My parents had a retirement home on Shelter Island, a quite enchanting and rather unusual island (wild canaries, bamboo groves, and bays filled with oysters and clams) at the end of Long Island, New York—about a hundred miles from New York City.
It was around Labor Day one year that I, along with my family, had been visiting my parents. My youngest son was endlessly grumbling about the fact that he was about to end his summer vacation and needed to return to school. Could he not, he constantly begged, just stay with his grandparents in this idyllic place? Well, no.
The car was packed. We had said our good byes. My wife was in the car. My oldest son was in the car. I was in the car. It was necessary that we leave quickly so that we could catch the last ferry to the mainland. But—my youngest son was nowhere in sight.
The thought suddenly struck me: could he have run off and hid so as to avoid going back home and skip returning to school?
In the instant I thought about this possibility I had the plot of A Place Called Ugly. Sometimes, if a writer is lucky, the idea for a story fairly well leaps at you, whole and breathtakingly complete. It has happened a few times, but not often. This was one of these times.
As for my son, he popped out of the house. He had merely been to the bathroom.
We drove off, made the ferry and continued on home … and to school.
But I had the plot of my next book in my mind and, during that long drive, I worked out the details.
That said, when I submitted the book to my editor he turned it down. “Not good. Something is missing,” he said. “Find it.”
It was rather like my missing son.
I searched and found the missing piece.
Second submission. “Terrific,” said my editor.
So there it was, A Place Called Ugly. One of my favorite books.