I grew up in the flatlands of Northwest Ohio, in a little town called Hicksville, after moving there when I was 2 from Akron where I was born. I only have perhaps two or three memories of Akron and I’m not really sure they are real memories or constructions of stories I’ve been told. But in Hicksville I learned to read and found that I enjoyed the world inside these magical portals to other places. It was escape in a 5 by 6 package. And in elementary school I had some need for escape. Second grade was rough. By third grade I did my school work quickly and spend most of my time, while other kids were working on theirs, reading. It was this that let me not lose my mind. I could go into someplace else and simply be anyone.
I read voraciously then, if not selectively. Beverly Cleary, William Pene du Bois, Mark Twain, Tolkein, these eventually were followed as I got older with everything from Setphen King, Robbin Cook, and Michael Crichton to L. Ron Hubbard (that’s a million words of reading I’ll never get back), Agatha Christie, Tom Wolfe, Asimov, Clarke, Alan Dean Foster, Kerouac and others. I was never without a book. I rarely am without something to read now, as long as my phone remains working.
The above were for pleasure reading, but there were also the other things for school that we had to read collectively. There were the standards like “A tale of two cities” “The Mayor of Casterbridge” “A Farewell to Arms” “Of Mice and Men” “The Old Man and the Sea” “The Great Gatsby” “Macbeth” “Hamlet” “The Grapes of Wrath” “My Antonia” “Romeo and Juliet” “Tess of the Durberbilles” “The Awakening” “A Raisin in the Sun” “1984” “Animal Farm” and many more. There were short stories by the score. We also had to do research papers and it was for one of these that I became acquainted with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in the form of “One day in the life”. From this introduction I went on to read “The First Circle” and I have a copy of “The Cancer Ward” on my shelf waiting for me now.
It was in high school that I learned that I could write well. I wrote the assignments and usually got decent grades even when I was totally bsing it. I gave that writing up, except for keeping a journal when I went to college. Other than the few assignments I had for writings conference, where we read things like “The Illiad” “The Inferno” “The Baghavagad Gita” and numerous other classics, I did little writing. I was carrying 18 or 19 quarter hours and was overwhelemed just trying to keep up most of the time. This was a different ball game than High School had been. In High School I had put in very little effort and still had honor roll grades. In Pharmacy School, I suddenly had to work very hard to simply keep up. It made me realize that I had been prepared for this by my English Teacher in High School. I think I must credit her in large part with any success I have as a writer and with being able to survive the shock of those first two years at the University of Toledo. I still always had a book with me, but it usually was something light and fluffy, with little substance beyound the story.
I did spend some interesting evenings with a friend who by the time I was in my third year, was in the English Department Graduate program. I would sometimes attend the discussion groups he and his classmates held regarding short stories or poems they had to read for their classes. During these discussions I enjoyed simply listening as a point would be debated back and forth, sometimes vigorously, and then pointing out something from somewhere else in the story or poem, that would show the point they were debating was not really the point at all and that the writer was meaning something entirely different. I enjoyed that, and it was this that kept getting me invited back. These were good times. As this friend would call it, these were our “Salad Days”.
Then I went to Graduate School at Purdue, and even though there was a fantastic amount of work involved I did have more time to read, an I took advantage of it. Of course there was the things I had to read for class and hundreds of scientific papers to at least peruse. I still found myself with sufficient time between classes to visit the many libraries around campus. I spent many hours after lunch, when waiting for my afternoon class, in the Social Science and Humanities Library. There were stacks upon stacks of things to read. I usually never had a plan when I went in here. I simply would go in and wander around, picking up a half dozen things that caught my eye as I walked. That is someplace I could have lived in those days. I expanded my reading to things like Nabokov, Tolstoy, Melville, and many other classics. Sometmes I would just read a chapter at random from the middle of the book and try to feel the pace and rhythm of the words. Other times I read in depth, and in the entirety. But, again during this time I wrote little that was not directly related to classes and thesis, other than in my journal.
After grad school, I went to work as a pharmacist, then became a father. I still read, and kept the journal. Now I was more selective in my reading. I tried to some extent to read at least one classic for every popular book I read. This led me through Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, getting the pants scared off of me by Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone”, Mellville, “War and Peace”, “The Foundation Trilogy” parts of Frederick J. Coppleston’s “The History of Philosophy” as well as on the popular side, Patricia Cronwell, more Crichton, King, Tom Clancy, Robert Patterson, and many others. I reread Tolkein, and “On the Road”. I also began to play at writing. I would have a moment of clarity about an opening scene and would get it down. I never really finished any of it though. The weight of begin a parent became paramount. I didn’t find the time, or make the time to become serious about it.
The big change came, when I had written a short story that I thought was very good. My wife, Jenni hated the ending, but liked the story. It was the reaction I was trying to get and I was happy with that. But, Jenni kept asking about what was next, she wanted more of the story. So, at her prompting, I began to work in earnest on finding out more of what there might be to the story. Slow is an understatement when describing this process. I would write a page or two, sometimes once a week. Sometimes the whole thing would sit for weeks on end.
I really got serious about it though when I moved to North Carolina a few months before Jen and the kids. I had nothing but time after work. I went home a lot of weekends, but not all, and the hours seemed to drag on. So I worked on the book. By the time that Jen moved in April, I had the bones of a first draft. I had completed a novel. It was only about 50000 words, but it was a full story. I was proud of it. I began to edit and realized it sucked. But, at the same time i was still proud. One day, about a year and a half later, I had a draft that I thought I could actually show to someone. My parents had bought a house near ours and one day when we were there, they showed me a little add for a “pitch the publisher” event. On a whim I went. The publisher asked me to punch up the draft and send it to be read. I was estatic. I didn’t expect anything like this so quickly. But at the same time I realized that even starting small was still starting. So I worked unlike I had ever worked before on the thing. I rewrote and changed chapters around and added to the story and in just over a month I had the finished draft. I sent it in and a few months later they asked if they could publish it.
Then the reality of working with a publisher set in. I was on cloud nine, but the delay was killing me. Finally, just a week before a local book festival, the book came out. I had become an author. I went to the festival and even sold a few copies. I had gotten paid to be a writer. It was, perhaps one of the proudest moments of my life.
Now, almost three years later, I’ve published another book, I have one I am trying to get picked up by an agent, am editing a fourth, and am about eighty percent of the way done writing a fifth. And in all of this, there is a sixth sits in a drawer, because I don’t know if it would ever sell. It is one I wrote for me and Jen, and I sometimes think I could rearange it it alittle and get it to where I could sell it but I[m still nor sure I want to. In a way it is too intimate. But, isn’t that what writing is supposed to be about? For now I keep writing and may revisit it soon.
I’ve arranged my life so that I can write. It is not enough time, there never is enough time to write. I get up nearly 2 hours before I really need to so that I can sit and work in the morning before the rest of the house stirs. It has become a discipline that has greatly increased my output, but I’m still holding at two books published. That doesn’t bother me, really. It has become more of a habit that I get up and write. It eases me into the day, and I have started to really feel like I’m coming into my own as a writer. My current first draft is good. I feel it, and I hope to be done with it soon. I’ve set myself the deadline of November first, so I can do Nanowrimo again this year. I’ve managed to do the 50000 words in a month the last two years and I’d like to do it again. But, I don’t want to try unless I’m done with the current project.
So this seems to have become rambling, but it hopefully gives you a little picture of where I started and why I do what I do. Books have been my best friends for a long time and now I have reached a point where I can breathe those friends into life.