Michelle Cacho-Negrette reflects on writing the piece "First Husband," published in our latest issue, 300.3, Summer 2015.
How long did it take me to write "First Husband?" Ten years. When Carlos died I realized how badly I wanted to write about my first marriage. However, as I tackled the essay it became a fortress surrounded by a thick wall with no doors. Over the last ten years I've undertaken half-a-dozen first husband essays that just couldn't tell the story the way I wanted it told; I couldn't find a way in. This isn't unusual. Most writers have a story or essay kicking around for a long time, one they return to again and again unable to get it right until one day the words almost magically occur to them. That is what happened to me. I was with Micaela, my oldest granddaughter, and realized how much she looked like her grandfather, especially from a particular angle. It was the preverbal light-bulb going off in my head. I realized that I'd been writing long essays about Carlos and our marriage and that what I really needed was the bare bones of our relationship. I needed to define who we were in the fewest words and give some sense of the times we lived in for context. A door had opened, and "First Husband" was behind it.
Many non-writers imagine that a piece of work appears full-blown, is an act of inspiration almost as though it is being dictated. On very rare occasions that may occur, but for many writers, and certainly for me, nothing could be further from the truth. My ideas come from a variety of sources, a current event in my life, a memory of something past that I finally understand, a news story that opens a thread in me. Generally it takes a number of drafts and can be as long as ten years before it's written in a way that feels ready to greet the world.
Illustrations by: Daniel Zender