A Debut Novel 20 Years in the Making

For Lili Wright, that rejection from a Salt Lake Tribune editor turned out to be pivotal.

LiliWrightPicLili Wright’s Good Reads essay is not only a wonderful chronology of how she came to produce Dancing With the Tiger, a Mexico-set novel that came out last week. It’s also a snapshot of her views on life, love, the creative process and the mad world that surrounds us.

Wright now lives in Indiana. But back in the mid-1990s, she was a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. When she pitched a story about the death of her Spanish night class teacher John Bahoric, it sent her down a whole new professional path:

When I returned from Mexico, John was not well. Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder, was giving him vertigo. He also heard voices, was sure someone was banging on the pipes. I helped him seek hospital care, but it was only a short-term fix. In a terrible turn of events, he committed suicide in 1995. The best way I know how to cope with sadness is to write about it. I pitched the story to the paper. My editor shook her head. “We don’t cover suicide.”

Furious, I wrote the story for a local magazine instead. The piece describes how a friend and I traveled to Mexico to scatter John’s ashes in the sea. This essay was another turning point: I realized I was tired of writing newspaper dailies and wanted to explore long-form non-fiction. I quit the newspaper and went to New York to earn my MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia.

This sad episode followed a year spent by Wright in San Miguel de Allende under the auspices of a journalism scholarship. She returned in 2006 to the country with her husband for a one-year sabbatical.

Wright previously wrote the acclaimed 2002 non-fiction book Learning to Float. She reveals that the process of writing the novel spanned five years and 30 drafts.

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