Interview

A conversation with Thomas McNeely, author of The Atlantic's June short story

The Atlantic's June short story


June 17, 1999

  Thomas McNeely

"Sheep," the short story in this month's Atlantic, is Thomas McNeely's first publication. He found the material for the story -- about Lloyd, a shepherd arrested for serial murder -- while working at a nonprofit legal resource center in Texas, assisting lawyers with habeas corpus appeals of death-row defendants. As the lawyers often had to build a case without much time before a client's execution date (McNeely's first major case, in fact, went through the entire federal court system in thirty-nine hours), the job provided an extreme sort of stress. McNeely's colleagues each dealt with the psychological and ethical stress in their own ways: some went to the executions, some avoided them. McNeely's response was to synthesize the information -- or, in his own words, "to amalgamate the different voices of actual death-row inmates that I had heard into something fictional, something that could carry a narrative." After reading "Sheep," one might say that McNeely has heeded the advice of Henry James, who advised writers to "be one of those upon whom nothing is lost."


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