(It also appeared in the October 2003 issue of
The New York Review of Science Fiction
under the title
Growing into Writing.)
Their commissioned essays, illustrated by personal photographs provided
by the author, "blend personal reminiscence
with reflections on individual works, with the intention of offering both new insights for the researcher or student
and lively reading for those simply interested in learning more about a favorite author."
Writing is self-discovery.
I enjoyed writing it.
"Our own lives start long before we’re born. Millions of years of genetic encoding funnel down into our great-grandparents, then grandparents, finally parents."
I wrote those words. You can find them near the beginning of Chapter Six, in my 2001 novel, St. Patrick’s Bed. Casting about for a beginning to this essay, I realized that I’d already turned much of this soil, distilling many of my thoughts and feelings about family throughout my own stories. People have asked me about my fiction: did it happen like that? My answer, usually: no… but it is all true. Fact, fiction, fact, fiction.
Born in Toronto’s Irish Cabbagetown in 1904, the oldest of five children who lived – Thomas Green, my father, entered the work world in 1918, where he toiled for fifty-one years until retirement in 1969. The majority of that time he spent doing blue-collar work in the circulation departments of two Toronto newspapers: The Globe and Mail (23 years) and The Toronto Star (17 years).
He was a part-time professional musician. At the beginning he played banjo, later strummed guitar in various groups and orchestras around southern Ontario, and finally, by the time I had arrived, demonstrated a rather rare versatility by morphing into a trombone player in the Royal Canadian Artillery band. I remember the mellow slide sounds as he practiced in the basement. I remember him marching and playing in the annual Santa Claus parade. When he died in 1995, in the top drawer of his dresser, in a plastic case, I found a small metal plaque with his name engraved on it. It stated that he was a Life Member of the Toronto Musicians Association, Local 149 A.F. of M.
On November 30th, 1929 -- one month after the stock market crash that signaled the Great Depression –- my father, two days shy of his 25th birthday, married twenty-year-old Margaret Radey, my mother –- also born in Toronto -- in a wedding whose strange timing would be clarified by the arrival in May, 1930, of my oldest sister, Anne. She was the first of five surviving (as in his own family) children born during the nineteen year span from 1930 to 1949, in a marriage that would last almost fifty-four years -- until my mother’s death in 1984 -- defying its hurried, unpromising origins. Ron was born in 1932, Judy 1939. My younger brother and I were the late family: February 2nd, 1947 for me; Dennis, 1949.
Dad & Mom, 1930
Dennis and I were post-war babies -- a distinct unit, raised as a pair – far removed from Anne and Ron. Even Judy, our other sister, born in 1939, was virtually a decade older. Dennis and I, then, were the children of older parents, with all that that entails -- an experience, in hindsight, mostly positive.
Dennis & I, 1951
In the three bedroom, semi-detached house in North Toronto, purchased in 1929, there was always family around -- uncles, aunts, cousins, added to brothers, sisters and grandparents. This was the crowded scene into which I made a late arrival. Both sides of my family were Catholics who had emigrated from Ireland (counties Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Offaly, Limerick) and settled in and around Toronto and southern Ontario in the mid-1800s. My father’s mother, Nanny (Annie Sutton), then the family matriarch, born in 1885, also lived with us until her death in 1974. After Anne, Ron and Judy left and got married, Dennis and I squeezed into bunk beds, sharing the smallest bedroom.
So my mother was thirty-seven, my father forty-two when I was born, the fourth of five – three boys and two girls. Nanny, the sole grandparent still alive, was sixty-one – widowed for five years. Dennis was still two years in the future. But Anne (17), Ron (14) and Judy (8) were all in the house, as was Jacquie (19), my cousin who lived with us. We were seven -- soon to be eight -- in what I have already explained was a modest three-bedroom house. Privacy was non-existent. Noise was everywhere.
A disjointed collage of memories from the first few years… Climbing out of the crib in my parents’ bedroom. Stepping on a bee and being stung on the foot at the summer cottages at Port Dover, on Lake Erie. Dennis and I sitting in metal washtubs in the backyard in summer. Hollyhocks and peonies at the back of the house. The feel and smell of the Insulbrick on the garage and back porch. The forest fire in Disney’s Bambi. Riding the streetcar with my mother to shop at Eaton’s and Simpson’s in downtown Toronto. Seeing Annie Get Your Gun at the Tivoli theatre – where Nanny worked behind the candy counter -- in 1950 (age 3) and not understanding the title, thinking I would get a gun there. The Durango Kid serials, yo-yo demonstrations, Debbie Reynolds singing "Abba Dabba Honeymoon" in Two Weeks with Love at the Fairlawn theatre, with my big sister, Judy, on Saturday afternoons. Being taken to swim in the Rouge River by Uncle Jim and Anna Mae, the sudden realization that I was under water, being pulled out by a lifeguard. The squeaking door of Inner Sanctum from the radio in the living room. My mother reading Peter and the Wolf and the Golden Book Tawny Scrawny Lion to me on Nanny’s bed – where I slept until well into grade one after moving from the crib in my parents’ room. Watching my mother cry when she found out her father (whom I don’t remember) had died, Christmas Day, 1950.
Where does a writer come from? What are the seminal signs? I don’t know. I have been asked at least twice that I can recall, "How did you get into it?" – as if one "got into it" somehow. I shake my head, realizing that I did not get into it, but rather, it got into me. I have come to believe that you just are a writer or you are not. It is a vocation, a passion. It chooses you.
There was no kindergarten at St. Monica’s School when I started in 1952, so I went right into grade one -- a room with the green letter cards atop the blackboards, wooden desks with metal legs and tops that lifted. I’m not sure how it came to be, but I could read before I knew it, and Sister Rosemary would sit me on a chair at the front of the room to read to the class – that is, until one day I told her that I didn’t want to do it. I was too shy. After that, she didn’t ask any more. Perhaps this was the beginning: books, reading, preferring to remain in the background.
I don’t know how old I was, but the first non-illustrated book-length story I remember reading by myself was a Bobbsey Twin volume that was in one of the two built-in bookcases in our living room on Maxwell Avenue. One afternoon, trying to occupy a bored child, my mother suggested I try it. I finished it before dinner, amazed to have read so much, equally amazed to have understood and enjoyed such a long story on my own. There followed the introduction (by my mother) of Thornton W. Burgess’s animal books (Reddy the Fox, Prickly Porky the Porcupine, Bowser the Hound and company). She bought me my own hardcovers. And thus it began – the love affair with books, encouraged and abetted by my mother, entwined with a natural bent toward reading that emerged in that first year of school.
