I decided to put it away for good and move on to a second novel.

The plan for this second novel was to write the entire thing from the perspective of an old woman looking back on her crazy life, but I knew I was having difficulty thinking like an old woman. By that point, I had connected with the editors at BookMakers. They read the first draft of my new novel and gave me some pointers that made me think “These folks know what they’re doing.” So, I handed The Novel over to them as a “what if?” Sort of an academic exercise. Maybe they could spot the flaw that I hadn’t been able to see.

They did.

They pointed out that Autumn reacted too much like a 16-year-old guy in some scenes, and so, by the way, did Gravesend. Their ideas and willingness to work with the story, sent me packing away the new novel and back to my, now, 25-year-old tale of Autumn and Gravesend. If serendipity is your thing, you’ll notice that’s about as long as Gravesend was dormant. That was unplanned, but I never take a good coincidence or cosmic joke for granted.

Two more years of hard labor followed. Then, one of the editors said to me “You know, you can’t publish this under the title of The Novel. You’re going to need a new title.”

Despite having made a living writing headlines, I’m terrible in coming up with titles. However, I had a literature class that semester in which I was teaching James Joyce’s great short story “The Dead.” I gave the class a dramatic reading of the last paragraph, and as soon as the words “over all the living and the dead” came out of my mouth, I knew I had the title.

So that’s how "The Novel" aka All The Living And The Dead was finally ready to be placed into your hands, starting on April 25th.

I hope you feel it’s worth it. I certainly do!

#AllTheLivingAndTheDead #Novels #Backstories

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