About Me

A Reading Life.

My love of books was born in the library of Nathan Hale Elementary School in Minneapolis, MN, where I was attracted to Miss Flood, the librarian, and spent hours looking at bare breasted African women in National Geographic magazine.  So from an early age I found sex in the library, but I also found excitement and adventure in the Dr. Doolittle books by Hugh Lofting and in the juvenile fiction works of Joseph Altsheler.  Altsheler wrote stories of Indians and frontiersmen fighting the British during the French and Indian Wars and on the western borders of the colonies during the Revolutionary War.  Altsheler, Dr. Doolittle and Miss Flood.  I was enthralled.

By the time I got to high school my older brother had left home so I moved into his room.  With my bed, my desk, a comfortable chair and a floor lamp, it was the perfect place to read.  Best of all, I could shut the door so no one disturbed me.  During high school I read the Russians - Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, who was too difficult for me, but I read him anyway.  I also devoured the works of Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Kerouac, Malamud, Salinger, Sinclair Lewis, Styron, James Jones and Mailer.  From Sinclair Lewis and Steinbeck, in particular, I developed a social conscience that influenced the values that informed my subsequent life.  I decided that  materialism, the pursuit of money and accumulating things for their own sake would not be the main motivating factors in my life.  I was young and idealistic and wanted to devote myself to something purer, more noble.  This was the late 1950s when the civil rights movement was getting started so achieving social justice became the goal of my life at that time.

It was also in high school that I discovered alcohol.  The first time I had a drink I knew it was what I had been searching for.  After one beer a switch turned off in my brain, I forgot whatever was troubling me and I wasn't bored with life any more.  By the time I was 18 I knew I was an alcoholic, but that didn't bother me.  Hemingway, Lewis and Faulkner were alcoholics.  If that's what it took to be a great writer I was half way there.  Little did I know what a negative effect drugs and alcohol would have on my life.  I managed to quit them both when I was 40, but that's another story.

Entering the University of Minnesota I had no idea what to major in.  I tried pre-law, but that was a disaster.  It occured to me that I spent much of my free time reading so I might as well major in English.  From my Altsheler days I liked history so that's what I chose for a minor.  In the 1960s the English Department at the University of Minnesota was excellent.  I took courses in poetry and drama, a literary criticism class from Alan Tate and the poet James Wright taught me Shakespeare.  As with Dostoyevsky, I was out of my depth with professors like Tate and Wright, but I managed to graduate in four years.

With my BA in English clutched to my breast I had no clue what to do next.  I had applied for the Peace Corps six months before graduating, but hadn't heard from them.  I tried to sign up for Marine Corps and U.S. Navy officer candidate programs, but was turned down by both due to poor eyesight.  This was 1964 and the Vietnam War was underway so I decided just to wait until I was drafted into the army.  One day in mid-August I received a phone call from Washington DC.  It was the Peace Corps inviting me to a training program to become a high school English teacher in Malawi, Southern Africa.  I had never heard of Malawi and my previous connection with Africa was the bare breasted women in National Geographic magazine in elementary school, but that didn't matter.  I jumped on the offer.  Peace Corps? Heck Yes!  What an opportunity!

My two years in Malawi informed the next 37 years of my life.  Each Peace Corps household received a book locker.  There wasn't much to do in Africa after dark except listen to music from Mozambique on the radio, prepare lessons for the next day and read.  What great books were in that locker!  Tom Jones, Don Quixote, Red Badge of Courage, Gulliver's Travels, Moby Dick, InvisibleMan, Zorba the Greek, The Leopard and so many more.  What a blessing the Peace Corps book locker was for me and the 10,000 other volunteers stuck in remote places.  The travel writer and novelist, Paul Theroux, was a volunteer in Malawi when I was there and I've read many of his books.

I loved Africa.  Africans respected teachers and treated me like a king.  When I left Malawi in late 1966 I went to Grenoble, France, where I enrolled in a six month French language and culture course.  I lived with a French family and madame was a terrific cook, but there were no books in English for me to read.  My French was beginners level so I couldn't read any books in French except the ones I used in class.