For the first two grades I had five-and-six-year-old confidence and poise. I was doing okay – more than okay. I liked school, was popular with my classmates and teachers. And in a Catholic school, we studied our catechism, and like James Joyce before me, I too was terrified of going to hell at much too early an age. (And again, like Joyce, this was a bit of heritage that I refrained from passing on to my own children.)
They skipped me past grade three, directly into grade four, and this is where it changed. As proud (and bewildered) as I was at this sudden shift in status, my peers were gone. I found myself the youngest and smallest in my new class, and until I finished grade eight and got into high school, I never regained that early poise and confidence that had been my initial experience. Throughout grades four to eight -- age seven to twelve -- my academic achievement leveled and I became a quiet, withdrawn student, unable to compete with the bigger boys in sports or interact socially with my female classmates. This is when my brother Dennis – two years younger -- and I were the closest. In many ways, I changed from being a participant to being an observer. My grade six/seven teacher, Miss Gettings, wrote on one of my report cards, "Terry is a dreamer."
Some of my fondest memories of this period revolve around two- and three-week summer vacations near Bancroft, Ontario, fishing and swimming in cottage country some 160 miles north-east of Toronto on the Canadian shield. It was the only time we seemed to be a nuclear family: Mom and Dad, Dennis and me. These cottages and times were genuine idylls. Dennis and I fished, played, swam together. We were good company for each other. It was on Bow Lake and Weslemkoon Lake that I began skin diving, snorkeling, which would lead to a later small interest in scuba diving. I saw my father enjoy himself, felt him radiate a pleasure and patience while with us and while fishing that was seldom evident at home. Fishing suited him. It was a way for us to spend time together, doing something that interested us all. And I saw my mother enjoy all of us enjoying ourselves.
Dad, Dennis & I, 1955
This was the 1950s. Television was a novelty, limited in what it could deliver. Videogames and computers were concoctions that even science fiction writers hadn’t dreamed up. I read and collected Superman and Batman comic books when they were a dime apiece. Somewhere in the middle of all this, in grade five (age eight or nine), I discovered The Hardy Boys books and their clones (Tom Swift Jr., Rick Brant Science Adventure Stories, etc.). My mother, aware of my passion, continued to feed books to me. I loved them, devoured them. Having finished high school and even having attended the Ontario College of Art after graduation, Mom was the educated one in the family. My father, though, lacking the same polish (never having attended high school), was, nevertheless, no slouch. Both my parents were readers. They always had a book on the go.
I’ve pondered autobiographical notes by other writers who mention having been raised on classics and surrounded by Literature in their formative years. It wasn’t like that in my house. There were books -- they were revered -- but they weren’t part of The Canon. They were whatever was popular, whatever caught their fancy. Historical novels abounded. My father also read Jules Verne, Thomas B. Costain, loved James Michener’s books; True and Argosy magazines were by his bedside. Mom read Pageant of the Popes by John Farrow (several times, I believe – I still have the paperback of hers -- copyrighted 1949 – among my own books), Lives of the Saints – and of course, Michener (Hawaii was read more than once as well). Mom introduced me to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan novels, which she herself had read as a child – buying the Grosset and Dunlap hardcovers for me – eight of which I still have. At age twelve I took out my first science fiction novel from the now-defunct St. Clement’s Branch of the Toronto Public Library System – Islands in the Sky, by Arthur C. Clarke. This led me to Clarke’s non-fiction, including his scuba diving books, like The Reefs of Taprobane, as well as Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles.
Reading, apparently, kept my family sane. Books were our getaway. We read as omnivores, without guidance or discrimination, taking whatever roads we stumbled upon. I’ve mentioned my first reading experience with The Bobbsey Twins. This was a series that was the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, whose syndicate also produced The Hardy Boys, Rick Brant, Tom Swift Jr., and Nancy Drew. I didn’t know it at the time, but these books (along with Burroughs’s Tarzan books) were unavailable in libraries, dismissed by the literary custodians of the day who looked down their collective noses at such formulaic, work-for-hire fiction. There were no such authors as Franklin W. Dixon, John Blaine, Victor Appleton. They were three of the many house names under which the Stratemeyer Syndicate published more than a hundred different series, spanning more than seventy-five years.
Dennis & I, 1958
Since everybody I know admits to having read Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books – and sales statistics confirm their staggering popularity -- arguably, for my generation, Stratemeyer is the most influential person in the history of children’s literature. I never understood the fear and concerns of librarians about letting young people read these books, since their heroes and heroines were teens (usually) of exceptional moral character, engaged in exciting adventures, and they made books appealing and reading an exhilarating experience – something librarians and teachers and parents still have trouble doing. As evidence of their beneficence, I offer myself.
From age twelve to seventeen, I attended St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, a private Catholic institution of about a thousand boys. I did much growing up there – in every way. When I entered at age twelve, I was five feet two; I shot up about a foot over the next two years – to my present lanky stature -- regaining some of my self-confidence in the process. A part of my father emerged in me as I played trumpet in the school band for five years, ending up as the concert master in my last year. I made friends and began to think of myself as a good student again. In short, I was glad to leave grade school and St. Monica’s behind.
But what part of the author was groomed there? I try to understand it myself. I have vivid memories of two pieces I wrote for Mr. Reddall in grade nine English. One was a description of ducks swimming out onto a lake through the reeds, which he read aloud to the class as an example of good description. Another was a small story I wrote that he asked me to write out neatly and submit to a school magazine that was being published – which they didn’t take, I recall, but that seemed secondary to his praise. In grade ten, Mr. Warden had us write a short story. He read mine aloud to the class and graded it a ten out of ten. My grade thirteen (we had such things in Ontario then) teacher, Fr. Sheedy, told me I had beautiful sentence structure, and thought I should consider journalism.
These things seem important now only because, out of the vast detritus of memories that clog all our minds, I can recall them. Clearly, I was doing something that stood out, no matter how immature; and just as clearly, the praise was a necessary catalyst – something not lost on me when I began my own teaching career in 1968.
