I come by my love of words honestly. My father was a college photography professor but started his career as an English professor. My mother was and is a bibliophile who carried a card for every library system within a one hour radius of our home. Growing up, I spent every summer in not just one but several library summer reading programs–more prizes that way. With parents that modeled and encouraged my inveterate reading, it is no surprise that I was eventually drawn to writing. In our family, the word was practically sacred.
I was born in the Queens borough of New York and though we moved upstate to the suburbs when I was two, we returned so often to our Irish and German family homesteads in Ridgewood and Glendale that these Queens neighborhoods continue to exert a profound hold on my imagination. Trailing my grandmother on her errands to Bohacks’ grocers, Jay Rose ladies’ boutique and the five and dime, strolling with my grandfather to Merkens soda fountain for a chocolate egg cream, all against the perpetual rumble of the Myrtle Avenue “El,” remain the dominant memories of my childhood. So were the grown-up conversations at the coffee clatches my aunts brought me to, where Perego prams lined the sidewalk out front. Inside, whispered gossip and the laughter of babies being passed back and forth made their own music. No matter where I have traveled or lived, most recently, for over two decades in the South, it is this place, the Queens of the last century, that resonates most deeply for me as a writing subject.
Books that reflected this city world, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and All of a Kind Family influenced me a great deal growing up. Later these would be followed by the work of John Cheever, William Maxwell and Alice McDermott, Charles Baxter, Nicole Krauss, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Rebecca Makkai, Chaim Potok, Laurie Colwin, and Adam Gopnik. A few of these writers attend to rural life, which has its own fascinations, but most center on the rich blur of city life.
I began writing The Lost Son in the years after 9/11, which impacted my extended New York family acutely. I had young children then and I feared for them, for all of us, in the early days of that new landscape, suffused as it was with the anthrax attacks and new terrorist threats. One way of coping was to explore in my fiction the story of my step-great grandmother, who had overcome the abandonment of her first husband and the loss of one of her children to live out her later years with my great grandfather in relative peace. If she could overcome such tragedy, surely I could address my own fears and carry on.The lesson turned out to be a powerful one and even now that my two boys are grown young men, one I continue to return to in difficult times.
In addition to The Lost Son, coming from Regal House in 2022, I have published The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Guide for the Rest of us, inspired by the Huffington Post blog I wrote from 2012-2018, as well as five books about the teaching of creative writing, another passion of mine. Currently, I’m working on a multi-generational novel set in Astoria, Queens, that follows a family formed from the ashes of the burning and sinking of the steamship General Slocum in the East River in 1904 through the twentieth century.
I have an MFA in Fiction from George Mason University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafeyette. A professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas, I also direct the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop. I am also the Southern Regional Chair for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Board of Directors.
I live with my partner, John Vanderslice (the writer, not the indie musician), and an assortment of pets in a hundred-year-old American Foursquare in Conway, Arkansas, about forty minutes north of Little Rock. My two dogs, Mario, a rat terrier mix, and Asuna, a greyador mix, keep me company when I write. Writing, family and teaching consume most of my life but otherwise, you can find me wandering a flea market or thrift shop when I can.