Become a teacher. You were always a writer. But Ronald Reagan is president; the world doesn’t need another Up the Down Staircase, To Sir with Love. People are making money. Nobody wants to read about your little public school problems.
Leave Minnesota and follow your wife’s career to Berkeley. Find some 8th graders in Oakland to teach. When your classroom starts to shake, run to the blacktop. Watch San Francisco burn across the Bay. When a bullet comes through your window, call the police. When they show up the next day, take comfort when the cop says, “Don’t worry, they weren’t shooting at you. It was just random gunfire.”
Follow your wife’s career to New York City. Try to find some 8th graders they will let you teach. Really, really try. If you can make it there, they say. Learn from your students about Tupac and Biggie and Suge. Edit their pieces entitled “They Robbed Our Bodega Again” and “Meet My Brother’s Pit-bull, Rage.” Watch them dance the merengue. Tell them stories about your Midwestern childhood, chasing fireflies in the dark. Laugh when they say, “Yo, that’s like in a book. You should write that down.”
Read a memoir by a New York City school teacher, a skinny Irish guy with bad teeth, about his mother’s ashes. Start to think about your stories. You are a New York City school teacher. You are skinny and Irish and have bad teeth. You have a mother.
Follow your wife’s career to Boston. Teach the children of the pale and affluent. Learn about lacrosse and dressage and eating disorders and cruises to St. Thomas. Take pleasure in driving through the wooded hills of New England suburbia, past Robert Frost’s stone fences. Edit your students’ astonishingly well-crafted stories. When they ask if you have written any short stories, resent their impertinence, then take up their challenge.
When their parents offer to send you to a writing camp called Bread Loaf, panic, then thank them. Relax when you realize Robert Frost is no longer there to judge you. Rejoice when you are placed in the workshop of a young woman named Egan, who looks like a model and is the smartest person in a roomful of smart people. Rejoice again when she reads aloud a scene from your teacher story and says, “That is so funny, that’s as good as it gets.” (Remember those words: you will live off them for fifteen years). Despair when she adds, “But that ending has to go, it just doesn’t work.” Question her judgment; that ending is brilliant.
Go home. Put your teacher story in your bottom desk drawer. Take it out six months later. Note that that Egan lady was correct and the ending still doesn’t work. Change the ending. Send your teacher story out into the world. Get it published. Write other teacher and non-teacher stories. Get rejected. Get accepted. Get rejected.
Reread your first teacher story. Realize that it is bigger than you thought; it holds multitudes. Panic when you realize it wants to be a novel. Breathe: Barack Obama is president now; perhaps the world is ready for another teacher novel, a different teacher novel.
Spend a decade of summer vacations writing, rewriting your teacher novel, in your basement, in coffee shops, at an arts colony in the Adirondacks, spinning out your gritty New York City tale beside a blue mountain and a blue, blue lake. Finally, send your teacher novel out into the world.
Open an email. Read the second paragraph first, which sounds like rejection: It was a very tough decision. Read further: You have been selected as a finalist for the Petrichor Prize. Consider the possibility that you have, at sixty-one, secured a position in a Russian ballet company. Read the opening of the email, disinter the lead: We would be delighted to publish your novel, Class Dismissed.
Make reservations for yourself and your wife (whose career you are no longer following) at The Painted Burro. Order two margaritas, light on the salt. Then order one for your wife.
Regal House Publishing is delighted to bring you Kevin McIntosh’s novel, Class Dismissed, finalist for our 2019 Petrichor Prize, in 2021.
Kevin McIntosh‘s short stories, many dealing with the teaching life, have appeared in the American Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Chicago Tribune, Jabberwock Review, Potomac Review, and elsewhere. Stories conceived during residencies at Ragdale and Blue Mountain Center were nominated for Best New American Voices and the Pushcart Prize. By George!, Kevin’s musical biography of the Gershwin brothers, was produced at his alma mater, Carleton College, and given a staged reading at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. He continues to write and teach writing in Greater Boston.