During that time, from 1959 to 1964, I read voraciously, but fastened on science fiction and fantasy, devouring all I came across. At the beginning, I read novels in the Winston Science Fiction Series – books like The Star Seekers, by Milton Lesser, and Mists of Dawn, by Chad Oliver. These were hardcover novels that cost $2.75 each, that came in colorful dust jackets, and included vivid endpaper illustrations by Alex Schomburg. On a bookshelf in my basement, I still have seven of these novels. Later, the paperbacks of Heinlein, Bradbury, Dick, Simak, Walter Miller, Jr., plus a host of authors so obscure that their books can't even qualify as collector’s items (Jack Sharkey, Jerry Sohl). Part of me had slid sideways into another world, a world in which I found great pleasure.
High school English class was a revelation to me. Being assigned a book to read was something that had never happened in my years at St. Monica’s. Here, at last, was some direction, some discussion of what I was reading. It was a breath of fresh air. Books that I recall discovering, fondly, in classes: Oliver Twist, Prester John, The Call of the Wild, Huckleberry Finn, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Catcher in the Rye, The Old Man and the Sea, Cry, the Beloved Country, and I even enjoyed and responded to Hamlet. These were indeed, new worlds.
And part of me was a typical Canadian teenage boy. I loved hockey and baseball, played them enthusiastically and often, if not too well. To this day, I am an avid hockey and baseball fan, seeing sport as an enriching and interesting aspect of life.
My years at St. Mike’s were positive. It
was a good school. I still have friends from those years.
I entered University of Toronto in 1964, at age seventeen (much too young), and studied General Arts, majoring in English. When forced to select a one-year physical education elective, I chose skin and scuba diving. To this day, though, my scuba experience has been confined to the university’s pool. Three years later, in 1967, age twenty (again, much too young), I graduated with a B.A.
The one-year program to become a high school teacher at what was then called the Ontario College of Education in Toronto was next on the agenda. I wanted to teach English. In September, 1968, at age twenty-one, I found myself doing just that: teaching English in Toronto’s East York Collegiate Institute – suddenly, a full-time professional, tossed unceremoniously into a career that would –- with interruptions -– span thirty-one years.
1968, East York C. I.
This thing about being much too young had become a refrain. And it was not over. I was married in December, 1968, shortly before my twenty-second birthday, to the young woman a year younger than myself that I had met only that summer, who would become my first wife. She was a grade school teacher. The whirlwind seemed in keeping with my strange, accelerated journey into adulthood.
I taught at East York C.I. for two years, an amazingly full experience, both exhausting and exhilarating, then resigned, going back to University of Toronto full-time at age twenty-three (1970). Teaching books had made me want to know even more about them. I took more English courses, targeting graduate school. As the year progressed, one course rose above the others for me, and I found a new obsession: Irish writers. Yeats, Joyce, Synge, Beckett. I applied and was accepted into the M.A. program in Anglo-Irish Studies at University College, Dublin, in the National University of Ireland, and in September, 1971, Penny (my wife) and I were off on the grand adventure. She enrolled in the one-year Diploma Course for Teachers of the Deaf at the university, giving both of us who had leapt into adulthood too fast another crack at being young.
It was a great year. But great years cost money, and this one was no exception. Neither of us had any requisite family fortune, and our savings were running out fast. The goal was to make it to the end of the school year as best we could, and in a cold-water flat, without central heating, in quasi-poverty, we more or less managed it. We spent a few days in the west of Ireland, and saw Kerry, Galway, Sligo – stunning landscapes which imprinted themselves indelibly on my psyche. In the spring of 1972, broke, I wrote and applied for my old job back at East York C.I. in Toronto (I’ve often thought of it as coming home on my hands and knees), and they rehired me. Economic determinism had always been with me, and was to be a significant feature of my life as a writer in the future. This was, though, perhaps its rudest awakening. I was learning the compromise with reality.
We returned to Toronto and were back at the front of classrooms in September, 1972. I taught at East York for two more years, until 1974, when, restless, curious, still young (always), I took a job in a more rural area. From 1974 to 1976, I taught English at Bayside Secondary School, just outside Belleville, Ontario, while Penny worked at the local school for the deaf.
It was during this period that I began to actually write. I’d always known that I would write – even back when I was reading those Hardy Boys novels in grade school. I longed to be able to create the books that gave me so much pleasure. For reasons both practical and irrational, though, I had managed to delay it as long as possible. There were no more excuses. It was time to try.
This is a daunting time for a writer: the beginning. There is no way to measure the possibility of success. In contrast, what one is sure of is that there is, indeed, quite a high probability of failure. No one I know likes to fail. So this is it, the test, the initial, serious rudimentary scribblings.
I sold the first piece I wrote. In 1975, I received a check for $35 for a 3500 word article, an overview of the work of one of my favorite writers, Philip K. Dick. It appeared in the May 1976 issue of "Science Fiction Review." With that money, I bought an old oak office desk at a local auction, painstakingly stripped the black enamel paint from it, and used it for writing. I sold it in 2001, twenty-six years later, for $40, attesting clearly to the wild money and vast profits of the writing game.
In spite of university degrees in literature and five years teaching English, when it came time to write, I had fallen back on my old love of fantastic literature. There followed other critical pieces on the field, then the necessary foray into fiction: the short story. I wrote my first, Japanese Tea, during this period, which finally saw publication in the 1979 anthology Alien Worlds. Set in a high school of the near-future, it posited an educational dystopia which exaggerated much of the path down which it all seemed to be sliding. Written in 1975, it was mildly prescient, mentioning mass killings in schools in 1997 and 1998. The Columbine horror occurred in 1999.
Ever restless, I lasted only two years working and living in the Belleville area before I realized that I was in the wrong place. We both missed Toronto. Nervously, I let it be known back at my old school – East York C.I. – that I was on the move again, and amazingly – and thankfully – they hired me for an incredible third time. So I returned to both Toronto and East York in 1976 (age twenty-nine), and for the next twenty-three years, even though I employed various ruses to interrupt my tenure there, I was careful not to resign again. I figured I’d definitely run out my string.
At thirty years of age, I was on the threshold of one of the moments that define who we are and what we will become. In 1977, Penny became pregnant. It was intentional. When we found out there would be twins, I was sky-high with anticipation. But when the actual births came round, they needed to be induced, and on March 7, 1978, suddenly, everything went wrong. Foetal distress, an emergency Caesarean. Two boys were born. One of them lived only twenty-four hours. The other, Conor, is a healthy twenty-five years of age as I write this in 2003.
