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by oh we’re out there for that, you wouldn’t be disappointed. And I was always listening for that. I’ll tell you why. I grew up in Albany, New York, which had the longest-running political machine in the United States, longer than Chicago. The mayor who served for 43 years was a man named Erastus Corning III, heir to a vast fortune, a Yalie. He had a society wifehigh-church Episcopal and all that. And he had an Irish Catholic, foulmouthed, tough-as-nails, tough-as-aboot, Irish girlfriend for 30 or 40 years, who was always referred to delicately as “the mayor’s confidante.” The other thing you’ve got to understand is that I was in a vulnerable position, but I was also in a very public position because I was in a small town and I was the lawyer on the other side. I’ll give you an example. One day I was in a dress store. Picture this: Here I am in one of the few places that I could try to escape from reality. I am in this nice women’s dress store, looking at the sales rack. And all of a sudden this disembodied voice comes through the dresses, “Ms. McCabe, Ms. McCabe. Don’t look up. Keep looking at the dresses. I have something I have to ask you.” So I keep looking at the dresses. She says, “My name is so-and-so.” She’s the wife of the Republican County Chairman. “He’s beating me. He’s abusing me. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to death. I’m afraid he’s going to kill me.” It’s almost like a confessional in the old Catholic Church. I didn’t seek it out. People would come to me. Frankly there was always the possibility that one was being set up. The part in the novel about Bill Mermann [the young defense attorney] locking his car not because of what people would steal, but because of [incriminating evidence] that they could put in, was very real. Paradoxically, in a small town that was very safe, I did lock my car all the time. I did get death threats, bomb threats. I was an outsider and somewhat of an easy target. I just made up my mind that being white and being a lawyer was going to keep me from being shot and they would probably continue to pick on people who were more vulnerable than I was. At least that’s the story I told myself to not become immobilized. TO: What kind of response to the novel have you had in East Texas? MM: I really haven’t been out there with it. I have sent it to a few people, and one fellow who used to practice in Lufkin was at my reading in Austin the other night. He was laughing and telling people, “Yeah, we all thought she was a Communist.” But you know, that word was a bundle of things. It meant she’s not like us. She doesn’t think the way we think. TO: So, were you nave when you moved out there because you connected with rural New England and rural New York? MM: No. I might have underestimated the naked upfront racialism that I encountered, but I think that being prepared to see the good in rural lifeI don’t think being respectful is ever lost or ever wasted. I don’t think that coming in hating them or thinking that they were the devil incarnate would have helped. I was in front of juries. In the first six months of practice out there I had six felony jury trials. I had to find a way to talk to people. How can you talk down to them and feel superior and expect them to help you and help your clients? TO: You had all these stories for so many years. Were you taking notes or keeping a diary? MM: No. What happened was that when I started writing, all these stories must have been lurking somewhere and I tapped into them, even though it’s been 30 years. The characters just started talking to me. Probably the reason that so many lawyers have become writers is that when you’re a lawyer you’re a storyteller for other people. People bring to you their stories in a heaplike in a grocery sack. You have to put them out on a table and put it together. I came to a point that I realized I wasn’t going to live forever and wanted to tell a story that I more or less controlled. I had an opportunity to go into the writing program [at Texas State University] , which was wonderful. What I consciously did was try and understand how to use the conventions of fiction to tell the stories that I had been telling in the conventions of the oral tradition. Mainstream fiction taps into such a narrow, narrow, narrow, tiny little vein of American life. And here I had this missing world missing in the sense that it’s not well represented in contemporary U.S. fictionof Shakespearian language and great logos, pathos, and ethos waiting to be mined. What luck! 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 2, 2005