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April 20th, 2011 - Lee Matthew Goldberg

Ten years ago, I’d taken a trip to Belgium to visit a good friend who was studying abroad. I’d been teaching English and Literature at LaGuardia Community College for the past few years, but honestly, I was frustrated because nothing was happening with my writing career. I’d felt like I was just spinning the wheels. So, for spring break I took a few extra days and had a qualified substitute fill in for three classes. By the end of my travels, I’d be fired.

The trip was amazing. I’d been to Europe a lot of times, but never Belgium. We stayed mostly in Brussels with a few days in Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp. I don’t think I’d ever eaten so many French Fries and drank so much beer. The fries were all sold in these trucks all night long that had dozens of mayo-based dipping sauces. I remember one that mixed teriyaki and mayo and was my personal crack.

I’d brought with me a novel I was working on, or rather, had stuck in a desk since my first year out of college and finally picked up again. This would become my debut novel Slow Down, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’d grabbed it on a whim and thought I’d read it through on the plane and if I had any down time. The writing was pretty sub-par, but the story was there. My sleep schedule was all off, so while my friend was sleeping, I was up most of the night my first few days tinkering on it, enough that I realized there was something there.

Being a teacher affording me the time to travel, so I usually utilized my vacation time as much as possible. And while I had a week off, something told me that I wanted more. I set up a substitute who was more than enough qualified (these were English 101 classes, not rocket science), and didn’t think twice that there would be an issue.

Spoiler: the head of the English department sent me an email on one of my last days that a student was confused about there being a substitute, and I was immediately fired. No if, ands, or buts. This was mid-semester and when I returned home, I couldn’t even say goodbye to the students. I had never once missed a class before, and not to toot my horn, but I was a well-liked teacher there. Still: the department had been run by the same person since the 1970s whose rules were fixed and she hated me because my style of teaching was way less rigid. So, she saw an opportunity, and I never returned to campus.

After a long ordeal with the head of the department trying to block my unemployment insurance, the judge sided with me and even questioned why she’d been so harsh, but I believe subconsciously I knew that this would be how she’d react and needed a kick in the ass to focus on writing full-time for as long as I could. After stewing for a bit, I fixed up my novel-in-progress, sent it to my agent, and a year later, I got my first book deal. Five novels later, I wonder if my career ever would’ve happened had I not gone to Belgium? Maybe… but certainly not in the way that it did.

So, I dip my French Fries in teriyaki mayo and cheers to getting the boot. Sometimes being fired is the best thing that could possibly happen, especially to a budding writer.


Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE ANCESTOR, THE MENTOR, THE DESIRE CARD and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the Prix du Polar. His first YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN is forthcoming in 2021 along with a sci-fi novel ORANGE CITY. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, LitReactor, Monkeybicycle, Fiction Writers Review, Cagibi, Necessary Fiction, the anthology Dirty Boulevard, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press and others. He is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at

Lee wants you to learn more about Food Bank For New York City Virtual Food Drives. Virtual Food Drives create an online marketplace where donations buy virtual food items, like fresh produce and canned goods. They are a fun and convenient way to get your friends, family, and coworkers involved in our mission to end hunger. Visit


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