As she lay dying, my ninety-year-old mother and I discussed death and its aftermath. An avowed Atomist, she believed we are born of and return to dust. She recommended I read Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, a nonfiction paean to the Epicurean philosophical poet Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things. It is the story of the man who rediscovered Lucretius’s poem centuries after all copies were thought to have been destroyed. Its protagonist, Poggio Bracciolini, chose to live his dream—the austere life of a book hunter—rather than pursue more lucrative options available to him. The sentence summarizing his reasoning screamed from the page like a taunt. “The pattern of dreaming, deferral and compromise is an altogether familiar one; it is the epitome of a failed life.”
My dream deferral and compromise lasted for over thirty years, three kids, three houses, countless cats, a couple of dogs and a great deal of rather pedestrian corporate communications work. A year after my mother’s death, Bracciolini’s taunt still haunting me, I quit my job to pursue my fiction.
I enrolled in Cedar Crest College’s Pan-European MFA program, attending residencies in the Vienna, Dublin and Barcelona. Three months after completing my degree, I placed second in the inaugural Bucks County Short Fiction Contest judged by Janet Benton (Lilli de Jong). Shortly thereafter, Passager Journal became the first to publish one of my short stories. The Northwest literary journal Moss. was soon the second. Driftwood Press has twice judged me a quarter-finalist in their Adrift Short Story Contest. Years earlier I had published essays and profiles in Stanford Magazine, Cornell Alumni News, The Ithaca Times and several business publications, but these new stories were my own. I had become a published writer of fiction. As my mother was fond of saying, O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Following this heady wave of acceptances, I backed away from short fiction to concentrate on completing my first novel. I spent a year revising and expanding my MFA thesis before submitting it to publishers. My late blooming beginner’s luck continued when The Femme Fatale Hypothesis was picked up by Regal House for publication in 2021.
My dream continues in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the company of my prolifically creative wife, Beth. To paraphrase George Saunders from Thank you, Esther Forbes, I believe immersion in language will enrich and bring purpose to my life. And when the atoms of me return to stardust, there will be something left behind that someone may read and they may laugh, or weep, or simply nod with knowing, and perhaps they will even feel that their life was enriched for having read it. For me, living for any other purpose would be the epitome of a failed life.