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The next day I befriended Hal by talking baseball with him and when the fall arrived and I prepared my second batch of applications, I wrote to Lee and asked if she would read my manuscript.I asked that if she liked it, “Would she mind writing me a recommendation letter? “I’m going on book tour soon and I’ll need stuff to read so please send it along!* * * * I went to graduate school because I wanted to be a writer. I did not read women then partly because I was an idiot but also because I was trying to understand how men wrote about men.
By then I had moved to Richmond, Virginia with my brother and he was paying our rent, our food, our everything.
He told me not to worry but to focus on my writing if that was what I really wanted to do. So I spent my mornings writing and my afternoons looking for jobs.
They were the ones who had invited me into the fold.
I had met them two years before at a writers’ conference in Eastern Kentucky and I thought them among the smartest people I had ever met. “You made it.” He rose from his chair to greet me and shake my hand. We were all there to take in spring training baseball, an annual trip organized by Lee and Hal.
At the pool, I found the two people I had most come to see.
The novelist Lee Smith and her husband, journalist Hal Crowther.The night before the LSAT I shuffled up to the library with my test prep book, its spine uncreased, in near pristine condition. I enjoyed staying up late and composing stories, recreating the world I had paid so much attention to as a boy in southeastern Kentucky.I wasn’t so dumb to think I could cram for the LSAT, but I had a feeling the book remained untouched in my room all term because I didn’t really want to go to law school. I had no idea what that was and my professors didn’t really seem to know, either. All I knew was that to be a writer it seemed one needed to get one of these degrees and the secret to publishing a story or even a book might lie in getting one. I had accepted a job with my fraternity as a traveling consultant for the year after graduation. I fully believed this job would tide me over for two years and then I’d apply to get my MFA and, before long, I’d have my own capsule-sized bio in the back of . My responsibilities as a consultant involved driving from chapter house to chapter house, checking in with the members, and with the university administrators in charge of Greek life.I kept the door open as I made my way to the air conditioner and raised the blinds, which was a mistake. A roach the width of my pinky eyed me from the shower wall and I crunched it with some toilet paper and dropped it into the commode.I pulled back the covers on the bed, worried what I might find, but the sheets were clean, free of stray hairs, giving off the faint scent of bleach.The motel had probably been falling apart since it opened. Around the pool, the plastic lawn chairs were busted and their seatbacks tottered in the breeze.At the patio tables, sunlight had worn the umbrellas thin as gossamer and the area was empty.During one really tough day I took an automated telephone interview to work as a clerk for Best Buy.After a series of yes or no questions, the computerized voice of a woman told me I was eliminated.I kept finding other things to do rather than study, like reading Raymond Carver stories and then rereading them. So when I read I devoted my senior year to completing a collection of short stories as an Honors Thesis. The travel schedule was brutal—two chapters per week—and exceedingly lonely.I made my way through old issues of and I was always driving out to the Barnes and Noble and looking in the backs of books and finding all the writers had gone to the University of Iowa. Checking in meant I was there to make sure they were following the rules.