I had been sailing along on gloriously smooth waters. Overnight, the wind was taken out of my sails. Values shifted, my eyes opened in new ways. I had the best and the worst of life simultaneously. There were no words. When things settled, I was a father, the most profound role I would play.
A year later, I wrote a small, 2200 word story called Of Children in the Foliage. It was set on another planet. It tells the story, in first person, of a father who has one of his twin sons die at birth, and the otherworldly way in which the lost twin lives in a limbo world. It was published in the mainstream Doubleday anthology, Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1979. When editor Morris Wolfe called me on the phone to discuss a few minor editorial sentence changes, I mentioned to him that I had been pleasantly surprised that he had accepted it, suggesting that he probably didn’t get many SF stories submitted. He flattered and surprised me with his response: "Oh, I get lots of science fiction stories." Then he paused. "But nothing like this."
As catharsis, I had gone inside, written the truth, from pain, had produced something different. It had transcended its genre. The lesson was learned.
Between 1981 and 1985 there were more stories, ostensibly science fiction and fantasy, published in such places as "Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine," and the venerable "Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction," American digest periodicals which to this day still publish the best the field has to offer. When ten of my tales were eventually collected in the volume The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind (1987), "Books in Canada" wrote: "(Green’s) new collection of short stories is simply good fiction."
Reading habits changed, grew. I admired Steinbeck, Updike, Vanderhaeghe, Carver, Malamud –- mainstream writers. I learned writing from reading, and I still do. The more widely I read, the more perspective I gained on what constituted good, lasting fiction, and felt the urge to try to create it expand.
A novel beckoned. By 1983, I had been in and out of the classroom for fifteen years – half a career. I was caught between the desire to write and the need to make a living, frustrated by the constraints of a regular job, yet fully aware of the folly of tossing it away. I was thirty-six years old, not a kid living in a garret. My second son, Owen, had arrived back on February 16, 1981 -- I had a wife and two children, bills to pay, more to come. And yet… How could I live with myself if I didn’t try? Things can die inside you, can lie there withering.
I bit the bullet, took the plunge, opted
to teach half-time. For half the money, I taught mornings only, wrote at
home in the afternoons in an office I built in my garage. Between 1983
and 1985 I produced my first novel, Barking Dogs, a near-future
police thriller set in Toronto, complete with infallible lie detectors
(the Barking Dogs of the title). When it was published by St. Martin’s
Press of New York in 1988, Margaret Cannon, the Toronto Globe and Mail’s
mystery reviewer, concluded – perceptively, I felt -- that "the SF touches
in the very near future are really nice and the invention of the Barking Dog is terrific, but the truth is that Green doesn’t need them. This story of nice people under immense pressure is good enough to keep the reader riveted to the last paragraph." Once again, although labeled and marketed as SF, the suggestion was that the ideas were subordinate to the characters and their plights, something not necessarily a hallmark of the genre –- something in which I took pride.
1985 was a landmark year for another reason. After seventeen years and two children, my marriage washed up on the shore. To outsiders, these things seem like they happen overnight, but they never do. In fact, I’m still not sure what happened or how it happened, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it all stemmed from our rather hasty marriage in our callow youth, and had been heading -- not quickly, but more like molasses -- in this direction all that time. In hindsight, perhaps the real wonder is that it didn’t end sooner. Along with the death of my mother on March 14, 1984, perhaps the desire to go sideways into a writing life instead of continuing the conservative, middle-class path of career teacher was the other catalyst that brought things to a boil. Penny told me that she had changed, but I had not, which was as probable as any other conclusion I have been able to draw. I believe these things have a momentum that is undefinable, and analyzing them often provides answers too simplistic.
But with two small children, the sudden fracture in my life was almost unbearable. Conor was seven, Owen four. I could never have imagined this happening to my family, to them, yet there it was. I moved out. It almost killed me.
In October, 1985, I rented a small studio apartment – five hundred square feet -- on the third floor of a house on Heath Street East in Toronto. I took virtually nothing with me, left everything behind. The only things I wanted were my sons. Over the next months, amidst pain and anger, I began building a new life, from the ground up. Joint custody of my boys was all I really wanted – that, and the chance to start again. At first, I found a mattress in the basement of the house in which I was living, cleaned it up, and slept on it. When my boys began to stay overnight, I bought myself a large piece of foam and slept in a sleeping bag on it, ceding the mattress to them. After six months, I bought a waterbed – it being the only bed of any size that I could get up the winding stairs to my third floor apartment. Curiously, to this day, I still have it.
I arranged to have my sons half-time, fourteen of every twenty-eight days, an arrangement that lasted virtually until they entered university. Now, in 2003, Conor is twenty-five, finished school, and has a place of his own. Owen is twenty-two, in the middle of college, and has lived with me full-time for the past two years –- since his mother moved to take a job in Kingston, Ontario. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I mentioned the death of my mother in March of 1984. I don’t know if I can do justice to the impact this had on me, and continues to have on me to this day. Like the death of my son, six years earlier, it changed everything, again. Hers was a life that I could see had been short-changed. Her mother had died when she was sixteen. Her father had remarried a year-and-a-half later, been smitten with his new, younger wife, and ignored his two children (my mother and her brother, Jack, two years younger), who ended up living mostly with relatives. Four years later, age twenty, she was pregnant, married, and was to be a mother before she turned twenty-one. Her only sibling, Jack, had a falling-out with their father, left Canada for the United States to look for work circa 1932, sent my mother -- his sister -- a handful of cards and letters home, then disappeared around 1935, never to be heard from again. My mother had been abandoned, ended up in the Green clan, and made what she could of her life by having her own family. But there was always a wistfulness, a sense of something missing that even her children could pick up. I know too, now, how much of my life I spent just trying to please my mother, how much I wanted to make her happy, how happy it made me when she was happy.
When my mother died in March of 1984, in a trunk at the foot of her bed I found the letters and cards that her brother Jack had sent her back in the 1930s. She had kept them for fifty years. They were from Toledo, Detroit, Bucyrus (Ohio), and Ashland, Kentucky. I imagined his trail into the heart of America in the Dodge Roadster he mentioned in his letters. There was a tone of warmth and confidence in the writing that was at odds with his disappearance.
