At Stanford, I had felt like an impostor. I had the tremendous good fortune to study with Tobias Wolff, Elizabeth Tallent, and John L’Heureux, as well as the gifted fellow writers in my workshops. But it was also intimidating. My colleagues included Adam Johnson, ZZ Packer, Stephen Elliott, and other writers already publishing books and building careers. Meanwhile, I labored myopically over Ghost Horse. Agents and editors expressed interest, but with an arrogance born of insecurity, I kept revising, insisting that it wasn’t finished.
There was another reason I didn’t finish. In 2003, in the midst of my time at Stanford, my father committed suicide. For months I had talked to his wife, his doctors, and him, trying to help him and at the same time repelled by his behavior, the final phase of the mental illness from which he had suffered his whole life. The day before he died he called me, manic, saying that angels had saved him when he’d fallen asleep riding his motorcycle—and that this, surely, was a sign that he should live, wasn’t it? The next day, the phone rang. I was writing a description of the ghost horse, an imaginary creature, opening his wings, ascending. The phone rang and I sat in my chair, convinced that it was my father, unwilling to answer.
“Experience Required: The Long Journey of Ghost Horse,” Bloom Magazine (August 2015)