I’m an author, educator, husband, and father, but usually not in that order. I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and lived in many places: Boston, Santa Fe, Albuqerque, California’s Mojave Desert, New York City, Toronto. Now I live in Nova Scotia, Canada with my wife, who I met at a party in 1999 and have scarcely been apart from since. We have two young children who take up most of our time.
In the spring and summer, I raise garlic and vegetables in my garden, and I fish for trout and mackerel. In fall and winter, I hunt ducks and rabbits. Most mornings throughout the year, I teach adults–many with low literacy levels, learning disabilities, and lack of education–how to read, use computers, and find jobs. I find this work extremely satisfying. In the afternoon and evening, or sometimes in the very early morning, I make time to write. Even though there are many things I do that are more important than writing, if I don’t write every day, very soon I begin to feel like I’m going to die. This is probably not true, but I’ve never cared to find out for sure.
I started writing when I was very young, probably around age six or seven. It’s always been a compulsion. I’ve stopped trying to understand it. I was also a prodigious reader. As a boy, I loved works of fantasy and adventure, especially Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and various other moldy hardcovers I discovered in my grandmother’s attic in Buffalo. Sometimes I read a book a day. My 8th grade English teacher turned me on to John Updike, and I read all his Rabbit books by the age of fourteen, which in retrospect was precocious of me. From there I moved onto Vonnegut, Hemingway, and Irving, taking numerous detours into other works along the way. All the writers I read inspired and educated me. I have a hard time explaining who my influences were. You can learn something even from a very bad book.
For many years I dreamed of becoming a famous writer, but then I realized how vain that was. I decided it would be better just to be myself, whatever that meant. As it turned out, I became a writer after all, but at some point in my early twenties I felt I had to abandon the dream in order to achieve it. It’s a contradiction, I know. I think I can explain it best by saying that I needed to fully join the human race before I could begin to detach from it properly. That meant letting go of everything I believed and starting again.
To be a writer is to live in a contradiction. You must immerse yourself in the experience of being alive at the same time as you set yourself apart from the mass of humanity. A writer spends most of his time observing human nature, questioning why people are the way they are, wondering what is best or most enduring about us and worth setting down to share with others, often simply marveling at the fact that we exist. He also understands that at our deepest level, people are creatures of story and symbol, and what we think of as our real lives is actually the illusion. Few are ready to hear this. But we all love to be told stories, because they remind us of who we really are, and because I think deep down we all secretly hope they will contain the truth we are longing to hear.