My Writing Life
I’m a newspaper reporter turned playwright, turned screenwriter, turned novelist. I know that’s a lof of turning so let me explain. If you want me to cut to the chase (an appropriate thing for a thriller writer to do) just know that I write fiction and nonfiction. And I like to write about sports too. And also cars.
When I was young I had trouble sleeping, so I would read late into the night. I think that anyone who reads a lot will eventually be interested in writing. I wanted to have adventures and write about them, like my heroes Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and Ernest Hemingway. But I wasn’t raised on the Mississippi and I didn’t fight in World War I. So what could I write about? Well, I did have an interesting childhood.
My father was an inventor and my mother was very artistic. My father was an atheist and my mother was religious. Are you getting the picture? We moved around a lot when I was small: Minneapolis, New York and Indiana. When I was in second grade we moved to Concord, Massachusetts, the home of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I used to go to the public library and look at the marble statues of these literary lions.
In 8th grade we moved to Oxford, England, for a year. I was on my school’s rugby and cricket teams and learned to play soccer during lunch break. For a week I also attended mountain climbing school in the Lake District. I also built a raft and floated down the Thames like Huckleberry Finn.
In high school I was a terrible student, more interested in reading, playing sports and fixing old cars. I was on the soccer, tennis, lacrosse and fencing teams. My fencing team toured the eastern seaboard competing against college teams such as MIT, Harvard, Yale, NYU and Rutgers.
Because of my atrocious grades, I was only able to get into a junior college in Massachusetts. By this time I was interested in writing but had little actual success at it. My English papers were entertainingly written, but were poorly focused and filled with typos. However, the soccer coach recommended me to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I went there sight unseen for two reasons: it was the alma mater of Thomas Wolfe and they admitted me.
In the last two years of college I finally started to knuckle down and go for grades. As a senior, I had one professor who told me my writing skills were very weak, while another suggested I make a living as a writer. I took the second professor’s advice.
The end of college saw the beginning of a long string of offbeat jobs. I became a chauffeur for a rich Bostonian in her summer home on Cape Cod. I was a room service waiter in Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel where I met Jimmy Carter and the actor Ben Gazara. During this time I began to sell articles to the Christian Science Monitor. With these clips, I was able to land a job at the City New Bureau of Chicago as a reporter.
For two years I was a police reporter, on the night shift covering murders, robberies, fires, bombings, train wrecks and suicides. I began to feel I was gathering information that I could use as a mystery writer. When a tipster called one night about the murder of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who broke a prison scandal, I began writing my first novel. That, along with several others, were never finished.
One day while walking through the campus of the University of Chicago, I met a woman named Vivian I had known at UNC. We began to see a lot of each other, spending most of our time at the movies or talking about books.
Meanwhile, my parents moved to Denver, Colorado. Ever since I read those adventure stories as a boy, I had dreamed of going West. When I visited my parents for Christmas, I fell in love with the Rockies and soon moved there with Vivian. We were married on a ranch high in the mountains overlooking Denver.
I continued working as a police reporter, this time on the staff of The Rocky Mountain News, a morning tabloid. I drove around the city in a car with a police scanner and sometimes arrived at shootings before the police and paramedics got there. More grist for the mill. I also covered dozens of murder trials.
While I worked, my wife, Vivian, wrote screenplays. One of her scripts caught the eye of a Hollywood agent. We decided to move to Los Angeles and take a shot at writing for movies and TV. However, when I arrived, I landed a job as a theater critic for The Hollywood Drama-Logue. For two years I reviewed three plays a week. Soon, I arranged the production of my first play, True Blues, which I also directed. This led to a writing assignment for “Miami Vice.”
My other plays were Boondoggle (produced on a double bill with Vivian’s Rat Race), Vacancy in Paradise (co-written with Vivian) and Nightside. I also wrote for TV’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Probe.” Later, I wrote many screenplays, some of which were optioned.
In the 1990s I came full circle and wrote my first book, a how-to guide to car buying. This led to other non-fiction books on automotive and computer subjects. I also wrote the autobiography Candidly, Allen Funt. During this time, we had two sons, Andrew and Tony.
Using what I learned in the Allen Funt biography, I decided to make the jump to fiction. In 1997 Bird Dog was published and received Edgar and Anthony prize nominations. I followed up with Low Rider, in 1998. In 2001, The Marquis de Fraud was released.
I also wrote a sports book called Free Throw; 7 Steps to Success at the Free Throw Line and later In Search of the Greatest Golf Swing.
A stand-alone thriller, Off and Running, was released in August 2015 by Skyhorse Publishing.