- I've lived in Iowa, New Mexico, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Texas.
- I liked to hitch-hike when I was young and hitch-hiked around most of the United States on various trips. I met a lot of interesting people. I saw many, many things I'd never seen before. It was an education as important to me as college and it was a lot cheaper and more scenic.
- A lot of my stories have to do with travel and the road, probably because of my experience hitch-hiking. What I remember was how much people wanted to tell me their stories, their secrets. They'd never see me again and they told me things they hadn't told anyone else. Writers are kind of like this. We're telling our secrets in the disguised form of stories to whoever will listen.
- The first writer I ever saw up close was Kurt Vonnegut. He didn't see me. I was sixteen and went over to my friend Mark's house. Kurt Vonnegut, teaching at the University of Iowa in Iowa City where I lived back then, was eating dinner with Mark's parents. My friend said, “That's Kurt Vonnegut.” I said, “Wow, Kurt Vonnegut. Who's Kurt Vonnegut?” He said I was an idiot and gave me Cat's Cradle to read. It's an amazing novel and right after that I read the even more amazing Slaughterhouse Five, also by Kurt Vonnegut. I started to think maybe I would like to be a writer, too. I didn't do much about it for a long time, but I did become a reader. Thank you, Kurt.
- I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
I'm married to a writer, Frances Yansky. She is also a fine illustrator. She's had a picture book published called The Bug Cemetery. She also writes novels. She can write backwards with her left hand though she is right-handed. Her novels, in case you were wondering, are written forward and with her right hand.
- I've always had dogs. I probably always will have dogs. Recently we got a cat and I discovered that I like cats, too. It seems I'm bipetual. I never knew.
(A slightly different version of this profile appeared in Cicada, Sept/Oct. 2003)
My writing career began in kindergarten when I wrote, on a single yellow sheet from my Big Chief notebook, the unacknowledged classic, “Santa Claus and the 27 Bad Boys.” I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd found my material for a lifetime of fiction writing: a stubborn fascination in the mythological and supernatural creatures that haunt and enliven our culture, an affection for odd and strange characters, and a desire to be both comic and serious.
My next major work of fiction was in the third grade when I wrote an essay about my brother, Buffy. Excited by the quality and content, my teacher cornered my mother on Open House Night at Horace Mann Elementary to exclaim her admiration not only for my literary abilities but for my obvious brotherly love and affection. My mother had to tell her that I didn't have a brother although I did have an English pug whose name was Buffy, a pathetic, one-eyed, epileptic animal that could hardly be considered a passable dog much less a human. My third grade teacher's reaction? She laughed. I found a particular encouragement from her laughter because I was, like most of the boys in my third grade class, in love with pretty, perky Ms. Moore.
After these debuts I remember trying stories from time to time. Usually, I didn't get very far. An exception was in the eighth grade when I wrote a twenty-page opus that had something to do with space invaders and a boy who had a special ability to stop them. I don't remember the details but they involved weapons of mass destruction, evil ant-like aliens, and the boy's discovery that he could drive the aliens insane by saying a word his parents had forbid him to say. It had a happy ending. His parents allowed him to say the word, and he, in turn, saved the world.
Then my pen lay mostly silent for many years, except for those forced literary marches assigned by teachers, essays and papers and such. It wasn't until I was in college that I began to toy with the idea of writing fiction and slowly, haltingly, began to put words to paper.
At first I was skeptical of my talent. Who did I think I was anyway? What made me special enough to be a writer? Weren't writers these brilliant people who knew the names of, well, everything, and could effortlessly write on any subject: transcontinental trains, European capitals, rocket science? No! That's what I would learn. They were usually smart people who had vivid imaginations, curiosity, and a love for language. Beyond this they were tenacious and unwilling to give up in the face of the daunting odds against publication. This more than anything makes a writer a writer: he or she writes.
Eventually, I put aside my fear and remembered what first attracted me to writing, the sheer joy of filling up a blank sheet of paper, of imagining people and places and the ways they lived and the things they did. I soon found out that it was tough as well as fun, that it was hard work, sometimes too hard, but that doing it gave me a satisfaction of a kind I could get nowhere else.