word craft


Story Behind the Story #10:
A Place Called Ugly

A Place Called UglyMy par­ents had a retire­ment home on Shel­ter Island, a quite enchant­i­ng and rather unusu­al island (wild canaries, bam­boo groves, and bays filled with oys­ters and clams) at the end of Long Island, New York—about a hun­dred miles from New York City.

It was around Labor Day one year that I, along with my fam­i­ly, had been vis­it­ing my par­ents. My youngest son was end­less­ly grum­bling about the fact that he was about to end his sum­mer vaca­tion and need­ed to return to school. Could he not, he con­stant­ly begged, just stay with his grand­par­ents in this idyl­lic place? Well, no.

The car was packed. We had said our good byes. My wife was in the car. My old­est son was in the car. I was in the car. It was nec­es­sary that we leave quick­ly so that we could catch the last fer­ry to the main­land. But—my youngest son was nowhere in sight.

The thought sud­den­ly struck me: could he have run off and hid so as to avoid going back home and skip return­ing to school?

In the instant I thought about this pos­si­bil­i­ty I had the plot of A Place Called Ugly. Some­times, if a writer is lucky, the idea for a sto­ry fair­ly well leaps at you, whole and breath­tak­ing­ly com­plete. It has hap­pened a few times, but not often. This was one of these times.

As for my son, he popped out of the house. He had mere­ly been to the bathroom.

We drove off, made the fer­ry and con­tin­ued on home … and to school.

But I had the plot of my next book in my mind and, dur­ing that long dri­ve, I worked out the details.

That said, when I sub­mit­ted the book to my edi­tor he turned it down. “Not good. Some­thing is miss­ing,” he said. “Find it.”

It was rather like my miss­ing son.

I searched and found the miss­ing piece.

Sec­ond sub­mis­sion. “Ter­rif­ic,” said my editor.

So there it was, A Place Called Ugly. One of my favorite books.

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