My professional career probably started in my senior year at Harvard, in the office of my creative writing course instructor, Mr. McCreary. “Jablow,” he said in a soft Boston accent that I remembered for decades after forgetting his first name, “you write damned well, but you’ll never be a fiction writer. You write like a journalist.”
Mr. McCreary wore tweed sports coats and had a yellowing mustache and looked enough like William Faulkner that his advice seemed instantly credible. I followed it for decades.
After Harvard came Columbia University and a master’s degree in journalism and then 30-plus years in newsrooms in North Carolina, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It was a wonderful business, filled with amazing characters and amazing stories. Our mantra was, “You couldn’t make this stuff up.”
How else could a kid from New York cover Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King’s funeral, come home with his suit covered with dust from a steel plant or attend a Klan rally wearing a suit so the rednecks would mistake him for a fed? I left the newspaper business and the Inquirer in 2003, at the dawn of the Great Downsizing, to teach, freelance, and work on a stillborn novel, ignoring Mr. McCreary’s advice at what turned out to be my peril.
Several years after I did a freelance piece that quoted a local hardware store owner, he asked me, “Are you still writing?”
“Charlie,” I replied. “Why don’t you ask me if I’m still breathing,”