Most lives resemble a train track, going from A to B to C and on. Mine is closer to a rail yard.
I was raised in a small town in the heart of the Midwest's Bible Belt near St. Louis. It was about farms and what lives in the woods, learning to look at large and tiny things, and giving a constant Thank You to the richest man in America, steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie, who for some mysterious reason had one of his 2500 libraries built in my little town. It was well stocked, beautiful, and my home away from home. I fell in love with leather chairs, wood walls, and the endless ideas of books and writers.
Rather like my favorite Kerouac novel, The Town And The City, I had a second life in St. Louis, because it was an hour away and my family shuttled between the city with its museums, opera, ballet, and music. I had a double life, split between urban culture and a classic farm town that smelled of cow barns and corn fields.
I started at the U of Illinois a few years prematurely, had a year's interlude studying painting and music at UNM in Albuquerque and Taos, then returned to Champaign to complete clinical psych and theater majors. I don't remember my argument, but as a junior I finagled a 24 hour pass to a private cell in the new library's stacks. I was a bear in a cave of ideas. Everything. I read every subject imaginable. It was all mental meat. When everyone slept I'd wander the aisles picking out books to devour until three in the morning. A generalist in the fast approaching streamliner era of specialists.
I skipped my January graduation ceremony, went to Chicago and got married. Sarasota, Florida was our honeymoon and my first falling in love with a place. It was a town of only 15,000 strewn along a bay and the beaches of several islands, filled with brilliant architects' buildings, painters, famous writers, a symphonic orchestra, 2 theaters, the Ringling's Art Museum and circus, people who lived on boats and who had traveled the world. Sarasota had quietly become a miniature of Greenwich Village, the Hamptons and Chicago's Rush Street wrapped into a semi-tropical seaside without the aggressivity. We only went back through the snow to grab our clothes and say goodbyes. Florida was rapidly expanding and Sarasota multiplied by 5 in 8 years. The season expanded to year-'round and hundreds of thousands of tourists in peak months. The arts lost, money won, and I left, regretfully, but solo.
I'd started writing a full-length play and found what I wanted to do. Sarasota writers like John D MacDonald and Joseph Hayes encouraged me. Professionally, I had been successful and on leaving I turned it into working independently as a disaster loss specialist. The phone would ring and I was off to help reconstruct some city post-hurricane, tornado or massive fire scene. The work was intense and 16/7 until you finished or dropped. Four months and one had put in a year of an 8 to 5 job. Then I'd go off to write.
That's when I fell in love with my second place, Paris. It was Sarasota in grandiose. When the catastrophe phone rang I flew in and often got there before my stateside colleagues who drove. My life became split between France and America until I started a new income source by creating an art film distribution company that soon became too successful. It was an exciting time in the art film world, but it left me little writing time. I backed out and went off to live in the bush of East Africa for 3 years, mostly Kenya – to write. My new partner, a painter, was as comfortable walking through primeval forests or across the Serengeti as she was dining in a chateau. We were two incredibly matched generalists, comfortable everywhere and I was in love again – with the heart of Africa, its people and its pre-touristic, almost prehistoric, wildlife. It was before the tourists came.
The next rail was a return to France. Once I had rented Mr. Eiffel's classic chateau on the cliffs of Normandy. Now I rented a lovely place in Paris and a house down on the Mediterranean where I could get away and write. That's where I discovered the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon and became the first specialist in exporting them to America. Wine. Again a fresh and fascinating new world opened.
I grew the wine business to support my writing and again, it was a boom beyond my expectations. It upgraded and changed the nature of wine growing in the south of France. However, my wine trade was enclosed by two dark, unpredictable brackets. First, on 9/11 I was trapped for 5 hours in the rubble of the World Trade Center - with a charming woman who has become a lifelong friend. 9/11 put me out of NY for a year. The other bracket was, 2008 that closed many of my clients, thanks to banks. I was a victim of the domino effect. The fiasco made me decide to live simply and come what may, just write.
But I know a secret about 9/11 that no one else knows. One day I'll write it up titled Icons and Microns.
As a result of becoming friends with every wildlife researcher in East Africa and coupling their work with my own observations when I was traveling in East and West Europe and North Africa, I'd developed large quantities of information on societal differences and similarities. I tackled a book on a personal theory of the evolution of behavior from a biological point of view. It combined my observations, the researcher's studies, and vast time in the libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris. It was a dense, 200 page outline.
Roger Donald, then Editor-in-Chief of Little Brown looked me in the eye and said, "I am not sure that you can turn this into a book. It's fascinating and important, but massive and complex." He gave me a modest contract. Then a major drama in my partner's family sank my first try at non-fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are two different writing worlds!
Then I wrote TRIANGLES OF FIRE.