Photo by Gloria Mindock
Write a bio.
I grew up in an environment where reading (a lot) and writing (a lot) was considered normal. We had floor to ceiling books
in the house I grew up in. My mother was a part time journalist, a stringer, who wrote for the New York Times, the Ridgefield Press
and on occasion the Readers Digest. My Grandfather wrote book after book after book had an oft-repeated motto
"If all else fails you can always write a book." My Dad wrote a calculus and statistics textbook but was professionally,
an engineer and entrepreneur in the age of Grand Engineering Feats. He always thought BIG, he built the worlds largest
shipyard during World War I. The house I grew up in was always full of "shush I'm reading," from my father mixed with the
clattering of my mother's typewriter.
I spent the first 6 years of my life in New York City, on the upper west side of Manhattan Island at 325 East 79th St.
to be precise. It was a building full of Jewish refugees and holocaust survivors and we were the only goyim in the building.
Everyone spoke Yiddish, my mother spoke German so I grew up understanding a lot of Yiddish and Jewish customs. After
my Dad's last great idea went broke, we moved to Connecticut where we lived in the coachman's cottage on my grandfather's
estate or what was left of it after the depression. My Dad, who was 30 years older than my mother, never recovered from
his last business failure, it killed him and he died a couple of months before JFK was shot. 1963 was very traumatic.
When did you start writing?
It was about this time that I decided that I wanted to be a writer too. After all, I was lead to believe that writing was
the most sacred profession, and it was almost my duty to uphold that family tradition. I remember announcing my seemingly
irrevocable decision one night at dinner to which my mother wearily replied, "Well you come by it naturally, you come from
a long line of failed and petty literati." Time will tell which side of the family tradition I am upholding.
I got my first article published when I was 13. The Hartford Current ran a contest for high school students. I only got an
honorable mention in the contest but the paper bought the article anyway. It was about the transformation of children from
the egalitarian worldview of children to the clickish, politically and sexually driven worldview of teenagers.
Describe the room you write in.
I've lived in more than a dozen different places but this is really only the fourth place I've written a lot in. When I
moved to Cambridge Massachusetts in 1970, I adopted the Café Pamplona as my writing den. In those days I'd write everything in
longhand and resort to typing only when I had a good rough draft. Later, I moved to Belmont and raised a family. My den in
Belmont, where I wrote book after book, was a series damp, dark (cold in the winter), windowless basements.
Today, I live out in the country in Littleton Massachusetts. My office is a 16 by 16 foot converted detached garage with
minimal insulation and electric heat. It's still comfortable. My desk is in a south facing bay window overlooking Bumble Bee Park,
a 20-acre reserve that serves as the local sledding hill in winter. From this seat, I've seen spring bloom and winter decend, a
flock of wild turkeys meander across my yard and a deer or two lost on the hill across the street and the coyotes that stalk the
rabbits and mice in my yard. More than once I've been called, "the studious little man in the window," by joggers and bicyclists
passing by. I live in the mistaken belief, shared by goldfish everywhere, that I can see them but that they can't see me.
Talk about your travel book, poetry, stories-anything you want here concerning your writng.
I write about everything that comes to mind so writing a travel book just happened. I thought I could write an article
about traveling to Fiji and maybe another on Fiji culture but my muse dictated almost 30,000 words in three weeks so a
book was born. It was a very satisfying experience that allowed me to tie together stories of my father going to China
in the 1920's with my own trip to Fiji in the 2000's. The bottom line was that there was no comparison really, his trip
was the story of the grand progress of an early 20th century business tycoon while my trip was the story of a whirlwind
of modern touch and go business encounter.
I love to collect the stories of eccentrics, those colorful oddities living on the fringe of our desperately normal existence.
For me these characters make the world more colorful like a Dickens novel than the colorless sterile place modern society
seems to yearn for. I would argue that there is more life a neighborhood numbed by poverty and driven by desperation and
occasionally hope than there is in all the suburban shopping malls of middle America.
It's hard to get anything but serious non-fiction published so my non-non-fiction has tended to be fairly short.
When I was a lot younger I deliberately wrote poetry, a lot of it, but as I've grown older the distinction between
poetry and prose has become blurred in my mind. Perhaps I write prosery rather than poetry today. Still I love to read
poetry and hear it recited.
Importance of Bagel Bards and the writing community.
When I was in my book writing mode, I would walk my kids to school then go down into my basement den and write until
I had to go pick them up again. Then they would go out to play while I wrote till midnight or so. I went months without
a social connection to the outside world. Writing books is a very lonely profession. That drove me to join the National Writers Union,
which had a meeting at a bar about once a month. Between books I'd throw parties for the literati I met but the irregularity of the
contacts I made were never very satisfying. For some reason there were not that many writers in the National Writers Union. I
dropped out, stopped writing books and because my daughters loved poetry, I started writing poetry again. I met Doug Holder
through Jack Powers and the Stone Soup crowd that I hung out with in the 1970's. When Doug created the Bagel Bards it was
exactly what I had been looking for. It filled a niche in my life that the Grolier, the Café Pamplona and the National Writers Union
did not, it provided a place for writers, those crazed people for whom the written word is their primary raison d'être, to hang
out and share a common experience. Now if only we could find a place as poetic as the Algonquin Hotel instead of the Formica tables
of our faux French patisserie.
If I remember right, you have written some computer books, talk about that.
Do I have to? Everyone has seen the movie "The Graduate," with the scene where Dustin Hoffman is given the magic word,
"plastics." I had a similar experience but my word was, "computers." After my father died, an old family friend came up to
me and told me that I'd be able to pay my way through college if I knew computers. So I took a course on how to program an
IBM 360 computer, the computing behemoth of its day, when I was 15 and was hired by the teacher the day I turned 16.
