My mother was a bookbinder, my father printed books, and I write them. This may be a step up but my late parents wouldn’t have thought so. I grew up in a blue collar area of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the long shadow of Harvard University, where my father, a high school dropout, worked for the Harvard Printing Shop. Toward the end of his tenure there, he proofread books for Harvard University Press. Our neighborhood, North Cambridge, was also the home of Tip O’Neill, whose congressional seat was once held by John F. Kennedy. After high school I commuted to Boston College, where I began as a math major but changed to English and immediately decided I was a poet. I had never been further west than Syracuse, New York when I moved to California to attend graduate school at the University of California at Davis. There, and subsequently while teaching at the University of Utah, I fell in love with the American West and Southwest. At Utah and later at Binghamton University, I published three books of criticism but then discovered novel writing and promised myself to never get sidetracked again. Most of my novels have been historical in theme and setting, and most of my historical fictions have been about the American West, but I think of myself first and foremost as a literary novelist, whose subject matter and setting may potentially embrace anything from the ancient Mideast to twenty-first century urban America. I research my books extensively, stitch together fiction and fact, crank it up into the imagination and zap it with a thousand volts; the result is the Frankenstein monster called a novel.
I now live in the mountains of northern Colorado, close to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park. In this vertical world, I am a presence inside a larger presence. I write mornings until one or two p.m., then take long walks to think about what I’ve done. The walks are corrective; to the rhythm of the landscape and my passage through it, I find myself both revising that morning’s work and beginning the next day’s session of writing. One or two times a week I take longer hikes and climbs, often rising at three a.m. in order to climb a mountain with friends and descend to tree line before the mid-day thunderstorms. The mountains (who don’t care who I am) have given me the opportunity to write and live near a wilderness unimpaired by the patriotic duty to consume.
Writing novels is my way of living in and understanding the world. My goal is to rearrange the furniture in my readers’ minds–to help them see the things around them with new eyes. I believe that the novel is an art form designed to both entertain and discomfort readers, and that its ultimate purpose is to undermine our complacency while bringing us news of the world.