I was born in 1964 in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in nearby Ft. Collins. When I was 10 I penned my first novella, Donald the Dragonfly, during a summer writing course my librarian mom had suggested. The teacher gave me an A+ and wrote that I was also a good kickball participant at recess. Two of my strongest competing career aspirations at the time were to be a garbage man or an architect. I’m not sure how or when the former fell by the wayside—perhaps it was the specter of long days of lifting heavy cans in the days before automated trucks. Without question, my lack of mathematical ability quickly doomed the latter. A third option that fascinated me: being an author. So as a kid I wrote dozens of letters to dozens of authors of children’s books telling them of my well-formed vision and intention.
I was a switch hitter in Little League and chess champion of my 5th grade class. When I was 13 my two best friends and I made 8mm movies. These included Rock Monster, at the dawn of MTV, and us torturing and destroying a Sesame Street puppet with homemade “blood packets” of ketchup. Our favorite film was “The Blues Brothers,” which we saw at least 10 times at the theatre and can still quote line-by-line today. We also saw “Grease” seven times together. Dreams for 13-year-old boys started and ended with Olivia Newton John’s bad-girl transformation at the end. Well, that and a certain Cheryl Tiegs poster.
When I was 16 I did a double century on my bike, 200 miles in a single day, through the mountains of Colorado. I wanted to shave my legs and admired professional cyclists in the days before the word or material “Lycra” existed. In the early 1980s cycling shorts were black only, wool, scratchy and no one wore them to the grocery store.
I followed the sunshine from Colorado to Arizona, in 1984, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University (B.A., 1989). Then I followed the clouds, dreich* and horizontal rain to Scotland where I earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Glasgow (M.Phil, 1996). *The Scottish word for the daily combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather.
I’ve had one official professional job in my life—in corporate public relations from 1989 to 1991—that gave me a new goal: never have another official professional job. I left the corporate world to pursue my dream of being an author. A more sane, steady and less stressful existence would have been to revisit one of my earlier notions, i.e. being a garbage man.
For my first published piece, about a local bicycle race, a magazine paid me the princely sum of $95. For the next seven years, I wrote three novels that didn’t sell and, to earn income, wrote for magazines, newspapers and businesses. I traveled to Sydney, Frankfurt, Mexico City and Singapore to write for corporate clients.
In 1997, still determined, I sat down and penned my novel ZigZag in 52 days. As a sort of offering to the Literary Gods, I skipped my planned and fully-paid trip to the Tour de France to finish writing the book. My great self-sacrifice did not go unnoticed. British publisher Bloomsbury bought the book first, in February 1998, followed by publishers in the USA (Henry Holt), Germany (Rowohlt), and Portugal (Dom Quixote). ZigZag hit bookstore shelves in June 1999. That same month, Hollywood writer, director and producer David S. Goyer came across the novel in a Pasadena bookstore. Exactly 10 years after I left my one and only job to write full-time, Franchise Pictures began filming ZigZag on location in Los Angeles.
In 2005, I interviewed a high-profile plaintiff’s attorney for a magazine piece. From that meeting a novel was born, The Rules of Action, about a young lawyer’s early career and rise. In 2012, I created new digital editions of my four novels for Kindle, Nook, iPad and all the other devices that didn’t exist when I started this journey. The new editions include ZigZag, The Rules of Action, Deep Wicked Freaky and The Flatirons.
Next up, for 2014, was the nonfiction biography Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story. When a taxi smashed into police officer Jason Schechterle’s patrol car, the fireball that consumed the vehicle should have killed him. But by a series of small miracles, Jason survived: Dying would have been easier. “This enthralling biography injects the intimacy of fiction into a true story of human endurance” (Publishers Weekly).
For 2015, I followed up with Angels Three: The Karen Perry Story, another nonfiction biography that takes readers deep inside her world of aviation, the challenges of parenting special needs children, and the indescribable pain of every parent’s worst fear come true. This skilled pilot and grieving mother is left to search for clues about what happened that night, and why. Her search for the truth leads to a startling revelation, legal battle with the Federal Aviation Administration, and a troubling question: Was the crash avoidable? The book came out in November 2015. For 2017, there’s nothing slated for imminent release, but I am working on several different projects.
If you asked me whether I’d do it all again—leave the cocoon of a biweekly paycheck to follow my dream of being an author—my gut reaction would be, “Hell freaking no!” But then again, anyone who’s achieved anything meaningful would probably say the same thing because life is hard: creating a good relationship and marriage, raising children, running a business and having a career. None of it comes easy.
So rather than whether I’d do it all over again, I do know this: I’m glad I’ve traded this life for something the little version of me wanted when he was 10. How did he know? I have no idea, which is the beauty and mystery of it all. Listening to that voice shows me the unfiltered truth. My own kids teach me that every day: “Dada, you have a big head.”
In the end, garbage man, architect or author: I really couldn’t go wrong.