After her death, in the summer of 1984 – a year before my own marriage was to collapse -- we took a family car trip to visit Joe and Pam Zarantonello, a couple we had met on my year in Ireland back in 1971-72. Joe, an American who had taken the same degree that I had, was now teaching school in Bardstown, Kentucky. While there, among other things, he showed me the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton had lived and was now buried. On our way home to Toronto, we detoured to Ashland, Kentucky, the source of one of Jack’s last letters. I spent a day there, trying to imagine his brief stay in that small city of 30,000 on the Ohio River. And a story began percolating, forming, slowly.
Six months later, in January of 1985, the letters from Jack to my mother still sitting like stones inside me, in the office of my renovated garage I wrote a 9000 word novelet called Ashland, Kentucky. It’s the story of a man whose mother is dying, who wants to see her lost brother who disappeared into the States fifty years earlier. The son tries to find him and fails and his mother dies. Then letters start showing up at the family home in Toronto in 1984, from the lost brother to his sister, postmarked 1934. The son travels to the source of the last letter, Ashland, Kentucky, to see what’s going on. He ends up in 1934, meeting with his uncle.
The fiction was both biography and autobiography, yet neither. It was both fantastic fiction as well as of the here-and-now. In short, I didn’t know what it was. Neither did anyone else. Published originally in the November 1985 issue of "Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine," and subsequently collected in anthologies Tesseracts² and Northern Frights, it became my most popular piece of short fiction. As had been the case with "Of Children in the Foliage," it was written from the heart, and apparently, it showed. Once again, I had taken personal experience and transmuted it into fantastic form.
But back to my new world in that tiny, third floor apartment… It was during my time there that Merle entered my life. In 2003, eighteen years later, she is my wife. The passion of our relationship was overwhelming in its initial stages, and even though she was a University of Toronto graduate (our first date was at that institution’s eminent Hart House), the fact that I was fourteen years older than she gave us some cause to think of it as something magical that might disappear. But it did not.
Perhaps the dedication in my 1992 novel Children of the Rainbow says it best: For Merle, who healed me with love, words are not enough. (Speaking of Children of the Rainbow… Most of it was written in that tiny third-floor apartment during a 1986-87 leave-of-absence from my teaching position. In hindsight, it mirrors much of my psychological state at the time, with themes of displacement in time and space abounding). By 1988, I had a financial settlement attached to my separation (I wasn’t officially divorced until 1990), and Merle and I took a plunge and purchased a house together, forging new bonds.
We bought a big, old, three-storey semi-detached home in downtown Toronto. It needed never-ending work. It was still being renovated fourteen years later when we finally left it. But it seemed like a castle after the five hundred square foot apartment of the previous two-and-a-half years. Besides the two of us and my sons half-time, we made our living arrangement even more unusual by adding one more person. My father, who had been living in a senior citizens’ apartment since 1985, came to live with us.
The house on Brooklyn Avenue served us all well. My father had his own space and contributed financially. But his real contribution was just being there. I liked that my sons had the chance to interact with him, to get to know him. He felt needed. As much as he occasionally drove me crazy, and as much as I could never have envisioned living with him again after so many years, it was, simply, the right thing to do. He and I had both mellowed.
He moved in with us in spring of 1988, age eighty-three. He left us when he died, spring 1995, age ninety. As a result, I never felt about his death the same sense of unfairness that surrounded my mother’s. Closure is an overused word, but sometimes it comes closest.
In 1991-92, I was awarded a sabbatical leave (with partial salary) from the East York Board of Education, to study and create a computerized writing class that could serve as a prototype for the board. Among other things, it involved taking a course called "Computers and Writing" at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, so I rented a room in a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and commuted back and forth from Toronto to Boston during the spring of 1992. It was a fine year, and at the same time I managed to complete a first draft of the novel Blue Limbo -- a sequel to my 1988 novel, Barking Dogs -- something I had been working on sporadically since 1989.
In Blue Limbo, the main character, Mitch Helwig, has seen his marriage collapse, and has moved to a small third-floor apartment. His father, eighty-four-year-old Paul Helwig, is living in the same Toronto senior citizens’ apartment complex in which my own father resided from 1985 to 1988. The "blue limbo" device of the title is a device of the near future that enables people to keep loved ones "alive" for a period of up to four weeks after they have "died."
So I’d done it again: life and death, autobiography, personal turmoil, a shroud of the fantastic hovering over it all.
But it didn’t find a publisher immediately. The reasons for this are integral to the business side of writing, rather than the quality of the work -- a situation more common than casual observers might suspect. St. Martin’s Press had dropped its SF&F line, and Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart, who published Children of the Rainbow in 1992, declined to make an offer on it. Rainbow had not secured an American co-publisher, and had, therefore, not sold the number of books they had hoped. So I did what writers do. I put it "in the drawer," for the time being, and moved on.
In early 1992, I began expanding my 1985 story, "Ashland, Kentucky." I revisited my mother’s 1984 death and the shadowy disappearance of her brother, Jack, back in the 1930s. The story still haunted me, and there was more to tell. And I had been encouraged by reviewers and casual commentators that I "had something" in this tale.
By summer, 1992, I had about a hundred pages of draft written. In September, I put it aside to resume normal family life. Back in the classroom after my sabbatical, the novel languished until May of 1993, when I applied for and received a Canada Council Travel Grant to go to Ashland, Kentucky for a weekend of research. The trip was invaluable. Walking its streets, eating in its restaurants, sitting in the library there, the story came more sharply into focus, and there was much revision upon my return to Toronto.
Once home, I was dealt an unexpected blow. My brother, Ron, sixty years old, married father of four grown boys, collapsed and died at work. The sobering effect of this went deeper than I had ever understood it could. No one saw it coming, and like my mother’s death, we all knew Ron had been cheated out of much of life. In my father’s eyes at the funeral, I saw his own world being taken from him in ways too profound to articulate.
That summer, life continued. The novel grew another hundred pages or so, but by September, I had put it aside once again to return to teaching. It sat until summer of 1994. But it grew vividly in my head during that fall, winter and spring. I heard the characters talking, knew what awaited them, felt nuances grow, made notes. The main character, Leo Nolan, would begin his quest for his mother’s brother, Jack, in 1984 Toronto, pursue him to Ashland, Kentucky, where he would spend nine days with him in 1934 Kentucky, and return, changed, to 1984 Toronto. Fantasy? Time travel? Magic realism? I didn’t know. In July and August of 1994, I wrote steadily, finishing, finally, the little book that had gestated in stages for ten years.
