On growing up and family:
I was born in Seattle but when I was seven my father packed up his family, which included a wife and four children at that time, and moved to the little town of Ketchikan in the southeastern part of Alaska, where he'd been offered a chance to manage a grocery store. In the course of a stay of about 30 years he added three kids to his family and opened two stores of his own. My brothers and sisters and I worked in the stores and helped out at home, but what we liked most was being out in the wonderful Ketchikan world. We could step out our back door and be in the Tongass National Forest, an endless expanse of spruce and hemlock giants on mountain after mountain. Or we could step out our front door and be on the shore of Tongass Narrows, part of the Inside Passage that gives ships a sheltered way to travel from the Canadian border all the way to Skagway.
When the outdoors wasn't calling, my brothers and sisters and I buried our noses in books. We loved to read, probably because our parents loved to read. My father was so fond of the old-fashioned versifiers James Whitcomb Riley and Eugene Field he could recite long passages from them by heart. I don't know how many times I heard The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, but I don't imagine it did me any harm. It might have set me on the path, in fact, to telling stories in verse, though I spent a long time in trial and error before I could do that with any success.
After college, first at the University of Santa Clara in California and then at Notre Dame in Indiana, and while I was learning the fiction trade, I supported myself at newspaper jobs. I was the editor once of a weekly paper someone had started in a lawyer's office in New Hampshire. The paper gave me and the staff – there were about five of us – rooms to work in, but the lawyer wouldn't give us a telephone. When we needed a phone we had to go into his personal office and kneel in front of his desk. We didn't kneel because we worshipped him but because Doberman pinschers occupied the other office chairs. Trying to dislodge them would have been foolish, so we knelt and made our notes on the lawyer's desktop. He had four or five Dobermans, and none was housebroken, so you had to be careful when you climbed the stairs or walked along the corridors.
I also supported myself for a little while as a volunteer fireman in Ketchikan. As a volunteer, I had a room and a bed and kitchen privileges in living quarters above the fire hall. In exchange for that I had to answer fire calls at night. To be instantly ready to answer those calls volunteers kept their firefighting boots and pants at the foot of their beds, arranged in such a way that they could leap into their boots and hoist up their pants almost all in one move. One older guy, attempting that in response to one midnight alarm, accidentally jammed his bed sheet into his boot. It was stuck so tightly he couldn't pull it loose. It flowed out behind him when he slid down the pole, and even while he was on the back of the truck flying toward the fire. I'm sure it alarmed whatever citizens were up and about to see a fireman clinging to the back of a truck with a vast and ghostly tail flying in the wind behind him, but no one ever said anything, so perhaps they understood.
People might wonder what kept me persevering as a creative writer for all the years when my day job was newspaper work and I had no real evidence, in the form of publication, that I had any talent for fiction. One thing that kept me going was that I loved the act of writing itself. I loved picking up a pen and a pad of paper and scratching out the scene or the exchange of dialogue that was in my head. Sometime in my twenties, too, I'd read an essay by William James called "Is Life Worth Living?" For that philosopher it was something like a pop article before there was even a term for pop articles. In it Mr. James said, "Need and struggle excite and inspire."
I have always been tall and skinny and nearsighted. My sense of direction is so poor I once got lost in my own basement! (In my defense I have to say I was new to the house.) Despite my shortcomings, I've been lucky in love. I have a wonderful wife, Anne Warner. We make our home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
My daughter Alice lives in Washington State and my son Chevy lives in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is also home to my grandson Maceo.
I spend my time writing. Anne and I will venture out to a movie now and then. Or we'll go to a play or a jazz performance. But what we like to do the most is get together with our friends.