While I was in France I applied to the Howard University MA program in African Studies.  I also applied to the Masters of Arts in Teaching program at Reed College.  Reed replied that they had had some bad experiences with returned Peace Corps Volunteers and were no longer accepting RPCVs in their MAT program.  Go figure.  Howard accepted me so off I went.  Howard is where I read African authors for the first time - Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Soyinka.  Great stuff.

I was offered an opportunity to spent a year in Morocco researching my MA thesis.  This was a new face of Africa for me.  I wasn't as happy in Morocco as I had been in Malawi, but the British Council Library in Rabat saved me.

Back in the U.S. I was accepted in the PhD program in African history at Michigan State University.  My reading there was almost entirely dictated by the classes I was taking, but I discovered Georges Simenon at MSU.  What a delight it was to escape from the heavy history books into Simenon and the cases his detective, Maigret, solved.

I wrote my dissertation on Malawian labor migration, a reflection of my interest in economic and social justice dating back to high school.  Upon graduating I embarked on a teaching career determined to write.  I worked hard and published four academic books and a dozen scholarly articles, mostly related to Malawi.  I taught at the Universities of Zambia and Malawi, but for various reasons was unable to land a teaching job in the U.S.

I was fortunate to be offered a position at Ft. Bragg, N.C., working as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.  This involved research and writing of classified studies about Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.  Right up my alley.  I managed to survive 20 years locked inside a windowless building at Ft. Bragg.

When I was 30 I started running a mile or two every day for fitness.  At age 40, when I quit drinking I upped my mileage and started running races.  I finished a marathon then another and discovered ultrarunning - races covering greater than the 26.2 marathon distance - when I was working on articles about the great South African runner, Bruce Fordyce, and the 56 mile Comrades Marathon race that he dominated in the 1980's.

At Ft. Bragg I ran every day during my lunch hour and hatched a plan to run four 100 mile trail races in one summer - 13 weeks - and write a book about it.  That book became Beyond the Marathon which was followed by another running book, Hardrock Fever, about my attempts to finish the Hardrock 100 mile endurance run.

When writing the two non-fiction running books, I experimented with fiction techniques - writing dialogue, description, building suspense.  I was pleased with the results and felt I was ready to write a novel so I retired at my earliest opportunity, on my 60th birthday, and moved to Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado where I had already bought a townhouse.

Three years later I produced The Chinese Laundry, a historical novel about the struggles of Lee, the title character, with discrimination in a Victorian era mining town.  Social justice again - a continuing theme in my life and writing.  The Chinese Laundry was followed by Silverton Burning about Jimmy Bluebird, a part-Indian environmental activist and arsonist.

In 2014 I moved to a new genre with publication of Zambezi River Bridge. A Thriller, which mixes fact and fiction.  ZRB introduces Vietnam veteran and ex-CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer, Steve Fuller, and features guest appearances by Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, while telling a compelling story of the Zimbabwe liberation struggle.

When I was teaching and working for the army I traveled all over Europe and Africa.  I've been to Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.  In my retirement I've traveled a lot, especially to Oceania and Asia - Australia, New Zealand China, Nepal, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand where I met my wife.  My reading has followed my frequent flyer miles and I've become a fan of John Burdett and his Thai Buddhist police detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep.  As I write this I look at the bookcase in my living room and see several of Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police detective stories.  John LeCarre's The Little Drummer Girl is sitting there in the bookcase.  I can never get enough of spy novels.

The great thing about reading is there's always a grand adventure in the next book.  Recently, I discovered the thriller writer, Gerald Seymour.  I've learned things about suspense building from Seymour.  I get ideas from every book I read and I'm also inspired by movies.  We've got a good library in Silverton.  I'll keep writing.  Maybe another novel featuring the characters that came to me in Silverton Burning.  Maybe a thriller/spy story set in Asia.  Stay tuned.