I didn’t start out to be a writer. I started out as a kid in New Jersey who had two major goals in life: (1) survive one more year of delivering newspapers without being attacked by Ike, the one-eyed, crazed cur that lurked in the forsythia bushes at the top of the hill; and (2) become more than a weak-hitting, third-string catcher on our sorry Little League team. I failed at both.
Had I announced at the dinner table, “Mom, Dad, I’ve decided to be a poet,” my parents—especially my mother—would have been thrilled. In truth, they would have been thrilled that I’d decided to be anything other than a Top 40 disc jockey, Edsel salesman, or bullpen catcher I constantly talked about becoming in junior high.
But at that point in my life, poetry—and school, in general, for that matter—meant no more to me than gerunds, the Belgian Congo, or George Washington’s wooden teeth. I was only “gifted” on Christmas and my birthday. I didn’t like school. I did as little homework as possible. I participated in class only under duress from the nuns. Before sixth grade, I wasn’t even much of a reader. My reading was limited largely to baseball magazines, the daily sports page—usually carefully read over a chocolate egg cream in the local candy store—and the backs of baseball cards old and new. I was captivated by those color pictures of men wearing five o’clock shadows and baggy pants.
Luckily for me, however, I discovered the Hardy Boys. Frank and Joe set me straight about the joys of reading. Somehow I made it through high school and I even found one college that would take me. That’s when my life changed. At college I was with kids who had read books I hadn’t read, knew about plays that I’d never heard of, and could talk about music, literature, and the arts. That was when I realized how much time I had wasted in high school. That’s when it dawned on me that it was time for me to start learning.
After college, where I actually did quite well, I headed to graduate school and then started teaching. I taught high-school English for twenty-two years in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Maine. I left the classroom in 1990, when my daughter was born. I’ve been fortunate to have published nearly fifty books. My current favorite is Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto, although I am pretty jazzed about the paperback and (OMG) e-book editions of my nonfiction book The Dark Game: True Spy Stories.
History has informed many of his books, from Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind The Environmental Headlines to the colonial settings of the Newbery Honor book Graven Images, inspired by his years living in a two-hundred-year-old house in New Hampshire, to the newly updated Dateline: Troy, which juxtaposes the Trojan War story with strikingly similar newspaper clippings from World War I to the Iraq War.
I usually spend about thirty-five days each year visiting schools. Over the past twenty years I have visited hundreds of schools from Maine to Alaska and even in Europe. When I’m not visiting schools, I’m usually in my office in my home in the foothills of western Maine working on books.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. High on my list of things-that-drive-me-nuts are socks that don’t stay up, drivers who don’t signal, and the Red Sox losing to the Yankees.
2. I walk a few miles, meditate, and do yoga nearly every day.
3. My wife wishes I would keep the door to my office shut because she thinks the room is an incredible mess. I prefer to think of it is as exhibiting creative chaos. A little chaos is good.