As an unwitting climax to the book’s completion, on the Labor Day weekend, 1994 -- more than six years after buying the house together and establishing our unique, generational family -- Merle and I, along with her mother and my two sons (now thirteen and sixteen years of age) flew to Las Vegas, where we were married in the Graceland Wedding Chapel. Her mother was her matron-of-honor, my sons were my best men. Elvis gave the bride away, and sang for us after the ceremony. It was like going to city hall, only more fun – and as much as one might find it difficult to believe, we were pleasantly surprised by the sensitivity and taste exhibited by the folks who clearly understood how to stage this ritual of rituals. The honeymoon -- such as it was with our extended family -- was at the MGM Grand, and we were back home by Monday evening. Tuesday, life resumed, and once again, I was teaching.
Las Vegas, 1994
The uniqueness of the year continued: a month later, at a Friday evening Toronto launch for Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction – which contained my story "The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind" – I met David Hartwell, editor of the anthology and an editor with Tor Books in New York. Tor, the world’s leading publisher of science fiction and fantasy, is one of the imprints employed by Tom Doherty Associates, itself owned and distributed by St. Martin’s Press from New York’s historic flatiron building. Learning that I had just completed a novel, he asked to see it. I contacted Shawna McCarthy, my American agent, and she submitted Ashland, Kentucky to him the following Monday. Within six weeks, we had a deal. By Christmas, the contracts were signed. The long road into and out of Ashland seemed to be coming to an end. But as always, another beckoned.
In October, before the Ashland publishing agreement was finalized, my father fell ill with pneumonia. Mild dementia followed. It was the beginning of the end. After ninety years of pretty good health, he plummeted like a stone. But for those around him, the next six months trickled by. In the spring, a second bout of pneumonia ensued. He died on April 15, 1995. I describe his death and his life as best I can in my 2001 novel, St. Patrick’s Bed, another of the books he never got to see that feature him and my mother and so much of our family on their covers.
At Tom Doherty Associates in New York, Ashland, Kentucky was morphing into Shadow of Ashland. Still in its editorial and production stages, enthusiasm for it spread throughout the publishing house over the next few months. They massed behind it aggressively, deciding to publish it in a small hardcover format. The original 1930s’ letters from Jack to my mother, along with personal family photographs from the era, were arranged into a stunningly attractive wraparound jacket. Aligned with this was the decision – after much discussion about what exactly it was that they had in hand -- to use their mainstream imprint, Forge, on the book’s spine, instead of the Tor imprint that denoted primarily SF&F – an attempt to reach a larger, broader readership.
With anticipation for Ashland high, in August 1995 editor David Hartwell purchased Blue Limbo, which appeared – risen from "the drawer" – as a Tor hardcover in January, 1997.
On a roll, Merle and I took our first vacation together alone (longer than a weekend) in almost ten years. At the end of August, 1995, without my sons, Conor and Owen (now seventeen and fourteen), without my father (who had died that spring) to be concerned about, we left for a week in Scotland. The World Science Fiction Convention was in Glasgow that year, and using it as an opportunity to combine business matters (publishers, editors, agents, writers, fans, all congregate) with pleasure, we reveled in three days in Glasgow, followed by four glorious days in the Scottish Highlands. In my memory, this break symbolizes the start of the life that flowered as a result of Shadow of Ashland.
Thirty thousand hardcovers were published in March, 1996, and the little book has continued to grow. In the years since, it has been: optioned as a feature film six times; a finalist as Best Novel for both the World Fantasy Award (1997) and the Aurora Award (Canada) twice (1997, 1998); the subject of numerous book club discussion groups; required reading on several university English courses (including ENG 237, University of Toronto); published in both mass market paperback (1997) and larger trade paperback (2000); and most recently: broadcast on more than four hundred stations across Canada by CBC Radio in ten fifteen-minute segments, twice daily, during two weeks in November and December of 2002.
The book had exceeded all my initial modest expectations. In 1996-97, I took another unpaid leave from my teaching position and wrote the prequel, A Witness to Life, the story of Jack’s father, Martin Radey, and his life in and around Toronto from 1880 to 1950. Told from the point-of-view of a dead man revisiting the critical junctures and events of his life, once again, the elements of biography, autobiography and fiction tumbled together into an alloy with a fantastic capstone. Published in 1999 as a Forge Book from Tom Doherty Associates, it was, like Shadow of Ashland, a Best Novel finalist for the World Fantasy Award (2000).
For a writer, things experienced and noted along the way do indeed become potential fodder for stories. Earlier, aware of its place in my future fiction, I mentioned my 1984 visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, final resting spot of the monk Thomas Merton. In the ensuing years, I read much Merton, coming to see him as, arguably, the premier spiritual guru of the twentieth century. Anything but a saint, flawed and human, anti-institutional, with more than fifty volumes of meditations and a host of posthumous writings (following his accidental death at age fifty-three, in 1968), he flirted with Zen, Chuang Tzu, Blake, Bob Dylan and jazz and everything else of cultural import that caught his fancy. His philosophy permeates A Witness to Life ("a monk has nothing to tell you except that if you dare to enter the solitude of your own heart, you can go beyond death, even in this life, and be a witness to life"), and near the end of the novel, in 1948, Martin Radey meets him in the garden of Gethsemani.
Everything goes into a book.
An overnight success after almost twenty-five years of writing, in 1999, at age fifty-two, I retired from my position as English teacher at Toronto’s East York Collegiate Institute, a career begun thirty-one years earlier. Teaching had been everything it should be: rewarding, frustrating, enriching, draining, broadening, constraining, keeping me in touch with everyday life and my finger on the pulse of education. It had provided the best of friends and a social world I wouldn’t have missed. There are students who still keep in touch. But I was finally a full-time writer, and it felt good.
Relaxed, in September I enjoyed the open-ended vista of my solitary pursuit and began my new book. Novels have a way of growing into something not completely foreseen when they are started, and this is part of the mystery of creation. Every day brings something new. I am now fairly certain that all serious fiction – all fiction that is not merely a job -- is a personal reinterpretation of the writer’s existence during the time the fiction is written, accounting for the transmutation through the months and years of writing. The first working title was No Other Son. By the beginning of 2000, it was Turning of Bones. When it was finished, in June of 2000, St. Patrick’s Bed had emerged. It was the sequel to Shadow of Ashland, set eleven years later, in 1995.
