I started writing as a kid when a bout of rheumatic fever laid me up for half a year and I had nothing to do but note the intrigues and shenanigans of the adults supposedly watching over me. Before I hit my teens, I found myself fielding rejections from pulp periodicals like Alfred Hitchock’s and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines. By the time I finished high school, I realized I had ruined myself, and I was not much good at anything but writing. But God help me I loved it, so at seventeen I walked into the Alexandria Gazette in Virginia, handed some of my short stories to the managing editor’s secretary, and said, “I can write, he should hire me.” It was more an act of desperate bravado than adolescent arrogance, and I was shocked when he called a couple days later and gave me a beat covering cultural affairs and political events, paid by the column inch. I was hooked for life.
Writing won me prize money at George Mason College, a tuition scholarship to Syracuse University, and a place in the Iowa Writers Workshop, where I studied with Dan Wakefield and Fred Exley and John Cheever (although I may have learned from them more about drinking than writing). Cheever did, however, shepherd my thesis through for my MFA. Then, I went after a doctorate in modern letters and, with David Morrell’s help, took up work on a dissertation about Dashiell Hammett. I never finished it, as it turns out, but it got me thinking long ago about tough-guy talk and how much of the mid-century American soul it captured. So, when I came to consider writing a novel about our times, I found the sensibility of noir literature gave me the voice and time-frame I currently needed to try to catch the true sound of my country in an historical novel.
Meanwhile, of course, I had left school and fiction behind and got on with the business of making a living. I became editor-in-chief for the State Historical Society of Iowa and produced its books and journals. I was for a summer an editor-writer for Congressional Quarterly, and I became a city editor at the old Washington Star. I wrote, co-authored, edited, and produced a couple dozen trade nonfiction and historical works for a variety of houses, including Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Grove/Atlantic. For a several years, I penned the “Day to Remember” column for the popular American History Magazine, and I was editor-in-chief of the three-volume Encyclopedia of War, Time-Life Books’ 14-volume 40th anniversary edition of Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative, a two-volume Encyclopedia of Historical Treaties and Alliances, and Macmillan’s four-volume Encyclopedia of the American West. Among the titles I co-authored with Alan Axelrod were What Every American Should Know About American History: 225 Events that Shaped the Nation; The Macmillan Dictionary of Military Biography; Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists; What Everyone Should Know About the 20th Century: 200 Events that Shaped the World; Dictators and Tyrants; The Environmentalists, A Biographical Dictionary from the 17th Century to the Present; and My Brother’s Face: Portraits of the Civil War (reprinted by Barnes & Noble as Portraits of the Civil War). With Patricia Hogan, I produced A Culture at Risk: Who Cares for America’s Heritage? and The Wages of History. I wrote a few works-for-hire, too: Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka with the artist’s daughter; Missouri: Gateway to the American West, and Archie: His First 50 Years. And I wrote many and various pieces for Time-Life Books’ Time-Frames, a multi-volume history of the world.
Along the way, I served as editor of History News for the American Association for State and Local History, as editor of Higher Education and National Affairs for the American Council on Education, as contributing editor for the international art magazine Contemporanea, and as consultant to numerous museums and cultural institutions, including the American Association of Museums, the Chicago Historical Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Strong Museum, the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, the Airman Memorial Museum, and the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. For the Airmen Memorial Museum, I co-scripted and produced a 90-minute documentary on James Doolittle’s raid over Tokyo in World War II entitled Count Me In, which aired on PBS and won an award for historical videos from the American Association of Museums.
Then, a serious illness and my violent reaction to the antibiotics used in the course of its treatment led to anaphylactic shock and a terrifying if temporary paralysis of the left side of my body. During the six months of a protracted but total recovery, I had plenty of time to think about stuff like Thomas Mann’s notion of the link between disease and art and what had happened to all those novels I once longed to write. Healthy again, I bailed on my current editing and publishing contracts and picked up where I had years before left off—writing fiction. Although I kept my gig as managing editor of the American Journal of Play for the Strong in upstate New York, I turned most of my time to what it seems to me I was always meant to do, to telling stories as artfully as I possibly can.
My fiction and literary work began to appear in such journals as New England Review, Massachusetts Review, Cincinnati Review, Raritan, Fifth Wednesday, The Brooklyner, and The Chaffin Journal. My story “Show of Hands” received the Chaffin Award for Fiction, and my collection “Long Odds” was a semi-finalist for the St Lawrence Book Award. An extensive excerpt from the novel I had long been working on ran in Massachusetts Review and stories based on two other chapters in New England Review and Fifth Wednesday. My collection of stories called “Dead South” comes out in fall 2019 from Fomite. And now, to my great delight, Regal House Publishing is publishing the finished novel itself, which I have called Estranged.