Programming the IBM 360 was my first legal job. I've had a love/hate relationship with computers ever since.
When I first came to Cambridge in 1970, I was determined to make it as a writer or failing that write the "Great American Novel"
while programming my way through MIT. I went to MIT to prove something to myself. Getting in was the thrill after which I lost
all interest in the place. My literary career was foreshortened by an interesting fact of life for most magazines: Most magazines
have lots of writers willing to work for very little money but most magazines have trouble mechanically producing the book every
month. I discovered that I could make more money as a layout artist than I could as a writer. I learned how to layout books and
magazines and did stints as art director at the East West Journal, the New Age Journal, Sail magazine, The Journal of the
American Mathematical Society and MIT Press.
While I was at Sail Magazine, I freelanced as a book designer for MIT Press where I designed "the collected papers of J. W. Forrester,"
one of MIT's star engineers and founder of the field of Systems Dynamics. The man and his body of work fascinated me and after
several chats he asked me if I would like to be his teaching and research assistant (and mailroom clerk). I quit my job at Sail magazine
and went to work at the Sloan School for the System Dynamics Group (for a small fraction of what I had made as an Art Director).
The Systems Dynamics Group were in the process of designing a computer model of the US economy and I was assigned the onerous
task of critiquing every equation in the model so that it could be defended in the world of back biting academics. That job
lasted about a year after which the grant that had been paying me ran out. A grad student suggested that I go back to computers
since I had burned my bridges in the artistic world by shredding most of my portfolio.
I got the first job I applied for and spent the next 15 years as a computer gnurd (MIT spelling). In the mid 1980's, I
started a computer business aimed at supporting small to medium sized companies. Towards the end of the 1980's, I started
writing again. I wrote a monthly column titled "panic" about an over caffeinated computer geek who worked for the mob.
After that I wrote a column called "Famous last words" about all the promised software and other high tech toys that somehow
never show up. When that gig ended an editor asked me if I'd like to do some books so for the next few years I burned myself
out writing what are called "trade textbooks" with such great and memorable titles as "Using Unix" (first, second and special editions),
"Downsizing to Unix" and "Inside SCO Unix." I also wrote a good part of "Voodoo Unix" but I burned out half way through it.
There is only so much you can write about Unix, an operating system that is at the heart of the Macintosh and was the forerunner of
Linux if that means anything to you.
Mention family members who write.
I've mentioned that my mother was a journalist and my grandfather a writer of political polemics but that's just the tip of
the verbal iceberg. My Great-Grandfather was a geologist who wrote some of the first scientific textbooks on Geology. He made
a fortune setting up schools of Geology and supervising the geological survey of the Ural Mountains for the Czar of all the
Russia's. Before that, family lore talks of nine generations of Scotch Presbyterian ministers who's primary joy in life was
writing and editing "The Covenanter," a hellfire and brimstone weekly broadside of the Scotch Presbyterian Church.
Who are your favorite writers?
They are all dead. I love historians and philosophers. There is a long tradition of literate statesmen like Thucydides,
Julius Caesar, and Winston Churchill. I've made it a point of reading them all. Few people know that Churchill received the
Nobel Prize for literature. Then there is another tradition of great writers who make a name for themselves writing biographies.
We know more about Socrates than we know about Plato; we know more about Johnson than we do about Boswell. I love Samuel Pepes
and at one time thought I could be the diarist of my generation. For pure elegance of phrase nothing can compare with Gibbons
"Decline and fall of the Roman Empire." Open to any page and a charming phrase will catch your eye. My all time favorite sentence
in the English language is from Edward Gibbon. Speaking about one Claudius Africanas he says, "A library of forty thousand
volumes and twenty concubines attested to the variety of his inclinations; judging from the products of the former, as well as the
latter, both were meant for use rather than ostentation." Sweet.
For pure word crafting and story telling I love Virginia Woolf and for a lighthearted but thoughtful look at the world
there is nothing better than a dose of Bertrand Russell to put things in perspective. Finally I would have loved to sit in
for tea in Bloomsbury or put down a Manhattan at the Algonquin … or a croissant with the bards.
Who are you reading now?
I'm stuck. I have a huge pile of books waiting to be read and the pile keeps getting higher. The last book I read was a
manuscript by Laurie McKinney titled, "Hunter from Harvard, The Circle of Power" and I'm in the middle of a novel titled
"Hunter Moon," by Anne Brudevold. I am getting swamped with manuscripts from friends. I'm not sure if my friends are suddenly
great writers or I'm enjoying their works just because they are my friends but it's thrilling reading a work in progress.
The last published books I've read are "Flashman on the March" by George McDonald Fraser, "Will in the World," by Stephen Greenblatt
and "Collapse," by Jared Diamond. I'm also moseying my way through "A year in Provence" by Peter Mayle.
You have been doing layout/production work for the Ibbetson St. Press books and will be doing some of the Červená Barva books,
what has this experience been like using a POD?
Technology has made book design and production incredibly easy. Book design is still labor intensive but the number of steps
required have been drastically reduced. Today an eighty thousand word manuscript can be turned into a printed, bound book in
less than a month where it might have taken a year and ten times the work in 1980. The beauty of printing and publishing on
demand is that editions that once would never have been published can be and books that might have once gone out of print can
remain available forever. It's a wonderful new age.
What would you like to see change in the publishing world? (if anything)
There is still a major gulf between the writer and the reading public. The world wide web has narrowed that distance
but the difference between success as a writer and failure still rests in the hands of just a few major publishing houses
who's taste and literary judgment I must call into question.
Any last comments?
Haven't I said enough?