Writing a Novel During My Morning Run
WRITTEN BY KATHRYN PINCUS. POSTED IN SELF GROWTH. (Published originally in Living Well Magazine, April 2015 issue)
Almost every morning, as the sun is beginning its ascent into the sky, I lace up my running shoes, stretch, and bound out the door. A feeling of contentment sets in immediately—not the fabled “runner’s high” or anything as dramatic as that—just a sense of calm and happiness, a transcendence over my daily milieu. As I enter this physical state, my mental state begins to wake up and roam freely. The caffeine I consumed an hour earlier may be the catalyst, but the real reason for my mind’s exploration is the fact that it is blissfully unoccupied. There are no televisions blaring in my ears, no Facebook pages flashing before my eyes, and no teenagers asking me where their football jersey could be. My thoughts can wander to varying and random subjects. Often, I get stuck on a particular subject and begin to analyze, dissect, and elaborate on it, and I being to compose a piece of “writing” in my head, as if I were attempting to persuade some illusive audience.
From 1991 through 2005 I was a full-time attorney practicing corporate, commercial, and employment law and litigation. A significant part of my responsibilities in that role involved writing complex legal documents such as briefs, position statements and other work product. I loved that part of my job–compiling a factual record through discovery, researching the relevant law, and weaving the factual record and the law together into compelling arguments to persuade a judge or arbitrator to decide the dispute in favor of my client. It is essentially the telling of a story—but within the framework of certain facts and law. During these years, my daily run helped alleviate stress and prepare me mentally for the challenges of my workday. More importantly, the forty-five minutes to an hour of running alone and without any distractions always helped me achieve a sort of hyper-focused state—and a breakthrough. For example, during one run I might find a better way to organize a brief that I had been struggling with, while on another run I might have an “ah-ha” moment where I was able to finally recall which witnesses’ deposition transcript held the factual support for an important argument. Immediately upon my return home from those runs, I would grab the first piece of paper I found (a post-it note, the back of my son’s homework or even a napkin) and quickly memorialize my enlightenment for use when I got to my office.
In 2005, I quit the practice of law to provide better care for a busy household with two teenagers and two elementary school age children. While I do not regret that decision for one moment, I did miss many aspects of my profession – and, most particularly, the process of writing. But I still had my daily morning run—and since I was no longer tasked with writing briefs and position statements, I began to weave a story. This time, however, my run did not just give me the process for my writing—it gave me the subject matter of my story.
As I ran regularly though the wooded trails of Alapocas and Brandywine Park, and past Breck’s Mill and Hagley Museum, a story evolved out of my own fears: a woman running alone always has to worry about the “what if….?” After the beginning of my story was set, and a woman running past Breck’s Mill was abducted and assaulted, I started to think about the other people involved. I created a scared young man who makes a poor decision while trying to do the right thing, and as a result finds himself falsely accused of the crime and imprisoned with dangerous felons. I saw a young pregnant woman peeking out of a window above the crime as it unfolds, horrified by what she is witnessing but terrified to alert the authorities because she is in this country illegally. Every day as I ran, the story unfolded and became more complex. Once the roots and the trunk of my story took hold, they were fleshed out in my mind with smaller branches and lush leaves. The main characters all had background stories, they each had a path of adversity ahead (their “long hill home”), and I had an obligation to see them through.
Over time I found moments here and there after my morning run to sit down and type my story at my computer. I did this in small pieces over years, because I was extremely busy with my family, household tasks, and numerous volunteer positions. As my children got older and my duties and distractions diminished significantly, I became more purposeful about finishing my story.
I deliberately set my story and created its characters and events based on my real life experience–places, people and a profession that I was very familiar with. Long Hill Home is set in the neighborhood that I live in, the trails that I run on, the city park that I frequent, the courthouse that I practiced law in for many years, and other buildings and places that I am personally very familiar with. The characters in Long Hill Home are fictional, of course, but they are an amalgamation of physical and behavioral traits of people I have known personally, or observed or read about. Even my real life profession—the practice of law—figures prominently in Long Hill Home. This familiarity and real life experience is essential for me to write vividly and convincingly. I wanted my readers to be able to see the people and places of Long Hill Home, and feel as if they are in the book—a true vicarious experience. I couldn’t do that without using my real life experience.
After the kernel of the story that I developed during my morning runs became a complex story, with characters, settings and events that I was capable of vividly describing, I turned to outside sources to learn about or verify a few pieces that were slightly outside of my bailiwick. First, I ran a few questions regarding Delaware criminal procedure by a friend who is an experienced prosecutor with the Delaware Attorney General’s office. I had practiced civil litigation and I knew how to research the Delaware Rules Of Criminal Procedure, but I wanted to know more about how the procedure actually plays out in practice. Next, I asked someone at Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center about how they provide legal advice to their clients, and she directed me to an attorney who answered all of my questions. I researched other topics to complete my story, including the law on immigration, DNA testing, and the science and procedure of chemical capture (i.e., the use of anesthetic drugs to immobilize an animal to capture it).
