Born in New Jersey, I spent most of the first 10 years of my life abroad, first in Belgium, then Italy. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I got to run around like a street urchin through major European cities. On the other hand, some places were still dedicated to the Dickensian methods of educating children. I got locked in coal cellars (who knew coal cellars still existed?), rapped on the knuckles with rulers and in general treated like a savage in need of a very quick and forcible civilizing. (In my teachers’ defense, I was somewhat of a little savage. Window breaking and fire starting were my specialties.)
Coming back to the states in 1970, I discovered I had missed something very important: the 60s. Yes, almost an entire decade had passed me by and somehow, maybe because of all the time I had spent in coal cellars, barely a hint of that era’s changes had reached me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered people did not still dress like the characters on Leave It to Beaver, or swear like Andy Griffith, or listen to the Cowsills, and–horror of horrors–the Boy Scouts were now totally uncool. Luckily, there were many people willing to catch me up on what I’d missed. After they had “re-educated” me a few times, I learned to dress and swear like a rock star, respond to all music questions with either “Led Zeppelin, yeah!” or “Clapton is God!” and to never, ever under any circumstances admit that I’d wanted to be a Boy Scout.
It was around this time that I started writing poetry. I liked the feeling writing gave me, and I was very proud of my ability to write several poems a day, usually during school hours when I was supposed to be solving quadratic equations. I never showed my poems to anyone. One, I had an instinct that writing poetry might get me “re-educated” again, as it was considered even less cool than the Boy Scouts. Two, I had heard terms like meter, sonnet, rhyme schemes and stanzas used in various English classes, and I was pretty sure my poems didn’t have any of these things. So I kept them hidden.
My first piece of fiction came along freshman year in high school. Oddly enough, it was a horror story, probably because we had been reading Poe in class. But what I noticed right away is that I didn’t need to know anything about stanzas or sonnets to write a story. In fact, all I needed was to be able to tell a good story–which I was sure I could do.
As it turned out, I was wrong about what I needed to know. Luckily, I had some instinct for the mechanics that matter most in fiction: plot, setting, character, dialogue, voice, etc. More importantly, I had a host of teachers who encouraged me. For a young would-be author, there is almost nothing more magical than an adult taking you seriously, and these teachers did more than that–they nurtured my excitement and passion even when my writing was less than stellar.
Fast forward many years, I finally got the bug to write a novel. I was in my 20s, working full time, and the notion of writing something as long as a novel terrified me. The only way I could attempt it was to convince myself it was just for fun, to see if I could do it. And so I began Anatopsis.
The first full version took me 5 years to complete and was over 600 pages long. By any measure of literature, it was unpublishable. While I was recovering from my disappointment and trying to rewrite the book, I took the opportunity to do what every struggling writer does: work at a lot of different jobs so that I could list them on the back flap of my books some day.
(Here is the list, for those of you who are curious: store clerk, teacher, children’s magazine editor, production manager at a sailing magazine, secretary, telecommunications programmer, web consultant, Director of Information Systems for an on-line music company, and most recently, Java developer. Oh, and for a few years, I was also guitarist and vocalist for the Beatles tribute band, HELP!)
Finally, more than 20 years from the day I started it, Anatopsis got published. Now I’m writing pretty much full-time. I live in a nice house in Massachusetts with my wonderful, supportive, and extremely patient wife (who also, by the way, is a published author and a fantastic writer) and my 3 children, who are equally wonderful but not quite as patient. I like to tell my kids a lot of stories, and they seem to enjoy them. But when I pick up my guitar, they leave the room, because, as my daughter once said, “Daddy’s singing doesn’t taste good.”