I was born 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 fifth grade class. When I was thirteen 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 ten times at the theatre and can still quote line-by-line today. We also saw Grease seven times together. Dreams for thirteen-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 sixteen I did a double century on my bike, two hundred miles in a single day, through the mountains of Colorado. I shaved 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, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University. 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. *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 for a few years after college—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 lucrative 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 fifty-two 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 a decade 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 the Devlin legal “Action” series was born, about a young lawyer’s early career and rise through the 1970s and 1980s and beyond.
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 might say the same thing because a life well-lived can be tough: 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 just ten years old. How did he know? I have no idea, which is the beauty and mystery of it all. Listening to that voice shows us the unfiltered truth, the right way through this journey.
In the end, garbage man, architect or author: I really couldn’t go wrong.