“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor understands that in order to move forward, we must also look back. Her statement has the quality of a universal truth, like, everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. And it’s true, I think. The first five, ten years of your life are who you are at the deepest level. How you react to the world. How you look at the world. How you hope and dream. In childhood your dreams are born. Your fears. Your strategies to avoid your fears. The road map of your life. It’s all there.
What do people want to know about people who write books? What I would want to know is how a person was shaped. How he or she was formed. I’d want to know how they became the writer of the novel I had just read. What made them? I’d want to see and feel the events, thoughts and people who formed the crucible that created a person.
I was born and raised on Long Island, New York. I spent my boyhood hunting snakes in vacant lots and exploring the vast terminal moraine left by the great northern glacier - the sand pits that provided the very substance for most of Manhattan’s concrete infrastructure. I fished, sailed and swam Manhasset Bay. I built tree-forts in the woods. I snuck into the public pool in the summertime and rode my Schwinn Sting-Ray all over Sands Point, exploring private beaches and tidal lagoons. I built rafts, stole dinghies and stalked the garbage dump with a Daisy BB Gun. I formed a snake club. I hunted for fossils in the sand pits and rats with a bow and arrow. I read a hundred books. I drew pictures and invented elaborate games that involved sword-play and plastic guns. I played stickball. I climbed trees. I played Dungeons and Dragons on my kitchen table and Space Invaders in a bowling alley arcade. I lived a magical and sometimes terrifying Huckleberry Finn childhood. I started working at 10. I collected bottles and cans. I mowed lawns, shoveled snow, delivered newspapers, was a landscaper, a florist’s assistant, a bus-boy, a dishwasher, a clerk at a drive-thru grocery, a boat cleaner, a launch driver and scooped ice cream at a Carvel.
My mother was a reader. She read books and she read books to me. Our little apartment was filled with literature. I was surrounded by Hemingway, Hesse, Steinbeck, Kafka, Anais Nin. My mother taught me the joy of reading by reading. I cannot remember a time when she did not have a book in her hand, her purse, or open on her bedside table. Books, to her, were pathways to knowledge and self-discovery. And they became that for me. My mother’s love of books and her encouragement of my early reading and writing was her greatest gift to me. This was the foundation upon which I was constructed. She taught me to imagine and think.
My father left when I was five. It was not abandonment it was divorce. He was not a very vocal man. He did not sit down with me to explain the great wisdoms and mysteries of life. Instead he showed me these mysteries first hand. My father was in love with the woods. He took me there often. He showed me how to hunt and fish. He marveled at the living world and was always asking questions. Nature, to my father, was not just a refuge, it was a temple. Often we’d sit for hours staring at the ripples in a brook. He knew the names of birds and trees. He knew the habits of animals. He showed me their tracks and signs and how to read the wind. He taught me how to see.
I am not a writer by training or education. I studied no authors, no literature. I learned story by reading. I learned plot by living. I learned dialog by talking, by listening. I was a small boy who could not fight or catch a ball. This made me a target. I was bullied, beaten, threatened and robbed. I learned how to run and avoid conflict. I learned how to talk my way out of a jam. This required a certain form of analytical thinking. You weigh a threat quickly and make a decision. Stand or run. You measure distances to cover and you measure faces. You read attitude and terrain. Your powers of observation become sharp and animal-like. I lived mostly in a world of my own creation. I day-dreamed. I invented scenes and stories. My mother and father marveled at my memory and my imagination. There was no image, no event that I could forget. My memory for scenes and places was photographic. Pictures flashed through my head. Often what I saw was horrific. Plagued by insomnia throughout my entire childhood, I laid awake in the dark with the voices and faces of the living and the dead. I learned how to conjure my own scenes and my own faces to combat the dread. I was writing in my mind.
In 1988 I left New York, using as my excuse a summer concert tour with The Grateful Dead. For the first time in my life I saw a country. My two best friends and I began our journey in Maine, snaked our way through New Hampshire, Vermont, up into Canada; back down through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. I saw Chicago and Wisconsin, the woods of Minnesota. I camped in South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and finally California - where I stayed for good. I co-founded two game studios where I worked on games such as Iron Helix, Bad Mojo and Space Bunnies Must Die! I met my wife on a blind date and lived in San Francisco for seventeen years before losing my second company to the dotcom crash. I had children, I was a stay-at-home-dad, and wrote a story called The Serpent Box and the Poison Jar. I moved back east for a couple years but came back to Northern California; where I plan to stay, and write stories until I die.
Cormac McCarthy, Hemingway, Salinger, Jack London, Tom Waits, Michael Cunningham, William Shakespeare, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Jelaluddin Rumi, Don Delillo, Patrick O'Brian, Bob Dylan, Vincent Van Gogh, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Einstein, The King James Bible, Nature, Miles Davis.
Walking in the woods, digging holes, bird-watching, photography, reading backwards, writing lefty, cooking, sprinting, creek-walking, going to the dump, scavenging.
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