How I Found the Last Hungry Heart
Part 1 | A Novel’s long Gestation
by David K. Leff
Finding the Last Hungry Heart, my novel in verse, germinated in me over forty years ago on I-70 somewhere just west of Quinter, Kansas. Perhaps I was dazed by the hot sun and endless orderly grain fields. It came to me as powerfully as a Hollywood desert mirage teases thirsty people.
In 1971, at age sixteen, I hitchhiked from my Connecticut home to California and back. Like any teenager, I wanted to be on my own, away from parents and authority of any kind. In those days there were no pagers or cell phones. When you were gone, you might as well have disappeared. My Kerouac dream of the open road became real. In an era of roiling politics, mass protest, and inspiring music, sticking out your thumb for a ride was a political act, a species of protest, a sign that the music was in you.
Standing a long time at roadside in Kansas on my way west, I had a surging sense that my cross country adventures were the ticket to my incipient dream of becoming a writer. The people I met were fascinating—truck drivers, old men with war stories, other teens starved for fun. The landscape challenged my powers of description. But I didn’t want a travelogue or a beat era derivative tale. That was my challenge.
Traveling through the Rockies, the Sonoran Desert, and along the coast of California during the remainder of my two-and-a-half weeks away only amped my desire for a literary creation. But when I got home and fell into my daily routines, I found that although I had fabulous adventures that captivated my friends, there was no story in a writer’s sense, with a plot or characters that evolved.
On finishing my schooling, I began devoting time to writing a novel based on my trip. Spending so much time at my typewriter (yes, it was that long ago) made me feel as if I was still in school, although I had a full time job. It took me about five years of devoted effort to finish what would become Finding the Last Hungry Heart. It was a conventional prose novel with intervals of news headlines and journal entries. It fell flat with those I asked to read the manuscript. The protagonist wasn’t sculpted in sharp enough relief, the chapters too episodic.
I put the manuscript down for a decade. On picking it up again, I strengthened the narrative voice and reworked the plot that so it held more suspense. I wrote it halfway through again and stopped. Something wasn’t working. Five years and much fretting later, I revisited the story again. I tinkered with the characters and included a major motor vehicle accident for excitement. The work was drudgery. Nothing seemed to gel. After the better part of a year and 150, new pages I gave up.
When I began working on Finding the Last Hungry Heart for the final time, I was already the author of three non-fiction books and three volumes of poetry. One day, I was jotting some lines for a poem on a notepad and something from deep memory hit me. I started playing putting with the old dog-eared manuscript, putting it into free verse. Suddenly the sentences flowed. I could hardly stop them. The protagonist gained an attitude and the rhythms of his words propelled me on. The sudden flash of inspiration I felt on a Kansas roadside decades ago was reignited. In less than a year, the book was finished.
Why did a change of genre work? Read the next installment of “How I Found the Last Hungry Heart.”
A Novel in Verse by David K. Leff
Now Available! | List Price: $17.95 | On Sale: $14.35
About the Book: Enter a world where the past is present and stories matter. Teens climb a landfill fence, the 1960s come alive, and a disillusioned refugee from those turbulent years rediscovers himself.