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In 2009, during the recession, Kenney was laid off by his advertising firm; it was a good time to start a novel. He had an idea, and took “a few thousand” words from his earlier manuscript still in that drawer. “Truth in Advertising” was born.
At lunch, Kenney is asked how it feels to be a novelist. “I’m not sure you can call yourself a novelist with just one book,” he replies.
“Sure you can,” says Landay. “So Harper Lee’s not a novelist?” Lee’s only book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has sold more than 30 million copies in 18 languages.
The question leads the men into a discussion on the challenge of writing, how Philip Roth, upon recently retiring after writing 31 books, put up a Post-it note in his apartment: “The struggle with writing is over.”
“It’s a struggle every day,” says Landay.
Kenney agrees: “Every day, you learn how little you know, trying to develop a story, a character, a fresh perspective.”
At the library that night, Kenney squints and spots a familiar face in the crowd. “I see Joe Kerner,” he says. “He taught English at Roxbury Latin. I think it’s fair to say, Joe, that I was the worst student you ever had.” Afterward, the retired English teacher compliments both men on their success.
But high school was a tough time for Kenney. His mother died the year before he entered, leaving his firefighter dad with six sons. Kenney had attended Boston public schools during the turmoil of desegregation, and felt ill prepared for the rigors of Roxbury Latin.
So it was with mixed emotions that he returned recently, with Landay, to speak to a senior English class. The alums also got a tour of the school that they had last toured as hopeful 13-year-olds. Kenney remarks “how nothing has changed, how everything has changed.”
He quips: “They made us both take the entrance exam again, and we failed.”
All kidding aside, he adds: “Thank goodness they didn’t.”
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.