November 1999 found me driving from Toronto to Dayton, Ohio to research that city, much as I had Ashland years earlier. There was another missing relative there, but not the narrator’s. This time it was his stepson’s father, and traveling with Leo Nolan was the ghost of his own father, who, as told on the first page, had died on April 15, 1995. I was writing about my father, using fiction, cradling the tale, once again, in the soft fold of the fantastic.
In May, Merle and I left for one week in the west of Ireland. A critical, climactic scene in the novel was to be set on a mountain in Galway that had a pilgrimage site atop it: St. Patrick’s Well and Bed. I had written the scene using memory of my time there on my previous visits (1971, 1997), and had a slew of research books and material surrounding my desk, but I wasn’t satisfied. I had to see it for myself, know what the wind felt like, smell the air. And Merle was pregnant.
Clearly, things had been transpiring in the background. Merle and I had been trying to have a child of our own since our 1994 marriage. For the first while, we approached the matter casually, figuring it would surprise us pleasantly when it happened, and we fully expected it at any time. Nothing happened. For people entering the baby arena, we were running out of time. When we finally got around to visiting a doctor, we learned that there were complications, mostly due to our ages, which needed attention.
Ah, persistence, ah, faith. In March, 2000, Merle phoned me from her work to tell me she was pregnant. At my computer, I clicked on "Save," sat back, smiled. Like the novel on the screen in front of me that had grown and shifted, the world was changing profoundly as I breathed in and out, alone in my office. Daniel Casci Green arrived November 19, 2000. A miracle. I was fifty-three, Merle thirty-nine. His big brothers were nineteen and twenty-two. My generational family was continuing. My mother and father would have been thrilled.
St. Patrick’s Bed, another Forge Book from Tom Doherty Associates, encompassing my father and the mysterious roads to Daniel’s arrival, was launched in Toronto on October 30, 2001. With my wife and three sons present, along with extended family and hosts of friends and well-wishers, I had no reason to be anything but happy, and happy I was. In many ways, the novel was the end of one stage and the beginning of another, both in terms of my books and my personal life. With a new baby in the house, the writing began to slow to a crawl, then stalled completely for a while. I did not mind. I had a new future, a new life.
For the first year, Merle was home from her job, even extending her leave. When she returned to work in September, 2001, my new position began in earnest. I was a stay-at-home father. As I write this, in May of 2003, I am fifty-six. Daniel is two-and-a-half. My days are simple, demanding, often exhausting, but always rewarding. Daniel’s big brother, Owen, is twenty-two, working full-time, but planning to return to college in the fall. He has lived with us for the past two years now. Conor, big brother number two, is twenty-five, has his own apartment, his own life. The glass has never been so full.
Daniel & I, summer, 2002
Today, I wrote some of this essay in the morning, fed and dressed Daniel, watched him play in the backyard while I did the dishes, then trundled him off to the supermarket to get some dinner for later. We stopped off at Home Depot on the way and bought one of those peanut-halogen bulbs needed for under the kitchen cabinets.
"How would you like a donut?" I asked him.
"I think so."
We coasted through the Drive-Thru at Tim Hortons. In the parking lot, in the front seat I read the newspaper and drank a coffee. I passed bits of the chocolate dip donut back to him in his rear car-seat. Suddenly: quiet.
I punched in Merle’s work number on my cell phone. "He’s asleep." For us, this is news to be shared, smiled about, discussed, analyzed.
He’s on our bed as I write this, in slumberland. I can hear Owen showering in the basement, getting ready for his afternoon-evening shift. In the backyard, through the window of my office, it is flowering season: lilacs, maples, oaks, even dandelions.
How did all this happen? Of course, things will change. I will be back. In September, 2003, I assume the post of writer-in-residence at Hamilton, Ontario’s Mohawk College; in anticipation of my absence, Daniel is on a waiting list for day-care at Merle’s work for two days a week. It’s something he needs – getting out more into the big world of other kids, socializing, learning new things. I’m looking forward to the variation too.
And even as I spend my days in domestic routine, comforted always by the thought that I am helping my family move ahead to whatever comes next, I am writing in my head, working on the next book, making notes in stolen time, clarifying what it is I want to say, constructing a story in which to say it, realizing the scope and breadth and value of my own parents’ achievement, wanting to honor them by continuing what I see as a valid life.
The following 2 updates (2008; 2010) were written in response
to requests from editor Bruce Gillespie, who wished to republish the above
in his magazine SF Commentary. In fact, it was republished there
(issue 82, August 2011), under the title A
Valid Life (can be viewed at this link, p. 28, including
new photographs). This included the Epilogue Redux from 2010
only. The Epilogue immediately below (from 2008) apears here for
the first time.
Once again: the passage of time, the filter of family, and it is October, 2008. I am sixty-one years old, my wife forty-seven. My two oldest sons, Conor and Owen, thirty and twenty-seven respectively, have their own places here in Toronto. Daniel, our youngest, who will be eight years old next month, is in grade three.
In May, 2003, unexpectedly, I was invited to the Yukon Writer’s Retreat as a workshop leader/instructor, and coordinated with my wife and her job and our son’s needs for a long weekend thousands of miles away in the land of the midnight sun -- an unforgettable experience in an exotic setting, a place where the planet still seemed virginal. It was a signal event in that I re-entered the literary world through a door that I hadn’t sought, that I didn’t know existed. And later that year, in the fall, I took up the previously mentioned post of writer-in-residence at Ontario’s Mohawk College (10,000 full-time, 50,000 part-time students). I had assumed that it would present me with a sequestered opportunity to relax and write. I pictured myself in a cloistered office, contact with students and staff limited, enjoying the quintessential ivory tower. The college’s expectations were quite different.
I became a guest speaker, to my surprise, a teacher once again. So pleased were the folk in charge with my role that they offered me an additional four months as part-time faculty, so I stayed until April, 2004, surprising myself with my total involvement in their world. I conducted individual one-hour consultation/critiques with student/faculty/community writers, was invited speaker in more than twenty different classes, hosted a journalism workshop, a professional development session for faculty, was keynote speaker at the OASFAA (Ontario Association of Student Financial Aid Advisors) Fall Conference, delivered a public lecture (“The Naked Writer”), participated in local readings, and realized that perhaps my teaching life was not over. There were new experiences out there for me.
In the summer, I was back hosting a workshop at Ontario’s McMaster University, and once the fall of 2004 settled in, when I had time to reflect, realizing that I missed the lure of my brief post-secondary teaching sojourn, I began to cast about to see what I could come up with that was similar.