After several years of running and writing, my manuscript was finally complete. I moved on to the almost full-time phase of editing, proofreading, and copy layout review with my publisher—work that could only be done in front of my computer. I started to long for the days when I could work while running along the banks of the Brandywine River.
I honed my writing skills in my law practice, presenting complex factual and legal matters in clear, compelling and persuasive writings. Long Hill Home is my debut novel, and another novel and a collection of short stories are in the works.
I was raised in the New York metropolitan area (Long Island and then Northern New Jersey), received my undergraduate degree (B. A., Magna Cum Laude) from the University of Delaware, and my law degree (J. D.) from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D. C.
Since my “early retirement” from the practice of law, I have filled my days taking care of a busy household and family, supporting numerous charitable and community causes and writing fiction. When not engaged in all of the above, I enjoy running, biking, traveling, reading, cooking and watching my sons compete in sports.
I live in Wilmington, Delaware with my family and a large black Labradoodle named Shadow, and we all enjoy part of our summers in Longport, New Jersey (at the Jersey Shore). I hope to live in Washington, D.C. again some day, and I “need” to spend time in the mountains occasionally (skiing, biking or just taking in the beautiful open space and fresh air in Colorado, Utah or California).
I grew up in a large Irish family (I was the youngest of six children), and so there were many occasions in my childhood where I was expected to “entertain myself.” I loved sports and anything played outside, except, I also enjoyed reading. I was a voracious reader, and I read books of any subject matter and including books meant for older audiences. I had too many “favorite” subjects in high school and college–but generally they fell into these subject areas: history/political science, psychology literature and creative writing.
I wrote as part of the curriculum in high school, college and law school. I also wrote a great deal in my profession as a litigation attorney. The creation of a legal pleading such as a brief is tantamount to writing a story. First I wove together a factual story, and then I added the legal argument– ideally in a manner that drew in the decison-maker (a judge, an arbitrator or a jury), educated them about the issues and the dispute, and then persuaded them to decide the dispute in a certain manner.
I began writing my debut novel after I retired from the practice of law, at about age 42. At first I was weaving a story in my head during my morning run on the wooded trails of the Brandywine River Valley, and then that story evolved into a written manuscript and ultimately, a published novel. The novel begins with a woman running in the exact spot where I was running when I created it in my head.
I love to read books by Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book ever), John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, Scott Turow, Pat Conroy, Anita Shreve, and Jennifer Weiner.
I love thrillers, as well as any general fiction that involves vivid settings, complex characters and interesting story lines. I also enjoy biographical works (such as those by Laura Hillenbrand and Jon Krakauer).
I am inspired by the authors I mentioned here when I write, because I try to emulate their ability to truly bring to life their characters, their settings and their experiences. Like Harper Lee, I also try to inject issues of social justice into my story lines–to prompt debate or raise awareness about those issues.
My debut novel, Long Hill Home, is a suspenseful story of three strangers–whose lives collide in the aftermath of a violent crime. Kelly Malloy is a wife, a mother and a successful lawyer whose world is shattered when she is brutally attacked while running along the banks of the Brandywine River. Chad McCloskey, a lonely teenage boy from a dysfunctional home, stumbles upon Kelly Malloy’s unconscious body immediately after the assault. He is falsely accused and imprisoned with dangerous felons, only because he tries to help her. Maria Hernandez, a young woman who emigrated illegally from Mexico, is reluctantly thrust into the role of witness to the crime, putting her in jeopardy of deportation only weeks before she is to give birth to her child.
It is a story of the human condition, intimately examined through the harrowing experiences of Kelly, Maria and Chad. All striving for love, security and a fulfilling life, Long Hill Home’s key players face adversity together in spite of seemingly insurmountable differences – which, ultimately, only serve to underscore their commonalities.
Electrifying readers with suspense and provoking nuanced considerations of timely social issues like sexual violence, criminal justice, class and immigration through compelling and emotionally-charged characters, Long Hill Home is a page-turning exploration of what happens when worlds collide – and the narratives we’ve built our lives around come crashing down in unexpected ways.
Long Hill Home is written about subject matter and places that I am very familiar with, enabling me to write with vivid detail and give my readers an authentic–and vicarious–experience. Readers of Long Hill Home will run through the trails of the Brandywine River Valley, sit in an eighteenth floor office of a downtown law firm, stand on a litter-strewn sidewalk in a poor section of Wilmington, and shudder with fear in the shower room of a maximum security prison. They will also be reminded of the fact that all people, regardless of vast differences in background or circumstance, strive for the same things: a place to feel loved, safe, and to call home.
Twenty-five percent of my profits from Long Hill Home will be donated to Habitat For Humanity of New Castle County, Delaware.
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