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Story Behind the Story #4:
Captain Grey

The College of New JerseyIn the sum­mer of 1975, I was work­ing as a librar­i­an, and try­ing to write. My first two books had been pub­lished. But, still need­ing to work full time at some­thing oth­er than writ­ing, and hav­ing worked at the New York Pub­lic Library for about ten years, I took a librar­i­an’s job at Tren­ton State Col­lege (now The Col­lege of New Jer­sey) where I was hired as a read­er’s advis­er, with a focus on the arts and lit­er­a­ture. It was a some­what unusu­al posi­tion inso­far as I was a mem­ber of the fac­ul­ty which, among oth­er perks, meant I would have my sum­mers off—to write, of course. That’s why I took the job.

Being in New Jer­sey I did what I always did when in a new place: read some of its history.

I don’t know if I was required to join the (state-wide) fac­ul­ty bar­gain­ing agent, the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, or joined on my own. In any case I was a mem­ber of the union. What I did not know was that there was on-going con­tract dis­pute. In the spring of 1976, a strike was called. That was a new one for me, but I went along. The first day of the strike was excit­ing in its way: mass pick­et lines, cama­raderie, hopes for a quick pos­i­tive res­o­lu­tion. In fact, there was no quick res­o­lu­tion and, after the first day, I was giv­en a one hour pick­et­ing assignment—for two weeks.

For the first time as an adult I was not work­ing full-time. For a day I was per­plexed, and then I real­ized I could stay home and write. That too was a first.

Captain GreySo it was that I sat down and began to write what would become Cap­tain Grey, a nov­el set in New Jer­sey his­to­ry, a sea-far­ing tale, if you will. [It was also the nov­el that in some fash­ion or oth­er, the pub­lish­er for­got to send out for reviews.]

As for the strike: It was set­tled in NYC by Al Shanker (any­one remem­ber him?), the head of the nation­al union, and some­one rep­re­sent­ing the state of New Jer­sey. The lead­er­ship of my union was not even at the table. The result: I (and all librar­i­ans) lost our fac­ul­ty sta­tus, and our sum­mers off.

Great labor victory!

Curi­ous­ly, the word to strike derives from the nau­ti­cal term, “to strike one’s sails,” which is to say not go anywhere.

But I did have my first his­tor­i­cal novel.

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