have a confession to make. It is not easy to condense one’s life into a few short, pithy, paragraphs. First, because I enjoy writing about just about anything except myself; my preference is to be a fly on the wall, eavesdropping, observing, processing analyzing and recording, not to be a fly under a microscope. Second, it’s hard to walk that line between being overly humble and irritatingly self-important. I apologize now if I’ve erred in either direction. To save myself from having to be too introspective, the information provided here is merely a timeline of the elements in my upbringing that led to my becoming a writer. Until I write my true biography (which I suspect may never happen) this will have to serve.
I was born in Corvallis Oregon, the second of three children. My sister, Robin, is a year and a half older than me; my brother, Blake, is five and half years younger than me. (Fun fact: each of us was born in a different state: Michigan, Oregon, and California.) My formative years were spent in New Haven, Connecticut. My mother was a speech pathologist who, after we moved to Berkeley, decided to change careers and went to law school. My father worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a forest entomologist, and then after retiring from that job became a professor of Forestry at the University of California, Berkeley.
I was fortunate to be raised in an environment of intellectual curiosity. Our house was filled with a variety of books and magazines, stacks and stacks of magazines that never got thrown away. I know now that that is a sign of hoarding, but at the time all I knew was that there was always something around to read. My mother enjoyed reading to us when we were young but continued to read to us even after we could read to ourselves. When I was in fourth grade I remember her reading The Once and Future King, and the original Collodi version of Pinocchio. So I grew up with a love for books and words and writing. Creativity and independent thinking were held in very high regard in my family.
Robin, Blake and I played imaginative games. I’m not going to lie; we also watched a lot of TV. But whether we got stories from books, or movies, or TV, or just made them up ourselves, practically everything we did was about storytelling. We built complicated cities and scenarios for a collection of little mouse figures, we wrote radio plays and newspapers that reported on the goings on of the family, we constructed mysteries, laying out a clues in a room and challenging the other person to solve it. And we wrote books.
I wrote my first “book” when I was about four. It had a remarkably thin plot. It was about a family with ten children, and just as many pets. I drew the cover, which portrayed the family in stick figure form. On the inside of the book I listed the family members, assigning them names like Popcorn and Jellybean. Then I drew a picture of each person and pet. That was the whole book. I think I've come a long way since then.
The library was my candy store. My sister and I would ride up on a Saturday afternoon on our bikes, which were outfitted with side baskets to carry back books. When we got there we would spend hours picking out what we wanted. We were very greedy. We would check out ten books each, ride home and gorge ourselves. After we finished our pile of books we'd switch, and read each other's pile. We'd keep gobbling them up till our eyes hurt. They never lasted the full week. Incidentally, the candy store was also my candy store, and we would ride our bikes there too.
hen I was about to start 6th grade we moved to Berkeley, California. I continued to read but I also became a voracious film buff. I was lucky enough to not be encumbered by a social life so I watched hours of movies with the same greediness and fanaticism that I read books. I enjoyed a wide variety of genres, including films by Alfred Hitchcock, film noir, westerns, romantic comedies, broad comedies, and science fiction. I also enjoyed learning and was fortunate to have some very good teachers at Berkeley High School. It was in High School that I became increasingly interested in History. To me history explains how we got to where we are. It shows how great movements are the culmination of many small events, how one person really can make a difference and how even the mightiest civilizations can change and fall. Pretty heavy stuff! Science is my other favorite subject, for it describes our physical world and how it works.
Around this time my parents got divorced. This was a pretty painful period in my life and probably explains why I spent so much time escaping into books, TV and movies. My parents are friendly with each other now, but that kind of trauma is hard to erase. It is, however, useful for writing. A little pain always is. Just saying.
went to Harvard College expecting to become a doctor. I took several pre-medical courses but found that I was much more interested in the amazing array of subjects now available to me - courses in philosophy, astronomy, folklore, film, and history. Best of all, I had access to Widener Library, which is the third largest library in the country after the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. I spent hours and hours in this library. One of my favorite things to do, if I needed a break from studying, was to go on a quest to liberate the "least read book." The idea was that for a book to realize its purpose it has to be read. There are ideas trapped inside just waiting to be consumed by a hungry mind. I would burrow through the stacks looking for the oldest book I could find, then blow off the dust, open it and read a chapter. If this sounds like an odd way to spend one's time, I don't think I need to remind you again that I had no social life. Except that actually around this time I did start to develop one.
I became an editor of the Harvard Lampoon my freshman year and immediately found my niche. The humor there was quirky and irreverent and it colored my entire college experience. I spent just as much time hanging out with my fellow Lampoon editors, coming up with jokes and pranks and writing funny essays, as I did studying. That may or may not be a good thing (actually, I didn't do too badly, graduating with honors in American History and Literature) but it did make me start to question my career choice. So I stopped being pre-med and started being "undecided." I graduated not really knowing what I wanted to do.
moved to Hollywood because my sister, who wanted to be an actress, needed a roommate. I was going to give myself two years to decide what kind of graduate school I would attend. In the meantime a college friend helped me find a job as the assistant to the Director of Comedy Development at Columbia Pictures Television. I was more or less his secretary, but part of my job was to read television scripts to help discover new talent. As I read I realized that I could do as good or better. I wrote a "spec" (speculative) script that eventually got me an agent and led to my first writing job on a show starring 1970's comedian Flip Wilson, called "Charlie and Company." It didn't last very long, but one of the great things about working in the entertainment industry is that there is no shame in losing a job or being fired...in fact, it often leads to other jobs with higher pay. Sure enough I quickly got another staff job on a different show and I was on my way!
I've worked on many sitcoms and a few cartoons. Some of the more well known ones are Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Rugrats, Futurama, and MAD-TV. I've learned things from each job, I've met my share of celebrities and I have to admit, it's got to be one of the best jobs of all time. I literally get to go into work, laugh all day and get paid for it. But TV is a collaborative medium. Here’s how it works. When you write a television script it begins with several people pitching out an outline for the story. That outline is given to a writer who writes the first draft of the script. The teleplay then goes through a re-write process where up to fourteen people may be pitching jokes and story elements that are added into the script. After that, the actors and the director are allowed to request changes, and they give the piece their own interpretation. The final product reflects many people's ideas. Sometimes it is a realization of the original writer's vision, but often it is not.
For a writer that can be very frustrating. After working under those conditions for twenty years I finally decided that I wanted to do something that was my own. Pregnant with my third child, I was taking some time off from writing television to prepare for his arrival. I had time to think, so I started fooling around with the idea of writing a novel. I had a kernel of an idea, some characters, a few striking images and a theme. What did I do with them? I planted them in a fertile imagination. After much tending, nurturing and pruning, mulching, watering, and picking off snails, they eventually blossomed into my first book, THE GOLDEN HOUR.