Q & A
When you've been in the business as long as I have, you get a sense of what people what to know about you. Read below to hear my answers for several of the most frequently asked questions and to get to know me a little bit.
Have a question that you don't see answered here? Feel free to contact me!
Did you always want to be a writer?
I I didn’t start out to be a writer. I started out as a kid in New Jersey who had two major goals in life: (1) survive one more year of delivering newspapers without being attacked by Ike, the one-eyed, crazed cur that lurked in the forsythia bushes at the top of the hill; and (2) become more than a weak-hitting, third string catcher on our sorry Little League team. I failed at both.
Had I announced at the dinner table, “Mom, Dad, I’ve decided to be a poet,” my parents—especially my mother--would have been thrilled. In truth, they would have been thrilled that I’d decided to be anything other than the Top 40 disc jockey, Edsel salesman, or bullpen catcher I constantly talked about becoming in junior high. But at that point in my life, poetry—and school, in general, for that matter--meant no more to me than gerunds, the Belgian Congo, or George Washington’s wooden teeth. I was only “gifted” on Christmas and my birthday.
I think you see that, at that point in my life, being a writer wasn’t on my radar screen. Not even close.
Is it true that you didn't read much when you were young?
I didn’t like school. I did as little homework as possible. I participated in class only under duress from the nuns. Before sixth grade, I wasn’t even much of a reader. My reading was limited largely to baseball magazines, the daily sports page—usually carefully read over a chocolate egg cream in the local candy store—and the backs of baseball cards old and new. I was captivated by those color pictures of men wearing five o’clock shadows and baggy pants. Luckily for me, however, I discovered the Hardy Boys. Frank and Joe set me straight about the joys of reading.
When did you change your mind about reading?
Somehow I made it through high school and I even found one college that would take me. That’s when my life changed. During college I was with kids who had read books I hadn’t read, knew about plays that I’d never heard of, and could talk about music, literature, and the arts. That was when I realized how much time I had wasted in high school. That’s when it dawned on me that it was time for me to start learning, and one of the ways to that goal was to read more and to read carefully.
After college, where I actually did quite well, I headed to graduate school and then started teaching high school English. The rest, as they say, is history. I must say that I consider myself lucky to have been able to discover the joy and valueof reading when I did. It saved me.
What do you watch on TV?
I watch zero TV. Well, except for Red Sox and Patriots games. Truth be told, I really like listening to the Sox on the radio. My wife and I stream movies, and I always watch a detective show on my iPad when I am on the treadmill in the morning
What is on your iPod?
I have thousands of songs on my iTunes, so I love to play dj and pick and choose what I’d like to move to my iPod. However, when I’m traveling, I make sure I have an audio book on my iPod, usually a mystery that I can also listen to when I walk. I’ve become quite a fan of a number of UK mystery writers, like Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George, Peter Robinson, and Martha Grimes (an American who writes very British mysteries). American mystery writers I enjoy include James Lee Burke, John Sandford (only his Virgil Flowers series), and John Deaver (only his Lincoln Rhyme series). In addition to listening to mysteries when I walk, I also enjoy a number of podcasts, like “Fresh Air,” “Authors on Tour,” “News from Lake Wobegon,” and “Bill Moyers Journal.” I also listen to a couple of Buddhist podcasts.
When I’m on the road, I load that sucker up with all sorts of goodies. Since my tastes in music are varied, you’ll find many different types of music on my iPod. A lot of classic jazz, of course, like Miles and Trane. Always that, but also the likes of David Gray, Decemberists, Snow Patrol, Ben Harper, Five for Fighting, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, The Fray, Sun Kil Moon, and O.A.R. And, of course, I nice selection of the classics: 50s rock and roll. Get the picture? All sorts of tunes for all sorts of moods and situations.
How do you feel when you get a book rejected? Does that happen to you a lot?
I probably feel a lot like you’d feel if you had a book rejected: bummed, sometimes surprised, maybe a bit angry. But if you want to be a published writer, you have to expect your books to be rejected now and again. The important thing is what you do when your work is rejected. Hide in the corner and sulk? Or, move on with the project and send it to another publishers. As my experience grew, I got better at cutting the sulking to a minimum and sending the project to others.
I should say that most of the time I do not send completed books to editors. Rather, I usually send a detailed proposal and outline of the work that I would like to write. The point of the proposal is, of course, to convince an editor that she/he would be nuts not to immediately sign me to a contract. Once I sell a proposal, of course, then I need to get busy writing the book!
What advice would you give a young writer?
If you are serious about writing—whether you think you want to make a career out of it or just write for yourself—you need to read, read, read. I know of no writer who doesn’t read. Read all sorts of things. If you’d like to write poetry, of course you need to read lots of poems. But also read fiction and nonfiction. If you read carefully, you will pick up some good ideas about writing along the way. You may even get an idea for a poem because of something you read in a book on birds or an article about the Mafia. Let me say it again: read, read, read.
And write. When you’re not reading, write. Fill notebooks and files on your computer. Just as you should read different genres, you should write different kinds of poems and stories and essays. You never know what’s going to happen once you put that pen to paper. That’s one of the great things about writing. The surprise of it.
Try to find a mentor, someone who can give you constructive suggestions about your writing. It could be a teacher or another adult. But it could also be one of your friends. Try to find someone who likes to write as much as you do and get together regularly so you both can share your writing. Be constructive and helpful in what you have to say about another person’s writing. Be gentle, as well.
Writing is a lot like playing 3rd base or a Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster guitar. You get better with regular practice. And a few lessons.