In the meantime, I was still a stay-at-home Dad, Daniel in junior kindergarten, making lunches and spending the afternoons with him. As always, he filled my days in an extraordinarily, mundanely wonderful way. His social world broadened with school, and my organization of playmates and play-dates let me see the world of childhood anew. Few men are so lucky. The concept of traditional ambition, something that had sustained me over the long haul, was rainwater, soaking into the ground. I had the luxury of a unique life, the opportunity to sidestep unwanted ruts.
By the fall of 2005, I had managed to find the type of position that I was seeking. I joined the faculty of the University of Western Ontario as a sessional lecturer, teaching the course “Fundamentals of Creative Writing,” and have been doing so every year since (I only teach in the fall – a provision of my age and station, and a convenience that allows me to still be with Daniel, my primary role). In fact, this September, 2008, I’ve added a second course: “Creative Writing: The Short Story.” And the mystery to me, the wonder, the curiosity is that I’ve come back to teaching, something I assumed I’d left behind forever. I’ve had to come to this understanding, that this is something I can do, something I am good at, something that satisfies and is worth doing.
In the past few years, I have stood with my wife at her brother’s funeral (only in his early sixties), with one high school friend at the funeral service for his wife (sixty years old), and with another at the service for his twin brother. My niece, my sister’s only daughter, has died of breast cancer. And now I watch as my brother, Dennis, two years my junior, battles throat cancer so serious that he has already undergone a tracheotomy.
Sixty-one. What an amazing number.
My energy level has changed. There is a mind set that comes with my age that keeps informing, not loudly, but subtly, of the need to do only those things one wants, to savour time and health, to find and listen to one’s own music.
But I soldier on. And yes, I’m still dabbling at my own writing. In 2006, my 1992 novel Children of the Rainbow was reissued in a beautiful package by Fitzhenry and Whiteside, with a new Introduction and Afterword and some minor rewriting, sporting the new title Sailing Time’s Ocean. It was like seeing an old friend surface. As well, there have been several false starts at a novel (I know the story), but each has been shelved. I will get back to it. Time is still at a premium, and I spend it very thriftily on anything that is not directly related to my family.
I have gone back to the short story form (it seems a more realistic goal, at this point in my life) and have written several new ones. There is one right now, posted on the online literary journal The Danforth Review (www.danforthreview.com), titled “V-Day,” which, if you’ve enjoyed the whole of this reflective piece, I suspect you might appreciate equally, mingling as it does fiction once more with autobiography.
I am still a stay-at-home Dad. This is walk-to-school week – get people out of their cars – and I’m off to pick up Daniel shortly. Lunch beckons. We will stroll home, down the hill that leads to our house, beneath turning maples, noting which doors have Thanksgiving wreaths or Indian corn, which porches have pumpkins, which windows startle with Halloween witches. Sunlight is soft, this time of the year.
The evolution continues. I have a somewhat new mantra. It goes like this: “I didn’t see this coming.”
On September 15, 2010, I begin my sixth year teaching at the University of Western Ontario. I am sixty-three years old.
I will board the ViaRail train at Union Station in Toronto, arrive two hours later in London, Ontario, spend the afternoon among the 30,000 students at the university there, eat an early dinner on campus, and at 6 PM introduce Writing 2295F (Creative Writing: The Short Story) to the twenty-six students enrolled in it. A 3-hour workshop course, it will run once weekly for thirteen weeks. The prerequisite is a B average in a first year writing course.
When the class ends at 9 PM, I may visit the Grad Club for a cold beer, then amble over to the nearby B&B where I will spend the night. In the morning, after breakfast, I will make my way to the train station and reverse the trip of the previous day, arriving home in Toronto in the early afternoon. At 3:30, I will pick up my son, Daniel, from school. He is in grade 5, almost 10 years old. Until the following Wednesday, six days hence, this will be my other job: stay-at-home-Dad.
So the current state of affairs: I have one full-time job (Daniel), and two part-time jobs (teaching and writing). The full-time job is exactly that -- full-time. For those of you who haven’t actually stayed at home with a little one, I submit the following: you have no idea. Merle went back to work when Daniel was one year old. For the past nine years, I’ve held the fort, done my best. At the beginning, I was unrealistic (and inexperienced) enough to believe that being at home with a child and writing could co-exist. And I’m sure there are those out there who have the energy and multi-tasking wherewithal to pull it off. I discovered that I wasn’t one of them.
At the beginning, of course, I tried to do both. The result was, simply, that I wasn’t doing either as well as I should. So the writing went onto the back burner and the parenting moved front and centre. It was the right choice. And in time, the part-time teaching at Western emerged as a viable option – satisfying, remunerative, exciting and interesting. The pieces began to fit together. A Zen-like acceptance and patience was the key, seeing what one has instead of what one hasn’t.
The writing that has begun to interest me more and more of late is exactly the kind of autobiographical/memoir writing I am doing here. One of the reasons that we read is to ascertain that what is happening to us isn't only happening to us. We need reference points, lives to which we can compare our own, to gauge and understand our experiences. There are things that are expressed only in writing, never spoken aloud in our culture. We can find them in books, in the type of writing I am talking about, in the honesty and insights of those willing to take the time and make the effort to say what they feel and think and tell what has happened to them. And yes, it can be in fictional form as well, as long as the experience of the characters rings true, as long as it has the emotional resonance that makes us sit back and understand the life (or lives) we are reading about.
Facts: the passage of time. My younger
brother, Dennis, died of his throat cancer in December, 2008. My older
sister, Anne, died in November, 2009. Of the five siblings in my family,
two of us are left.
A friend of mine emailed me recently asking if I would be writing any more novels. I answered him truthfully that I didn’t know, that I rarely know what the future will bring, that we will see. My priorities have shifted. As I age, how could they not?
I have published six novels and a collection of stories with major American and Canadian publishers, along with a wide array of uncollected stories, poems, articles, reviews, interviews and essays. I am married to a wonderful woman and have three strong, beautiful and intelligent sons. In 2009, my 1997 novel Blue Limbo was reissued. In 2010, my 1988 novel Barking Dogs was reissued. The books resurface, still there, like my family, giving shape and meaning to the gestalt of accomplishment, of creation.
I like what Lou Gehrig said when he stood in Yankee Stadium in 1939, one eye on the past, the other on the future. To paraphrase: I am a lucky man. I am blessed.
Who would I trade places with? Why?
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